Transporting Revisited


One of the first articles on yakflak was about transporting kayaks and why I selected the gear that I did. The crucial requirement was, and remains, that a single person (uh, that would be me!) could load, transport, and unload the kayak. To date, my carrier – the Yakima SweetRoll – has worked out marvelously.

But after almost a quarter million miles of faithful service, I recently retired my old Honda CR-V and got a new car, a Mazda3 hatchback. I love the new car! It is perfect for my needs. But there are some differences in this ride that required me to adjust my transporting scheme a little bit. As I said, the SweetRoll has worked really well and I wanted to continue to use it with the Mazda. I just needed a couple of additional components to make the system work as well with the Mazda as it did the Honda.

Nice Rack

The most obvious thing was that my new car didn't come with a roof rack. I considered having the dealer just install the Mazda rack but evidently Mazda USA was out of stock and there was a two-month wait for the rack. And like all OEM car accessories, the Mazda rack was over-priced. It cost as much as a high-end aftermarket rack, but with less capacity and fewer available accessories. I decided if I was going to spend that much dough, I would buy into a better system. And since I'd been so satisfied with the SweetRoll, I decided to stick with Yakima.

The new rack is from Yakima's Streamline product line. The Streamline system fits about any car out there and in the year and a half since it was launched, it's gotten very good reviews. It's strong, attractive, and easy to use.

The Streamline system – CoreBars attached to SkyLine towers, mounted on Landing Pad mounts

For my car, I got:
  • Two 50" CoreBars, which are aerodynamically shaped, roll-formed steel crossbars. Crossbars are the main support bars onto which you attach bike carriers, kayak carriers, cargo boxes, and the like.
  • Four SkyLine towers, which are the end-piece supports that the CoreBars mount onto, raising the CoreBars several inches above the vehicle roof.
  • Four Landing Pad 11 tower mounts. The Landing Pads are installed on the car's roof and act as receptacles for the towers. They're the only vehicle-specific component to the Streamline system.
I'm surprised it took Yakima so long to introduce aero bars! Their old round and square bars are iconic and time-proven, but have a long-standing reputation for being noisy in the wind and having a noticeable effect on gas mileage. Aerodynamics have been applied in consumer products for well over 30 years. Welcome to the 20th century (that was last century, by the way) Yakima!

They may have taken a long time to incorporate aerodynamics into their designs, but Yakima products continue to impress the heck out of me with their simple install. I won't go into the details because there are several install videos on YouTube. Suffice to say it's very easy with minimal parts and fuss. Most of the components don't require any tools to install, but in the couple of instances where they do, the tools are included. The entire installation process is easy enough for the user manual to explain successfully using pictograms – a feat not every company can pull off. It's clear that Yakima put a lot of thought into how to make it dummy-proof.

I also like how fast and easy Yakima products are to remove when you're not using them. I could remove the SweetRoll from the CR-V's rack in about 2 minutes. The SkyLine towers have a quick release mechanism to attach to the Landing Pads, which allows one crossbar and its attached towers and SweetRoll saddles to be removed and reinstalled as a single unit in a few seconds! The only part of the Streamline system that is quasi-permanently installed are the four Landing Pads, which screw into the fixed-point mounting bosses that lie in the two recessed ditches on the Mazda's roof. These are the same bosses on which you'd install the Mazda roof rack.

Each SkyLine tower attaches to a Landing Pad using a quick-release deadbolt mechanism that locks it securely into the Pad. Once the Skyline towers have been mounted on the crossbars, you just place the towers on the Landing Pads, close the quick-release on each tower, and the rack is ready to go. You can remove them just as easily. Without the rack, the Landing Pads look like little stumps planted in each quadrant of the car's roof. Frankly, it detracts from the clean lines of my new car! But leaving the rack on is even more visually disruptive, so I'll temper my aesthetic distaste and be thankful for the functional benefits.
You've probably realized that there's an obvious drawback to the racks being so easily removed. It's just begging thieves to steal them! To address this, Yakima sells optional SKS Lock Cores that make it difficult to remove Yakima parts without a key. Unfortunately, the lock cores are not included and are really expensive! For what it's worth, there's actually a good functional reason they're not included: By not including them with each product, you can buy multiple cores in packs of 2 to 12 and they will all be keyed to the same key. So if you have, say, a Yakima rack, bike mounts, and cargo carrier, one key will rule them all. But they're still bloody expensive!

At first I planned to skip the lock cores and just remove the rack and store it in the car when I was on the water. That's a reasonable way to go because the rack is so fast and easy to remove that's it's not too much of a hassle. But then Amazon had a Prime Day deal for a 40% off on 6-packs of SKS Lock Cores. The Streamline rack and SweetRoll combined need 8 lock cores, and having 2-4 extra cores is a good idea in case I ever want to buy a cargo box or some bike mounts. So I bought two 6-packs of lock cores. The downside of buying them as a pair of 6-packs instead of a single 12-pack is that each pack uses a different key. But the price was good enough to deal with two keys. I lock the towers with one key and the SweetRoll saddles with the other.

As roof racks go, and notwithstanding the Landing Pad stumps, it's an attractive rack system. The aero bars are slick looking, and the black color scheme blends into my black car about as well as I could reasonably expect.

Not bad looking as roof racks go

I'm a little disappointed with the wind noise from the rack (by itself, no SweetRoll or kayak). I was hoping the aerodynamic design would be more effective on that account. But starting around 38 mph or so, there's a slight whistling. It gets louder with speed, peaking at around 45 mph. Then it reduces as speed increases until I can't hear it anymore around 62 mph or so. I'm glad it's not noticeable at my typical highway speeds. And with the rack off and just the Landing Pads on the roof, there is no discernible difference in noise that I can detect. I suppose if it really ends up bothering me, I can get the Yakima fairing, but honestly I think I've given them enough money for now.

I observed about a half mpg decrease in fuel efficiency with just the Landing Pads installed. Frankly, that's probably within the statistical margin of error. It could just as easily be caused by the roads I happen to have driven or how aggressive my acceleration habits have been since I installed the Landing Pads. It's difficult to pin on the Landing Pads. I haven't bothered trying to measure the fuel efficiency decrease with the entire rack on because I generally leave the rack off my car unless I'm actually transporting the kayak. And with both the rack and the yak on the car I'm not very interested in my gas mileage. I've already mentally accepted that my mileage goes down when I put a big plastic boat on the roof!

One very cool aspect of buying into the Yakima system (or Thule, or any other major rack maker, for that matter) is the world of accessory mounts you can get. Besides kayaks, there are mounts for bicycles, cargo trays, cargo boxes, skis, snowboards, SUPs, surfboards, and even roof-top tents. I've been looking lustfully at the cargo boxes and tents. But I don't really have a need right now, so looking is as far as that's going to go. I expect one day I'll get a pair of bike mounts however.

On the other hand, Yakima products are expensive and all that shit really adds up!

Sharkfin Spoiler Alert!

As I've mentioned in many posts, the beauty of the SweetRoll is being able to rest the bow of the yak on the back of your car and then lifting the stern to roll the boat into place. In that way, you only lift (at most) half of the boat's weight at once. This is what makes it doable by a solo person.

However, my new Mazda is a hatchback and there's a spoiler over the back window where the yak would rest on it's way to the SweetRoll . I'm not confident the spoiler will stand up to repeatedly supporting half the weight of my kayak.

In addition, the Mazda has a shark fin antenna right in the middle of the back of the roof. This is exactly where you load the kayak. I don't think that antenna would stand up very long to an 80 lb kayak being slid over it either.

Seattle Sports Sherpak boat roller

The solution I found for these two issues was the Seattle Sports Sherpak boat roller. It's as cost-effective a solution ($40 from Amazon) as I could find without building something myself, which I considered. The Sherpak boat roller is a metal support brace with a foam roller, mounted on a pair of heavy-duty suction cups. You attach the boat roller using the suction cups onto the back of the car or the back window. Then you rest the kayak on the boat roller instead of your car. I stick the Sherpak on the back window of my car, then rest the bow of my yak on it instead of the spoiler. Then it's used as a bridge over the spoiler and antenna and onto the SweetRoll . It's critically important to clean the window and the suction cups so that the suction mount is strong enough to support the kayak. Otherwise, it could slip and crash the kayak onto your car!

My Kingdom For a Tow Hook

My old CR-V had recovery tow hooks permanently attached just under the front and rear bumpers, which I used to secure the SweetRoll's bow/stern straps. The new Mazda had tow hook receptacles on the bumpers, but it didn't come with the actual tow hooks. So I had to buy a couple off e-bay. I bought some spiffy looking aluminum ones that were anodized green to match the SS Guacamole.

Tow hooks added as attachment points for the bow and stern straps

Now, a lot of people don't even bother with bow/stern straps. Personally, I think that is a very bad idea. The bow/stern straps are a fail-safe to prevent launching the kayak like a missile in an accident or emergency braking situation. This is not a far-fetched scenario and has been known to cause accidents. It could even kill somebody. You don't want to be responsible for that! Plus, it takes all of a couple of minutes to attach them!

I should mention that on my car, the "tow hooks" aren't really tow hooks. They specifically say in the manual not to tow your car with them. They're for securing the car when it's being transported by boat, truck, or train not for actually towing the vehicle. Apparently they're not engineered to support that much weight. But the strengths requirements for a bow/stern strap on an 80 lb kayak pretty modest. Undoubtedly more modest than tying down a 3,000 lb vehicle on a ship. I'm comfortable with using them for securing my bow/stern straps.

Summary

Including the new rack, it took a sizable investment to get the SweetRoll working well with the new car. On the other hand, the rack is much better than what I had on my old car and I like how many expansion options I have should the need arise. And of course I'm very pleased that the system still satisfies the "must be doable by a single person" requirement. In fact, it's actually an improvement in that respect since the Mazda is considerable lower than the CR-V so the kayak doesn't have to be lifted as high.

Now I just have to get over my angst of putting a scratch on my new ride...

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