Swagman Chinook Review
Cons: Feels cheap, clamps contact frame, wobbly
Our Analysis and Test Results
We tested the Swagman Chinook on a few different vehicles, with a variety of bikes, and on road surfaces from smooth asphalt to washboard dirt. We loaded and unloaded bikes and used all of the features this rack has to offer, and in the process, we exposed its strengths and weaknesses. We were impressed with this rack's ability to accommodate bikes of all shapes and sizes and a vast range of wheel and tire widths. It also comes with features like a locking hitch pin and clamps, as well as a hitch adapter that makes it easy to switch between 1.25" and 2" receivers, adding to its versatility. Testers were less than impressed with the rack's quality of construction, wobbling, and clamps that contact the top tube of the frame. That said, the Chinook is affordable compared to much of the competition and is a good option for those on a budget who only use their rack lightly and aren't too worried about clamp to frame contact.
Ease of Everyday Use
When it comes to everyday use, the Chinook performs relatively well. It lacks the convenience of many of the more expensive models of hitch mount racks, like our Editors' Choice Award winner, the Thule T2 Pro XT, as the wheel tray adjustments aren't quite as user-friendly, and the design tends to conflict with truck tailgates even when it is in its collapsed and tilted down position, but usually plays well with other car's trunk doors. Once the wheel trays are adjusted to the correct width, loading the Chinook is pretty easy due to its low loading height and simple clamp system that is slid down to put downward pressure on the top tube of the frame. Both wheels are then secured in the wheel trays with ratcheting straps. Due to the vertical bar in the center of the rack that holds the clamps, loading the bike that is closer to the vehicle is somewhat more awkward than on models that don't have a vertical bar since you have to slide the bike in behind it.
Ease of Removal and Storage
The Chinook is attached to the receiver with a threaded locking hitch pin that requires a wrench to install and remove. The vertical bar in the center of the rack folds down flat when not in use and gives the Chinook a slimmer, but still quite long collapsed size at 58.5 inches. It weighs in at 47 pounds, which is far from super light for the apparent quality of this rack. The awkward shape of the rack also makes it somewhat unwieldy. It takes up roughly the same amount of space in storage as most other hitch mount tray racks, but far more than racks that can fold up small like the Swagman XC2, or the 1Up USA Heavy Duty Quick Rack.
The Chinook offers a good range of adjustability and can be used with a variety of sizes of bikes, wheels, and tires. The wheel trays are adjustable and can accommodate wheelbases in a range of 20-50 inches. The included wheel trays fit tires up to three inches in width and is recommended for wheels ranging from 20-29 inches in diameter, wider wheel trays for fat bikes can be purchased as an aftermarket accessory. The ratcheting clamp hooks slide up and down on the vertical bar in the center of the rack and can secure bikes in a huge range of frame sizes and shapes. The clamps do contact the frame on the top tube, so people with expensive carbon frames or who are particular about their paint job may be better off considering racks that don't clamp the frame such as the Kuat NV 2.0, RockyMounts MonoRail, or the Yakima Dr. Tray. The Chinook comes standard with an adapter system that easily switches between 1.25" and 2" receivers. It also has a claimed weight limit of 45 pounds per bike, or 90 pounds total, so it can handle most bikes, although people with e-bikes may want to look elsewhere.
Ease of Assembly
The Chinook comes completely disassembled in the box. It isn't especially difficult to assemble, and it comes with relatively easy to follow instructions and all the necessary tools. It took a little over 20 minutes to put the Chinook together from taking it out of the box to being ready for use.
Swagman included a locking hitch pin and clamp locks with the Chinook. The lock on the hitch pin prevents the pin from being removed from the receiver unless it's unlocked. The locks on the clamps are on the plastic clamp handles and when they are locked they prevent the levers on the ratcheting clamp handles from being depressed and moved in any direction. These locking clamps will likely deter opportunistic bike thieves, but determined bike thieves wouldn't be hard-pressed to make off with your precious bikes. Sure the locks are nice, but the wheel trays seem like they can be moved easily enough one could get the bike out of the rack with minimal time or effort. We would recommend the addition of a thick cable lock to really secure bikes on the Chinook.
Constructed primarily of thin square steel tubing, the main body of the Chinook seems relatively durable. The plastic clamp handles and plastic levers that control the position of the vertical clamp bar and the tilt of the rack, however, do seem somewhat flimsy and susceptible to the effects of weather and heavy use. Overall, the Chinook seems quite wobbly as well, a problem that seems like it could cause premature wear on the rack's connections and moving parts. We would recommend the Chinook to people who don't use their bike rack all the time, and for people who generally drive on smooth road surfaces.
The Chinook is best suited to lighter duty use, people who use their bike rack less frequently, and those who primarily drive on smooth road surfaces. We wouldn't call this rack a workhorse, but it gets the job done if you're on a budget.
With a retail price of only $270, the Chinook is certainly an affordable rack option. In the case of hitch mounted tray racks, this is a scenario where we think you get what you pay for. It is a highly adjustable and relatively versatile rack that comes standard with security features and the ability to fit both 1.25" and 2" receivers. It is quite reasonably priced compared to most of the competition, and as a bike rack it certainly works, but we might recommend anyone who uses their rack heavily or has a carbon bicycle frame to look at a sturdier and more expensive model with a better design. The Kuat Transfer retails for on $28 more and blows this rack out of the water.
The Swagman Chinook is a decent bike rack at an affordable price. It almost seems unfair to compare it to the models that cost twice as much, or more, because it is in a different class entirely. It's relatively easy to use and offers a good range of adjustability to fit a huge range of bike sizes, wheels, and tire widths. Testers weren't wild about the clamps of the rack making contact with the bike's frames which could potentially damage a frame or paint job over time, and overall the quality of construction and durability of the Chinook does not seem to be on par with the competition. If you're not that concerned about the clamps touching your frame, you use your bike rack infrequently, drive on smooth roads, and don't want to break the bank for a hitch mount tray rack, then this model is worthy of consideration.
Other Versions and Accessories
Swagman makes a full line of bike racks and accessories, including the XC2 which is also part of our test selection. The XC2 retails for $180 and is relatively versatile, easy to use, and folds up small for storage, but it lacks the included security features of the Chinook.
— Jeremy Benson