The Ultimate Vertical Bike and Ski Rack
By now you’ve seen our post on the perfect bike rack setup, or if you haven’t you can check it out here. But carrying bikes only gets you so much seasonal fun. When winter comes around, its time to carry skis. Sure you can carry them on your roof or inside your vehicle, but if you have a tall vehicle (ie a sprinter van) and you don’t want to put snowy skis inside (to get everything else wet) a rear hitch mounted vertical ski (or snowboard) carrier is needed. And lastly for those shoulder season dual sport days or trips where you can’t decided between skiing and biking…. yes its true – a hitch mounted vertical bike and ski rack is needed. And in this post we are going to show you how we created and perfected ours.
We’ve combined our wisdom from the perfect bike rack setup post and the custom vertical ski (or snowboard) carrier post as well as the latest developments (read: version 3.0) to create a very functional and efficient hitch mounted vertical bike and ski rack. A rack that makes it easy to carry bikes, skis, or both simultaneously – whatever the trip requires. Made from a combination of a Recon Racks R5 vertical bike rack, Yakima PowderHound 6 ski/snowboard mounts and some simple custom steel fabrications.
The video below describes the highlights of our bike and ski rack system. More information about the materials and construction is provided below that.
Important Disclaimer: Modifying your bike rack and using roof mounted ski racks in a vertical orientation is likely to void any warranty, claim, or guarantee of safety for yourself or your equipment. As in… use this information at your own risk. This bike/ski carrier setup works great for us, but your mileage may vary.
We’ve covered a lot of this territory in other posts (here and there) – but we’ve added some new features to the latest version (this being version 3.0) that make it more functional and convenient. So this post provides all the updates to the latest and greatest bike and ski carrying system. To skip right to our favorite new improvement (aka the ‘Ski Retainer System’), click here.
Here’s what went into our hybrid vertical bike and ski and ski rack system:
- The basic parts:
- Vertical hitch mounted bike carrier – We run a Recon Racks R5, but you could build your own
- Yakima PowderHound 6 ski/snowboard mounts – we have tried a few different types, these work the best in our opinion because of the ratcheting closure system
- RakAttach hitch swingarm (size large for the sprinter) – this is optional, but makes things oh so much easier to deal with
*** UPDATE 06/2021 – I can no longer endorse the RakAttach swingarm as the failed coating made it stick in my hitch receiver requiring hours of labor and complete destruction of the RakAttach in order to make our van ball hitch towing capable again. More info and video at the bottom of this post and a more detailed accounting in this other post of the good and the bad about the RakAttach ***
- The custom parts for the ski racks:
- 6′ of 1″ x 1″ x 1/8″ square steel tube
- about 1′ or so of 1″ x 1/8″ flat steel bar
- 1/4″ bolts of various lengths
- 1/4″ lock-nuts
- Spray paint
- 1/8″ rubber (between the existing rack and new mounts)
- New parts for the ski retainer system
- 3′ of 1″x1″ angle
- 3′ of 1″ x 1/8″ flat steel bar
- 12″ bungee chords with ball ends
- 2 – 1/4″ x 3″ nuts and bolts (I prefer nylock nuts, just to avoid them spinning off)
I used the following tools (though there might be some other general tools that I didn’t document)
- Arc Welder – though I am sure someone could figure out how to do this without welding required, if you don’t have one
- sockets, ratchet and wrenches
- Metal saw (I use a chop saw with a metal cutting blade and a jigsaw)
- Drill with metal specific drill bits (or a cheap harbor freight drill press – my personal preference)
Jump right to the custom parts: Fabricating the Ski Mount Connection to the Bike Rack
The Bike Rack
We’ve already written about the bike rack and why we chose the Recon Rack and the RakAttach. Having run this setup for the past five years with nearly no issues I see no reason not to continue to endorse it. I’ve talked before about the damage the Recon Rack does to tires, but I have accepted this fact at this point and moved on. The other thing I will note about the Recon is the failure of the powder coating. Much more so than the RakAttach that it connects to, the paint job on the Recon Rack is peeling significantly and rusting (you can see what I am talking about in the video). So that is not ideal. But overall we are still very happy with this setup and I think I would choose the Recon Rack again, when comparing other vertical / hitch mounted bike racks.
The Ski Racks / Mounts
For the ski racks, as mentioned above, we tried a few different things. In the original post on the vertical ski racks we went with the Rhino Racks – mostly due to cost and practicality at the time. But the Rhino Racks did not like to be loaded in the vertical position. And it was a huge pain to put skis in them and get them to close and lock again. The ratcheting system on the classic Yakima PowderHound on the other hand works much better and I like that it grabs sooner as you are pulling the clamshell closed and then you can squeeze it tight to really lock things in place. Overall the Yakima racks are just much easier to use in our setup.
Fabricating the Ski Mount Connection to the Bike Rack
This is an update to the procedure listed in the previous post – now specific to the Yakima PowderHound ski racks (but the concept is likely the same for other ski mounts). To mount the skis to the bike rack we cut an 26″ (+/-) long piece of 1″x1″ square steel tube, this allowed it to slide inside the frame of the PowderHound Ski Rack. We then welded a piece of 1/8″ flat steel (1 piece for the bottom rack, two pieces for the top) to the square tube. We aligned and drilled the flat steel to the existing mounting bolt locations on the recon rack.
More information is shown in the annotated pictures below:
Ski Retainer System (new in V3!!)
The critical part that previous version of the vertical bike and ski rack were missing was a way to hold the skis while loading and unloading the ski mounts. Without some way to hold them in place while clamping the clamshells closed, its nearly impossible to load more than one or two pairs of skis (unless you have an extra set of hands or two). Hence we developed the ski retainer system, using additional steel angle, some minor reinforcement and bungees with ball ends.
As shown in the photo gallery / slide show below, the system is fairly simple. Two 1/4″ bolts clamp the 1″x1″ angle (with a little bit of reinforcing for good measure) to the mast of the Recon Racks bike rack. This is a fairly simple system, as we don’t intend for this support bar to be the structural item holding the skis during travel, it just serves to hold them for loading and unloading. As such, it does tend to rock around a little bit, as you load skis, but it seems to work fine. The width of the angle section is just a little bit longer than the ski rack width – about 28″.
The key is to get the right length of bungee chords with ball ends so that they can loop around the skis (below the bindings) and attach to slots in the angle. By placing the bungee below the bindings the skis wont slide down and are held in place while you load other pairs of skis and close the racks to secure them in place for travel. I assume that this would work just fine for snowboards as well – but being that we have no snowboards, I have not tested it.
That covers the latest edition of our vertical ski and bike rack. We think it works pretty great! But like most things at Points Unknown, we are likely to keep on adapting it and updating it as time goes by – so sign up for updates or check back often!
There really isn’t much to say about about the RakAttach hitch swingarm. It works really well. We’ve heard some horror stories (see comments on the previous posts) about the swingarm becoming loose and introducing a lot of vertical play into the heavy bike rack. Suffice to say we have had the swingarm on for over five years and have not had any of these issues. We really appreciated the extra access that it provides us to the back of our van. I honestly couldn’t imagine a setup without it – it’s just so convenient!
One thing that comes up a lot when people ask us about our vertical ski carrier is concern about the skis, sitting outside and getting road dirt and other grime kicked up onto them. We agree – this is a concern. And to address this, we made little sleeves that we put the skis in for carrying them. The photos above show the skis out of the bags, just so you can see whats really going on, but during regular travel we slide our skis into carrying sleeves like those shown below.
*** Update (June 2021): RakAttach Fail ***
We are pretty proud of our ski and bike rack setup. So when a key component, the RakAttach swingarm, failed (spectacularly), I figured it was worth an update to show how and consider why. Rather than add to this post, I have created a new one – click here to find out more. Or you can just watch the video below.