Full Review of the Thule Apex XT Hitch Bike Rack

By Eric Awwy, 17 Sep 2022

Thule Apex XT is one of the highest-ranking hanging racks that we have ever come across. From the high-quality construction to the stylish design, high durability, and user-friendliness, this rack delivers and lives up to offer you value for your money. Your trouble transporting family bikes end when you purchase the Thule Apex XT.

We dare say that it is hands-down one of the best hanging racks in the industry!

However, that’s just the synthesized bit of it. If you want to know how we came to this conclusion, go ahead and read through our detailed review that has a breakdown of the working mechanism of the Thule Apex XT car bike rack outlined below...

Specifications

Here is an overview of the Thule Apex XT Bike Rack:

CAPACITY: 2, 4, or 5 bikes.

HITCH SIZE: 1.25” or 2”

Recommended for: It is best for families that love hanging racks, even those with fat bikes, who love to have enough space between bikes.

How Thule XT Functions

The Apex XT features a center mast and two arms, which feature rubber cradles.

To load the bikes, you need to extend the dual cradle arms by pressing the top lever and gently lifting the arms.

The rack’s arms can be folded or unfolded by pulling the large lever at the top. Once the cradle arms are extended, take the cable straps off the cradle.

The rack, which occupies about 44 inches when stretched out, will then stay locked in position for the bikes to be placed on them.

Unlike platform racks which hold bikes by the wheels, the bikes are held firmly in place by their frame. The frame design of a bicycle is, therefore, more important than the tire width when it comes to what type of bike this rack can hold.

The Apex XT rack features an integrated cable lock which goes over all 4 bikes for security.

When the straps of the lock are off, grab the bikes and place them onto the rack one by one. Just be sure to load the heaviest bikes closer to the vehicle and work your way down.

With everything in place, you can easily transport your bikes to your destination of choice.

One last thing to note is that the measurement between the centers of the hitch hole to the farthest end of the rack is 16 inches. So, keep that in mind if you intend to park the car in your garage with the rack still on.

What We Really Love About the Thule Apex Rack

Apart from the obvious high quality make of this rack, there’s so much more that appealed to us about it. Let’s go over each aspect in-depth so that you can make a decision.

It is Available in different bike capacities

The Thule Apex XT can suit the needs of a large number of riders as it comes in the 2-bike, 4-bike and 5-bike capacity models.

Its ability to accommodate different user needs is the reason why the Thule Apex XT is such a great family rack!

Tool-free installation

The design of this rack is well thought-out to ease the process of installation. And the entire process requires no tools for installation!

To install the rack, you will need to slide the hitch arm into the receiver then instill the spring-loaded pin into the hitch pinhole. Next, just turn the knob at the base of the rack till it feels like it is fully tightened in position. Lock the rack onto the receiver and it will remain stable and secure.

That’s it! No need for extra tools!

1.25” and 2” hitch compatibility

The dexterity of the Apex XT rack is just top-notch! It fits both a 1.25-inch hitch and a 2-inch hitch receiver.

Right out of the bag, the rack is ready to install in a 2-inch hitch. But if you have a 1.25-inch hitch and need to haul 4 bikes, this will also work for you.

To fit a 1.25-inch hitch, you will just need to remove the extra silver spacing ring before installation.

Integrated hitch-locking mechanism

Another great feature of the Apex XT is that its mounting system does not require a hitch pin. Again; this refers to its lack of a need for additional tools for installation.

But the gist here is that because there’s no separate locking bolt, there is no chance of it getting lost or forgotten.

To lock the hitch in place, all you have to do is simply turn the knob continually till it tightens. It’s a non-complicated process!

Additionally, not only is the knob mechanism anti-rattle but it also makes it easier to connect and disconnect the rack to and from the hitch.

Maximum spacing between bikes

Here’s the thing; most hanging racks are known to have about 5 - 7 inches of space between each bike that is stored. This is in comparison to platform racks which are known to space bikes at 9” - 12” between each other. Vertical hanging racks, on the other hand, are usually much closer that the first two types.

The spacing between the frame cradles is necessary to ensure that the bikes do not bump into each other and that it is very fast and easy to load bikes onto the rack.

Thankfully, the Thule Apex lies on the extreme end of the 5-7-inch spectrum! This rack provides an entire 7-inches of space between each bike.

This eliminates the constant organizing and reorganizing of bikes to get them to complement one another on the rack. Usually, the somewhat chaotic process will involve raising a saddle here, moving handlebars there and turning the pedals to get differently-sized bikes to fit on the same rack. 

The extra inch (es) of space is a BIG DEAL because it could mean the difference between a rack that can only hold a specific size and one that can hold a wide variety of bike types and sizes. This feature allows the Thule Apex to hold various bike combinations without risk of damage.

It also eases the process of fitting 4 bikes onto one rack with full guarantee that no handlebars will be bumping into one another or pedals getting stuck in spokes.

One thing to note however, is that this advantage doesn’t apply to the 5-bike model. The length of the rack arm on the 4-bike model and the 5-bike model is the same. Thus, because the cradles are placed closer together, the 5-bike version is a bit more ‘squeezed’ than the 4-bike model.

We’d only recommend the 5-bike model to families that don’t mind the hassle of getting 5 bikes onto one rack.

Features anti-sway cradles

Anti-sway cradles work to reduce contact between bikes by maintaining the set distance each bike is positioned into.

Because the cradles on this rack are spaced farther apart, they do a great job of preventing the bikes from swaying into one another and potentially damaging one another when the car is on the go.

Can fit 20-inch bikes

Probably the best feature about this rack is that it can hold bikes with 20-inch wheels all the way up to adult bikes. The 4-bike model has a load capacity of 150 lbs., allowing approximately 37.5 lbs. per bike.

But hey; that’s not all it can hold. Even some 16-inch bikes can be contained by the rack! While we will warn that the need for an adapter (get the Allen adapter or the Thule top tube adapter) is more of a disadvantage than an advantage (we’ll dig into this later below), the presence of an adapter makes it possible for the rack to cater to families with small kids’ and adult bikes can be held.

Folding

One of the greatest advantages that horizontal hanging racks have over platform racks is that the former allows more rear window visibility than the latter. The trays of tray-based racks do not allow them to have such a low profile even when not in use.

The Thule Apex XT folds down compactly when it is not in use such that you can have FULL rear window access. So much so that you may even forget its presence on the car!

This is great for families that intend to use the rack regularly. It means that they won’t have to get the rack on and off the bike as there is no interference when the rack is installed on the car but not being used.

Lightweight

Hanging racks are usually the lightest rack when compared to platform racks which have an average of 70 pounds going upwards.

Weighing a mere 35 lbs. it is very easy to lift this rack. This makes it ideal for users who intend to frequently get the rack on and off the car.

Platform racks are usually heavy therefore any lifting would be a two-man job.

Features a cable lock for bike security

Unlike some hanging racks out there, the Thule Apex features cable locks to secure the bikes from theft and the hitch itself also locks into the car for safety.

A single cable wraps over the bikes’ tops and is secured at the front of the rack.

In comparison to other hanging racks that also feature cable locks, we like that the ratcheting straps are narrower and therefore more flexible. Flexibility is an essential factor when trying to get the locks out of the way as you load up the bikes onto the rack.

Bulkier and less flexible straps have a tendency to get in the way during this process as they are heavy and thereby more difficult up and over the cradles.

The Apex’s cable is also free as it comes with the package whereas the Yakima Ridgeback is an example of a rack that offers the locking cable as an upgrade.

Tilts to allow access the rear of the car

We love that the Thule allows access to the car’s rear even when the rack is still on the car.

To access the rear hatch, simply pull the hitch switch lever located at the base of the rack and the rack mast will lean forward and out of the way; giving you enough room to take items out or get them into the car’s back.

What We Don’t Love

While we still maintain that this is one of the best hanging racks; like any other rack, it is not entirely flawless. Here’s the bummer about this rack:

Must be modified to fit Kids’ and Women Bikes

It requires a top tube adapter to accommodate most women’s and kids’ bikes.

Like we hinted above; the frame design of a bike is a very important determinant for whether or not a bike will be supported by this rack. As such, bikes with a flat top tube are the ones that easily fit the Thule Apex.

On the other hand, bikes with slanting tubes are more problematic. A top tube adapter is required to make such bikes fit on this rack. The top tube adapter mirrors the design of flat top tubes and makes it possible for such bikes to fit.

The presence of this adapter; however, comes with a few setbacks.

Firstly, smaller bikes; particularly kids’ bikes, can be hard to hang onto the rack arms and over the cradles when there is limited space between the adapter and the bike’s actual top tube.

For some 16-inch bikes, the minimized frame length doesn’t allow enough room between the top tube and the bottom tube. This means that the bike won’t fit on the rack because the space required for the rack arms to slide through the frame isn’t sufficient.

Additionally, it may be necessary to raise the bike’s seat each time you load it onto the rack so as to accommodate the top tube adapter. However, this is only necessary if you always ride with the seat on its lowest height setting. It’s a small thing to contend with really, so we don’t think of this as a deal breaker for us.

And lastly, the addition of a top tube adapter can become rather expensive.

Sure, the Thule Apex can fit women’s and kids’ bikes with the help of a top tube adapter. But we find the extra cost of the top tube adapter to be rather huge especially if you want to exclusively haul these types of bikes.

This rack is compatible with the Thule 982xt bike frame adapter which comes at a separate cost.   An adapter costs roughly around $40 dollars, so that fee added to the original cost of the rack is something to keep in mind.

Requires effort to load up

Getting all bikes to fit on the rack is usually a difficult task that is common to most hanging racks; especially when the loading process is compared to that of tray-based racks.

Hanging racks just aren’t as easy to load and unload as platform/ tray-based racks because the much tighter spacing makes loading more difficult.

Platform racks offer more than enough space between bikes.

While the loading process of the Thule Apex is easy due to the extended space between bikes, it is harder than that of Platform racks.

Not the best for RV’s

The Thule Apex does not work well with RVs as there just isn’t enough clearance. Thule has a more suitable rack for that known as the Thule Range.

The Cable lock is easy to cut

While the lock on the Thule Apex is stronger than most locks that are usually installed racks, it is still very easy to cut the cable lock so it isn’t the most secure way to protect your bikes. Any intentional thief can easily cut off the lock so we wouldn’t really rely solely on this protection.

You are better off incorporating more security mechanisms such as u-locks, especially if you find yourself parking in a low security environment.

PROS

Tool-free mounting system.

Maximum bike spacing on a hanging rack.

Versatile as it fits both 1.25” and 2” hitch receivers.

Does not limit rear window view when not in use.

Does not sway when fully loaded.

Comes with a cable locking mechanism for bike security on the go.

Locking hitch knob secures rack to vehicle without rattle.

CONS

Requires a top-tube adapter to fit most women’s and kids’ bikes.

Top tube adapter comes at an extra cost.

More difficult to load up than platform racks.

Cable lock isn’t the most secure security measure for bikes.

Final verdict

Thule is an established brand that has been a high performer in the bike industry.

For having the most space between bikes, maintaining a small profile when not in use, being lightweight and highly durable; the Thule Apex XT scores very highly in our books.

Truth is; it has its drawback too.

Not to worry though. What the Thule Apex lacks in terms of its inability to hold some small bikes, it makes up for with its ability to space the bikes can fit without potentially damaging them.  

If you can live with the slightly inconvenient loading process of hanging racks in comparison to platform racks, the adjustment of a top tube adapter needed for women’s and kids’ bikes, and don’t mind the extra cost of the adapter, then this rack is exactly what you need.

For all the reasons mentioned above, we rate this rack as the highest scoring hanging rack we have ever come across!

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