Do you own a truck, a mountain bike, and have friends? If the answer is yes, then perhaps you're in the market for a tailgate pad to protect your investment in both your vehicle and the bikes you carry with it. Whether for shuttle runs or regular transport, these models are an affordable way to safely carry many bikes while they hang over the tailgate of your truck bed, protecting your expensive bikes not just from contacting each other, but also from doing damage to the paint job of your truck. We chose four of the top models on the market and tested each to see which offers the best features, performance, and design to carry your precious cargo. In this review we'll compare all four competitors, highlighting the pros and cons of each one, to help you choose the pad that's best for you and your toys.
The Best Tailgate Pads
Race Face Tailgate Pad
Race Face did their homework when they designed the Race Face Tailgate Pad, creating a product that checked all of our boxes. The thoughtful design and useful features of this pad show that their designers use this product. This pad comes with velcro loop straps for securing your bikes in place, straps that also have a velcro tab to secure them to the pad so that they don't fall off when not in use, or in the off chance you don't reconnect them when you take your bike off. Race Face also incorporated some molded foam bumpers on the top of the truck-bed side of the pad, intended to cradle your bike frames and prevent additional movement or contact of the bikes while in transit. The small size pad also has these molded foam pads on the outside of the pad which are intended to hold the fork legs in place for added security. Our size large test model did not have this feature; instead, it has a large foam pad across the entire width of the pad. That being said, the bumpers on this pad make it so you can use it without strapping down your bikes for less bumpy transport. The handle flap is positioned well for tailgates with handles that are at least 6 inches down from the top of the tailgate.
We found little that we didn't really like about the Race Face pad, and these are nit-picky gripes. The outside of the pad is made from a 600 Dernier + PVC woven fabric that is treated with a DWR (durable water repellent), and while it seems burly, it does appear a bit less durable and weatherproof than those models that are coated with polyurethane or vinyl. We think this material would be more likely to get dirty and wet over time and also might be prone to fading or sun-bleaching. We also thought it would be nice to have some way to secure the tailgate handle flap in the open position to facilitate the use of the backup camera while the pad is mounted. While the long webbing straps and plastic ladder-lock buckles are a pretty standard way of attaching the pad to the tailgate, it's not the most user-friendly, especially if you frequently take the pad off your truck. The Race Face comes in two sizes, Large for full-sized trucks and Small for small to mid-size pickups.
Best For Use with a Backup Camera
Dakine DLX Pickup Pad
When you consider the fact that Dakine was a pioneer in the pad market, it comes as no surprise that their Dakine DLX Pickup proved to be a top performer in our side by side testing. The DLX is their updated deluxe version and comes with many thoughtful features to make your life easier. The DLX's oversized handle flap is positioned perfectly for new tailgate handle and backup camera designs, and the flap can be secured in the open position to facilitate use of the backup camera when the pad is in use. While the flap worked great with the trucks we tested it on, it might be positioned a little low for tailgates with a handle up at the top. Bikes are secured to the pad using velcro straps, which are held in place on the pad itself, so they don't mysteriously vanish when not in use. Four webbing straps with plastic ladder lock buckles are used to attach the pad to your tailgate securely, and this pad even has a metal grommet that can be used to lock the pad to your truck for added security. The DLX had also been designed with modern tailgate shapes in mind and fits over the newer wider tailgates found on many trucks. The pad also features a soft micro-fleece lining that prevents any unwanted wear to the paint on your tailgate.
Our only gripes with this pad are minor. First, the long webbing straps and ladder lock buckles used to attach the pad to the tailgate are a bit of a pain to use, but only a problem for people who remove their pad frequently. Second, this model doesn't have any padded blocks or separation bumpers that other pads have to keep the bikes in place. This isn't an issue if you use the straps to secure the bikes, but if you don't, they may be prone to moving around.The DLX is available in two sizes, the Large fits full-size trucks and carries up to seven bikes, the small fits small to medium sized trucks and carries up to five bikes.
Top Pick for Ease of Attachment
EVOC Tailgate Pad
EVOC did a great job when designing their Tailgate Pad, which we found to be especially useful for those of you who remove your pad when not in use. This was due to their unique attachment system which utilizes metal hooks, as opposed to the plastic ladder-lock style buckles, and makes attaching and removing it much more user-friendly than all of the other brands we tested. The pad has bike securing straps for up to six bikes so that you can hold them in place during travel. It also features molded foam separation blocks to further keep your bikes from moving around, an especially nice feature if you choose not to secure them in place with the bike straps. The pad has a polyurethane coating on the outside for added durability and weather resistance, as well as a fleece lined inside to protect the paint on your vehicle. The large handle flap is properly placed somewhat high on the pad, so it works best with tailgates that have handles closer to the top. Although it doesn't specifically have a feature for keeping the flap in the open position, we were able to use the bike securing straps to do so when we wanted to use our backup camera.
There were a few things we didn't love about the EVOC pad, this is not to say that it's not a great a product, but we think there is room for improvement. First, the logo covers the entire pad, good advertising to be sure, but not everyone wants a 5 foot wide and 2-foot tall EVOC logo on display at all times. Second, the bike securing straps are not precisely fixed to the pad. This isn't a problem as long as you keep the straps closed in a loop, but if you happen to leave a strap open, there is nothing to prevent it from falling off the pad and possibly getting lost. This is evidenced by the fact that our test pad is short one strap already. Also, the plastic d-rings on the bike securing straps are a little too small for our liking, making it slightly harder than it needs to be to feed the velcro through them, which is every time you use them. The EVOC Tailgate Pad is available in three colorways, and two sizes. The M/L pad fits small and medium-sized trucks, and the XL fits your full-sized rigs.
Basic Protection and Inexpensive
Thule Gate Mate
Thule is recognized as a leading brand in the bike rack industry, so it came as a surprise to us that the Thule Gate Mate was the most basic pad in our test selection. It is the least expensive model we tested, but only by 10-20 dollars, and we were underwhelmed by the Gate Mate's lack of useful features and poor design when compared to its competitors. Don't get us wrong, the Thule Gate Mate is better than no protection, it performs the simple task of separating your bikes from your tailgate, but that's about it. If that's all you need from a pad, then this one could work for you. While it didn't impress us overall, it does have a few features that are useful. The outside of the pad is coated with a heavy-duty vinyl for durability and protection from the elements. The inside of the pad is lined with fleece to prevent abrasion to the paint on your tailgate. They also integrated what they call "Knock Blocks", molded foam blocks, to each end of the pad which are intended to prevent your bike from sliding into the side of the truck and getting damagedUnfortunately, the Gate Mate lacked what we feel is the most crucial feature for a tailgate pad, straps to secure the bikes in place. Thule did sew a long strap all the way across the pad, which you could put your straps through, but bikes would still be able to slide around regardless because this long strap doesn't prevent side to side movement. If you drive very conservatively and only on smooth and straight roads, then the lack of bike securing straps may not be a problem for you. The Gate Mate's handle flap is also placed high on the flap, making it work only with tailgates that have handles in that area, but not with those that have a handle further down on the tailgate. Sure you can reach your hand in and awkwardly open your tailgate, but it is placed too high, and it is also quite small. Thule also used long webbing straps and ladder lock buckles to attach the pad to the tailgate, which works just fine, but make attaching and removing the pad more work than it needs to be.
The Thule Gate Mate is available in two sizes, Large for full-sized trucks, and Small for small and mid-sized pickups.
What is a Tailgate Pad?
Tailgate Pads are precisely what their name suggests; they are large rectangular pads made of stiff foam 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. 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 especially 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 banging out several laps on the local trails. They are also great for everyday transport around town, to and from the trailhead, or even longer trips.
Tailgate Pad Buying Advice
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, some great tailgate pad options on the market will do the job much more effectively.
Tailgate Pads are typically less expensive than other bike rack options. The pads reviewed here range in price from $120 to $140 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 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 use when putting the pad on or taking it off, resulting in time saved during this otherwise somewhat annoying process.
Bike Securing Straps
Three of the four 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. Two of the three models we tested, the Dakine DLX Pickup Pad and the Race Face Tailgate Pad, have bike straps that are also secured to the webbing on the pad with an additional velcro tab. This feature prevents the straps from coming loose even if you leave them un-velcroed in a loop. The Thule Gate Mate was the only pad we tested that didn't have any bike securing straps. The Gate Mate does have a full-width webbing strap that you could probably rig your own loops onto, but for 10 to 20 dollars more you could buy a better-designed pad.
Three 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. Both the EVOC and the Race Face Tailgate Pads features these separation blocks while the Dakine DLX and the Thule Gate Mate did not. The Thule Gate Mate did have what they call "knock blocks", a foam bumper on either end of the pad to prevent the bikes from hitting the side of the truck bed.
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 worked with all tailgate handles and could also be secured in the open position to facilitate the use of your backup camera. In contrast, the Thule Gate Mate's flap was small, positioned poorly to work with most tailgate handles, and couldn't be secured in the open position.
Every pad we tested shared one thing in common, they all had a soft fleece 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 whether 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.
All of the pads we tested come in two sizes, small or large, to fit different width tailgates. Large pads generally fit full-size trucks, think Dodge Ram, Toyota Tundra, Ford F-150, or similar. Smaller pads fit small to mid-size pickups like Ford Ranger, Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Frontier, and so on.
Sure they're all strikingly similar in looks and basic features, but there are subtle differences that set these tailgate pads apart from each other and may make one or the other more suitable for your purposes. We hope our side by side comparison helps you find the one that best suits your needs.
— Jeremy Benson