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You’ve probably seen one at a trailhead or attached to the hitch of a vehicle driving around mountain biking meccas like Moab or Squamish. And you’ve surely seen one if you’ve ever spent time at a trailhead at their namesake: Vancouver’s North Shore. Of course, I’m talking about North Shore Bike Racks. And it’s no coincidence they’re found anywhere mountain bikers gather, all over North America. The North Shore Rack is one of the most popular bike racks out there. They are efficient, well-engineered and well-built.
I love mine and wouldn’t trade it for any other rack, but they do have some significant drawbacks.
I love mine and wouldn’t trade it for any other rack, but they do have some significant drawbacks. So before you go out and spend your hard-earned money on a North Shore Rack, let me give you a few reasons why I love my North Shore Rack, but also some reasons you may want to look elsewhere.
Why I love my North Shore Rack
There is a lot to love about North Shore Racks. I use the four bike version (NSR 4-BIke), but they are also sold in configurations that can carry two or six bikes. I could go deep into the weeds talking about every positive aspect of the rack. Things would get technical. But that’s not what I’m going to do. I’d rather stick to a few of the practical reasons I find this rack worth getting excited about. These racks work wonderfully for me because they are:
- Efficient: each rack can carry a lot of bikes in a relatively small package.
- Quick for loading/unloading: great for shuttling.
- Sturdy: they are built to last a lifetime.
So many bikes, so little space
I find one of the most appealing things about a North Shore Bike Rack is its ability to carry many bikes efficiently. This efficiency is made possible by the way bikes hang vertically on the rack. And for me this vertical positioning is ideal for two main reasons:
First, the bikes can be mounted very close together. This means they are unlikely to stick out past the sides of your vehicle and make your whole setup wider. At the same time, there is enough space to keep the bikes from touching and potentially causing damage. That’s a very important consideration if you plan on using the rack while driving over rough roads with expensive mountain bikes.
Second, unlike other hitch mounts that hold bikes horizontally, the vertical positioning means that the rack won’t extend the length of your vehicle beyond that of a single bike. This is the case whether it be the two-, four- or six-bike offering. And because the weight is kept relatively close to the hitch, the strain on the hitch is minimal.
Other racks that mount bikes horizontally will extend the length of your vehicle. The length of the extension depends on the number of bikes, but a six-bike horizontal rack will add a lot of length to any vehicle as well as place additional stress on the hitch itself.
Spend more of your time riding
Not only is the design of the North Shore Rack efficient when it comes to space, but it is also very efficient for loading and unloading bikes. Wheels don’t need to be removed and bikes don’t need to be lifted onto the roof of a vehicle (which can be a difficult task if you have a vehicle with a high roof). Each bike hangs from its fork and is secured by a string around the rear tire. Simple.
A design featuring quick loading and unloading isn’t surprising considering the shuttling heritage of the North Shore. Less time spent racking up bikes means more time spent riding!
See the video below for a demo on how to load mountain bikes onto a North Shore Rack.
If shuttling isn’t your thing, don’t worry. These racks are great for any type of mountain biking adventure, including transporting your XC or enduro bike to the trailhead.
North Shore Bike Racks are some of the sturdiest bike racks out there. The design is simple, which means there aren’t a lot of small parts that can easily fail. The welds are strong and any pivots or other moving parts are fastened together with large bolts.
The racks are built to carry any size of mountain bike from light XC bikes to heavy downhill rigs, over any type of terrain. Having two, four or even six expensive bikes on a rack can be disconcerting for some. Any failure could result in thousands (or even tens of thousands) of dollars in damage. But even with the rack fully loaded, I’ve never been worried that the weight was too much.
It’s worth every penny, but…
As much as I love my North Shore Rack, it may not be for everyone. There are some drawbacks worth mentioning that other bike rack manufacturers seem to have eliminated in their racks. Unfortunately, North Shore racks:
- Can only carry mountain bikes
- Are expensive
- Limit access to the back of your vehicle
There can be only one
North Shore Racks can only carry mountain bikes. Their tagline is “a bike rack by mountain bikers, for mountain bikers” and this is certainly true. They can carry a full range of different mountain bikes.
But a lot of riders have more than just mountain bikes. Bikes like road bikes, city bikes, etc. And it’s likely you might want to transport them on a rack. With a North Shore Rack you’re out of luck. In order to fit on a North Shore Rack, bikes need to have a large amount of space between the front tire and fork crown. This rules out road bikes and most anything that isn’t a mountain bike.
Personally, I have a pickup truck and so the odd time I want to transport my road bike I can throw it in the back. I’m fine with only carrying mountain bikes on the rack. But if you have different types of bikes, and carrying them on a rack is your only choice, it may be worth considering something a little more versatile.
Money doesn’t grow on trees
North Shore Racks are pricey. I’m not saying you don’t get what you pay for: they are well-built, well-designed, and they will last a lifetime. But if your rack budget is tight, you may be forced to look elsewhere.
At the time of this writing, North Shore Racks range in price from $509.99CAD for the folding two-bike version, to $899.99CAD for the folding six-bike version. They are hitch mount racks, so if your vehicle doesn’t already have a hitch, you’ll have to shell out for one of those as well.
No matter what type of hitch mount bike rack you choose, it will affect access to the back of your vehicle. Some allow more access than others.
North Shore bike racks incorporate some specific design features that help improve access. For example, when there are no bikes on the rack, most models can be folded down and made shorter to allow access to the back window of an SUV or the canopy on a pickup truck.
The racks can also be folded backward on a hinge, either empty or with bikes loaded. When there are no bikes on the rack, this is helpful as it allows full access to the back of an SUV or the lowering of a tailgate on a pickup truck.
Where things get dicey is when there are bikes on the rack. In order to fold the rack down and access the rear of a vehicle, someone needs to support the full weight of the bikes on the rack as they are lowered and then push them back up to return the rack to the driving position. This isn’t a huge deal if you are using the two-bike rack with light XC bikes attached, but things can get difficult with heavier bikes on a four- or six-bike rack. In addition, when folded down, the bikes can come in contact with the ground, depending on the height of the vehicle’s hitch and the size of the bikes. In short, it’s possible but inconvenient to improve vehicle access with a North Shore Bike Rack. This will be a deal-breaker for some and a non-issue for others.
The other options
As I’ve mentioned earlier, my North Shore Rack works for me. When they first hit the market, there was nothing like them. But since their debut, North Shore Racks have retained more or less the same design, while other manufacturers have gone to work ironing out some of the deficiencies noted above.
Recon Racks are similar in design to the North Shore Rack, but they allow for more than just mountain bikes.
Instead of hanging the fork on a hook (like on the North Shore Rack), the Recon Rack has a basket that cradles the front wheel of the bike. This allows most types of bikes to be mounted on the rack (road bikes included). So, if you’re one of those people with an enviable quiver of bikes, this may be the one for you.
As with the Recon Rack, the Yakima HangOver is similar in design to the North Shore Rack. But, it has an optional accessory that can be added to make access to the back of a vehicle easier.
Off the rack, the HangOver has the same hinge design for lowering bikes out of the way as the North Shore Rack. However, if access to the back of your vehicle is important, an optional accessory called the ‘backswing’ can be purchased. It will allow the rack (either empty or loaded with bikes) to swing out to the side of the vehicle rather than pivot downward. This allows the bikes to fully swing out of the way and it supports their entire weight so you don’t have to.
The cost of this rack, along with the added accessory arm is a pricey setup. But depending on your needs and vehicle type, it may be worth the investment.
There is one thing rack designers haven’t been able to improve over the North Shore Rack: keeping the design while lowering the price in any meaningful way. Both the Recon Rack and the Yakima HangOver have similar price points to North Shore Racks. So, if your budget is tight, you may have to look at a hitch rack with a different design altogether.
Swagman is a brand that makes some good quality racks at a great price. And while none of them have a design similar to the North Shore Bike Rack, there are many different styles and configurations to choose from. They are certainly worth checking out. A number of their models have a much lower price point than any of the options above.
Check out Swagman hitch racks and pricing:
If the shoe fits, wear it!
A North Shore Rack is perfect for me. I only use it to carry mountain bikes and while expensive, the solid build and engineering help me to feel good about the purchase. But they aren’t for everyone.
Luckily, we live in a world where cycling in general, and mountain biking specifically, is exploding in popularity. As a result, we’re spoiled for choice. And there is a seemingly endless lineup of racks out there to choose from. The days of having to settle are over. If a North Shore Rack doesn’t check all of the boxes for you, consider some of the other options out there. Your perfect rack is waiting!
I’d love to hear from you
If you have any questions or comments, please leave them in the comments section below, or you can contact me directly from our Contact page.
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