I recently purchased a iSi extended 442-600/40 main beam bike rack. iSi is a bike rack company out of Australia that caters to those in the off-road world. The issue with just about every bike rack on the market is that they don’t stand-up to the abuse of off-road driving (hard hits, long stints of vibration, etc.). Whether that’s the rack itself and/or the bikes it’s carrying. They also either take up your roof rack or drastically impede your departure angle. Suddenly your tough 4×4 is dragging ass through the smallest ditches. I’ll go over how the iSi is different than all the rest under Build Quality.
My initial email into iSi was responded to quickly. Their service was initially, incredibly detailed and responsive. For example, Sebastian has a custom rear bumper with very tight clearance between the hitch and tire swing arm. To boot, I wanted to be able to still use my spare tire Maxtrax and trash bag carrier. So they, at no cost, built a custom MultiFit pivot base out of stronger than normal materials to suit my incredibly specific needs.
However, reaching back out a few weeks after my initial inquiry to actually buy it was met with… silence. Finally, after several follow-up emails, a cheery response and my order was placed. Then again, silence. I followed-up about shipping information… crickets. Most recently, I sent over pictures as they requested to see if they had suggestions for my configuration… and, you guessed it, crickets.
The bottom line here is that with Yakima or Thule — you’re either going to deal with a limited warranty, an 800-number, and hopefully a local dealer to make things right. And there’s no local dealer for iSi in America. While I’m pretty sure you could eventually get in touch with someone if you had issues… be prepared to work at it daily. Even if it’s to honor your “no questions asked” lifetime warranty.
I’ll include in this section, the packaging and assembly experience.
The package shipped quickly from Australia. It came in a medium-large box and the box tubing taped together as a separate package. The box tubing wasn’t packaged all that well, but it’s just raw galvanized box tubing… so it’s not like there’s anything to protect. The rest of the parts in the box were all plastic wrapped and packed tightly. Everything arrived in great shape.
The directions… oh wait… there weren’t any. With the parts all unpackaged and laid out on my driveway I went to look more closely at the paperwork included. An invoice, a customs form, a brochure… that’s it. Assembly, honestly, wasn’t that difficult and easily done by referencing the pictures in the brochure and online. But instructions would have made a 30-minute process take 10. And this coming from a guy that I’d consider pretty handy and industrious.
My specific iSi is about as big as they get. I have the longest pivot arm with the heaviest base. The only plastic parts are the end caps for the box tubing. It’s 99% steel and built like a Humvee. Yet somehow, it’s really not that heavy. It’s significantly lighter than my friend’s Thule T2.
Beyond the lack of plastic crap and frills (how many bottle openers does a person need on a rack?) — it’s how the iSi is built that really makes it different. The pivot base attaches to the rest of the rack with two pins. That makes the rack completely modular. Meaning you can buy multiple bases and run the same rack on your trailer, truck, car, etc.
The pivot base also creates the steep angle of the arm that only has a minor impact on your departure angle — and holds the bikes up high and away from stream crossings and the wrath of your tires.
At the top of the arm is the cross beam and cradles. The cross beam is equipped with wheel carriers that allow for offset in height between the bikes and slide along the cross beam. This is highly unique because there are also two cradles — not one like most racks. The combination of the two enable you to create the narrowest possible profile. Likely without overhang at all.
The base has three holes to allow for adjustment of depth into the hitch. Great idea. And the anti-rattle mechanism is about as simple as I’ve seen — yet the most effective I’ve come across. That’s also a downside. It utilizes a long metric bolt that threads into a square that goes inside the base which is free floating. On the other side it has a nylon locking nut. This is key because it prevents the bolt from backing out of the piece that’s inside the base like on so many other racks. It’s free floating so you can make use of all three mounting positions (Well… maybe. Only two work on my hitch.)… but feeding the base into the hitch with one arm and moving the little tightening square to line up with the right hole is all but enough to make you want to punch babies.
The last part worth mentioning is the rack’s ability to maintain use of the tailgate. The iSi racks pivot between the base and the arm. The outside wheel carriers are covered in a rubber material to protect the powder coat. When loaded with bikes, your handlebars will likely hit first. I wanted as much room between the bikes and the tailgate as possible. Our dog goes in the back and we cook off the tire swing-arm. That’s another reason for the long pivot arm and custom base on mine.
The pivot bares most of it’s weight on the catch, not the pin. Which makes installing and removing the pin easy. I’ve used other racks where the weight is on the pin… somehow you’re supposed to contort your body to fit between the bikes and car, whilst holding the entire weight of the rack up while you loosen the pin. The iSi isn’t like that at all. The hardest part of raising and lowering the rack is simply the weight of the bikes. But it has a confident locking position at the top that means it’s not moving until you’re ready to flip the lever.
From a bike carrying prospective — there isn’t a better rack. Loading and unloading is lightning fast. It’s the most solid rack I’ve ever seen or used. You can hit holes that’ll make your pooch go floor to ceiling and back — and the bikes won’t move. I’ve seen bikes and racks destroyed from corrugations… let alone something more substantial. The iSi I’m confident will handle anything you could throw at it. And unlike some of the other “off-road” friendly bike racks — things like your fork crown and wheel size don’t matter. You can carry any kind of bike on the iSi.
Everyday use is really just a long gripe about what I’d like to see improved. And that’s mostly due to the fact that this isn’t an everyday rack. This is the rack you take because no other rack will survive. That said, let’s begin by putting it on. You wake up and go outside to install the rack and load up bikes.
The pivot base anti-rattle setup works incredibly well. But as I already mentioned — installing it is a bit of a nightmare. You suffer through and use that 24mm (you have one of those right… oh wait, most people don’t own metric wrenches past 19mm?) socket wrench to tighten the bolt that’s way too long (meaning it takes longer than it needs to) to the anti-rattle device. (Pro-tip, invest in an impact driver.) Then you switch sides and do the same thing with the nylon lock nut. Now it’s bedtime — celebrate your day as a victory and go to bed.
A new day upon us and the the rack finally on — you realize that because the cradle arms don’t collapse or move you have to pivot the rack down every time you want to access the tailgate. Not a big deal on a multi-day trip… but it’s not a rack you’re going to leave on between trips or rides.
It’s lack of moving parts is also part of why it’s so solid. But it also means your driving around with it “deployed” all the time. Yakima, 1Up, etc. all fold in towards the vehicle making it easier to navigate around town when not in use. Not the iSi.
When you go to load your bike and then want to run in for a coffee you realize that there isn’t any kind of built in security. And it’s not easily secured. Most of what you’d normally run a cable or lock through is easily removed with a lever or allen key.
Coming back out to your car — you realize that because or the racks high position — it completely blocks all three of your taillights. Great.
(I actually ended up installing a motorcycle taillight connected to my trailer harness for this reason.)
Your ride over and annoyed with the rack as a “leave it on”… you decide to take it off. Then you remember the epic poem of installing the base’s anti-rattle bolt. So you compromise and pull the two pins from the base — separating the base from the rest of the rack. This is a decent compromise overall — but left with basically an XL sized hitch that loves knee caps and shins. And it renders the hitch useless for recovery, towing, etc.
And that’s what it’s like to use the iSi on your average day.
If you want to take your bikes on an adventure that includes rough trails or a lot of dirt miles — there isn’t a better rack. If you want the best rack for you bike… again I doubt there’s a better rack. But those both come at a cost to user experience and convenience.