Roof racks too expensive

-- Last Updated: Aug-21-10 3:33 PM EST --

Well, I'm about to embark on purchasing my first two hard shell kayaks for the myself and the wife. Up until now I've not had to deal with rooftop transport because I've paddled inflatables which can just be thrown in the trunk. I have a '96 Subaru Legacy L wagon (not the Outback). I have a factory roof rack with side rails and crossbars. I was looking at the Yakima Big Stack (which just sounds dirty), which seems to be one of the cheapest ways to transport two kayaks. They seem to sell for about $125 and I can get them from a couple places with free shipping. However, once you add in a set of locks to prevent theft of the rack device, and a second set of tie downs (only comes with one), all of the sudden you're at something like $200. There's also the Inno two kayak rack which is a similar design but the upright is off to one side and it only uses two straps to hold in two kayaks. I kinda like the Inno one because it also has little foot stop kinda things that hold the kayaks in place while you strap them down. I think it goes for about $143, but I don't know if it's lockable. I can't seem to find any info that indicates that it is. Finally, there's the Malone stacker system which looks pretty similar to the Yakima but comes with foam blocks to hold a single kayak steady while strapping it down. Again, you'd need to buy a second set of foam blocks and straps which would bring the Malone from $103 to about $115 or something (their foam blocks and straps are the cheapest). My other option was to simply lash the kayaks (28" wide) down directly to the roof rack but the rack isn't wide enough. I could just buy a couple 1 1/2" diameter aluminum poles cut to about 60" and some antennae mast u-bolts and attach my own extended crossbars. It would sure look pretty well jimmy-rigged, but I could paint the tubes black and put end caps on them. Nobody would be likely to steal that set up and I could easily pad it with plain old tubular pipe insulation. Some cheap hardware store tie downs and I've got a transport method that probably only costs $50. I'm thinking the aluminum tubing might be a bit pricey. Steel conduit might be cheaper. The only issue I see with this method is that the extended crossbars need to be 58" so they're going to stick out a few inches past the roof on either side which means I have the potential of banging my head into them or whatever. That could get annoying. The main factor here is I'm trying to do this on a slim budget. I still need to buy the wife a nice comfortable pfd (likely close to $100) as well as a decent paddle (probably at least $60 - $80). Knowing how simple the construction is on these racks and how low the material cost it just sticks in my craw that they cost as much as they do. Those J cradles are even more ridiculously expensive - $100 for a single set of those?! I think I'm leaning towards the jimmy-rigged option simply because it's cheap and no one will attempt to steal it.

I’ve done and still do it.
I think a lot of the cost of the good store bought racks is for liability and engineering design. I’ve paid over $400 for new racks to go on a new car but most often I’ve bought used racks and modified them to fit my car.

In the distant past I used heavy duty galvanized conduit and unistrut fittings to make and bullet proof heavy duty rack for a Jeep Wangoneer.

You can make your own gear if you are handy and understand the engineering behind attaching loads to the roof of a vehicle, but it it not for most people. Unless you are very handy and paid very poorly, I’d expect you time is better spent buying a good rack.

Locks on roof racks
Some recent posts have shown that the locks on roof racks are not very effective. They are easy to steal and easy to sell.

You could always make crossbars wide enough for two kayaks from 2 X 4s and pad them with foam wedges to form saddles. I got some 3 inch thick neoprene scraps on Ebay and cut it to make wedges, used contact cement to secure the wedges to the crossbars. A few good tie downs and everything is secure. Very low tech but it is rock solid and didn’t cost too much to make.

If you want to play, you have to pay !
I have the high end Yakama racks and Thule J cradles, and have made my own modifications to them.

Do what you have to do to get yourself on the water, but just make sure that your jury rigged system will be good and secure at 70 MPH.

jack L

Pipe and noodles
There’s nothing wrong with 1 inch galvanized water pipe and pool noodles. Put some caps on, and maybe some tennis balls over those to make it less painful when you hit your head.

I think conduit is too light. Remember, it’s made to bend easily.

We carried a big heavy Grumman canoe around on a Suburban for years on a home made rack of 2x4s held on with suction cups and clips on nylon straps.

What kayaks are you buying?
If they’re WW kayaks, you can literally carry them one on top of the other, directly on the crossbars. There’s a demonstration of this in EJ’s River Running Basics DVD. I haven’t done it myself (carry the short boat inside the truck) but it looks fairly straightforward. I have seen other people carry WW boats this way.

You can also buy one set of J cradles or stackers and use that for one kayak. Wrap some pipe foam insulation around the other side of the crossbars and strap the other boat onto that (hull down or hull up), if width allows.

Or make your own stackers.

Advance Auto Parts $35.00

Shop online…
Yakima locks are easy to find for less on E-bay.

Most rack parts are there, you just may have to hunt a while to assemble what you want.

Try Amazon and Nextag for comparison shopping at many different stores.

I used to use a home made rack made of Unistrut and steel U bolts to hold it to the roof rails. Then foam pads for the boats. The Ubolts were encased in clear vinyl tubing for scratch protection, the cross bars were painted black. Solid and cheap.

The advantage of a quality system like Yakima or Thule, it can be taken on and off very quickly.

Best of luck,


Buy a used rack
I’ve never bought a new rack and have always been able to find what I need at a good price.

Used and mods
I have a Thule rack that I bought used for a good price a few years ago. Recently I wanted more spread between the bars to better support my long boats but I can’t go any farther apart on my caravan. Used 2 pieces of 10 foot 1" diameter conduit running front to rear and attached them to my Thule racks with u-bolts. At the ends I ran conduit across left to right, again attached with u-bolts, for the new crossbars.

The conduit isn’t strong enough to support the load of the boats on its own when used in this style, but that’s what the Thule crossbars are for. They take most of the weight but the extended conduit does an excellent job of keeping the boats from getting blown left to right.

The other night I needed to haul two solo canoes and my Thule crossbars weren’t wide enough. U-bolts and 1" conduit to the rescue again. Cut two pieces 6’ long and attached them to the Thule racks, extending them about 8" on either side. With only 8" sticking out from the Thule crossbars they can easily handle the load of the boat.

Looks like hell but works and I’m comfortable with it knowing that the Thule rack is the base of the whole operation and that it’s sturdy and well secured to the vehicle.

Heavier duty pipe would be better, and I might upgrade, but I didn’t even know if it was going to work or not so figured I’d go the cheaper route first.


Yeah, time is the real issue
I could certainly “cheap it” and make my own extended crossbars but then I’d have to paint them and pick out something that would allow me to attach them to the fat, wide factory crossbars. Then there’s the whole overhang issue and whether I want to drive around with something that crappy-looking on my car. I’m still researching.

Oh yeah,
and it’s not like I’m dirt poor or anything, I just want to try to curb the amount I’m spending on this whole thing. I just can’t justify a $300 rack system. To me that’s ridiculous for what they are. The idea of engineering costs and such I can see to a certain extent, but let’s face it. Kayaking and canoeing is mostly a fairly upscale sport. You’ll probably find very few people who are avid kayakers or canoeists who don’t also have a lot of disposable cash. Many of these people have not had to live paycheck to paycheck (I have in the past), and so are completely comfortable with dropping large sums of money for things that are probably being sold for far more than what they’re worth. Those people, I’m not saying it’s bad, but I think a lot of those people honestly don’t value a dollar the way I do or the way someone else would who has to bust their butt for every penny of their paycheck. It’s that group who is completely comfortable with paying through the nose for overpriced racks that their makers are going for. Captive audience. You want a rack, they know you’re going to have to pay through the nose for it or do without. Oh well, I’ll just keep looking.

Your post made me think
a lot of people are talking about buying used racks and modifying them. The locks that you can buy for those Yakima racks look like a joke. They will deter the casual thief but hell, someone with a dent-puller can probably put a screw in those locks and yank them right out with no trouble. I wonder if any makers rack can be modified to accept some sort of padlock. Figure out a way to run a padlock around or through some part of the attachment mechanism. If you make it so a thief has to spend more time he’ll give up and look for easier prey. Hmm…

I’m buying a couple small rec boats
Namely two of the Emotion Comets - rated “Gear of the Year 2010” by Outside Magazine. They’re little 8’ 3" rec boats so pretty close in size to whitewater kayaks. I doubt they could be stacked on top of each other but any of the “stacker” style racks that stand the kayaks up on edge will probably work just fine. At this point I’m leaning towards the Malone stacker type of rack as it looks to be the cheapest.

Someone touched on this, and I used a
home made rack system for years, but I have been in sudden cross winds that made me very glad I had the Yakima racks . I’m talking about wind that you have to fight to keep the car in the lane.

not us
we don’t have a lot of ‘disposable’ cash…what the hell is ‘disposable’ cash anyway! Thats a mighty wide brush to use to paint an entire sport with.

Conduit can support a great load
You can buy heavy duty conduit that is pretty much the same as galvanized pipe. You need a Hydraulic tube bending machine to bend it but I’ve never seen it done. Usually it is run straight and pre-bent pieces are added for turns. Most big cities will have a large electrical supply house that carries this along with many different sizes of unistrut.

I would not use the light grade conduit for cross bars. I might use galvanized water pipe.


I’m thinking of aluminum
You can buy the square aluminum tubing which is pretty stout stuff. I’ve been thinking of using some of that but the heavy duty conduit also sounds like a good way to go. I know with that I might be able to use pre-bent sections to make J-cradles possibly. Just gonna have to do a bit more research.

electrical conduit
The electrical conduit folks are recommending is called galvanized rigid conduit or GRC or heavywall galvanized conduit. The 3/4" or 1" can be bent with a hand bender in up to 90 degree angles. (I was a construction electrician for many years and bent plenty of it.) While it is strong, it is also heavy and it does get kind of nasty looking out in the weather. I think it would be problematic as a J-rack – mostly just trying to rig the elbows to stay upright and not flop over and severely dent the car.

You would be better off using Unistrut (the square tubing that comes perforated or solid in several dimensions.) The green-enameled version looks decent and hold up well to weather. The perforated type can have a locking cable threaded through it and have bungees hooked to it (though I don’t recommend bungees for kayak hauling). There are countless fittings for it which you can buy at most full-service electrical distributors and some large building centers. Kind of like an Erector Set for grown-ups. Google “B-line strut” or “unistrut” for an idea of what the product parts are like.

Personally, though I do have two sets of Thule J-racks (bought used) I prefer Thule square crossbars with the cheap foam block cradles, two lockdown buckle straps on either side of the cockpit and ratcheting lines for front and rear bumper tethers. I’ve bought most of my racks cheap on Craigslist or Ebay – people often sell them because they have a new car that old rack doesn’t fit.