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Racks offer solutions for carrying bikes on cars

bike rack for car

The era of rain gutters on cars is mostly behind us, but luckily the racks that would have once seamlessly attached to those gutters have evolved with the times. 

Steve Niewerth of Rack Stop in North Vancouver says you’d probably have to look back several decades to find cars sporting exterior rain gutters – lines that would run along the edge of a vehicle just below the roof, funneling the water away from a driver’s head after opening the door during or after a heavy rainfall.

While the phasing out of rain gutters on cars was a boon to vehicle esthetics and aerodynamics, for bikers, kayakers and skiers it made things a little trickier. 

“People used to go to Canadian Tire and for $100 you’d be able to go and get a rack that hooked onto the rain gutter,” says Niewerth. “Now cars don’t have rain gutters. All the rain gutters are internal. There’s a rubber seal around the inside of the door and around the door itself.”

Since gutters have gone internal, modern retailers have found a way to continue installing car racks, but the skill and precision required to make it work has increased substantially. Not many people know that, Niewerth insists.

“They’re overwhelmed by the complexity of putting racks on cars, they thought it’d be very easy,” he says about people’s reaction to car rack installations. “They don’t realize then, as we go through our spiel, how complicated it can be.”

Niewerth also adds that over time cars have been getting smaller and bikes have been getting more intricate, adding a layer of difficulty in a consumer culture that’s constantly shifting and changing.

“We have probably over 300 different types of kits – fit kits, we call them – that hook into the door frame, all contoured specifically to each car,” he says.

Rack Stop is a one-stop shop for outdoor recreationalists who need car rack support. Their biggest customers are bikers, who year-round are looking to outfit their vehicles with racks that’ll effortlessly allow them to transport their bikes to the nearest North Shore mountain, bike route or other destination. In the last few years, biking culture has seen a rise in popularity throughout the Lower Mainland, and along with it a demand for specialization.

Niewerth explains there are three ways to carry bikes on cars: Attaching it to the trunk or hatch; attaching to a trailer hitch; or attaching to a car roof. And there are pros and cons for all those options, he notes. For example, using a car’s trunk or hatch is a fairly inexpensive and flexible form of racking a bike for transportation.

But there are challenges, too. Some bike manufactures don’t recommend hanging carbon fibre bikes by their frames. And what would you do if your car was too tall for you to easily stow a bike atop it? “We’d recommend that they get a trailer hitch and put a bike on the back,” Niewerth says.

Rack Stop has been helping people solve problems like this for a long time. In 1956, Niewerth’s parents opened Skyline Sports, one of the North Shore’s first sporting goods stores, selling everything from fishing equipment to football helmets. In the 1990s, the arrival of big box stores spurred the Niewerth family to focus on consumers’ appetite for specialization.

“Customers were requiring more knowledge and there was more selection out there. It’s very difficult to be everything to everybody,” he says.

For a while, they focused on selling ski gear, but ran into the issue of what to do during the summer months when the ski slopes went dry.

“That’s when we decided to get into car racks,” Niewerth says. “We’d sold car racks since day one. We probably sold the first car rack on the North Shore.”

They opened Rack Stop and five years later, Skyline Sports closed its doors.

But Rack Stop is still going strong, carrying forward the legacy of Niewerth’s parents, whose penchant for customer service helped make Skyline a North Shore mainstay for decades.