RockyMounts BackStage Swing Away Platform Review
Cons: Really heavy, pricey, limited tray clearance
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Our Analysis and Test Results
If you own a Sprinter, Transit, or Promaster, and love to ride and travel with your bikes then you've likely already run up against the issue of hitch racks preventing you from opening the rear doors of your van. RockyMounts has come to the rescue with a platform hitch rack that swings away allowing access to the rear of your vehicle. With few other options available, the BackStage answers the call of bike nomads and provides a viable solution to a common problem and is the winner of our Top Pick Award for #Vanlife.
Ease of Everyday Use
The BackStage is similar in function and design to the Thule T2 Pro XT and is basically a RockyMounts MonoRail rack attached to a pivoting swingarm.
It features a rear mount tilt release lever that is easily manipulated with one hand. The action of the tilt release handle is similar to the T2 Pro XT, and much easier to use than the lower scoring Yakima HoldUp which has a difficult to release lever system. In general, the platform hitch rack design is inherently easier to use than other styles of racks due to a low loading height. The BackStage is no exception, and our testers found the front wheel clamps and the rear tire clamps to relatively hassle-free.
The swing away feature is unique to the BackStage and allows the rack to be rotated towards the passenger side of the vehicle to enhance access to the rear of the car. Other brands have followed suit and now the Kuat Pivot is available as an aftermarket accessory that can adapt any hitch mount rack to function in this way. Swinging the rack is accomplished by turning the large T style handle at the rear to release the threaded pin, and then pulling the tray portion of the rack to the side. Pivoting the rack out of the way is relatively easy to do, even with bikes loaded.
Once the model is opened to the side it takes up a lot of room, so you might want to double park if you're going to try this in a parking lot. The BackStage also has a tilt function, but even with no bikes on board, the rack does not tilt far enough down to allow some swinging van doors to open, so the only way to access the rear cargo area is by utilizing the swing function.
Ease of Removal and Storage
While the swing away feature is a game changer for many van travelers, the pivot mechanism adds a considerable amount of weight to the BackStage.
At 60 lbs, the BackStage is 9 lbs heavier than the rather bulky T2 Pro XT, and almost twice the weight of the Kuat Sherpa. The BackStage is a beast, and mounting the rack to your vehicle can be a bear, particularly for those who are smaller in stature. All of the hitch racks we tested are somewhat awkward to carry, but the pivoting arm of the BackStage adds to the difficulty by making the rack even more unbalanced, as the weight is not centered. The BackStage does not take up any more storage space than its competitors, but due to the weight, we recommend finding a place to store it that minimizes the distance to your vehicle.
Once the BackStage is placed in the hitch receiver, a threaded hitch pin is used to take the wobble out of the system. Threaded hitch pins used to be standard equipment on hitch racks, but most of the newer high-end models like the T2 Pro XT have moved to some expansion wedge or ball that is tensioned using a hand knob. Threaded hitch pins get the job done but are much more labor and time intensive, and they require tools to remove and secure. We found the threaded hitch pin to be particularly problematic when mounting the BackStage on our Sprinter test van. The trailer wiring plug assembly blocks access to the lock side of the pin. We eventually disconnected the wiring assembly to use the Back Stage on the van.
The swing away feature combined with the tilt mechanism of the BackStage enhances its versatility.
For those who have a van and another car and only want one hitch rack, the BackStage is the only option available that retains access to the rear of a van. We did find the clearance from the first tray to the back of the vehicle to be a bit tight, with only 13" of clearance to the center of the first tray, we encountered problems with handlebars making contact with the back of some vehicles. For comparison, the Thule T2 Pro XT has an impressive 18.5" of spacing to the first tray. For those running 800mm handlebars this could be an issue. During testing, we were not able to put bikes on the inside tray that had bars longer than 760mm when using the BackStage on a Sprinter van.
The BackStage is compatible with tires up to 5" wide, so if you are a van nomad with a fat bike, you're in luck. The capacity of the BackStage is 2 bikes, and an extension is not available.
Ease of Assembly
As previously mentioned the BackStage is cumbersome.
The rack is shipped in several pieces, and a good amount of assembly is required. The BackStage was the most difficult contender to assemble that we tested. Due to the weight and awkward nature of the assembly, it is best to assemble it using the hitch receiver of your vehicle to hold the base. The trays are attached to the main support mast with four hex bolts, similar in design to the Thule T2 Pro XT. While this design is quite sturdy, it makes tray adjustment rather difficult.
We had a particularly challenging time lining up the holes in the trays with the slotted mounting plates on the BackStage. The tolerances are quite tight, and the machining on the mounting plates of our rack was a bit off. We did eventually get all of the bolts in the appropriate position, but a lot of manipulation and angling of bolts was required to get things to line up correctly. The bottom line here is preparing for a challenge when you go to assemble the BackStage, and we recommend you tackle this one with a partner.
The BackStage scored well for its security features.
The rack locks to the vehicle with a locking hitch pin, and while it is a pain compared to the tool-free designs like the T2 Pro XT and the Yakima Dr. Tray, it does deter would-be thieves from stealing the rack off your vehicle. That said, the hitch pin lock doesn't feel especially robust and could potentially be broken with a blow from a blunt object. The BackStage also comes with a nice, long, noose-style cable lock that locks to a post on the main frame of the rack.
The cable system is similar to the lock on the Kuat Sherpa and has the advantage of being able to be strung through wheels and the frame. We also appreciate the thicker diameter of the cable, when compared to the thin cables found on the Thule T2 Pro XT. The detachable cable does have the disadvantage of needing to be stored somewhere when not in use, but we would gladly trade this bit of inconvenience for the added security that the cable provides. As much as we like the inclusion of the cable lock, we feel it serves as little more than a theft deterrent. Those seeking the utmost security for their bikes would do well to purchase and use an additional aftermarket lock.
The BackStage is a stout and well-built rack. The vast majority of the rack is made of metal, other than the plastic wheel trays, and rear wheel straps. The black finish held up well during testing and proved to be resistant to scratches.
All of the pivot points on the swingarm are appropriately burly, and the central threaded handle that holds the pivot arm in the closed position is more than stout enough for the job. We really can't envision this rack having any substantial durability issues, but it should be noted that the swing away feature adds a lot of moving parts to the equation.
The BackStage is best suited to those who have vehicle access issues with other hitch racks that only have a tilt mechanism. The swing away arm is a true game-changer for van travelers and those with a cab over camper. For other types of vehicles, the weight of the rack must be factored into the equation, and racks like the Thule T2 Pro may be a better choice, or the RockyMounts MonoRail which is the same rack as tested without the pivoting swingarm.
The RockyMounts BackStage is not a cheap way to carry your bikes. This price is in line with other comparable high-end racks we tested like the Thule T2 Pro XT. The swing away feature alone is worth the price, but the BackStage is also fully functional if you don't need to swing the rack thanks to a well-designed tilt function. Overall we feel that the BackStage is an excellent value. If you don't need the swing away function then take a look at the RockyMounts MonoRail at $400.
The BackStage with its swing away feature is a game-changer for the #vanlife crowd. No other platform rack on the market provides the clearance need to access the rear doors of most vans and cab over camper setups. The rack is not perfect; we would like to see a bit more clearance to the first tray to allow for the now standard 800 handlebars to fit on the inside tray. Also, the weight of the rack makes it difficult to install and remove. Despite these drawbacks, the BackStage fills a hole in the market and is an excellent choice for those looking for a hitch mount tray style.
— Curtis Smith