Upside bike rack review: an inverted carrier from Down Under
Growing up in Australia often meant endless hours cruising highways on the way to a holiday spot that somehow still looked like home. I remember counting cars, caravans and motorbikes, and occasionally, we’d pass a car, typically a flogged Holden Commodore or banged-up Volvo, with an upside-down bicycle tied against the roof, wheels spinning faster than they likely ever had with the bike upright.
Australian company Upside has taken that very concept and made it easy, secure and safe for the bike, the car and you. This is the Upside rack, and simply put, it flips the roof-mounted bike rack on its head. I’ve had one on test for a number of months, and while it’s not without its issues, on the upside (sorry), there’s a surprising amount to like.
How it works
- What is it?: A roof-mounted bike carrier.
- Key features: Fits most bikes and car crossbars, only installed when needed, attaches to bike first, folds for easy storage.
- Weight: 1.96kg (4.3lb)
- Price: From AU$220 (Approx US$155 / CAD$200 + shipping)
- Highs: Simple to fit to bike and car, simple storage when not needed, built with quality materials, competitively priced.
- Lows: Requires crossbars, takes up more roof space than regular racks, not for use with aero handlebars, fiddly lock, needs to be checked for tightness, you’ll be driving around with your bike upside down.
Typically for roof-based bike carriers, you first attach the carrier to the roof rack crossbars (always sold separately), often with bolts, special straps or crossbar-specific tracks. From there, you mount the bike, sometimes without a front wheel in place; other times you clamp the frame, or clamp down onto the front wheel.
While most of these traditional bike carriers can be removed from the car without too much fuss, they’re typically left on. That’s handy if you use them regularly, but if not, they’re left to create drag, and cost you fuel, every time you drive.
Launched on Kickstarter, the Upside rack is different. It still requires the same roof rack crossbars (almost any crossbars work) to be fitted to your car, but the bike carrier is first attached to your bike. Specifically at the saddle and the handlebars. From there you flip the bike upside-down and clip the rack onto the crossbars.
And this is where the Upside holds its most obvious benefit – it’s only installed when you need it. When not needed, it simply folds down to just 62cm long and weighs 1.96kg (4.3lb). By contrast, most roof-mounted bike carriers weight between 6-9kg.
It’s simple to use, too. The Upside holds the handlebars in a rigid straight line to the rear wheel, and it solves the usual faff of keeping the front wheel from tipping while holding the bike above your head. Similarly, there’s no clamping onto delicate fork dropouts or thin-walled frame tubes – rather the rack touches the same surfaces of your bike that you do when riding the thing.
Not unlike the Thule UpRide (US$220/AU$369) or Yakima HighRoad (US$229/AU$349), the Upside fits almost any bike, too. It doesn’t matter what axle type, wheel size or frame shape the bike has, the Upside is only limited by handlebar shape and a maximum 17kg bike weight. Because of this, deep aero road handlebars are out, as are bikes with dedicated TT or timetrial handlebars. Similarly, heavier downhill bikes and e-bikes are out, too – but that’s often the case with roof-mounted bike carriers anyway.
Like other bike racks, the Upside is a per-bike purchase. If placing the bikes head to toe with one another, two Upside racks carrying road bikes should fit most cars. Larger cars or those with more than two crossbars could carry more again. However, I found my 760mm wide trail bars took up most of the crossbar length on my Subaru, and the rack requires you to run the bike in a perfectly straight line, so you’ll likely be limited to a single mountain bike when using the Upside.
Putting the bike on the roof is fairly simple, too, and I was quite surprised to find it easier than any other roof-mounted rack I’ve used to date. Simply place it so the hooks at the handlebar catch one of the crossbars, and then push the rear hook along its threaded rod. From there, there is a torque limiter knob (works like a petrol/gas cap) to secure the rack in place.
The Upside can be purchased either with or without a lock that secures it to the crossbars for anti-theft purposes. In its simplest, lock-less form, the regular Upside retails for AU$220 (Approx US$155 / CAD$200 + shipping) and comes packaged in a reusable cardboard box.
For AU$275 (Approx US$193 / CAD$250 + shipping), the Upside comes equipped with a surprisingly smart electronic lock that uses a fob system, just like modern building security systems. The lock simply disengages the pawls that allow the rear hook to be tightened/loosened. Once the rack is installed and locked, there’s no easy way to remove it.
I initially had issues with the lock not working, but as the Upside’s lead engineer, Stefan Wrobel, pointed out, there is some smart tech going on that causes a small learning curve. “I have found the lock is not as easy to use at first as I hoped but this is because we dialled back the sensitivity in order to achieve lifetime battery power,” Wrobel said. “After getting the hang of it all customers have had no issues with the lock and it’s had 100% reliability in the field.
“To ‘wake up’ the lock you need to touch [the marked area] with a bare hand as it uses the moisture/sweat of your hand to “wake up”, similar to the technology in mobile phone screens. The tricky part here is that the sensitivity is dialled right back so for some people with dry skin, as well as dry and cold climates, it doesn’t work as easily. Some have found the need to really squeeze the centre palm of their hands (sweatiest part) against this lobe to get it to wake up the first time. Once it is awake then the key fob will work.”
Following Wrobel’s instructions, it took just a few seconds to hear a quiet motor whir, followed by a beep from the lock – and from there it was working nicely. However, it’s just not as simple as it should be, and I regularly found myself trying to get my ear close to the locking unit to hear if it was working. Thankfully the finicky lock is only needed when you’ll be leaving the bike, and so I didn’t need to fuss with it too much.
With the rack locked to the crossbars, the handlebars are effectively locked in place too. However, running a separate cable lock or similar through your wheels would be a good move if planning to leave the bike unattended for any amount of time.
Finally, there’s an optional blow-moulded plastic case for the rack, something that adds AU$33 (Approx US23 / CAD$30). Beyond the carry handle, I didn’t love the case: it adds significant storage bulk and can be a little confusing to put the rack in.
A soft bag seems like a better option to me, but as Wrobel candidly explained, “our neoprene [bag] prototype wore a hole in six months of use so I changed the design to Cordura, but this became very expensive … A soft case is definitely one for the future.”
The Upside is clever, and despite my initial hesitation, I no longer fear for the safety of my bikes or car – this thing holds securely. However, there are some downsides to flipping a bike upside-down – and I’m not talking about the stigma of doing so amongst other riders. It’s time to dig into the things you’re currently screaming at the screen.
The most obvious criticism, and perhaps the dorkiest element of this rack, is one of spinning wheels. At higher speeds, in theory at least, the wind forces hitting both the top and bottom of the wheels should keep them relatively stable. And at lower speeds, the wheels aren’t likely to spin any more than if you were riding the bike – the bearings are under extremely little load at this point, too.
Still, Upside now supplies two durable elastic bands (effectively rubber wristbands) for you to lock the brake levers in place if you’re worried about spinning wheels.
Which brings me to the next point – brakes. The simplicity of mechanical brakes leave nothing to worry about, but hydraulic brakes present a potential issue for the Upside.
There is a long-standing myth that hydraulic brakes will introduce air if turned upside-down, but it’s simply not true with modern systems. What is true, though, is that if your brakes already have air in them, then turning the bike upside-down will see that air travel from the master cylinder (the lever) to the caliper, where it can be easily compressed – in turn making your brakes go spongy or worse.
If your brakes are properly bled then the Upside will not cause any issues. However, if you do have air in the system, then it’s likely you’ll get to your ride with less-than-ideal brakes and, of course, that’s not the time to do a bleed. Thankfully a few quick pulls of the brake lever should correct it until you can get it fixed properly, or otherwise, locking those brake levers down during travel with the supplied elastic bands will also keep the air trapped at the master cylinder.
Those with suspension forks need not worry — turning the fork upside-down once in a while is good practice to get the lower lubrication oil into the upper bushings.
Dropper seatposts are the one thing that still feels a little iffy to me. The rack itself doesn’t put any side loading on the bike, and the upward and downward loads are far less than what would occur from you riding the bike – so that’s all good, too. But so many droppers don’t react well to being pulled up when in a lowered position (it sucks air past the floating piston), and the Upside certainly introduces the risk of accidentally doing this.
Thankfully I didn’t get any issues with my droppers, and the Upside team swear they’ve experienced zero issues with this in the years since prototyping the rack. They go as far as to say it’s simply a non-issue. Still, there are no guarantees in life.
For those on classy road bikes with expensive leather saddles and bartape, then just be warned you’ll be gripping directly onto these precious surfaces. I personally experienced no noticeable wear at these usual contact points, but it’s worth noting in case your bartape costs more than your last dentist bill.
Finally, there’s also the nuisance of accessories. Of course, you’ll want to remove anything from your bottle cages, but some saddle-mounted accessories could prove problematic, too. Specifically, accessories that use the rail area of your seatpost, such as traditional saddlebags, will need to be removed to ensure a proper fit of the saddle strap. However, accessories mounted toward the rear of the saddle and away from the post proved fine, such as saddle-mounted lights or tube wraps (e.g. Backcountry Research or Specialized Bandit).
Hooking an entire bike to your car with three plastic hooks seems scary, and I was more than sceptical at first. Add in those simple handlebar hooks, and sheesh, I procrastinated plenty before testing this thing.
However, as is often the case, simple design is good design. Those handlebar hooks physically lock into place once installed on the car, and as long as the rack is tight, they’re wedged closed. Similarly, the plastic contact points are built strong, and so many other premium roof racks use similar materials at the mounting points.
The strap that holds the saddle is super beefy, enough to hold my weight, and while it’s a brief fuss to hook into place, it’s better than the alternative of having it accidentally come undone (I still vividly remember an old Thule rack strap on the back of the car coming undone and dropping my beloved first mountain bike onto the highway).
Once mounted, squared up to the crossbars, and torqued into place, the rack holds the bike with impressive rigidity – more so than many upright bike racks. You will want to give the bike a good shake to ensure it’s tight, and I’ve often found I can get another half-turn or so out of the tightening knob after doing this. Upside goes as far as recommending you check the tightness during your drive.
However, no matter how tight it is, there is still some side-to-side movement at the rear hook, a result of flex from the rack. It’s certainly exaggerated on the ProRack Whispbar racks I’m using, where the thin trailing edge gives extremely little surface area for the Upside’s hook. But while it was concerning at first, I’ve since gotten over it.
That flex is something Wrobel is well aware of. “A small amount of movement around 10-15mm at the sliding hook end is normal and completely OK,” he said. “When installed, try moving the bike side to side by holding the bike frame [and] pushing side to side. This is the centre of gravity of the bike and where driving forces will apply as you drive. Pushing/pulling at the rack itself is an impossible force to apply by driving alone. I always do this each time to make sure everything is tight before I drive.
“I have had a few customers who apply double-sided tape to their racks to protect as well as reduce the movement but it is not necessary for security.”
As for potential wear from that movement, Wrobel admits “it will over time make some marks on the roof racks but the roof racks are extruded aluminium which is very hard so I’ve never seen damage – only some cosmetic marking. No need to worry about wearing the Upside parts as I have thousands of kilometres on the very original rack components.”
Driving around with the Upside got some weird looks. I think everyone is so used to seeing bikes on roofs, but it’s rare to see them upside-down. Beyond the weird looks, I simply didn’t notice the Upside when driving — it didn’t add any weird wind noise nor a change to handling.
What I did notice though, was the clean aesthetic and lack of wind noise without a bike mounted. All semi-permanent roof racks add a little noise to your car at speeds, and the Upside did none of that while it sat in the trunk.
I honestly didn’t start this review thinking it would end so positively. Yes, it’s not perfect, it has a few fitment limitations, the optional lock version is a little too smart for its own good, and the rack demands far more crossbar width than an upright rack. That latter point means I can’t just add this rack to my current carriers when I need to carry more bikes. It also doesn’t solve the blatant issue of all roof-mounted racks – the need to own crossbars, having to hoist a bike unnaturally above your head, and don’t get me started on those pesky garage ceilings, shopping mall car parks and low-hanging bridges!
Still, for those who want to keep a relatively clean aesthetic to their car (although not as clean as what SeaSucker provides), or who rarely use their roof-mounted carriers, the Upside is a well-designed product with an obvious point of difference at a more-than-competitive asking price.