A Hitch Rack Is Your Secret Weapon Against SUVs and Pickup Trucks

Don't buy a heavy, high-riding behemoth. You can drive a sensible sedan and still do all your outdoor activities. The secret? A mini hitch.

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Jack Baruth

I'm guilty. Guilty as charged. Consumed by guilt, and it is mostly truck-related. I wonder if I'm the only person who feels this way. The full-sized pickup truck is an American institution, selling millions of massively-profitable units per year to a staggeringly diverse assortment of customers. Once you try one, you are statistically unlikely to return to a conventional car or SUV. People buy them for all sorts of reasons.

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One of my neighbors, a handsome young upwardly-mobile fellow who bought himself a new 5-Series while still in his 20s, went through a divorce last year. Shortly afterwards, the Bimmer disappeared, replaced by a 4x4 F-150. "Just seemed like a good idea," he told me. Then he started wearing cowboy boots. He used to wear a perpetual grimace, as if he were suffering from a kidney stone, but now he smiles like he's won the lottery.

My 2017 Silverado LTZ Max Tow makes me smile, too. It pulls my race cars like they were made of papier-mache, courtesy of a 6.2-liter V8 that can vaporize the rear tires at will. It rides like an old Caprice Classic and requires an absolute minimum of effort to operate. I expect it to last 250,000 miles and still be worth real money to its next buyer at that point. The only way I could like it better would be if it had tufted velour seats, an Oldsmobile grille, and a "98 Regency" badge on its flanks.

And yet I feel guilty driving the Silverado in circumstances that do not call for pickup truck capability. A few weeks ago, I drove 1600 miles over the course of a day and a half to pick up a nearly complete set of extra bodywork, including hoods and doors, for my Accord race car. That was a perfect job for the big Chevy. The round-trips to BMX tracks or skateparks, with just me and my 55-pound son in the cabin and two relatively small bicycles in the bed? Those makes me feel guilty. Like I'm being wasteful and callous. The fact that the 6.2 returns better mileage than my old Audi S5 6-speed V8 both on the freeway and in the city doesn't reassure me like it probably should. I don't like using a three-ton vehicle for tasks that don't absolutely require it.

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It occurred to me that I could put a roof rack on my Accord street car and use it for bikes. I'm no stranger to roof racks, unfortunately. My 1996 Taurus, the saddest car ever made, spent most of its life burdened by a Saris roof rack and a Rhode Gear trunk rack. It was not particularly happy with this arrangement and periodically one of the bikes on the trunk rack would make a break for freedom, usually while I was whistling along—loudly, thanks to the beams of the roof rack—at 90mph on the Interstate trying to make it to the next BMX race before registration closed. So it was with a little bit of trepidation that I picked up the phone and inquired about the correct roof rack for a 2014 Accord Coupe.

"Oh, we have those," I was told, "but everybody uses a hitch rack now."

"I'm not calling about my truck," I replied. "I already have a hitch rack for that. This is for a car."

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"There's a hitch for your car," was the response. And sure enough, there was. My local U-Haul charged me $132 after an online coupon to bolt a miniature hitch receiver to a particularly stout fold of the Accord's unibody. They didn't even ask me if I wanted any trailer wiring. "We do five of these a day, usually on Subarus but sometimes on other cars," the salesperson told me. "We never wire them. Nobody wants it."

The resulting arrangement is faintly hilarious-looking. I'm well-acquainted with proper receivers, like the Class III that I had on my various Rovers and the Class IV on the Silverado, but this is like a Class One. Maybe a Class One-Half.

The Yakima "DR Tray," which I think stands for "drag reduction" but which the Yakima people call "The Doctor," fits neatly into this miniature receiver. It carries two bikes in standard configuration with the option for a third. Had I felt it necessary, Yakima would have sold me a four-bike hitch rack, but that really seems like too much cargo for the relatively modest bracing and tubing of my Accord's receiver. Also, if I need to carry three other people and three other bikes, I'll use the Silverado without guilt.

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The DR Tray is not designed for BMX bikes, as I found out when my son's 16-inch-wheel "park bike" came partway loose and hit the Accord's trunk lid on the way to a skatepark. "Turn the bike around and attach the arms to the frame," was Yakima's suggestion. That works fine. We've now used the Accord for a few races and several trips to various indoor cycling venues across Ohio, without further incident.

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Jack Baruth
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It turns out that, with the bikes on the hitch rack, my Accord Coupe has pretty much all the space that my old Rovers had with the bikes in the cargo area. Maybe a bit more. And the resulting contraption returns 28mpg on the freeway, dropping to 24mpg in town. The Rovers? Don't ask.

My most frequent use of this rack, however, has been for my own road cycling trips. I used to take my bike apart and put it in the trunk. Now I use The Doctor, which takes no time at all and is far less hassle at the end of a long, often painful road ride.

The Doctor isn't the only thing that I could plug into that tiny inch-and-a-half-square metal tube. There is now an entire industry devoted to expanding the capability of your vehicle via the receiver. Cargo trays. Cargo boxes. You can put everything from a quartet of golf bags to a gasoline generator out there. You could even pull an actual trailer if you wanted to. A month or so ago I was at Ikea, loading up 746 pounds' worth of cabinets into the Silverado's bed and feeling very non-guilty—and then I saw a guy in a diesel VW Golf load a tiny single-axle wood-and-chain-link trailer with approximately the same payload. I think he was taking the whole Euro thing too far, but your opinion may differ.

My newfound interest in bicycle-carrying strategies has led me to carefully evaluate the vehicles that park around me at trailheads and group-ride parking lots. I would say that the vast majority of them, like 90 percent, are either Subaru wagons like the Jackson Hole special or plain-Jane crossovers from the CR-V/RAV-4/Santa Fe class. A remarkably high number of them are sporting hitch-rack arrangements just like mine.

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Which leads to a question: Why bother with a crossover or SUV if you can get the same capability from an actual car? Put aside the fact that my Accord will absolutely whip any tall wagon short of, say, a Macan Turbo on a twisty road. It's also cheaper to buy, cheaper to insure, cheaper to maintain, more pleasant to drive, quieter, and more comfortable. If a lumber truck ahead of me on the freeway starts disgorging its cargo onto the road, I'd want to be behind the wheel of a real car instead of a car on suspension stilts.

Last but not least, driving a car instead of a pickup or SUV or crossover helps me with my guilt. No, an Accord V6 six-speed isn't exactly a Prius C. But it's a reasonable use of resources, both in construction and operation. I don't feel wasteful when I'm driving it. Not like I do when I'm parading a 420-horsepower crew-cab with an empty bed down the freeway. Chances are that you don't feel guilty about that sort of thing, not like I do, anyway. But if you've ever looked at your 4500-pound SUV and wondered if you could do a little more with a little less, you might want to consider an arrangement like mine. It might not make you smile like a new 4x4 F-150 would, but I don't think you'll be disappointed by it, either.

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