Mountain bikers know all to well the good and bad with bike racks. Many are more like high-priced mousetraps for you and your bike that take awhile to master. Whether you choose roof, hitch or trunk-mounted bike rack systems, they all have their idiosyncrasies that are a necessary evil if you want to be able to haul your bike from house to trailhead.

When it comes to racks, I always suggest a hitch rack as the first option, but not all vehicles have hitches and, putting a hitch on your vehicle may cost more money than you’re willing to shell out just to haul your bikes. So, roof racks still tend to be the most popular because once you have the roof rack system, you can use it to carry bikes, skis, surfboards, kayaks, a load of lumber or whatever else you need. When selecting a roof-mounted bike rack, a little research goes a long way because the standard fork-mounted racks aren’t all they are cracked up to be. I always suggest going with an upright rack, like the Thule Sidearm.

Thule Sidearm Bike Rack Review

About the Thule Sidearm Bike Rack

A few years ago, Thule acquired Sportworks racks and has run with their awesome design. Improvements over the original Sportworks Bob Ratchet include: a new, sexier tray, sturdier arm/tray integration, locking option for both the rack and the bike and a few other tweaks. The new design is definitely nicer-looking and more functional overall.

Here are the feature highlights of the Thule Sidearm bike rack:

  • RQL – Ratcheting Quick Load System
  • Fits Wheels from 20-29”
  • Fits tires from 1”-2.6” wide
  • Load bike in 10 seconds *or* less!
  • No wheel removal No contact with frame
  • Mounts to Thule and Yakima load bars
  • Thule One-Key™ System Compatible
  • MSRP: $159

The overall package offers a solid way to carry your bikes of all shapes and sizes (except kids bikes) quickly and easily.

Thule Sidearm Bike Rack Review

Thule Sidearm Bike Rack Review

When it comes to bike racks, you’ve got to first determine just how sturdy your factory rack or your aftermarket rack are. Be sure you’ve got enough load capacity to use this type of rack since with an upright bike, there are additional torsional forces at play–especially when you go off-road or hit a stiff crosswind. As my base rack platform, I’ve got the Thule Crossroad towers attached to the side rails of my 2001 Subaru Outback. This is definitely a sturdy platform and I’ve been successfully carrying all kinds of bikes on it for years.

The Thule Sidearm came pre-assembled out of the box, though this may be a new development because the instructions included installation of the base plate and RQL arm, which were already done on mine. This made roof installation quicker, but not as easy as other racks (like the Yakima King Cobra).  Installation does take a little bit of finesse as you have to manage the wingnuts, lower assembly pieces and washers all at the same time. Additionally, because the sidearm came pre-attached, I actually had to loosen everything up just to get the arm-side bolts into the tray plate. It almost negated the bonus of having everything pre-assembled.

Once attached, the Sidearm makes up for some of the installation issues in its ease-of-use and overall sturdiness. I’ve tried a variety of bikes on the Sidearm and it clamps down every one equally well. From my Kona Zing road bike to a Niner RIP 9 29er and a Santa Cruz Blur LT, the Sidearm kept all of them sturdily-attached at high speeds and on rough dirt roads.

Thule Sidearm Bike Rack Review

Slapping the bike on there is quick and easy. Just move the arm so it’s all the way forward and extended all the way out, rotate the front wheel stop and open the rear wheel ratchet strap.  Then, it’s a matter of lifting the bike onto the rack, holding it with one hand, and then rotating the arm in place between the front fork and wheel. Make sure and press down on it pretty hard once to ensure a solid hold, then simply attach the rear strap and you’re done.

With some 29er tires, the arm rubbed against the tire on the way back into locking position, but it wasn’t that big of a deal. Road bikes are held solid and all 26er mountain bikes are super-easy to attach.

The only other gripe–a small, but unfortunate one–is the ratchet strap. The actual ratcheting mechanism tends to spin upside-down, requiring you to flip it around prior to attaching. Just this morning on an early-mornign ride, I loaded the bike in the dark and I couldn’t tell that the ratchet was upside down. It took me a second to realize it, flip it around and then insert the strap properly. This could be resolved by only allowing the ratchet to rotate a certain amount, not all the way around.

The Good 

  • Solid and sturdy for any bike from 20-29 inch wheels
  • No frame contact to damage your bike’s finish
  • Toss your bike on there in 10 seconds… nice!
  • New silver tray is nice-looking
  • Locking option secures the bike and rack as a good theft deterrent
  • No front wheel removal–great for 20/15mm thru axles, Cannondale Lefties or Maverick DUC 32 forks

The Bad

  • Installation can be a bit cumbersome
  • Fitting three or more racks may be challenging on smaller vehicles (you’ll face that same problem with most upright racks though)
  • Rear wheel ratcheting strap could be designed better
  • The profile is a bit tall still when not in use

The Bottom Line: Thule Sidearm Bike Rack

A few small complaints about setup and the ratchet strap aside, the Thule Sidearm is right up there with the Yakima King Cobra as the premiere upright bike racks. It’s super easy to use and will secure everything from DH bikes to BMX bikes with ease. The locking system is a great theft deterrent and a necessity on this type of rack. If you’re going roof-mount, opt for the Sidearm for it’s flexibility and sturdiness.

Buy Now: Find Thule Racks at REI

About Author

A native of the Pacific Northwest, Jason quickly developed a love for the outdoors and a thing for mountains. That infatuation continues as he founded this site in 1999 -- sharing his love of road biking, mountain biking, trail running and skiing. That passion is channeled into every article or gear review he writes. Utah's Wasatch Mountains are his playground.


  1. Just a quick followup on the Sidearm review… The rack itself continues to perform very well. However, I’ve been a little concerned with the rust that’s been appearing on the lower portion of the sidearm and the mounting plate. I’m pinging Thule to see if this is common.

    It seems odd that my 3-yr-old Yakima King Cobra is rust-free and this one is rusting after 6 months.

  2. Pingback: Thule T2 917XT Bike Hitch Rack Review -

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