Bike Takes Flight – Not Good!

Driving home on I-4 after a fun, relaxing, and enjoyable Ice Cream Ride, my bike became detached from the bike rack, went airborne, and smacked onto the roadway.  This happened just after passing the sign informing me that I was only nine miles from home.  I had been moving at the posted speed limit in the inside lane and was able to pull over safely and park in the emergency lane.  I walked about 200 yards back to retrieve my bike and found it crumpled off to the side of the road.  I’m sure that I heard a whimper as I approached.

I picked it up lovingly, acutely aware of the many scrapes and bruises that it had incurred.  The most obvious was that the front wheel was bent and the derailleur twisted, so it was impossible to roll it under it’s own power.  I lifted it up in my arms and carried my Electra Townie back to my car.  With a great degree of hesitancy, I placed it back in the cradle arms of the bike rack, which was still firmly affixed to my motor vehicle.  Then I reattached the three rubber straps that were supposed to hold the bike securely in place, but had just failed – for the second time – resulting in the injuries which my beloved bike had just sustained.








Damage assessment – Cateye light missing / bracket ripped in half, 7-speed shift on right hand grip broken apart, both grips shredded, mirror on left side broken off (found near bike, pictured above), front fender bent and support arm snapped, rear fender broken in half, derailleur support arm bent, Topeak Explorer rack scraped down to bare metal, front wheel tweaked, and the front fork bent.  OutSpoken Bike Shop in Lake Mary is toting up the repairs.  It is all “fixable” but was unforunate that it requires this amount of service.





So, was this an isolated incident, or has it happened to others?  The rack is a Yakima King Joe 2, quite a sturdy device.  I thought that I’d thoroughly read the instructions and was always careful about rechecking the straps after loading the bike on the car.  In fact, the first time that the bike dropped off the rack (driving home on 417 following the Tour de Cure ride earlier this year), I convinced myself that it must have been due to “operator error.”  I recalled placing the bike on the arms of the rack and going around the side to put my helmet and other items in the back seat.  The “possibility” existed that I had not properly cinched down the straps properly.  This time I had witnesses who saw me attach and double check the tie downs.  A quick Google search of “strap failure” for this particular rack instantly presented at least ten instances of bikes separating from the King Joe while driving.



The next step was to contact Yakima, the manufacturer.  After answering a series of questions – including, “No, it’s not an electric bike, ‘Electra’ is a brand” – and convincing the customer service rep that I had properly attached the rack to the car and the bike to the rack, I was informed that I “should have been using a Tube Top.”  Apparently this is an “optional” accessory that compensates for the fact that the top bar on the Townie is slanted rather than horizontal.  I don’t remember being advised of this when I purchased the rack and will need to study the manual to see if there was any warning to use a Tube Top on my style of bike.  Yakima has offered to send a free Tube Top ($ 35 value) and three replacement straps (while not worn, this was another precautionary measure – a $ 15 value).  That doesn’t come close to making up for the cost of repairs.

While the Tube Top may be a solution, quite frankly, I’m more than a bit cautious about using the Yakima King Joe 2 again.  At least I can put it on e-Bay with the peace of mind that I would be including the accessory that the next user may need, along with new straps.

For now, I’ve begun a search of hitch-mount racks.  They are appealing for several reasons – easier to load the bike, more secure, the rack can be locked to the vehicle (always was a concern that someone could simply loosen the straps and steal both the bike and the rack at the same time.)  I’m looking at three different models – Kuat Sherpa, Thule 916XTR T2, and the Swagman XTC2.  The Swagman is about half the price of the other two.  Does anyone have any experience with these options and feel strongly one way or the other.  Does one have any advantages over the others when used with my style bike.

I’m looking forward to getting my Townie back, riding it for many more incident-free miles and keeping it from harm in the future.




17 replies
  1. Janice in Ga
    Janice in Ga says:

    I’m so sorry your bike came off the rack! When I used a rear rack, I ALWAYS worried about that. Like Eric in the other comment, I ALWAYS supplemented the straps with bungee cords. And every time I stopped, I’d check the bike.

    But all my bikes have more-or-less horizontal top tubes too. Current car doesn’t really take a rear rack or a hitch rack. So I bought a Brompton. 🙂

    Hope it doesn’t cost too much to fix, and that you’re back on two wheels ASAP!

  2. John Alexander
    John Alexander says:

    Eric – good advice. Plan to use double, triple, quadruple redundant tie-down devices in the future!

  3. James
    James says:

    I have a Yakima Joe rack and have had zero issues, but I always use lashing straps like this as backup in addition to the rubber straps:

    They’re often called “cinch straps” or “lashing straps” and can be purchased for MUCH less than $30 at places like Home Depot. I also use them to tie my kayak to my roof rack, so I know they’re more than strong enough to as backups on the trunk mounted bike racks.

  4. Diana
    Diana says:

    John, if you replace the rack, you might want to go with a hitch-mounted tray style (holds the wheels, not the top tube or substitute top tube.) And get one that folds up so that you don’t have to remove it everytime.

    I had a tray style hitch carrier designed and made locally to carry two dog scooters (which have no top tube, no seat tube) and it works very well. It’s quick and easy.

  5. Keith
    Keith says:

    I use a model that I think is either a Swagman, or a knock off (I can’t remember the brand), it looks a lot like their XC-RV model. I have been very pleased with it. My car is a hatchback, so a traditional strap on style was not an option. The top piece of the rack ratchets down over the top tube of the bike and wedges the bike in place. I like this model over the Thule since it is a fraction of the weight (and cost), I hang it folded on a hook in the garage. Be warned though, I had a bike fall off of this rack when I failed to ratchet the bracket down onto the 2nd bike properly. I did not realize the bike was gone, until 3 miles down the road. Followed my tracks back and found the bike had been placed gently against a sign in the median probably by the driver behind me when it fell. Much less damage than your bike sustained, but that was only luck, nothing to do with the rack’s design. I also use a soft rag to protect the bike from the top piece, even though there is some padding.

    • Keith
      Keith says:

      You may still need a substitute top tube if your bike’s top tube slants so much that the top piece can’t clamp down on it securely without sliding off.

    • John Alexander
      John Alexander says:

      Keith, thanks for the testimonial. I may still need to use the Tube Top to create a horizontal spot for the rack “grip” to clamp onto (Along with additional straps as a precaution). Good to hear that the kindly motorist showed proper respect to your bike, rather than just tossing it in the back of their vehicle – restores faith in humanity!

  6. Will
    Will says:

    That’s terrible John. I bought a cheap wally trunk mount rack that usually just lives on the trunk. Brought the bike, Brandice and her bike down to st Pete one weekend. We decided to go over the Skyway bridge just for the view and one of the 2 straps gave way on the top of the bridge. Once I regained the shoulder, tied it up and pulled off at the rest area. I was checking the other strap and had the sewed connection just rip apart with thumb pressure. Tied that one with a hitch and tightened the other one, and it’s holding strong so far.

    • John Alexander
      John Alexander says:

      The Skyway bridge would be the ultimate test of any bike carrier. That’s quite a “wind tunnel”

  7. Patti Maguire
    Patti Maguire says:

    Lost mine off the back of a hatchback once — a pilot explained that the air flow actually is pushing the vehicle down the road (as in drafting) — and it pushed the bike forward and off the rack — full disclosure, I didn’t have it very well secured tho — thought airflow would hold it on — duhr!!!

  8. Stix Cook
    Stix Cook says:

    John, I have a Thule 956 4 bike car rack system that connects to the 2″ trailer hitch receiver. As you know, my Townie has the slanted top bar and sits on the parallel rack arms making the bike sit at a very slanted angle. The two rubber straps hold the slanted top bar to the rubber “cradles” on the rack arms. In addition to this, I always tie a 1/4″ line around the seat post tube and the vertical hitch support and then around the front wheel to keep it front swinging side to side. I have had no problems with this arrangement and recommend it to anyone.

    Your Townie has to get back and riding soon as I can’t be the only Townie rider out there!!!!

    • Scott
      Scott says:

      I also have the Thule 957 (same as 956, but fits a 1.25″ hitch receiver) and have never had a problem with it.

      If you get it from L.L. Bean you get free shipping and a lifetime guarantee.

  9. John Alexander
    John Alexander says:

    HI Stix, Glad that you haven’t had a problem. Now that I understand how the Tube Top works, I would recommend that you get one for the rack that you use. Having the one wheel sitting so high up in the air due to the extreme slant of the Townie top bar, there is a much stronger interaction with the wind. I’ll send you a separate note with some additional info. I hope the repairs don’t take too long. Using my son-in-laws bike (a Giant) until my Townie is repaired. Be well, John

  10. Shannon Chenoweth
    Shannon Chenoweth says:

    Yicks, so sorry to hear about this, John! I hope you can get your bike back on the road soon. That would have scared the heck out of me, not to mention the damage itself.

    I use a Saris rack on my car and it seems very secure. Not sure how it would hold up to a Townie though. I know Lisa has the same rack as I do. Good luck!

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