by Rob Collett, EMSCI #263, Poudre Valley (CO) Hospital EMS
What is the most important piece of equipment you use as a bicycle responder? Go ahead: name that one, single piece. Answering that question is very difficult for me. Is it my bike, my EMS equipment, my helmet, my shoes, or my multi-tool? The list literally goes on and on. By this time, I’m sure you have “the” answer in mind, but I’d like to offer up a piece of equipment that I think is often overlooked. How many of you thought about the bike rack on your vehicle?
There are many options available on the market, various brands and styles with many different systems to secure the bicycle to the rack. Each style of bike rack has its merits, and whether it’s a tray style, two-arm style, hitch mount, or trunk mount, they all do the same thing…carry bikes.
The Poudre Valley Hospital EMS department purchased several Swagman Titan Two bike racks, and we’ve been using them for approximately six months. The first thing that caught our attention about Swagman in particular is the fact that they participate in the IPMBA Product Purchase Program, offering a 15% discount. Swagman produces a plethora of bike racks and accessories, multiple mounting configurations, and enough price points to meet almost any person or department’s needs. After studying their website and the various options, we decided to purchase the Titan Two.
First impressions are lasting ones, and my first impression of the Swagman customer service was excellent. We were placing a large order of 16 bike racks, so I expected it to be complicated, but I was pleasantly surprised with how easy Swagman made it. The representative I worked with was receptive to our needs and worked very hard to provide us the best price possible. She was easily available by telephone and email, making completing our order very convenient. Swagman was also kind enough to provide free shipping, which is always a nice perk when making an investment like this. The only negative aspect of the ordering process was the shipping. Due to the size and weight of the 16 bike racks, they had to be shipped via a freight company. This is not an unusual form of shipping, but the arrival was delayed several days due to complications within the shipping company. This is not Swagman’s fault and is perhaps a small complaint, but I am a big believer in on-time arrivals.
Pulling the Titan Two out of the box, it is immediately apparent that Swagman has paid attention to detail in the finish of the product. The whole bike rack is anodized with a matte black finish that is very scratch and rust resistant. Assembling the bike rack is fairly simple. It comes in two pieces: the main rack and the extension tube to insert into the hitch receiver. These parts are assembled with three bolts. One of the first things you will notice is the length of the metal tubing that inserts into the hitch receiver. This extends the rack out away from a vehicle and has a slight upward bend to aid in ground clearance. The intention of this piece is good, but the almost two feet of length seems excessive.
This rack can be used with either a 1¼” receiver or a 2” receiver by using an included adapter. The 2” adapter is perhaps the best I have seen currently on the market. Most adapters cause a side-to-side sway of the bike rack and squeaking. Swagman has eliminated these problems by using a hex bolt to hold the adapter securely in place. This approach also eliminates any guessing or difficulty of lining up the holes in the tubing with the holes in the hitch receiver for attachment to the vehicle. Once the rack is assembled and placed into the hitch receiver, it is secured using a large, threaded bolt with a cotter pin. This seems to be an industry standard and is easy to install.
Once the Titan Two is attached to the vehicle, it is very straightforward to operate. One of the major features that attracted us to the Titan Two is the fact that there is a release to allow the rack to lean forward away from the vehicle to which it is mounted. There is also a release to collapse the arms of the rack so that they rest beside the main mast. This prevents them from protruding from the vehicle when the rack is not in use. Both of these releases are accomplished by using a simple cam lever. The action of the cam is very firm in its tactile feel and inspires confidence that the rack is locked in the desired position. Despite several months of use and exposure to the elements, the cams on all of the racks are still smooth and snug in their action.
A stark contrast to the confidence-inspiring cams is the mast itself. When the mast is locked into its upright position, there is significant fore and aft movement. Although it has never swayed beyond the locking mechanism, there is enough movement to make a user nervous entrusting their bicycle to be carried long distances. Despite several attempts to tighten the main pivot bolt, we have been unable to eliminate this movement.
Swagman has rated the Titan Two to carry two bikes weighing up to 35 pounds each. Placing bikes on the Titan Two is fairly intuitive but, as with any hitch-mounted bike rack, it is much easier to place hardtail bikes on the rack than it is full suspension bikes. Our department uses both 26-inch wheeled and 29’er mountain bikes with frame-mounted pannier racks. We have found that the arm length of the Titan Two is a little bit too short to make it easy to place two bikes on at once. This is in part due to the pannier racks adding width to the bikes, and may not be as much of an issue for recreational riding or police use.
The cradles that hold the tubes of the bike frames all rotate to find the best fit for the bike being carried. This is a nice feature to have as it allows for multiple bike placement options. We would like to see more rigidity in the plastic used to form the cradles; the strap attachment points flex quite a bit when securing the bike. At times the amount of flex makes it difficult to secure the chain strap to the attachment point. None of the cradles have broken to date, but it makes us wonder how many uses we will get out of them. The chain straps are also made of a lighter weight rubber than we would find ideal. There is a lot of stretch in the straps, to the point some users may wonder if they will break when securing the bike. That being said, none of the straps have broken nor do they show any signs of excessive wear or fatigue.
The final feature worth highlighting is the integrated cable lock. Swagman has placed an 8 mm thick cable lock into the mast, with the lock located in one of the arms. Each Titan Two comes with two keys specific to the individual rack. We are impressed with the forethought into this feature, and with a little further refinement it will be a great selling point. There are two items we would like to see addressed with the cable lock. The first is the placement of the male end into the mast. When not in use, the male end is stored in a slightly upward fashion, and quite often gets pinched when the arms of the rack are collapsed. This has caused significant wear on the cable and causes the plastic housing around the male end to break easily.
To sum up, Swagman is a great company to work with and they offer a wide variety of products to meet just about any need you may have. They also support IPMBA by participating in the Product Purchase Program, and are willing to work with IPMBA members to meet a budget.
The Titan Two bike rack has been well thought out, but it has left us a little disappointed overall in its execution. This rack could be a big contender in a crowded market with a little more refinement in the details. The things that have been done very well are the ability to lean the mast away from the vehicle, the anodized finish of all materials, the adjustable cradles, the integrated 8 mm cable lock, the receiver hitch adaptor from 1¼” to 2”, and the cam releases to control mast and arm adjustments.
The things we notice that keep the Titan Two from excelling are the noticeable amount of fore and aft movement in the mast (even in an upright, locked position), overly flexible cradle plastic and rubber chain straps, poorly placed male end of 8 mm lock, slightly short carrier arm length, and excessive length of extension tubing from the receiver hitch to the bike rack.
Although the Titan Two isn’t quite a home run, if you are in the market for new bike racks, I would definitely recommend exploring other options through Swagman. Due to their exceptional customer service and attention paid to most of the details in their materials, I would not hesitate to try a different offering from their company.
Rob Collett is a division captain and IPMBA EMS Cyclist Instructor with Poudre Valley Hospital EMS in Fort Collins, CO, a part of the University of Colorado Health System. He is an avid recreational cyclist in Colorado who dabbles in mountain bike racing and is a self-proclaimed “bike nerd”. Rob has utilized bikes in EMS for four years, becoming an IPMBA instructor in 2012 and joining the IPMBA Industry Relations Committee in 2014. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos courtesy Rob Collett.
(c) 2014 IPMBA. This review appeard in the Fall 2104 issue of IPMBA News.