Review – Swagman XC2 2 Bike Hitch-Mount Carrier/Bike Rack

bike carrier

Back many years ago when I had a large car, a 1979 Cutlass Salon (I loved that car!) – I could stuff four 10-speeds into the trunk.  In addition I also used an el cheapo bike carrier that attached to the trunk of the car and later a slightly nicer trunk-mount rack and it worked fine for my next car, a Chevy Lumina with a spoiler.  But even with extra padding and protection it would leave a few micro-scratches sometimes, and I was never too keen on attaching something to the back of my car with a bunch of straps, and then hanging something off that something with more straps and driving along at highway speeds.

When I got my new car, a Honda Accord coupé with the factory spoiler, the old bike carrier would no longer work because the spoiler was too big and in the wrong position for the bike carrier to clear.  Eventually, I just decided it was just as easy to loosen the handlebars on my bike and turn them as well as remove the seat and tire and stuff it in the trunk.  The Accord has a deceptively large trunk with the passthrough but it still took some maneuvering to get the bike inside, and careful positioning so no cables got bent and nothing got scratched.  In short – it was a pain in the rear to do.

Honda Accordcutlass79

Later when I got a new and much nicer road bike I decided I sure as hell wasn’t going to disassemble the new bike every time I wanted to transport it somewhere.

Fortunately my biking skills slowly got better and I could expand the range of my trips to actually ride to some of the places where I used to take my bike to in or on a car.

motobecane bike at sacketts harborEventually I started getting sick of riding the same roads, even though I was getting some good distances.

Get another trunk mount bike carrier?  I know there were a number that would fit the Honda Accord with the spoiler, though many wouldn’t.  But I really didn’t want to strap the thing to the back of the car and then strap a bike to it and take the chance of scratching or denting the car, as well as worrying constantly about the thing hanging off the back of the vehicle.

Roof-top mount?  First I would either have to have permanent or temporary roof racks for the car, then I would have to get the actual roof mount bike carrier.  Maybe take the front wheel off every time I wanted to put the bike on (some do, some don’t), but at the very least I’d have to sling it up on top of the car, taking a chance of it scratching the top while I was securing it, breaking a window, or scratching the bike.  And then the bike is sticking up there, higher than the car; vulnerable.  Seemed like a lot of trouble and extra money.

I had previously traded the old trunk-mount bike carrier that wouldn’t fit on the Honda for a hitch-mount bike carrier (thank you Craigslist) that would fit on my wife’s Ford Edge.

My old bike carrier, from Hollywood Racks

Not the bike carrier I am reviewing here –  this is my previous bike carrier, from Hollywood Racks

As you can see in the pic above; my new Motobecane Mirage Sport Road Bike SEEMED to fit on the older model Hollywood Racks.

But because of the exposed cables on the underside of the top tube of my bike and their positioning; well, the above picture was the first and last time I ever placed my bike on this carrier.  And I had to do a little straightening of the pinched cable that the horizontal hook bars of the carrier had bent.

So despite lots of research and discussion that I had read – I discovered first-hand that bike carriers/racks with the two bars that the top bar of the bike hang from can pinch or crimp the shifting cable and/or brake cable on some bikes.  Mostly the ones where the cable travels under or is angled to the side of the top tube – and especially if it is an exposed cable.  Even cable that has the plastic/metal mesh covering over it can get pinched or pulled when you are putting the bike on, taking it off, or just from the movement of the bike on the carrier if it’s not secured tightly.

Also, for women’s bike, kids bikes, and some mountain bikes the top tube of the bike’s frame may be angled down or be quite low so you may not be able to get certain bikes on a bike carrier of this type without getting an add-on bar adapter.  And you would need one for each bike that didn’t have a straight bar across the top.

Some people have luck putting certain bikes on this kind of carrier anyway, with the bike angled or hanging down on one side.  But you really have to be aware of how far the bike is going to hang if it’s close to the ground and how well the whole thing is going to be secured in this position.  And consider that if you go up over a steep hill, edge, or something like that the rear of your vehicle will momentarily get even closer to the ground, and thusly if a part of the bike is hanging low it’s conceivable something may touch.  Not to mention that it could be too close to the exhaust.

So you really have to do some research and use your head when it comes to buying a bike carrier, there are so many different kinds to be aware of  and how your bike(s) will be going on to the carrier and what you need for the particular bike(s) that you will be putting on it.  Not only do you need to fit the carrier to your vehicle and to your preferences, but you have to make sure your bike(s) fit it as well; safety and securely and without damaging the bikes or even the vehicle.

Anyway, since the old carrier wasn’t suitable for my new bike I sold the mondo heavy-duty Hollywood Racks carrier via Craigslist and looked into what I would need for a new bike carrier.

The new bike carrier would have to fit both the hitch that would be installed on my car (being a light car the only hitch option was a one and a quarter-inch Class I hitch, fine for me since I wasn’t planning on towing anything nor carrying heavy items on the hitch) as well as the one on my wife’s Ford Edge, which has a two-inch Class II hitch.

New Sportframe 1 1/4 inch Hitch from U-Haul.

New Sportframe 1 1/4 inch Hitch from U-Haul.

After much research, thought, measuring, and reading of a lot of biking discussion boards (like the excellent BikeForums.net) – I bought a Swagman XC Cross-Country 2-Bike Hitch Mount Rack (for 1 1/4 and 2-inch receiver) as well as had a U-Haul hitch put on my car (you can see my review of U-Haul’s’ hitch installation service and the Draw-Tight Sportframe hitch in this posting).

So, as you probably already know; in this posting I will be reviewing the Swagman XC2 Cross-Country 2-Bike Hitch Mount Rack (for 1 1/4 and 2-inch receivers).

The Swagman XC2 isn’t a giant beefy heavy-duty bike rack, which is exactly what I wanted because A) I would likely only be transporting one twenty to twenty-five pound road bike on it and B) I wanted something light for the back of the light Honda Accord which would have the relatively small and light-duty Sportframe hitch.

And also just as importantly it uses wheel loops (or hoops) for the bike tires to rest in instead of the horizontal bar that fits under the top bar and would likely crimp and pinch my particular bike’s cables.

This model of Swagman fit the bill perfectly, though you can certainly find plenty of other models by the same company that are heavier duty, as well as are of various designs including the more conventional horizontal bar style.

This specs for this carrier say that the wheel loops will accommodate from 20 inch up to 29 inch bikes, bike frames up to 59 cm, tires up to 3-1/2″ wide, and with a weight capacity of 70 pounds total (35 pounds per bike).

Swagman XC2 Bike Hitch-Mount Carrier Unboxing/Assembly

Partially assembled

Partially assembled, standard inspection by the cats

Unboxing.  Amazon sent me the bike carrier in one of their easy-open boxes.  In this case it was a just a box that was only slightly larger than the bike carrier’s original box, with the paper packing tape instead of plastic packing tape holding the outer box together.  SoIt was just a matter of opening the Amazon box and then the original manufacturer’s box, no big deal.

Inside, each part was in a plastic baggy thing, packed snugly and safely, with a bag of bolts and the instructions.

The instructions were fine and easily readable, though there’s not a whole lot involved in actually putting it all together.  It’s not like the whole thing is in pieces, mostly it’s attaching the four wheel loops and two ratcheting hooks and a few other pieces.

You do need a minimal amount of tools to tighten a few things up.

The assembly process only takes a few minutes or so, and you’ll have a bike carrier ready to go.

The carrier comes with the two-inch adapter already installed, and you’ll find that there isn’t an Allen wrench included to take it off, a minor sort of thing.  It’s a standard size and comes off easily (you can use your bike tool set for this of course – feel free to check out my blog post “What’s in Your Seatbag?“), with two spacer pieces and the bolt being the only parts involved.  To keep it handy and together when you take the adapter off you can attach the two spacers to each other and lightly tighten the allen bolt to keep the three pieces together and stow it somewhere safe.

When assembling it I put all four wheel loops on and both hooks, but since I hadn’t anticipated putting another bike onto it too often (this was before my wife got into biking) I eventually took the other two wheel loops and one ratcheting hook off and stashed them with the hitch adapter hardware.  I did this for a few reasons – less stuff for someone to steal as well as a few pounds less weight on the rear of the car – negligible really.

The assembled Swagman XC2 2 Bike Hitch-Mount Carrier, folded.

The assembled Swagman XC2 2 Bike Hitch-Mount Carrier, folded.

Another nice thing about this carrier is that it completely folds up, both for storage in your garage or wherever you plan on keeping it when it’s not on the car, as well as being able to be folded up and left either on the car or in the trunk or front seat.  It’s quite small when folded so it will fit pretty much anywhere and if you plan on leaving your vehicle somewhere while you take a long ride putting it inside is a good option.  Though I always take a bike lock/cable and if I am leaving it on when I have the bike off the rack I fold the carrier up, and secure it by stringing the bike cable through the wheel loops and around the rest of the folded up carrier and down through the hitch receiver’s chain loops and take the top ratcheting hook off and store it in the car  – that way everything is locked to everything else and is somewhat safe.  Sure, a cable cutter would make quick work of it but if I am that concerned I stow it inside.

With the Swagman XC2 carrier most any bike is going to fit it because the wheels go into the adjustable wheel loops, so even two-wheeled recumbents should fit as well as bikes without a horizontal top bar, like some mountain bikes and some women’s bikes.

Minor thing; nice piece of reflective tape on the very back of the central shaft.

So, once assembled it looks like a very nice little bike carrier, light but well-made.  Time to try it on the vehicles.

Mounting on the Ford Edge

Mounted on Ford Edge, empty with both sets of wheel loops and ratcheting top bar hooks.

Mounted on Ford Edge, empty with both sets of wheel loops and ratcheting top bar hooks attached.

The bike carrier slid into the two-inch hitch receiver on the Ford Edge easily (the hitch receiver is the stock Ford hitch installed at the factory), with a slight amount of play.

But once the threaded pin that came with the hitch was screwed into the carrier everything was tight as a drum, both without the bike on  well as with it mounted.

The pin itself is threaded on the last half of the shaft, and you will need a wrench or socket to tighten it as it didn’t come with any tool to do so.  In a real pinch you can kind of maneuver the clip around and around to tighten it with your hand, but you really need a box end wrench or socket.  Not only does it keep it nicely tight but it’s a slight amount of protection from someone casually pulling the pin – they’d at least need a wrench or socket set.

I was pretty happy at the tightness of the interface between the hitch and the bike carrier, on other things I had to use some small thin pieces of scrap tin, slid in between the inside of the hitch receiver and the outside of the tongue that fits into the receiver.  They also sell all kinds of hitch tighteners too.  So with the Ford Edge hitch nothing like this was needed.  No yaw, pitch, or roll – tight as a drum.

I lifted the bike onto the carrier to visually measure where the wheel loops needed to be adjusted to.  Beforehand I had gotten a fairly close idea by just setting the carrier on the ground with the bike beside it, and adjusting the wheel loops roughly where they needed to go.  Easy with the big knobs for tightening and loosening the wheel loops, and they slide along the horizontal bar slickly.

Once I tweaked the location of the wheel loops I lifted the bike on, adjusted the padded ratcheting top hook down onto the top bar of the bike and gave the whole thing a tug.  Pretty secure and I would guess that you could probably transport the bike with just the ratcheting top hook vise-gripping the whole thing down onto the wheel loops.  The padding is heavy so it shouldn’t scratch the top bar, but I do sometimes throw an old sock over it too.

I also use bungee cords and my bike lock cables as extra security.  Not only as a backup for holding the bike on the carrier and in place but the bike lock cables are good to have on the whole thing in case you need to stop somewhere where your vehicle/bike is temporarily out of eye-shot.

A bike lock cable threaded through one of the hitch’s safety chain attachment points, and around the vertical bar and another cable through the bike’s wheels and around the frame and then around the carrier and through the first cable is going to secure the whole thing together.  Just be aware of wear and movement while driving (both on your bike wheel as well as on the bike lock cable) from vibration and movement if you go long distances; make sure everything is tight.  

Folded up or open – the carrier could be left on and even secured with your bike lock cable if the bike wasn’t on it.

On the Edge there is plenty of clearance to put the bike on either in the front or the back position on the Swagman XC2 bike carrier.

At this point I also checked for clearance from the dual exhausts – no where near so that was fine.  Possibly on a long recumbent or something like that the tires might be much closer to the exhaust.

Mounting on the Honda Accord

Bike on the Swagman XC2 2 Bike Hitch-Mount Carrier.

Bike on the Swagman XC2 2 Bike Hitch-Mount Carrier.

Most everything I mentioned above also applies to installation on the Honda Accord and the Sportframe hitch.  The only difference is the two-inch adapter plates have to be taken off the Swagman XC2 bike carrier before it was put in the smaller one-and-a-quarter inch hitch receiver.

This is accomplished with an Allen Wrench, which is not included with the bike carrier.  Pretty simple after a little initial elbow grease to get the bolt started, the adapter comes apart in two pieces and I kept it all together by screwing the bolt back into the two pieces a short way.

Once the converter was off I went through the quick and easy process of sliding the bike carrier in and tightening the hitch bolt (again, you need a box end wrench or something equivalent to tighten it fully), and then snapped the clip pin on.

Unlike some of my previous experiences with hitch-mounted things (like the Highland Hitch-Mounted Cargo Tray), the hitch bolt secured the bike carrier shaft into the hitch received snugly and tightly, so there was no play or movement in any direction, neither when unloaded nor loaded with a bike.  Same as with the larger Ford Edge hitch receiver.

This was one of the things that bugs people with some bike carriers and I was happy to see that I wouldn’t need to manufacture any shims of any kind to stop the carrier from flopping around, even a bit.

On the Accord having the bike in the front position was a close fit, as you can see in the below pictures.  With the proper pedal position and some padding/protection wrapped around the handlebars where they are close as well as where the pedal is also close, would likely make everything fine.  But it is close.  The pedal in the downward position and up against the carrier is close but there is clearance, the handlebar could possibly touch the car’s spoiler while going over bumps and such.  With padding it should be fine but it is something to be aware of, depending on the car, whether it has a spoiler, and your bike’s geometry.  Adjusting the wheel loops is an option too, though I tried to keep the bike relatively directly behind the vehicle with neither wheel sticking out in either direction.

A better position was having the bike on the rear of the carrier.  Plenty of clearance there, but also with it further back I was afraid that it might be a bit more jiggly in the carrier movement at speed, but it was just fine once I got on the highway.

Though I did notice that with the lightness of the bike rack frame when large trucks passed by in the other lane it did cause a slight vibration in the carrier and subsequently the bike, but nothing major and it only happened a few times.

Addendum 2016 – my new Kona Esatto (see my review here) fit even better on the rack, in either position.

To save a tiny bit of weight I also removed the ratcheting hook and wheel loops that I wasn’t using (as I mentioned earlier in this post).  Not really necessary but it’s one less thing that is hanging off the back of the car, less weight for the carrier to jiggle around with, and one less thing for some unscrupulous person to unscrew and take off or something.

With two bikes on it it can be a close fit on the Accord, and it takes some adjustment of the positions of the wheel loops to make sure nothing touches or rubs.

Conclusion 

My final verdict on the Swagman XC2?  If you’re looking for a light-duty bike carrier that is nicely and well-built well, that you are going to only carry light bikes on or just one mountain bike, then this is the one for you perhaps.

The weight capacity on it is going to limit its use in carrying heavier bicycles like multiple heavy or older mountain bikes, but it is perfect for road bikes and lighter hybrid or single medum- or light-duty mountain bikes.

After more longer term use and testing with multiple bikes I can recommend it for more than one road bike, easily, or one mountain bike.  It can be a tight fit for two bikes if they are of certain configurations, possibly with wider flat handlebars and the like and also possibly on a smaller car you might find the forward bike is fairly close to the rear of the car, especially with a spoiler.  Depends o the car of course.  But two road bikes fit fine normally.

The specs give you a good range of bike sizes and configurations that the carrier is able to hold and I would say from some simple observation on my part that this info is fair and correct.

Also, after playing around with a few hitch-mounted bike carriers and other hitch-mounted things I would recommend getting a hitch-mounted device that has the factory-fitted screw-in hitch pin, rather than a generic smooth hitch pin that might allow the unit to move around in the hitch receiver.