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The Saris SuperBones brings a venerated classic bang up-to-date, and makes it easier and more secure than ever to use.
I'm a huge fan of the original plastic-and-alloy Saris Bones rack, released in 1996. Living in the US at the time and using a variety of lease cars for work and travel, from 4X4s to sporty coupes, the Bones rack followed us everywhere, fitting every vehicle I've ever tried it on. (See Rob's review of the Saris Bones 2 here.)
The gold standard in bike rack practicality, performance and security must be Thule or Atera tilting towball-mounted models. But at around £1000 all-up including towbar and electrics (if you don't have them) and with many people not allowed to fit towbars to leased vehicles, frequently this is not an option. Roof racks/rails can be expensive, are almost always car-specific, require upper body strength and height to safely lift bikes, and you have to remember they are up there when approaching garages/parking lot barriers. So boot/trunk-mounted racks can sometimes be the only solution. Just as well Saris has such a cracker on offer in the SuperBones.
An inherent issue with the original Bones design was the straps – basically a jumbled mess of six varying lengths, with plastic-coated metal hooks and buckles you had to juggle when fitting the rack. It was always advisable to check strap tension every hundred miles or so, and you had to lock the bikes/rack to the car itself; I carried a plastic-coated braided cable to pass through the tube for this purpose. Strap fitting/tension and security were standout discrepancies in an otherwise excellent design. For the SuperBones, Saris has innovated the bejeezus out of the original; from a distance it looks the same, but there's wizardry afoot.
Previously, arms had to be slid off the splined alloy tube and repositioned, then tightened. Doing this for four arms was always a faff, and the chance of getting it on the car only to find that one arm was one spline out of alignment was high. Now it's a case of lifting a locking lever, pivoting the arm, then pressing the lever back down.
The headline difference is the straps. Now, instead of a confused jumble passing through the centre tube, each of the four 'foot arms' has an integrated ratcheting strap that is adaptable to run either over or under the arm, depending on your car's design. This is facilitated by a cunning removable metal hook and rubber sheath at the end of each strap, making swapping between fundamentally different vehicles a matter of a few minutes' reconfiguration.
Two of the four ratchet levers have locks, and the cables include four steel strands to slow down thieves – if someone really wants your bike/rack they'll have it, but these features will at least slow down the drunks/kids having a go on the offchance.
Rounding out the security features, there's a thin plastic-coated metal cable that retracts inside the end of one of the 'bike arms', which loops around the frame of the third bike and locks into the arm end. It looks like it would last maybe two seconds under a decent pair of shears, but again it's to slow down the opportunist, not the pro.
The straps are spring-loaded, so once roughly in place a press of the ratchet lever tightens them by spring, then the lever is ratcheted a few times to tighten firmly. It works brilliantly – getting a fit tight enough to lift the rear of the car from rest took a few seconds. As the rack is tightened down the multi-pivot feet conform to modern curved or sloping surfaces, ensuring a tight fit with a distributed load.
The tight strap fit possible with the ratchet mechanism plus the pivoting feet means the SuperBones doesn't need an anti-sway stabiliser strap, cleaning up the lines and also removing any chance of the dread thrum when taut straps hit resonance at certain speeds.
Weighing 8.4kg, the SuperBones isn't too heavy – anyone should be able to fit it. The Saris website has video guides recommending arm and strap orientation for many vehicles. Once the rack's on and tight, the bike arms can be adjusted to any angle using a simple locking lever. At this point you might narrow the arms to fit them between a particularly narrow frame – such as a child's bike. Small frames might not be able to fit the arms, so practise is important.
For restricted or step-through designs Saris sells a 'bike beam' for £35 that simulates a top tube, and for £13 it sells sets of four foam blocks that slot over frame/fork tubes to stop bikes knocking against each other. Given the relatively narrow spacing of frames, this is a sensible investment – certainly less faff than using strips of rag or foam to separate frames and forks, particularly with the increasing popularity of disc brakes, with callipers and rotors needing protecting.
You put the first, largest/heaviest bike on first, then the rest. Bike top tubes end up spaced 17cm apart, so all combos of bikes will have overlapping handlebars. As with any rack there's a bit of trial and error to work out the best order, direction and placement, but once you sort it out the process is easy.
The rubber-coated straps don't mark frames and cinch down tight. You do need to be aware when tightening the straps over external cables; I always kept a few small sections of rag or inner tube to hand to slot between frame and cable.
To aid stability and frame protection, the 'anti-sway' straps that attach to the seat tubes can be screwed outward to increase the spacing between bikes – a nice touch, and they pivot out of the way for bike installation or removal.
Having had 15 years' experience with the Mk1 Bones, I was not disappointed with the SuperBones. Everything stayed put, and the act of removing the rack to put it in the back of the car was a matter of a few seconds, as was replacing at the end of a ride. Compared with the previous model, which involved undoing/doing up six straps, it was a breeze.
As always with any rack, you need to be aware of bike placement and protection. When not in use for carrying bikes, the two bike arms can be quickly folded down out of the way.
If you can't fit or afford a towbar/towbar rack or roof rails/rack, the SuperBones is the next best option. A classic reinvented, better than ever.
Classic design updated and improved with pivoting arms and ratcheting straps – excellent
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Saris Super Bones 3-Bike Rack
Size tested: 3 bikes
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
It's for anyone who can't afford or can't fit a towbar or roof rack.
Innovative retractable straps feature one-touch adjustability for ease of car fit and seamless strap management.
Pivoting and floating foot easily and intuitively adjusts to vehicle's design.
Dual locking system that securely locks the bike to rack and rack to car.
THE ULTIMATE TRUNK RACK
Meet the SUPERBones. It is the classic Bones trunk rack, reimagined. We took everything we've experienced, observed and learned from our Bones customers and used it to guide our design process. Out of that work was born a trunk rack more secure, more beautiful and more intuitive. With interwoven steel straps that store neatly within the rack to the floating foot that pivots to conform to a wide variety of trunk shapes, the SUPERBones is truly a functional piece of art with all the features of a forward-thinking bike rack.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Carries 3 bikes (35 lbs/bike).
Anti-sway adjusts in and out to maximize bike protection.
Bikes are easy to load thanks to pivoting anti-sway straps.
Integrated locking to secure bike to rack and rack to car.
Heavy duty straps reinforced with internal steel strands.
Strap adjustment lever quickly tightens rack to car.
Internal ratcheting mechanism creates the best in class strap management.
Adjustable foot for maximum protection of car by intuitively adjusting to vehicle's trunk, bumper shape and design.
Stationary outer leg creates an easy install on vehicle.
Frame fits over most spoilers.
Rust-free injection molded plastic.
Compatible with most vehicles''consult the Saris Fit Guide for approved fits.
Patents issued and pending.
Lightweight at 18.5 lbs.
Very well put-together indeed.
Bearing in mind the limited space available, and that any rack requires care, it works extremely well.
It looks to be bombproof.
£350 is a lot of cash, but if you use it often and can't use the alternatives, it's worth it.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Very well indeed. Hard to think how to improve it.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The ratcheting straps. They really are a step change in ease of use and security.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Probably the actual bike straps – rather stiff and occasionally tricky to thread.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
I'd like the bike security loop to be a bit thicker, and the bike straps can be sticky to thread through. The adjusting locks need a bit of tweaking to get the tension settings right, but nothing major. Apart from that, it's state-of-the-trunk-mounted-art.
About the tester
I usually ride: Merida Ride 5000 Disc My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: A few times a week I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: cyclo-cross, club rides, general fitness riding, mountain biking, Dutch bike pootling
Living in the Highlands, Mike is constantly finding innovative and usually cold/wet ways to accelerate the degradation of cycling kit. At his happiest in a warm workshop holding an anodised tool of high repute, Mike's been taking bikes apart and (mostly) putting them back together for forty years. With a day job in global IT (he's not completely sure what that means either) and having run a boutique cycle service business on the side for a decade, bikes are his escape into the practical and life-changing for his customers.