At your latest visit to your local bike store, you may have seen them hanging on the wall: lean, metallic tubes with hooks on either end. Maybe you wondered, “what does that have to do with bikes?”
While at first glance they may not seem related, top tube adapters serve a very important function in transporting your bike. The purpose of a top tube adapter, more commonly called a frame adapter, is to create a stable surface to hang your bike off of a hanging car rack. For low-step frame bikes, this simple fix enables a much safer and easier transport, free from the hassle of detaching your bike wheels and stuffing the frame in the trunk.
There are some intricacies to using a top tube adapter, so read on to see how this simple invention can make your next cycling trip miles better.
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What is a bike frame adapter?
A bike frame adapter is just another name for a top tube adapter! It can also be called a crossbar beam, or level top tube. There’s so much jargon in the cycling industry, but the overall effect is the same: frame adapters help you secure your bike to a car rack more easily.
If you have a bike frame that doesn’t fit the standard, racer style top-bar design, this tool will be a must-have for any sort of travel. With most models sitting around $50, there’s no reason to go through the extra hassle to haul your bike, especially if you already have a nice car rack.
How do you use a top tube adapter?
While there are differences based on the model of frame adapter that you use, the general process of using an adapter is fairly simple.
The adapter will look like a long tube, with secure loops or clamps on either end. The tube in the center will be adjustable to different lengths to ensure the best fit for your rack.
To start, you’ll want to release the clamps on each end of the tube, looping one clamp around the seatpost of your bike, and the other end around the stem of your handlebars. Secure both clamps firmly- you don’t want one end falling out while you’re on the road!
From there, shorten the tube as much as possible, so that you have a solid, snug fit between the handlebar and seatpost. There should be little to no room for the bike to shift within the clamps.
Once the tube has been shortened and secured, you’re ready to mount the bike on the rack. For platform-based racks, you’ll use the stabilizing arm of the rack to attach onto the frame adapter, which ensures that your bike stays firmly in the groove of the platform.
If you have a hanging rack, you’ll lift the bike onto the rack, using the top tube adapter as the hanging point of the bike. This will allow your bike to sit at a level angle, instead of at an uneven, potentially dangerous tilt.
Once your bike is firmly secured on the rack, you’re ready to go! Make sure you didn’t forget anything you’ll need for your trip, and hit the road!
Yakima vs Thule Top Tube Adapter
Yakima and Thule are two major transport gear brands, and both offer a top tube adapter for use with managing their hanging racks and oddly-shaped bike frames.
With price points hovering around $50, they’re a great relief for anyone who doesn’t want to purchase a new car rack, but still worth taking the time to find out which one will perform better for your needs.
Both adapters have adjustable lengths with impressive ranges: The Yakima TopTube Adapter has a length range of 14-31 inches, while the Thule has a range of 18-30.5 inches. This means that the Yakima adapter will be better suited for smaller riders or kids bikes.
While both adapters have the same maximum length, their weight limit can determine whether your bike is a good fit. The Thule adapter edges out, with a 50lb. capacity compared to the Yakima adapter’s 45 lb. limit. If you are planning to buy an E-Bike, those five pounds may mean the difference between taking it on your trip or leaving it at home, so choose wisely.
While both companies claim to have padded or molded grips to help stabilize the bike and protect your bike (and car’s!) finish, there are negative reviews on the Thule adapter’s ability to prevent the bike from swinging while onboard the rack. While some amount of sway is to be expected, it seems that Thule’s frame adapter could use some R&D in that department.
It is worth mentioning, however, that the Thule adapter comes with an extra strap to secure the bike in order to prevent swinging and damage.
All in all, I would give a slim edge to the Yakima TopTube Adapter. For the same price point, it seems more intuitive and well-designed. That being said, both products will save you hundreds of dollars on a new bike rack, and that’s something to celebrate!
Best Top Tube Adapter for E-Bikes?
A word to the wise: attempting to hang a 50lb.+ E-Bike from a moving vehicle is a risky proposition. While both the top tube adapters we discussed have weight limits in the 45-50lb. range, most E-Bikes are going to meet or exceed those limits. Getting on the highway with a maxed-out frame adapter is just asking for a damaged bike, car, or both.
In my experience working at an E-Bike shop, I saw multiple examples of bikes falling off on the road because of improperly secured bike racks. In every case, it wasn’t pretty.
Therefore, I highly recommend purchasing a platform-style car rack in order to transport your E-Bike. These racks will have a higher weight limit, and provide a much more stable resting point for your bike while you’re on the road.
Especially with the increased cost of E-Bikes compared to regular bikes, it’s all the more important to be confident your precious ride won’t have an accident in the middle of your road trip.
It’s always a hassle to purchase a new car rack, and almost never cheap, but it’s decidedly worth it if you feel at all doubtful of your current rack or frame adapter’s ability to handle your cycling cargo.
Stop Stuffing Your Trunk!
Whether you’re headed out to your local mountain trail or adding a new mode of transportation to your van-life setup, the ability to transport your bike, no matter the frame shape, is a huge help.
While it’s entirely possible to take off the wheels and squeeze your frame into the backseat, you could be saving serious space in your trunk with a top tube adapter for your car rack. Even better, you save yourself the trouble of navigating narrow trunks and wide handlebars.
Even if your newest toy on two wheels doesn’t fit your old rack, you can save yourself some money by investing in a top tube adapter that will carry your baby safely home from your ride.
Just remember: your bike falling on the road is possibly the fastest way to total your bike, and you could potentially harm others in the process.
So don’t skimp on the requirements that your bike needs, and go with the car rack and top tube adapter that is the best fit for you!
Alex Mwangi is the creator of Outdoor Right and an outdoor enthusiast. During his free time he enjoys riding his road bike or traveling the world looking for his next adventure.