The Whispbar WBT31 Bike Carrier is a premium rack packed full of features to make transporting bikes a breeze. You definitely get what you pay for.
If you're after a towball-mounted carrier, it's one of the best-possible three-bike (four if you buy the adapter) options.
Fundamentally there are four ways to carry a bike using a car: inside, on the roof, hanging off the rear or using the towball. The first option is limited by internal space and your desire to keep mud and grease off your interior. On the roof depends on your ability to fit roof racks, lift your bike up and secure it there without dropping it, then to remember bikes are up there when grabbing a drive-thru takeaway or entering a garage. Hanging your bike off a contraption tied by straps to your boot or hatch is often both insecure and a genuine faff (as well as preventing access to the boot while a bike is fitted), which leaves the fourth option: using your towball (admittedly not every car has a towball, and some lease vehicles are excluded from having them fitted, in which case your best bet is the rather excellent Saris Superbones).
The Whispbar WBT31 rack started life in Belgium as the Cykell (Swedish for 'cycle') rack, having collected a prestigious Red Dot Design Award. Cykell was acquired by cycle accessory giant Yakima in early 2016, which rebranded it 'Whispbar' to match its previous acquisition, the premium Whispbar aero roof bar and rack.
Matching the Whispbar roof system, the WBT31 rack is a premium product – at £630 RRP in its four-bike configuration it is the most expensive way to carry four bikes on the market, beating in price the top-end four-bike towball offerings from Atera and Thule. Not everyone wants or needs the ability to carry four bikes, and if you stick with just three your make and model options broaden considerably. But for three or four bikes, the quality and expandability of the Whispbar product is a good investment, and the online price is almost always below £500, a 10% discount on RRP.
The WBT31 comes fully built and ready to use. Optional extras include a wall storage hook (£10) if you want to keep it off the floor, a dust/rain cover (£20), good for storing in a hostile environment, and a ramp (£35) for loading heavy bikes or if you aren't happy lifting them vertically onto the rack. The ramp fits all four bike positions on either side and stows securely in a holder on the rack, ready to use at your destination. I always used the ramp for getting our 30kg (plus whatever's in the panniers) Workcycles FR8 Dutch bike on and off the rack – it's fast to use and minimises the risk of slipping and dropping a very heavy bike.
Finally, there's the fourth-bike adapter (£80), which clicks on securely in one movement, with a green indicator to show it's locked in. You need to fit the fourth holder before mounting the third bike as it needs to install vertically at first, therefore you can't remove the 4th bike adapter if the unit is folded, and you can't hang it on the wall in place either, so you need to remember to remove it while on the car and before storing on a wall.
The fourth bike adapter comes with a short support arm that attaches to the third bike to hold the fourth one upright, and it can be keyed alike to the other locks.
The total weight allowed is 60kg, so no, you won't be carrying a family's worth of e-bikes. Car towball ratings vary across model of car and towball, so if you want to put 60kg of bikes onto the 20kg rack you'll need a towball rated for 80kg. The electrical wiring is European 13-pin including fog lights, and a 7-pin adapter is included for older vehicles. The electrical plug is stored tidily by clipping into a metal bracket inside the rack's frame when not in use.
The headline feature of the WBT31 is the 'Just Click' ease of mounting on and removal from the towball. You lift it into place and drop onto the towball folded up – it's impossible to open if it's not sat correctly on the towball, so storage and transport are easy, including the ability to wheel it short distances on the built-in trolley wheels or push into a corner. Lifting and carrying the WBT31 short distances is easy using the curved arm loop.
Once lifted onto the towball you push down on the part closest to you with the three bike mounts. Once pushed down horizontal this locks into place with a satisfying click, the indicator on the towball mechanism changing from red to green signifying a safe lock with the correct tension for your diameter of towball. You can then use one of the three supplied keys to lock the mechanism to prevent theft; the same keys also lock the bike arms. As the rack is 20kg and requires lifting above the towball vertically, people of short stature or slight upper body strength might be challenged. With two people the job is do-able by children.
A word of warning regarding towball types: I had to swap my bolt-on flange towball for a slightly taller version, as the bottom of the towball locking mechanism hit the flange before being far enough down to provide a safe lock. This was only a tenner to change towballs, just be aware that flange towballs present possible issues here if you are looking to swap between vehicles or lend to a friend (swan-neck towballs aren't a problem). A reputable reseller will be able to offer good advice here on your model of car and towball, the manufacturer data sheet stating a minimum of 80mm clearance is needed between the top of the towball and any flange below.
Below the numberplate holder is a broad plastic bar with handholds that operates the tilt mechanism with a push of the foot, and also then serves to fold and remove the rack by lifting to unlock the folded-down section. The tilt is very generous, moving the bikes well out of the way of opening tailgates (but as always, check with your retailer that there's a good fit for your model of car).
It being foot-operated means you can remain standing and brace the bikes as they swing towards you. On flat ground with the fourth bike holder fitted, the frame swings down almost to the ground. I'd recommend facing the fourth bike with derailleur inwards, or at least shifting it onto the largest cog and making sure the outer pedal is at its uppermost position, to avoid either contacting the ground. As with other aspects of mounting bikes on cars, care and attention is required to avoid expensive errors.
The bike wheel channels can slide in and out, accommodating bikes for children of 20in diameter wheels up to long-wheelbase 29er mountain bikes and canalboat-length Dutch bikes. The tail-light modules on either side slide out as well. In practice I often didn't bother sliding the wheel channels out when carrying a road bike with a relatively short wheelbase.
The straps securing your wheels use a ratcheting lever, easy to get nice and tight once you've pushed through the slack and they work well one-handed in the confined space between bikes.
Another key feature increasingly seen across premium racks are easy-to-remove bracing arms. Anyone familiar with racks from a decade or so ago will know the frustration of loading up a few bikes, largest/heaviest first, to find you forgot to feed the second and third arms through the frame triangle of the first one or two bikes to clamp the third. Or, having done so, you find a waterbottle cage or shaped tube makes clamping impossible. Cue a bit of colourful language and removal of bikes for repositioning of the arms, possibly with a spouse looking on while the kids kick off in the back of the car.
The Whispbar solution is to make the three arms removable – you simply unwind the locking knob fully then push the knob while holding the arm. The 'claw' at the other end opens, allowing it to be removed completely and repositioned to fit at any point inside or outside the vertical hoop, feeding through or around already mounted bikes. The clamp jaws are soft rubber, safe for carbon and nice paint finishes. The knobs all lock and are keyed alike; no, I didn't conduct destructive testing to ascertain the level of security on offer, but this sort of lock is to slow down the opportunist motorway services thief, not a master criminal.
Stacking drop-bar road bikes presents the most testing challenge for a rack – with bars often protruding 20cm or more each side of the bike, yet with bikes sitting just 20cm apart on the rack, there's always a great deal of overlap. Drop bars present a much larger side area to foul neighbouring bikes than do flat bars – if your mountain bikes clash, shifting one or the other a few cm usually sorts it, but this is often not the case with road bikes. Having the ability to easily adjust clamping arm locations is a huge benefit, as is having the third position elevated to lift that bike slightly clear.
After many months of family and race use, including several trips the length of the UK, sometimes removing and reinstalling bikes several times a day, I'm highly impressed with the Whispbar WBT31. It's fast to fit, highly secure and easy to adjust. It quickly folds up small enough (100cm width) to store by the back door or in your car's boot if needed, and it's simple enough that a partner or friend could fit it with minimal, possibly telephoned instructions for a rescue mission.
With a five-year warranty and corrosion-resistant steel/alloy parts, this is a rack that should do you right for decades. Yes, there's no avoiding it's expensive, but features, good design, light-ish weight and longevity cost. The alternative is going for a cheaper rack that's more of a faff to use every single time you load or unload bikes. What price decades of secure, flexible, bike-transporting happiness?
An excellent choice for frequent carriers of three – or four – bikes of any shape or size
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Whispbar WBT31 3 bike tow bar carrier
Size tested: 3-4 bike
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 a premium cycle-carrier for those with three (or four) bikes, who value ease-of-use and excellent design.
Whispbar reseller Roofbox.co.uk says:
"This bike carrier is also known as the Cykell T31; Yakima purchased the Cykell business in February 2016, and have now rebadged the Cykell tow bar carriers with their premium Whispbar brand name.
There are so many innovations in this carrier, and it is relatively so easy and satisfying to use, that it's no surprise that it won a prestigious Red Dot Design Award.
Most of our customers have never used a tow bar bike rack before, so won't know what to expect, or be in a position to try out different racks. We therefore want you to take our word for it that this carrier really is different, really special, and if you can afford it, it will over time prove to be very good value for money.
In our opinion there are two stand-out features:
Ergonomics: Carrying and fitting the T31 is so easy because when folded it's basically vertical, not basically horizontal. Stand above it - no back strain - lift it, place it on the tow ball and push down on the outer wheel tray. It automatically adjusts and self-tensions for your particular tow ball. Fitting couldn't really be faster, and we're sure it couldn't be easier.
Design competence = low stress: When you come to remove the carrier, there's no bike holder frame that needs releasing and lowering, no jumble of bike holder arms that will then keep getting in the way – you just lift the wheel tray frame to the vertical, sandwiching all other parts out of the way, and lift the carrier, straight up, off the tow ball.
There are many additional touches that have been borne out of experience of using other carriers, for example:
The outer bike wheel holder is higher than the inner ones, reducing the potential for bikes bumping against each other, and making it easier to find optimal positions for the bike holder arms.
The bike holder arms are very easy to remove, when unlocked. This makes bike fitting much quicker, much easier, with no need to remove all the bikes and start again if you can't get a good grip on the outer bike, or have forgotten to position a bike holder in the correct place during fitting. (Most of our customers who've used tow bar carriers before will know what we mean!) A good tip is to take off the second bike holder before fitting the first bike, and aim to hold the bikes by their seat posts.
These carriers have a 'Just click' fitting system; when you hear a reassuring 'click' and see a green indicator then you know that a fitting process is complete, and you're good to go.
The T31 is a 3 bike carrier but a 4th bike adapter is available. This also has a 'just click' fitting so you can install and remove it in seconds - without the need for tools.
The maximum loading weight is 60kg; it would be possible to carry one eBike, loaded nearest the car.
The carrier tilts, with the bikes fitted, to allow easy access to the car boot – this is controlled by a foot-operated pedal below the number-plate.
The wheel trays pull out to accommodate almost all bikes - from kids bikes to 29" MTBs.
The light bars also slide out, to keep you legal; slide them back again to make the carrier compact enough to store in the car boot, out of harm's way when parking on the street or in car parks.
The lights are '5 function', including fog lights and a reversing light; they come with both a 7 pin and a 13 pin lighting socket.
Everything is lockable; the rack is locked to the car and each bike is locked to the rack, all using the same key (3 keys are provided).
The extra bike adapter and loading ramp are listed below, as well as a wall hanging bracket for smart storage, and a storage cover.
There's a 5 year guarantee. All components are of top quality, including a 300 hour salt-proofed steel frame, and epoxy-coated aluminium wheel holders.
The carrier fits all tow balls, but please note that it does not fit the Land Rover Discovery 4 (2009 onwards) unless an additional electric socket is mounted below the bumper; the Discovery's in-bumper electrical sockets are blocked by the tubes of the bike holder 'upright'.
In summary, we've been selling tow ball carriers for 20 years now; it's a market we know well. The T31 and T21 include innovations that put them at the very front of it."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Capacity: 3 Bikes
Load Rating: 60 kg
Product Weight: 20.3 kg
DETAILS & TECHNOLOGY
With space for three bikes and the ability to add a fourth, this towball carrier is a technical marvel for all cyclists. The simple 'Just Click' system makes it easy and secure to mount to your vehicle's towball.
Extendable wheel tray to most frame size
Optional extension for extra bike
Includes Integrated Lock System (ILS)
Convenient tilting system allow for access to rear of vehicle
Bike Load Capacity: 3
Load Capacity (max): 60 kg
Width (cm): 100 cm
Height (cm): 77 cm
Depth when folded: 29 cm
Depth folded: 72 cm
Weight: 20.3 kg
Distance between bikes: 25 cm
Distance between bikes: 20 cm
Material of bike carrier: Steel/Aluminium
Suitable for electric bikes: No
Lock bike to rack: Yes
Locks bike to vehicle: Yes
Integrated Lock System: Yes
Can be tilted with bikes attached: Yes
Extendible lights and wheel trays: Yes
Extendible for extra bike: Yes
Suitable for vehicles with spare tyre on the outside: No
Fog lights and reversing lights: Yes
13-pin electrical connector: Yes
Comes with a five-year warranty.
For what it does it's about right.
The vertical mounting makes it very comfortable to use.
If you are using a rear rack regularly, the value here is very good.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Extremely well – it's hard to fault.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The one-click mounting. The speed and lack of faff is something I'd never tire of.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
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
Functionally, it's hard to fault. The price is in line with competitors; if it had been £50-100 cheaper it would have been 10/10, no question.
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