Product Reviews, Press Hits

YAKIMA FULLSWING 4 BIKE HITCH MAST RACK REVIEW

21st January 2015

REVIEW: YAKIMA FULLSWING 4 BIKE HITCH MAST RACK

posted by Zach Overholt - January 15, 2015 - 1pm EST

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When Yakima offered up the chance to review their new Fullswing rack, admittedly a lot of my motivation was due to my desire to find a rack that could easily carry fat bikes. Sure, now there are a number of racks meant to carry the monster tyres, but at the time my options were pretty limited. Tired of my fat bikes wiggling their way out of home-brewed solutions, the secure mounts of the Hitch Mast style rack were intriguing. Hoping to carry a few fat bikes and my wife’s beach cruiser to our ocean destination, the Fullswing capability of the rack made it seem like a done deal.

After a year’s worth of use, I’ve learned quite a bit from the use of the Fullswing. In certain situations it can be amazing. Yet, in other circumstances depending on the bike there are certainly better options. As it turns out, the Fullswing is a pretty impressive rack – just maybe not for the user you would expect…

 

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Arriving in a box partially disassembled, all of the necessary parts and tools are included with the rack. Speaking of tools, Yakima has stepped up their game when it comes to the assembly wrench. Instead of the simple pressed metal box end wrench sold with other racks, the Full Swing includes this a new design with a rubber coated handle. Since you’re only going to need it once for assembly, they went ahead and included a bottle opener so you’ll have a new addition for that tool board in your home repair shop.

The rack is easily assembled in 10-30 minuted depending on your proficiency with tools, and is fairly straight forward.

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Once assembled, the Fullswing employs a completely tool free design – even for installing the rack to the vehicle. After sliding the rack partially into the hitch, you have to press down the AutoPin connector (grey button) just enough to slide it past the lip of the receiver. When the AutoPin finds the matching hole in the receiver it will pop into place and the green tab next to the grey button will become visible. From there it is simply a matter of turning the red SpeedKnob on the end of the mast to tighten down the rack. No wrench required.

While the SpeedKnob and AutoPin work quite well, we would like to see the knob provide a bit more leverage. With the current version, it helps to rock the rack from side to side as you fully tighten the knob to get it fully secured. After the rack is tightly attached to the vehicle, the Yakima SKS (Single Key System) key is used to disengage the SpeedKnob which makes it impossible to remove the rack from the vehicle short of sawing it off. When not in use, the upper arms fold away with a quick pull on the lever up top.

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One of the absolute best new features for Yakima would have to be the move from Chainstraps to ZipStrips. The dual sided ratchet straps easily attach nearly any bike to the anti-sway cradles, and are damn near impossible to remove without pressing the release button. No more deteriorating rubber straps that were a pain to get on and off. Even with oddly shaped, wide, flat carbon tubes the ZipStrips are a breeze to install and remove, even while wearing heavy gloves.

Arranged in an alternating pattern of front to rear, the Fullswing uses one anti-sway cradle to one standard cradle. Both cradles can be repositioned along the fully padded rack arms by either folding up the anti-way cradle or flipping the grey locking tab on the standard cradle. It’s pretty difficult to forget to lock the anti-sway cradle in place since positioning it along the seat tube itself locks it into position, but you have to remember to lock the grey tabs after moving the opposite cradles. Even with the cradles properly locked into position however, when carrying fat bikes specifically we noticed a few cradles had moved on their own after arriving at the destination. Granted, carrying fat bikes on the rack left giant tire shaped sails directly in the wind on my Honda Element, but still…

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After the bikes are mounted to the rack, a relatively low security, but effective lock is built into the rack. Meant simply as a means to keep someone from easily swiping a bike at a rest stop or shop around town, the lock cable stows in the mast and is pulled over all four frames to lock to the outside arm. This clearly only locks the frames leaving the wheels vulnerable, but you can always supplement the included lock with additional cables for wheels. The SKS system means the same key is used for both the bike lock and the rack lock.

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It wouldn’t be called the Fullswing without the ability to completely swing away from the vehicle. Bikes included. This feature is invaluable on family road trips, especially due to the potential difficulty in mounting bikes (more on that below). All the bikes are loaded, but you need to get out the cooler for a picnic? Get the spare tire to change a flat? Whatever the reason, the bikes stay put and the rack simply swings away. Even with very heavy bikes loaded on the rack, swinging them out of the way is pretty easy.

The side swing starts by unthreading the large, black plastic handle on the backside of the mast. When the handle is completely unthreaded from the body, pulling the red button next to it will release the rack which has a dual articulated hinge that allows the rack arms to lock into place 90º from the original position. To put it back into place you’ll need to pull the outermost red pin, push the red latch in the center and swing everything back. The rack will initially latch in place, and then it’s very important to thread the locking handle back into place.

As a side note, I love my Element but one of my pet peeves has always been bike racks that don’t clear the tail gait when open. The Fullswing gets decent marks for being so close. It still touches, but as it turns out it’s easily remedied. There is a plastic cap on the top of the mast assembly that is only exposed when the rack is in the swung out position. I found that filing a slight bevel in the outer edge of that plastic cap was all that was necessary to allow the tailgate to clear it. So it’s not perfect out of the box, but is easily solved – much to my post ride, tailgate sitting delight.

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After selling Hitch Mast style racks in a shop for years, one of my first lines to customers was always “buy a rack for at least one more bike than you think you’ll need to carry.” Why? While rack manufacturers build a rack with a certain number of cradles, it is usually very difficult to use them all at the same time. This proved to still be true with the Fullswing 4 – while it can carry four bikes, that depends greatly on the type of bike being loaded and how particular you are about your ride.

When we asked Yakima Global Product Manager Mike Zoormajian about the difficulties in maxing out the rack, he was very honest and said ultimately it comes down to the right customer for the right rack.  Mike stated, “from a retail perspective, the first thing I ask is, what kind of bikes do you have, and how much do you like your bikes?” That might sound like a weird question to ask, but it definitely comes into play here. While four road bikes can be mounted with relative ease, there will be some rubbing between each bike that after a longer drive would definitely leave some scratches without padding each individual bike. Your typical family of four with department store bikes going on vacation might not worry about scratches, but you better believe a group of enthusiasts with multi-thousand dollar bikes will.

Why not just make the arms longer so there is more room between each bike? That is the ultimate question that can be answered by rack engineers – longer arms mean more leverage, which requires a stronger rack, which equals a heavier rack. Seeing as how the rack is already 56 pounds, making it heavier would result in quite a bit more difficulty in installing and moving it around your garage, so in the end a balance has to be found.

That balance that Yakima settled on ultimately means the Fullswing is an excellent rack for the family looking for an easy to use rack with an emphasis on unfettered access to the trunk of the car. However when it comes to cycling enthusiasts with expensive bikes with big tires, wide handlebars, or complicated frame shapes, the Fullswing design only allows you to easily carry 2,maybe 3 bikes (yes, fat bikes). Removing pedals, front wheels, and other tricks can make it work, but short of long trips it’s not something you really want to be doing.

If you fall into the latter category, Mike suggests the Yakima Holdup which spaces the bikes farther apart. As I have personally experienced, he is absolutely right about the Holdups ability to safely carry the most expensive bikes. The price for premium bike protection will cost you considerably more than the $499 Fullswing though, with the Holdup 4 selling for $778 ($449 + $329).

HIGHS:

  • New ZipStrip cradles are awesome
  • No tools needed to install or remove rack
  • Fully padded arms won’t scratch bikes
  • Adjustable cradle make it easier to fit bikes
  • Fullswing capability is amazing for road trips
  • Looks good
  • Built in bottle opener

LOWS:

  • Short arms can make mounting 4 bikes difficult, especially to avoid damaging their finish
  • Awkwardly weighted rack and Speedknob installation requires a bit of jiggling to get tight
  • Some cradles moved on their own during transport of fat bikes
  • Arms tend to bounce up and down when fully loaded, especially on vehicles with stiff suspension over bumps (South Carolina Highways, I’m looking at you)
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