Beautifully designed and executed, the Thule Apex XT 4 provides ample spacing between bikes. Great quality, great price – read the full review for more details about why this is our favorite hanging hitch rack for families.
Thule Apex XT 4 Review
BEST FOR: Families who prefer hanging racks, but need maximum spacing between bikes
CAPACITY: 2, 4, or 5
HITCH SIZE: 1.25″ or 2″
- Provides 7″ of space between each bike!
- Ratcheting straps are narrow and pliable – easy to move out of the way
- Accommodates 20″ and even some 16″ kid’s bikes
- Anti-sway cradles help reduce bike contact
- Lightweight – easy to take on and off the car
- Tool-free installation and integrated hitch locking system (no separate bolt that can get lost)
- Like with any hanging rack, more difficult to load and configure than a platform rack
- Most women’s and kid’s bikes need a top tube adapter, which increases the cost of the rack
Thule Apex XT 4 Review: Results of our Testing
Great quality, easy to use, and easily able to accommodate four bikes, the Thule Apex XT 4 is our favorite mid-priced hanging rack for families. With a center mast and two arms that support the hanging bikes by their frames, the Apex XT is lightweight and also very low profile.
Whether you want to take the rack off after each ride, or leave it on, this little workhorse makes it easy. We also love that out of the box it works with both 1.25″ and 2″ hitch receivers.
What makes it stand out?
With 7″ of space between frame cradles, the Thule Apex XT provides more space between bikes than any other hanging rack we’ve seen. (Brands like Yakima and Allen usually have 5 – 6″ between cradles.) This makes it much faster and easier to load bikes, and also accommodates a wider variety of bike combinations.
The ratcheting straps and anti-sway cradles are both easy to use and easy to move out of the way, which also helps make loading time faster than other systems we’ve used.
Who is the Thule Apex XT best for?
- Families who want a lightweight rack that is easy to take on and off the car
- Those who need a hanging rack but are worried about bike sway and damage – the anti-sway cradles are a huge help, and the bikes are spaced farther apart than most
- Those who may want to keep their rack on the car on a regular basis (doesn’t limit rear window view)
- Families who want to carry 20″ bikes and up (and potentially even 16″ bikes!)
- People who tend to forget tools while on the go – the Apex XT doesn’t need tools to install! It’s unique mounting system also eliminates a hitch-pin that can easily be misplaced.
- Those who only have a 1.25″ hitch, but need to transport four bikes
Who is the Thule Apex XT not the best fit for?
- Those who are worried about bikes hitting one another and causing potential damage (even with the anti-sway cradles, the potential is still there)
- Riders who want to load and unload quickly – hanging racks are much more complicated to load than tray racks (although this is the best hanging rack we’ve seen)
How it Works
When it comes to bike racks, all hanging racks have their limitations. But for many families, the lower price and lower weight outweigh the often difficult task of getting all your bikes to fit on the rack.
At times it can seem like a game of Tetris while trying to load bikes on a hanging rack. Because the bikes are placed so close together, this requires shifting one bike forward, another back, raising a saddle, or turning pedals and sticking them through the spokes of the next bike.
But as far as hanging racks go, the Thule Apex XT is the easiest that we’ve found to load. And with more space between bikes, there’s also less potential for damage.
Like all hanging racks, the frame of a bike rests on rubber cradles on the rack’s arms. While this set-up is typical, Thule’s execution and design is not typical. It’s superior to most hanging racks out there.
To begin with, there is 7″ of space allotted between bikes. While this doesn’t sound like a lot, compared to other racks that only have only 5″ of space between bikes, it is. A simple 2″ can make a huge difference when you’re trying to make four bikes fit on one rack.
Handlebars are less likely to interfere with one another or with saddles, pedals are less likely to get stuck in spokes… Essentially your master puzzle skills don’t have to be quite as precise because you have more room to play with.
Second, the ratcheting straps that secure the bike’s frame in the cradles are narrow and very pliable. When you’re lifting bikes onto a hanging rack and trying to push them up and over cradles, bulky straps often get in the way and can make the process quite a pain. The Thule’s straps stay nicely out of the way and were never an issue for us.
Third, Thule’s anti-sway cradles allow you to stabilize the bike at the seat post. While it doesn’t completely eliminate sway, it does significantly reduce a bike’s back and forth rocking.
Bike Size and Frame Design
Like most hanging racks, the Thule Apex XT can pretty easily accommodate 20″ kids’ bikes to adult bikes. Because bikes are hung by their frame, tire width is irrelevant, while frame design makes all the difference in the world. We even managed to get a 16″ bike to fit with a top tube adapter!
The easiest bikes to hang have flat top tubes. For bikes with slanting top tubes (most women’s bikes and kids’ bikes), you’ll need a top tube adapter which mimics a flat top tube. When using a top tube adapter, it may be necessary to raise your seat a bit if you ride with it slammed down or close to the collar. It’s a small inconvenience to reset your seat height each time you transport your bike, but comes with the territory of hanging bike racks.
We didn’t have any major issues hanging our women’s bikes with the top tube adapters, but it is slightly more difficult to hang the kids’ bikes. When adding a top tube adapter, if the angle between that adapter and the bike’s actual top tube isn’t very wide, it can be a struggle to get the bike on the rack arms and up and over all the cradles.
In general, the smaller the bike, the more difficult it will be. When loading kids’ bikes, it may be necessary to raise the saddle all the way to its minimum insertion point in order to get the top tube adapter to fit properly. Just make sure that saddle is in there tightly!
While we certainly can’t speak for every kid’s bike, you should be able to load up most 20″ and 24″ bikes with top tube adapters. We were also able to load up our 16″ woom 3 bike (see below), but the frame length of a few other 16″ bikes we had didn’t fit on the rack – there just wasn’t enough room between the top and bottom tubes for the rack arms to slide through the bikes’ frames.
It’s worthy to note however, that the cost of top tube adapters can add up. Each adapter is $40, so if you have a women’s bike and two kids’ bikes, that an extra $120 to add to the cost of your rack.
One of the major downsides of any hanging rack is bike spacing. Whereas platform racks have anywhere from 9″ to 12″ between each bike, hanging racks may have anywhere from 5 – 7″ of space! This can result in a lot of rejiggering as you try to get four bikes to fit on a hanging rack. And of course you’re absolutely going to end up raising or lowering saddles to accommodate handlebars, or having pedals sticking through spokes.
That said, for a hanging rack, the Thule Apex XT has a ton of space. With 7″ of space between bikes, it’s the most “spacious” rack we’ve seen, which makes it easier to load than most hanging racks.
Note: Be aware that the 5-bike version does not have the same wide spacing. The rack’s arms are the same length as the 4-bike version, so the cradles are placed closer together.
Thule Apex Hanging Rack vs. Thule Pro XT Platform Rack
The anti-sway cradles also come in handy in the bike spacing department. By offering another anchor point on the seat post, the bikes sway less when the car is in motion. As a result, the bikes are less likely to hit or scrape against each other or the rack mast.
The downside of these cradles is that they are just one more hurdle to get over when placing a bike on the rack. They do move easily if you push them out of the way, but if you want them out of the way permanently, you would have to remove the strap and fold the cradle under. Kind of a pain to do on a regular basis, but for bikes with very short frames, it could be necessary.
In our experience, these anti-sway cradles seemed to get in the way when we were just figuring things out. But once we got our rhythm and were used to loading on the Apex, the cradles were only a slight inconvenience.
There are two primary folding points on the Thule Apex XT. To fold or unfold the rack arms, you simply pull the large lever at the top of the rack.
For rear hatch access when the rack is on your car, there’s a lever at the base of the rack that you pull to lean the rack mast forward and out of the way of the hatch. It’s not quite as easy to reach as the top lever, but certainly easy enough.
One of the best features of any hanging rack is that they have a very low profile when not in use. Compared to the Thule Pro XT platform rack (right image below), you’d hardly know the Thule Apex XT is on your car!
It’s also pretty narrow even for hanging rack standards. Compared to the Yakima Ridgeback which we also recently tested, there’s significantly less interference with your back-up cam because both the main mast and the arms are very low profile.
Rear Window View: Hanging vs. Platform 4-bike Rack
Both 2″ and 1.25″ hitch sizes work for the Thule Apex XT. The rack comes ready to install in a 2″ hitch. If you have a 1.25″ hitch, you simply remove the extra silver spacing ring before installation.
To keep your bikes secure while on the go, the Apex XT comes with a single cable that extends out of the mast and then wraps over the top of the bikes and secures into the front of the rack. The entire rack itself locks onto the hitch to prevent theft as well.
Not all racks come with a locking cable. For example, the similarly priced Yakima Ridgeback does not, but offers the cable as an upgrade.
We absolutely love Thule’s tool-free installation design. And in addition to no-tools-required, it doesn’t even have a hitch pin that can get lost!
To install the rack, simply slide the hitch arm into the receiver and snap the spring-loaded pin into the hitch pinhole. Then to fully secure the rack, turn the knob at the base of the rack several times to “tighten” the rack within the receiver.
As you turn and tighten the knob, a small corner of the hitch arm is pushed out against the inside of the receiver. This helps to steady the rack and greatly minimizes wobbling. The knob can then be locked to ensure the rack is steady and secure.
We also love that the Thule Apex XT 4 is very lightweight. At just 35 lbs. it’s easy for just about anyone to lift on and off the car. Compare this to Thule’s T2 Pro XT platform rack, which weighs almost 100 lbs.! If you want to easily remove your rack from your car, or do so frequently, a hanging rack is definitely worth consideration over a platform rack.
Hanging Rack or Platform
Hanging racks and platform racks each have their own pros and cons. What’s a pro for one, is generally a con for the other. Thule makes durable, user friendly hanging and platform racks. So which one is best for your family?
Pros: Lightweight, easy to take on and off car, can easily fit 20″ and even 16″ bikes, low profile, generally affordable
Cons: Tight spacing makes loading more difficult, bike sway can cause damage
Pros: Easy to load, ample spacing between bikes eliminates bike contact, rack arms make contact with tires, not bike frame
Cons: Very heavy, much more expensive, large profile on back of car when not in use, not all can accommodate a 20″ bike
There are many great hanging racks available on the market, but for families, the Thule Apex XT 4 is one of the best. With wider spacing, the ability to fit a wide range of bike frames and sizes, excellent quality and design, and a mid-range price tag, the Apex XT 4 gets our family-friendly seal of approval.
If you’re still not sure if you should be a platform or hanging rack, be sure to check out our 10 Best Car Racks for Families.
Also interested in trunk racks that don’t require a hitch for mounting? Read our review of the Saris Bones Trunk Bike Rack.