I got a chance to review a new product: the Long Bike Tote hitch rack. The Long Bike Tote is built by Tom and Lucia Howorth, near Fort Worth. The Howorths aren’t recumbent riders; they’re tandem riders. Tom wanted a hitch rack that would hold his tandem low and nicely behind a small vehicle. He never found one, so he built one. A couple of area bike shops figured out the rack works for a recumbent, too. And Rick Gurney at Plano Cycling, knowing I had a garage full of recumbents, called to see if I wanted to get with the Howorths and possibly test and review one.
I already use a hitch rack to transport my bikes. The rack I’ve been using is what I’ve considered to be the best recumbent hitch rack ever made: the later vintage Sportworks recumbent rack, called the Sportworks Universal Bent Bike Rack. This rack uses two ratcheting arms, is the sturdiest built rack I’ve ever seen, lets you load or unload a bike in 5 to 10 seconds, and holds it very solidly.
Of course, even the Sportworks has its limitations. Besides not being made any more, too long a bike won’t fit on it. And there is the issue of how long a bike you can carry sideways with the wheels on, anyway. I won’t attempt to pronounce the maximum wheelbase a bike can have, and be safely transported sideways. But I will say that, for me, that length seems to be about 66″. That’s the length of my wife’s prototype Xstream, and also the longest length the Sportworks Universal Bent rack will carry without modification. That was one of the factors that led me to purchase the prototype for my wife, rather than a production Xstream. It’s over 3″ shorter than the production Xstreams, and while it was too short for me to get the recline I wanted, it’s plenty long enough for my wife.
The overall length of the Xstream is 92″, and my Tacoma’s mirrors measure 83″ tip to tip, so the overhang outside my mirrors isn’t too much on the truck. That mirror measurement on my wife’s Corolla is just 76″ though, and even the Xstream’s length is a bit bothersome on it. I had modified an old style Sportworks recumbent rack module (the kind with the two spring arms, like the bus racks) to hold my Nimbus, and then my Stratus XP. The Nimbus had a 68″ wheelbase (and 700c wheels, which made it even longer overall), and my SXP has a 71″ wheelbase. I did not feel comfortable at all, carrying either of those bikes on the rack, even on my truck.
As soon as I saw the Long Bike Tote rack on their website, I had one of those “Why didn’t I think of that?” moments. The Long Bike Tote uses a fork mount for the front of the bike. I had not seen that done on a sideways-carrying hitch rack before. That instantly shortens a bike by 12 or 13 inches. I headed right out to my garage and modified the old style Sportworks module to carry my SXP with a fork mount on the front. That reduced the overall length of the SXP from 97″ to 85″, and it felt MUCH better behind my truck. And the Long Bike Tote gives the option of removing the rear wheel too, resting the frame on a support, which can shorten a bike even more for transport. With the rise in popularity of the dual big wheel long wheelbase recumbents, and problems transporting them, this seemed like a worthy product to review.
When I spoke to Tom, he mentioned his desire to get the Long Bike Tote in front of the recumbent community, and expressed his willingness to make some modifications for a recumbent version. I told him that I really wanted to be able to carry two long wheelbase recumbents on the rack (the website showed only an add-on for a short bike). I also felt the distance between the two bikes on the rack needed to be greater, because of the large seats on recumbents, and I asked about more sideways adjustment for the second bike, to help with centering, and eliminating interference between the bikes. Tom put together a prototype for me to try out.
The rack works very well. The front bike tray has multiple mounting holes, so you can adjust it side to side, depending on whether you’re removing both wheels from the bike, or leaving the rear wheel on. It has holders for the wheels, which you can slide to wherever works for your particular bike. It has a wheel tray on the end with a velcro strap for the rear wheel (and it looked like the maximum width tire that would fit was about 1 1/2″), or if you remove the rear wheel, you use a support with a rubber v-block on top, and velcro, to hold the frame instead. The height of this support can be adjusted. The rack has a removable pin which will let it tilt down so you can access the rear of a vehicle, and is available for either a 2″ or 1 1/4″ receiver.
The rear bike tray is held in place with a clamp, so it can be infinitely adjusted side to side, to help avoid interference with the front bike. We tried my SXP and my wife’s Xstream on the rack, with the rear wheels left on, and also with the rear wheels removed. With both wheels off the Xstream, it measures 68″, well less than the 76″ mirror distance on my wife’s Corolla, so sits nicely behind the car. The bikes feel solid on the rack, but with the bikes just attached to a fork mount, and either rear wheel or lower frame, I had the urge to add a strap up higher to help secure everything, and Tom said that he also ties the bikes that way. Also, if you take the rear wheel off, you need to add some kind of chain keeper, to keep the chain from slapping against the bike frame as you drive.
So there you have it, my thoughts on the Long Bike Tote. For me, I still like my Sportworks rack best. I’ve become spoiled with the 5 to 10 second loading and unloading time for most of my bikes on it, and now that I’ve copied Tom’s idea and modified the old vintage Sportworks module, I can even carry my SXP (or a future production-length Xstream) on it, without feeling like it’s sticking out too far. But, I also liked the Long Bike Tote rack, and would recommend it for people looking for a recumbent hitch rack, especially those with the long wheelbase bikes that are so long, they defy being carried sideways with the wheels on. Tom and Lucia Howorth also seem like great people, and I wish them well with this new venture.
Here are some photos. There are more on the Long Bike Tote website.
Stratus XP and Xstream on the rack, rear wheel left on the Xstream.
Stratus XP, both wheels removed.
The Xstream, both wheels removed, fits nicely behind the Corolla.
Multiple mounting holes on the front bike tray, a clamp for infinite adjustment on the rear bike tray. That post on the rear bike tray is a wheel holder.