- A vertical bike rack for your car that can fit up to six bikes at once! Works with all different sizes and types of bikes... even fat tire, kids, recumbents and tricycles
- Unlike many horizontal hang-style racks this thing can accommodate step-thru and wave bike frames without the need for a crossbar adapter, the rack folds down for easy storage
- Sturdy steel design with thoughtfully placed rubber bumpers and loops to protect your bikes, a hole for adding a lock and a strong horizontal brace bar to protect your car
- The rack can swivel out to allow access to the trunk or hatch window, the hanging design positions bikes a bit higher than most car roofs (so drive careful in low areas)
Well, I thought I knew all about bike racks but then Jason from ElectricTrike.com introduced me to the Totem Pole TP6 vertical “hanging” bike rack from Upright Designs and my first thought was… why didn’t I ever think of that! It’s a simple concept really, hang bikes from a car rack much the same way that you would using a hook on the wall of your garage. There are all kinds of angled or vertical wall racks out there but transferring that idea to a moving automobile and then making it really work without damaging the car or the bikes took some thinking and experimentation. The idea for the Totem Pole came into existence as the result of a wife recovering from illness, when her husband was trying to take her and their four kids outside to enjoy cycling together as a family again. The kids all had bigger-sized bikes so they couldn’t just toss them into the back of the car… and yet the bikes were all sizes and there were SIX OF THEM, six bikes to deal with… Can you see where the TP6 name came from now? I’m guessing it stands for Total Pandemonium Six or perhaps Total Predicament Six… something of that nature :P
Anyway, the father in this family designed the original Totem Pole rack and eventually launched a company with his brother to sell them to others. As you might imagine, the rack was getting a lot of curious looks and interest from people as they used it around town. From what I can tell searching the web and speaking with the founders, their early rack designs didn’t secure the lower wheel of the bikes the way this newer version does and the bikes would sort of cross at the bottom, pedals, cranks and disc brakes would collide a bit and the whole bunch of bikes could swing forward and back which could bump the back of the car. Now, with a horizontal cross bar protecting the back of the car, six rubber band loops for securing the wheels (instead of letting them cross) and a bunch of included bright yellow bungee cords the bikes are much more secure and there’s less potential for any kind of movement or scraping. Another lesson from the early years was the need for a vertical extender because some cars have hitches that aren’t as high off the ground and the rear wheels for each bike could sometimes hang low, making contact with the street at the approach to hills and steep driveways or getting too close to the exhaust pipe (don’t let those tires melt!) the final upgrade they made was a swivel design at the base of the rack allowing it to tip back so you can open the rear hatch or window of the car. This last feature might be a two-person affair if the rack has bikes on it.
The rack has come a long way and while those rubber bungee cords increase the visual footprint a bit, I’d probably still tie some red rags to the back-most bikes and adhere some reflective stickers to the rack tubing since it’s black. The Totem Pole bike rack was quite a bit taller than the SUV we installed it on for this review and that presents some aerodynamic drag as well as the possibility of ceiling or overhang scraping. Watch those parking garages guys, your home garage and drive-thru could present a hazard with this thing on. There’s always some sort of trade-off when mounting bikes to the outside of a car and in my experience the platform tray racks can have wheels sticking out horizontally while roof mounted racks (even those with the front wheel removed) drastically increase height. Ultimately, very few if any of these more traditional solutions can accommodate as many bikes as the TP6, or as varied of frame types. Remember, you can carry kids bikes, road bikes, mountain bikes, fat tire bikes and even some recumbents, tandems and trikes as well as traditional step-thru’s without the need for a crossbar adapter. As I get older and see more options for deep-step designs where you don’t have to swing your leg over the frame of the bike, I’m at once delighted but also concerned about how to transport the bike… but that’s not an issue with this rack at all.
So aside from the taller footprint, what are my other concerns? Well, the bikes may or may not block more of your rear view through the back window. Same goes for your backup camera, if you have one. You may be able to see more from side to side but the middle section is likely going to be fairly crowded. The rack is also a bit heavy at 47 lbs and might require two people to install and uninstall because it’s so long and unwieldy… frankly, it’s visually intimidating for me as a 5’9″ guy weighing in at ~135 lbs, but it’s actually not as difficult to work with as it appears. You just need a plan and a place to put it down. That’s the other tricky thing here, it’s large whether it’s on or off the car and you might have to take it off every time you pull in to the garage (if you have a garage). Thankfully, the guys at Upright Designs have addressed this use case with an optional floor stand for $90. Just take the rack off your car then mount it on this adjustable three-legged dock then hang your bikes back up. Very cool idea, you might be interested in the Totem Pole bike rack just for this feature because house space may be limited or you might not be allowed to screw anything into the walls of a rental space. Note that the TP6 only comes in a 2″ hitch design vs. the smaller 1.25″ which many sedans and smaller cars offer. One final complaint or consideration here is that you have to tip bikes vertically then literally lift them up into the air in order to hang them on the rack… for people with 50 pound electric bikes this may be another two-person job and you might not want 6 bikes for fear of bending the rack. They say it holds up to 200 lbs so that’s about four standard ebikes… not six, but then again Jason hung on the rack and he weighs upwards of 200 lbs and we already had three bikes on it. Hanging bikes isn’t very difficult once the bike is up, just slide the front rim onto the big rubber-coated horizontal pole at the top and you’re nearly done. Latch the lower wheel in with the rubber straps (which can be a bit tricky if your hands are cold) and you’re on to the next bike. Perhaps ratcheting straps would be an improvement with future models vs. the rubber straps. The rubber straps require more hand strength and fiddling than I’d prefer and can be tricky to reach once multiple bikes are mounted.
At the end of the day, for $400 you get a very unique, well designed bike rack that can haul more bikes than the competition without increasing the drag of your car or strain on your pocketbook the way a multi bike roof rack plus rear rack combination would (in order to haul the equivalent 6+ bikes). The TP6 comes from a family that loves cycling and the name they chose is fun while offering a friendly nod to indigenous people and First Nations of the Pacific Northwest, North America that built wooden totem poles for cultural and ceremonial purposes. As someone who rides daily and lives in a culture bicycles… enjoying the community, health and environmental benefits they provide, this rack offers something special. Traditional totem poles often told the story of family groups whereas this modern “totem pole” helps family create new stories together. Whether you’re part of a large family with a variety of bike types, a person with a unique or special-needs bicycle or trike or someone who needs a dual-purpose solution for indoor storage and transport, it’s really great to see a product like this that is up to the task… and while there are some definite risks associated with the vertical design, strength and security are not amongst them as long as you mount the bikes properly and apply the appropriate locks and security measures. I hope this overview helps you understand the TP6 and consider it amongst the many types of racks now available and I wish the founders and their families many more great rides together. Much respect to Fist Nation groups the world over whose traditions have inspired creativity in designs like this, especially those who enjoy cycling and have helped to preserve our natural world.
- One of the few bike racks I’ve seen that can carry up to six bikes at once! This thing is heavy duty and that makes it a good fit for people with electric bikes (which tend to weigh more due to motors and batteries)
- The company sells two very useful accessories including a 6″ vertical extension that keeps your bikes from hitting the ground or getting too close to the exhaust pipe (depending on your car’s design) as well as their floor stand which converts the rack into a bike holder in your garage!
- You might want help for this feature if there are bikes mounted… but the rack can tip backwards when mounted on your car to allow for access to the trunk or hatch window without completely removing the rack
- I like the rubber straps that hold the bottom wheels into place so bikes don’t crash into each other or cross as they did on older versions of the Totem Pole rack, I’d prefer easier to work with ratchets than rubber straps but it’s nice to have a secure point at all
- In my opinion, the price point on this rack is pretty good, I’ve seen some of the tray style racks like this priced at over $600 (and that’s just for a two bike rack, the four tray extender costs even more)
- Considering that you might have six expensive bikes hanging from this rack I’d highly recommend a locking hitch pin to protect the rack and a sturdy chain lock to secure the bikes (or just keep an eye on your car)
- The top bar on the rack (where you hang the front wheel) is slanted so handle bars can stack nicely, there’s a loop at the end for adding a lock
- This newer version of the rack disassembles for easier shipping and storage when not in use (or in the trunk of your car), it sounds like earlier versions were all one piece and that made them difficult to deal with at times
- Requires a two inch hitch because the rack is heavy duty and can carry so many bikes, this means it won’t work for people with the smaller 1-1/4″ receivers like I have on my car
- The rack positions bikes vertically which has the front wheel often positioned higher than the roof of your car (as shown in the pictures and vide) this will increase drag and could pose a hazard if you drive into a low-hanging parking garage or drive-thru
- Weighing in at 47 pounds and being a bit tall and awkward this rack might require two people to install and take off when not in use, if you’re not storing it with their optional floor stand it could take up a lot of space and potentially tip over if leaned upright
- You might want to carry some red handkerchiefs to tie onto your bikes (or a red reflective bandanna like this)… or maybe add some reflective tape directly to the rack since it sticks out a bit behind the car and is all-black
- When full of bikes, the rack obstructs a lot of the center section of your rear view out the back window
- Some wheel and tire sizes can be challenging to work with… the fat tires are too wide for the stock rubber loops so we used a bungee cord and if you have a solid front wheel or a super small 20″ wheel with a large hub (like a hub motor on the front) you might have to hang it upside-down or it might not fit over the top bar
- Online Store: https://www.electrictrike.com/collections/accessories/products/totem-pole-bike-rack
- Manufacturer Site: https://totembikeracks.com/
- More Pictures: https://goo.gl/photos/o1wMFqsW4EjfVGF97