The Best Tailgate Pads
Race Face recently released the T2, an updated version of their ever-popular Tailgate Pad that has several notable improvements over the original. The new version is made with a burly PVC tarpaulin material that is weatherproof and withstands the effects of mud, grime, and won't fade from the sun. It also has an innovative adjustable tailgate window, a user-friendly feature that allows the user to optimize the opening for their handle position/backup camera while providing maximum tailgate coverage. Race Face also added 6 straps across the top to adjust the top edge to match the thickness of your tailgate which allows you to match the thickness or curve of your specific tailgate. The inside of the pad features raised bumpers to cradle your downtubes, while the outside of the pad has large pads to protect your stanchions. The S/M size pad we tested fits 5 bikes (L/XL holds up to 6) with velcro loops that are secured to the pad so they won't get lost or blow away on the highway. Large grommets on the inside also allow you to lock the pad to your truck.
The T2 Tailgate Pad is the most dialed model we have tested, but it doesn't come cheap. This is among the most expensive pads in the test. That said, it is still an economical way to transport 5 to 6 bikes, and we feel it is a good value considering its quality construction and innovative features.
The Fox Racing Tailgate Cover took home our Best Buy award. This simple pad may not have the flashiest features, but it gets the job done at a lower price than the competition. Installation was quick and straightforward as it uses a traditional feed-through buckle design and three straps. Our small pad fit well on our Toyota Tacoma with only a little bit of space exposed at the bottom of the tailgate as you look at it from behind. The padded material is coated, and while it doesn't feel like the most robust, it is water-resistant and shouldn't have any problem with wet climates or mud. The hold is secure, and the adjustable top tube straps are user-friendly and are adjustable up or down on a loop for optimal positioning across different frame shapes and sizes. The tailgate handle opening is on the smaller side but should work well with most trucks. Users also have the option of using the velcro patch to roll the tailgate handle flap up and out of the way for easy access.
The Fox Racing pad is simple and effective, but we feel there is room for improvement. This pad can only carry five bikes while some others have a larger capacity. This could be a total non-issue for most riders but could be a bummer on those rare days when you need to carry one more bike. There are also no separation bumpers that hold the bikes in position, certainly not a deal-breaker, but notable nonetheless. If left open when not in use, the down tube straps could also be lost as they are not secured to the pad otherwise. The Camo colorway we tested was tasteful, and the logo is large but relatively subtle. It also comes in black, as well as a Large size with a 6-bike capacity for full-sized trucks.
EVOC nailed it with the simply named Tailgate Pad. We are continually impressed with EVOC's well-thought-out and quality products, and their pad has a 6-bike carrying capacity. The 600-weight Denier material has a substantial and hefty feel with a PU coating that should have no problem surviving in the wettest, muddiest, climates. Although this pad might be a touch heavier than other options, it feels significantly more robust and durable. It is available in two sizes, medium/large and extra-large, and the medium/large size fit well on the 2009 Toyota Tacoma used for testing. This was a perfect fit on a very, very popular truck amongst mountain bikers. The molded separation blocks work in conjunction with the down tube straps to deliver a very secure and stable hold. The straps are of adequate length and avoid being too long or short. It should be noted that the down tube straps aren't secured to the pad, and if you leave them open when not in use, they could fall off or get lost while driving on the highway.
The opening for the tailgate handle is a little smaller than some of the competition. Depending on the location of your tailgate handle, it is possible that it might not line up perfectly. Another notable quirk is the installation/removal process is slightly different than the competition. The EVOC pad uses a metal hook system where a metal piece on the end of the strap hooks into the lower part of the pad. In some ways, it is easier to deal with, but it can be somewhat more difficult to feed the strap with the hook/buckle under the tailgate. The graphics are also on the bolder/louder side, so they may not be ideal for everyone's style aesthetic.
Yakima has delivered a user-friendly and simple product with the GateKeeper pad. There is a lot to like with this product that didn't attempt to reinvent the wheel. The loading process is breezy, and it delivers a secure hold of the bicycle. The medium pad we tested has space for five bikes with molded downtube bumpers and padded straps that are securely attached to the pad. If you have a tailgate with a wide top, this is a particularly intriguing option. Also, the wider webbing straps that secure this pad to your tailgate are easier to deal with and don't flop around like narrower ones. One area that stood out as particularly impressive was the enormous opening for the tailgate handle. Handles are placed in slightly different locations on every truck model, and some pads don't provide much of a margin for error with small openings. This is not the case with the Yakima GateKeeper. The handle opening is gigantic, and it should work for virtually every tailgate handle placement. The outer material is a burly coated nylon that appears to be very weather resistant and quite durable.
While the GateKeeper has an enormous tailgate handle opening and delivers solid performance, it never stands out above the crowd. While we loved the large flap for handle access, it does leave more of the tailgate exposed if you leave it open. This pad takes a very business-like approach with no extra fancy frills. It is also one of the most expensive pads in our review, and if you're spending big bucks, some riders may be wishing for some more bells and/or whistles.
The Dakine Pickup Pad DLX is a serviceable pad that is a great option for riders with big trucks who need to carry a lot of bikes. We tested the smaller size, which only carries five, but the larger size can hold up to seven, yes seven, bicycles. If you have a full-size truck and you have lots of friends, this is without a doubt the pad for you. Aside from the large carrying capacity, Dakine delivered a functional and rock-solid product. Installation is par-for-the-course, and the loading process is simple. There are no padded slots or fancy cradles, just line the bike up with a top-tube strap and drop the bike into place. The hold is secure, and the bikes stayed put over some nasty bumpy roads. The straps are also secured to the pad, so they won't go flying when you're going 80 mph down the highway, and you forgot to close them. Dakine also added metal grommets to each side of the pad should you choose to lock it to your truck with a cable lock. Perhaps our favorite feature is the hook on the handle flap to easily secure it in the open position, making it possible to use your backup camera.
The 1000 Dernier fabric is tough and coated with a durable coating to resist weather and UV damage. This pad carries a reasonable price tag and was in the running for our Best Buy award. This tailgate pad has no major flaws. While it isn't flashy or feature-packed, it is quite effective and works well. The DLX also comes in a Curve version that is made to fit some of the super thick, curved tailgates found on some models of modern trucks.
The Thule GateMate Pro is a sleek-looking tailgate pad. Many people don't want to be driving around with huge logos or gigantic text on their tailgate, making them look like billboards. If that sounds like you, the GateMate Pro may be a viable option. The styling is clean, and the THULE text is low profile, bland, and not obnoxious. Functionally, the GateMate is pretty solid. It has two storage pockets on the inside of the pad facing the truck bed, which are perfect for a multi-tool, rag, or some chain lube, and they could also well for stinky and soggy shoes or empty beer cans. This is a nice, thoughtful touch. Four rows of Knock Blocks across the top of the pad mean you have separation blocks on the front, top, and back of the pad. The tailgate handle opening is an adequate size, and it folds down and can be left open to give you the option of using your backup camera.
This pad does have a couple of flaws. First, the bike securing straps are far, far, too long. We used multiple carbon trail bikes with top tubes of average diameter. The straps were so long that the velcro patches barely made contact after being passed around the frame, even when looped over the top tube. There is a ton of excess strap, and we aren't all that confident in the security of the grip. Additionally, the straps are not secured to the pad; if you happen to leave them open they could easily blow away while driving. Second, this pad is quite large in size. When testing the smaller size on a 2009 Tacoma tailgate, we maxed out the straps and would've liked to tighten it even further. We don't see this being an issue, however, if you happen to have a slightly taller or thicker tailgate as you find on many modern trucks.
Why You Should Trust Us
Review author Pat Donahue spends a lot of time riding mountain bikes. Pat has been riding and breaking mountain bikes for close to two decades. He was a full-time mountain bike tester and reviewer prior to owning a bike shop in South Lake Tahoe, CA. He has loads of experience hauling mountain bikes around to trailheads and running shuttle laps, and he's used dozens of bike racks, tailgate pads, and other contraptions to get bicycles from point A to point B. He prefers an easy, hassle-free option where he doesn't have to worry about his revolving door of bicycles tumbling down the freeway. Pat was joined by our Senior Mountain Bike Review Editor, Jeremy Benson in testing the pads in this review. Benson is a proud truck owner of more than two decades who spends the vast majority of his days testing new mountain bikes. Daily trips to the trailhead or shuttling for test laps, he is constantly loading and unloading bikes on all manner of bike racks and tailgates.
After researching the best and most popular pads on the market, we chose a selection of six to test and compare for this review. We tested them all on a 2009 Toyota Tacoma with a tailgate that measured 56.5-inches wide, 19.5-inches tall, and 2-inches thick across the top. Our testing process involved lots of trips to and from various local trailheads, as well as countless and gratuitous shuttle laps with the truck loaded up with several bikes. While loading and unloading each model, we analyzed the design and features of each and how user-friendly and protective they were. Everything from the pad attachment straps, handle flap, padding, and bike straps were taken into consideration in our assessment of overall performance.
What is a Tailgate Pad?
Tailgate Pads are exactly what their name suggests; they are large rectangular pads that fold over, cover and attach to the tailgate of your truck. This creates a barrier between your bikes and your truck, so there is no direct contact between the two, preventing damage to both in the process. Additionally, the pad also secures the bikes in place so that they don't move around and make unwanted contact with each other. This is especially important if you're concerned in any way about the paint, appearance, or resale value of either your truck or your bike(s).
Tailgate pads are particularly useful for people who shuttle with their bikes, as it is quick and easy to hang numerous bikes over the tailgate of a pickup when you're busting out several laps on the local trails. They are also quite useful for everyday transport around town, to and from the trailhead, or even longer trips.
How to Select a Tailgate Pad
There are lots of options for carrying bikes on your vehicle these days, but if you own a pickup truck, you have the additional option of using a tailgate pad to transport them safely and securely. Of course, you could just use a blanket or a towel to pad your tailgate and risk damage to both your bikes and the tailgate of your truck, speaking from experience, of course. These days, however, the tailgate specific pad options on the market will do the job much more effectively.
Tailgate Pads are among the least expensive ways to transport multiple bikes as they generally cost less than half of a typical 2-bike hitch mounted rack and have a larger carrying capacity. The pads reviewed here are all reasonably priced at retail and can carry between 5 and seven bikes. In contrast, most hitch mounted bike racks will run you $300 or more to carry two bikes, and quality four bike racks can cost over $600.
In general, we found most of the pads we tested to offer roughly the same basic features. There were, however, subtle differences that made a couple of the pads rise above the others regarding these features and user-friendliness.
Each pad attaches to your truck's tailgate using several nylon webbing straps. Most use a relatively standard plastic ladder-lock buckle to cinch down the webbing and secure it in place. This system of attaching the pads works well, although it can be a bit cumbersome to thread the webbing under the tailgate, and there is always excess webbing left loose in your truck bed or sometimes hanging out from under your tailgate.
EVOC impressed us with a unique attachment system that employs small metal ladder locks that have a hook end. We found these hooks to be especially easy to attach and detach, we did find, however, that they could be a little more cumbersome to deal with when feeding the straps under the tailgate. The Yakima Gatekeeper also stood out as particularly easy to attach to the truck. Instead of the thinner nylon webbing found on most pads, Yakima used a much wider strap that we found to be much easier to deal with. This is particularly nice if you remove the pad when not in use and don't leave on your truck all the time.
Bike Securing Straps
All of the pads we tested came with loop straps to secure the bikes in place on the pad. These straps prevent the bikes from moving once they are strapped down, reducing unwanted contact between the bikes, or preventing the bikes from flopping around when the road gets rough, or you're driving your truck like a rally car. Three models we tested, the Dakine DLX Pickup Pad, Race Face T2 Tailgate Pad, and the Yakima GateKeeper, have bike straps that are fixed to the pad or secured to the webbing on the pad with an additional velcro tab. This feature prevents the straps from coming loose or getting lost, even if you leave them open when not in use. On the Fox Racing, Thule, and EVOC models, you need to close the bike straps to ensure that they don't have a chance of falling off or blowing away in the wind while driving.
Some of the models we tested feature some molded foam bumpers or separation pads. These bumpers or pads stand a little taller and create a groove in which the frames can rest, making the bikes less likely to move around. The EVOC, Thule, and the Race Face T2 pads feature these separation blocks. The Yakima GateKeeper has molded downtube pads that are intended to sit beneath the downtube. The Dakine DLX and the Fox Racing pads don't feature any extra padding or bumpers other than the thin layer within the pad itself.
Tailgate Handle Flap
Access to the tailgate's handle is necessary if you ever want to open the tailgate of your truck while the pad is attached. Each model of pad we tested has a flap to provide that access, but not all tailgate handle flaps are created equal. While they are a relatively simple part of the equation, they vary in size, location, and ease of use. For example, our favorite flap was on the Dakine DLX Pickup Pad. This oversized flap works with most tailgate handles and could also be secured in the open position to facilitate the use of your backup camera. The Yakima pad's handle flap was also huge and should work with the handle on any make or model of pickup truck. Race Face put a unique adjustable handle opening on their new T2 Tailgate Pad that allows you to position it perfectly for your tailgate handle and backup camera. In contrast, the handle flap on the Fox pad is smaller, and while it worked well on our Tacoma test truck, it may be less than ideal for other models of pickup truck. Consider the location of your tailgate handle when checking out the different models.
Every pad we tested shared one thing in common; they all had a soft lining material on the underside where they come into constant contact with the paint of your tailgate. This soft material is intended to prevent wear or abrasion to the exterior of your vehicle. Beyond that, they are made from a variety of durable materials to withstand the tough treatment and the weather they are likely to go through when used regularly. While they all seem to be incredibly durable, the more rubberized coatings like polyurethane and vinyl seem to be the most weather resistant.
Tailgate pads generally come in two sizes: Small and large. These sizes are dictated by the width of the tailgate. If you have a full-size truck like a Dodge Ram, Ford F-150, Nissan Titan, or Toyota Tundra, you will definitely be looking at the larger size. The smaller size is designed for small to mid-size trucks like a Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Frontier, Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, and Ford Ranger. The Dakine DLX is also offered in a Curve version that is made to fit better on the thick, curved tailgates found on many modern trucks.
Yes, these tailgate pads have very similar appearances, and the features are largely the same. That said, there are differences in terms of performance, design, and how well they work when the rubber meets the road. While option X may have a more sleek look and subtle graphics, option Y may be better suited for your truck or bike. This side-by-side comparison is intended to help you navigate the differences and identify the tailgate pad that best suits your needs.
— Pat Donahue, Jeremy Benson