Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Thule Xsporter Truck Rack Review

If you have followed my addiction to kayak fishing over the past few years, you’ve probably seen at least one of my homemade transport racks.  There was the PVC model that I built just so I could get my first kayak home from the store.  It was re-engineered over time and worked well on my short bed Tacoma.  After moving up to a full sized truck, I went back to the drawing board and came up with a steel, no-welding-required configuration that utilized inexpensive yet strong bed extenders from Harbor Freight and some simple parts from Home Depot.  I used this for the better part of a year.
While both of these rigs worked well, I wanted something that was “permanently” mounted on my truck and ready to go at a moment’s notice.  After all, one of the things that I love most about kayak fishing is the convenience of being able to load up my gear and be gone within minutes.   Excessive time spent in the driveway equated to less time on the water.  I needed a change.

Enter the Thule Xsporter.  This aluminum rack bolts to the truck bedrails and utilizes an ingenious telescoping design.  When not in use it can be arranged in a lowered position to reduce wind resistance while driving.  With gas prices currently hovering around $3.30 a gallon in South Carolina, every little bit counts.   

When it is time to load up, it literally takes seconds to lock the rack in the upright position and loading can commence.  I can’t begin to explain how functional this option is.  Although it took a month or so of scouring the internet, I was lucky enough to find my barely used Xsporter on Craigslist for $300.  For an extra $20 the seller threw in a pair of Thule J cradles – my man.  

Before the release of the Xsporter  XT, Thule’s most recent, one-size-fits-all model,  there were two options to choose from.   The Xsporter 421 is designed for compact trucks and the 422 model is intended for most full sized applications.  The only difference between the two models is the top bar height when the rack is placed in the fully extended position. 

I did a little research on these racks (ok, a LOT of research) before I pulled the trigger and bought one.  I chose the 421 which sports a 23” top bar height.   This model clears the cab of my full size truck just fine.  The 422 model would have added almost 5.5 inches to the overall bar height of the rack.  In my opinion this would be entirely too tall for my application especially after adding any sort of kayak saddle like the Malone Seawing cradle – more on that product later.

In summary, the Xsporter is versatile, rugged and well-designed.   The high end craftsmanship from the components to the welds is apparent at first glance.  Even at full retail price, this rack is well worth the money.  I have been using the Xsporter for about 6 months and am overly pleased with its performance and styling.  I have yet to find anything major that I would change about this rack.

I would suggest two things to potential buyers or current owners.  First off, purchase a set of the Thule crossbar rubber strips that fill in any voids on the horizontal mounting bars.Without this rubber insert, this whistling that is generated from the wind flying over and under the top bars is enough to make a preacher cuss.   

Secondly, put some silicone spray lubricant or similar product on the vertical telescoping posts.  Aluminum-to-aluminum contact occurs between these posts so every time they are raised or lowered, the arms have the tendency to rub against each other.  Without some sort of lubricant, the square edges of the posts will actually dig into each other and scratch the opposing arms.  I’m not convinced that this is a product flaw with the rack, but rather the fact that the bedrails on the Dodge don’t allow for a perfect 90 degree straight up and down mounting point.  This may not be an issue on all trucks, but the bedrails on the Dodge flair out ever so slightly.  A little bit of oil easily corrects this issue of rubbing. 

-         - Paul


  1. Hey, did you have to get longer bolts for your Malones, I tried mounting mine today, but it looks like the bolts aren't even long enough to screw into the wing portion. My email is windknot_flies@grandecom.net and my name is Harris

    Corpus Christi, TX

  2. Awesome, I saw one of these the other day and am looking to pick one up. Thanks for taking the time to write this up.

  3. awesome rack... now I know what to get for my new truck. looks super nice.

  4. awesome rack... now I know what to get for my new truck. looks super nice.

  5. awesome rack... now I know what to get for my new truck. looks super nice.