The trips is on the books. Three nights bikepacking along the Arizona Trail. We figured out how to carry our gear and water on the bikes; how to do the car drop and where the water sources are. Now the hard part, finding a way to transport five people, five bikes, and all their gear between to points on a map. Lucky (or rather unlucky) for me one of my favorite bike shops in the Valley was closing it's doors and selling off the inventory. I cruised in with a pocket full of debit cars and found a Yakima Ridgeback 5 hitch mounted rack that would make hauling bikes much easier. With the additional discount the rack was perfect and had the potential to carry five bikes in a pinch, which would make car drops much easier. For the last three months I have been using the rack attached to a 2004 Toyota Corolla and have come to some conclusions.
The Short Story-
The Yakima Ridgeback 5 is sexy, there is no denying that. The looks can't mask the short comings of the rack though. The installation of the Ridgeback is easy and only takes a few seconds. Slide the rack into the hitch and tighten the big red know and insert the safety pin.....ready to go. Installed in my hitch the rack hangs out the back of the hitch 14". On a low clearance car like mine, that made things difficult. Backing out of our non-steep driveway with two bikes, 2 people and car camping gear I would scrap the protective fin under the red knob. Basically the hitch hangs out way to far on anything that doesn't have much clearance. Even on a higher clearance vehicle the rack would limit your ability to drive off road (not recommended by the manufacture) without potentially making ground contact. I looked into some other racks from Yakima, as well as a few from the large manufacturers and Yakima seems to have some of the longest hitch arms(?). So the rack scraps, which sucks, but there is more to the system then that.
Luckily the Ridgeback makes up for it's shortcomings in the hitch, by being easy to use. Loading bikes is easy pending you have a straight top tube (or even semi-straight). When you don't a simple Top Tube Adapter makes it easy. Once the bike is in place, the three ratcheting straps can be inserted. Two go on the top tube and one for the seat post. They are very secure, easy to install and remove and can be stored off the rack to protect them from sun damage. The three straps work excellent for preventing the bikes from blowing backwards when cruising at highway speeds. Included with the rack is one tire strap and a safety strap for the rest of the bike or bikes. Not sure why Yakima can't include five tire straps on a five bike carrier, instead of making you improvise or purchase more. Once the bikes are installed there is minimal sway and bounce, even when traveling on rough roads. There was so little bounce, I was surprised. Although not recommended by the manufacturer you can tilt the rack with bikes loaded. The bikes will make contact with the ground and minimize the strain on the rack hardware. The use of the Yakima Ridgeback 5 makes up for the lacking hitch design.
Conclusions- I really wanted to love the Yakima Ridgeback 5, but I just can't. The rack did carry 1-2 bikes very well over rough terrain on a low riding vehicle. Mind you we did make rack to ground contact a few times, and that is really only meeting half the capacity of the rack. Even though the rack did not work for me, it does have it's place. It would best serve a family of 4-5 that has a wide range of bike shapes and styles, where the overall value of the bikes don't rise to high (due to potential bike to bike contact). I also think that the rack was geared towards the road riding crew, rather then the MTB world. With five road bikes, I could see the rack working well with minimal contact between bikes. After living with the rack for a few months I have decided that there are other more attractive solutions to hauling bikes on my vehicle. If the hitch arm length isn't an issue, I would highly recommend checking the rack out in person (potentially with your bikes) to ensure a good fit on your vehicle. If you would like to see the Yakima Ridgeback 5 or any of Yakima's other solutions visit their website.
*This product was purchased for this review.