Are you searching for the best tailgate pad to haul around your shiny new mountain bike? We carefully researched the most compelling models available and purchased six of the top options for testing. We spent six weeks testing these pads on the back of our truck to suss out the glaring differences as well as the important subtleties that can have a huge effect on performance. We drove on the highway, backgrounds, dirt roads, and janky shuttle "roads" to evaluate how each pad handled your precious cargo. Additionally, we loaded and unloaded these pads repeatedly to gain a firm understanding of their features and the loading process.
The Best Tailgate Pads
EVOC nailed it with the aptly named EVOC Tailgate Pad. This brand continues to impress us with well-thought-out and quality products. This pad has a 6-bike carrying capacity which should be plenty for most users. The 600-weight Denier material has a very solid and hefty feel. The coating feels like it 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. The medium/large size fit well on the 2009 Toyota Tacoma we used for testing. We would go as far as to say 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.
While this pad was a clear winner, it wasn't quite perfect. 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. This isn't a huge deal as you will still be able to work your hand down there and open the tailgate, but it was one detail that could be easily improved. Another notable quirk is the installation/removal process is slightly different than the competition. Most pads require users to feed the straps under the tailgate, into the bed, and then through a traditional plastic cam-locking buckle. 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. It works well, but it can be somewhat more difficult to feed the strap with the hook/buckle under the tailgate.
The Fox Racing Tailgate Cover took home our Best Buy award. This totally functional and 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 simple as it used 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 mud. The hold is secure and the adjustable top tube straps are user-friendly. The straps that hold your top tube can also slide 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 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 was simple and effective, but it could be improved. 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 for full-sized trucks.
The RaceFace Tailgate Pad is a quality, reliable pad that is as feature-packed as they come. Race Face pulled out all the stops on this model, making it one of our favorite models. This pad has foam separation blocks to hold your fork legs on the outside and well as large blocks on the inside that cradle your bike's frame. The straps to secure the bikes are the appropriate length, plus they have velcro straps that secure them to the pad so they don't blow away if you leave them open. They also included a storage pocket on the inside of the pad to stash things like lube and a rag in an organized fashion. The pad attaches to tailgate with three standard webbing straps and plastic cam-locking buckles. There are also two grommets, one on each side, to secure the pad to your truck with a cable lock. The tailgate handle flap worked well on the 2009 Tacoma we used for testing, but it is small and may not be ideal for some tailgates.
While we liked virtually everything about the Race Face model, the outer material used in its construction doesn't seem quite as robust as some of the competition. Sure, it is a thick 600 Denier fabric coated with a DWR, but it doesn't have the weather-resistant feel of the other coated materials. Dirt and grime are prone to sticking to it, and it also seems prone to fading in the summer sun. Besides that, this feature-packed pad is ready to rally on the roughest shuttle roads.
Yakima has delivered a very easy-to-use 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 spaces for five bikes with molded downtube bumpers and padded straps that are securely attached to the pad. If you have a tailgate with a broad top, this is a particularly intriguing option. Also, the wider webbing straps that secure this pad to your tailgate are easy to work 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 don't provide much of a margin for error due to 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. 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 Toyota Tundra, Ford F150, Nissan Titan, Chevrolet Silverado, etc, and you have lots of friends, this is without a doubt the pad for you. Aside from the large carrying capacity, Dakine delivered a totally 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 ideal for actually using 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 one 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 good. It has two storage pockets on the inside of the pad facing the truck bed which are perfect for a multi-tool, rag, and some chain lube. It could also play well with 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 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 really big. 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 thicker or taller tailgate.
Why You Should Trust Us
Review author Pat Donahue spends a lot of time on mountain bikes. He has been riding and breaking mountain bikes for close to two decades. Pat was a full-time mountain bike reviewer prior to owning a bike shop in South Lake Tahoe, CA. He has plenty of experience hauling mountain bikes around to trailheads and running shuttle laps. He has 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 at the top. Our testing process involved lots of trips to and from various local trailheads 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 attachment straps, handle flap, padding, and bike straps were taken into consideration in our assessment of overall performance. Read on to find the model that's right for you.
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.
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, some great tailgate specific 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 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 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.
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 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 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 getting lost 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 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. In contrast, the handle flaps on the Fox and the Race Face pads are smaller, and while they worked well on our Tacoma test truck, they may be less than ideal for other models of pickup truck.
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 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 large size. The small/medium size is designed for small to mid-size trucks like a Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Frontier, Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, and Ford Ranger.
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