Yakima Front Loader Review
Cons: No locks included, difficult to load, not fat bike compatible
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Ease of Everyday Use
The FrontLoader holds bikes by making contact with the front tire, eliminating the need to remove the front wheel. Front wheel removal is required when using fork mount racks like the Kuat Trio or the Switchhitter. Not having to remove and store the front wheel enhances ease of use, but the drawback to the design is the need to lift bikes higher to get them into the rack.
For sedans and other vehicles with low roof heights, the FrontLoader is easier to use than a fork mount rack because the front wheel stays on. When it comes to vehicles with higher roofs such as SUV's and wagons it can be complicated to lift a bike high enough while maintaining the proper vertical angle required to get a bike into the rack like the FrontLoader. The weight of the bike you'll be using is also a consideration, as it is much easier to lift a 15lb road bike above your head than a 40lb downhill bike.
Ease of Removal and Storage
The FrontLoader has an excellent clamp system and does not require tools for installation like the Trio or the SwitchHitter. The rack attaches to almost any type of crossbar. A large hand knob on the front end of the rack is turned which draws the front clamp up snugly around the crossbar. This system is much easier to use than the U-Bolt set up on the Kuat Trio, or the strap clamps on the RockyMounts BrassKnuckles. The rear crossbar clamp is also engaged by turning an easy to access hand knob. The FrontLoader will eat up marginally more space stored in your garage, and it is heavier than the fork mount rack options we tested.
The FrontLoader is somewhat of a mixed bag when it comes to versatility. On the one hand, it will mount on almost any type of crossbar which is a definite positive. However, it is not well suited to high roof vehicles due to the difficulty involved with loading a bike with the front wheel on. The design is not affected by axle type which means most bikes will fit. It's only limited by tire size. The front tire clamps cannot handle tires over 3" in width. This means that the FrontLoader is not compatible with fat bikes and some plus bikes with larger tires. The Trio for comparison is a better option for high roof vehicles, and tire size is not a limiting factor. The RockyMounts BrassKnuckles is most similar to the FrontLoader, although it can fit fat tire bikes with an adapter kit.
Ease of Assembly
The FrontLoader is shipped fully assembled. The only set up involved is placing the rack on your roof for attachment to the crossbars. The model does not come with lock cores installed so if you choose to use the security system you will need to install Yakima lock cores which are a one time job that takes about 5 minutes.
As mentioned above the FrontLoader doesn't come with lock cores. To secure the rack and make the included cable lock functional you will need to purchase lock cores from Yakima. Two cores are required, one for the front crossbar clamp which secures the rack to your vehicle, and one for the cable lock that extends from the lower wheel clamp bar. We like the cable lock system, but the cable is not that long so it can't be used to loop through wheels like the cable on the Kuat Trio.
The FrontLoader is a well designed and sturdy rack, and we didn't have any durability issues during testing. It does have a lot of plastic components including the crossbar clamping mechanism, so we would not expect it to hold up to abuse as well as the Kuat Trio which uses virtually no plastic parts. The other disadvantage of the FrontLoader compared to fork mount racks is the amount of moving parts that are prone to wear over time. The fork mount racks we tested have very few moving parts that could wear out over time.
The FrontLoader is best suited to riders who drive vehicles with low roofs. It is best suited to lighter weight bikes because of the awkward nature of loading. If you have a vehicle with a high roof or have fat bikes, then we recommend the Kuat Trio or one of the many hitch mount racks in this review.
We feel that the FrontLoader, priced at $209 is a good value. It is only slightly more expensive than racks like the Trio and the SwitchHitter and is a better option than those racks for some riders.
The FrontLoader is the evolution of a long line of roof racks from Yakima. The design is tried and proven and works very well if you don't have to lift your bike too far to get to the rack. Before racks like the Kuat Trio coming to market, the wheel on design was one of the only options for bikes with thru axle forks. Consumers now have far more options, but for many not having to remove and store the front wheel during transport is worth the strenuous task of getting a bike into a rack like the FrontLoader.
— Curtis Smith