The new Rocky Mounts BrassKnuckles make it easy to carry any bike without removing the front wheel, which is becoming more and more of an issue with the increasing prevalence of thru-axles on mountain, cyclocross and road bikes.
Update (Sept. 22): We met briefly with Rocky Mounts during the Interbike Trade Show in Las Vegas in mid-September. They let us know that BrassKnuckles have officially started shipping - and that they would have a fatbike adapter (pictured below) available for the system sometime in mid-October. The Fattie adapter ($20) will consist of an XL sized wheel chock that replaces the standard chock, plus a pair of wheel strap extenders. The Rocky Mounts crew says they've tested the new system with a bike spec'd with 4.8" tires and there was still a little room to spare. The switch itself requires no tools and can be done in about two minutes. And if you don't feel like switching back and forth, the large size chock is fine for use with regular size MTB or road tires.
First Look: Rocky Mounts BrassKnuckles
After a handful of manufacturing delays, Rocky Mounts has started shipping its new $200 BrassKnuckles upright roof rack. We first spotted the new rack at its official unveiling at company HQ in Boulder, Colorado, last January. More recently, we had a test model installed on our car. So far, so good. Aside from some occasional handle stickiness that's easily remedied with a little jiggling, the new rack has delivered as advertised, providing an easy-to-operate solution for bikes with thru-axles - or really any bike. Once you get used to not taking off your front wheel, you wont want to go back.
Wind noise is also greatly reduced when compared to our old set-up, and frankly we love the look of the BrassKnuckles stealthy aero profile. Our test set-up has a white aluminum casting tray. Rocky Mounts will also offer black and red models.
"Dealing with thru-axles was obviously the No. 1 reason," explained company founder Bobby Noyes when asked why bring the new rack to market. "But I also just really didn't like how the other roof-top options out there looked. They're loud and just unappealing. We wanted to make something that paired well with the clean lines of modern cars. Bike racks are typically not in use more than they are in use, so how it performs in the stowed position was really important to us."
The stealthy rack measures just 2 inches tall when not in use, which is about half that of the competition.
Noyes and his design team feel they achieved this by integrating the arm assembly into the tray, which creates a lower profile. When not in use the BrassKnuckles rack measures about 2 inches tall, roughly half that of the competition. As for the knuckle-shaped handle, the name is a tongue-in-cheek homage to the company founder's New Jersey roots, where (wink, wink) brass knuckles are as common as bad hair and fake tans. But Noyes says the unique design actually was born from an effort to address ergonomics issues.
"Some of the other similar racks have a clunky plastic clamshell assembly," he explained. "We opted for the aluminum collar and made it slender like a rifle grip. Then we started thinking about the collar and its shape. It all just evolved from there. We really spent a lot of time thinking about the ergonomics."
And in case you're wondering, the knuckles are not removable. "Real brass knuckles are actually illegal in five states, including California," added Noyes. Good to know.
A front strap and wheel chock provide extra assurance that your bike is safe and secure.
While you cant use the knuckled handle as a crude gangland weapon, it does make the arm-and-wheel hook easy to pull down and secure when loading your bike. The whole process is fairly straightforward: extend the arm, raise the wheel chock, undo the front- and rear-wheel straps, then lift your bike into place on the wheel tray. Next rotate the swing arm over your front wheel and pull down to secure. Then crank down the straps over your rims, give one more tug on the arm handle (which clicks to assure engagement) and off you go.
Aside for the handle occasionally sticking, the only hitch we've encountered is that of height, as in how tall the user is. I'm a shade under 6-foot-4, so it's not an issue to lift a 28-pound mountain bike onto the roof. But my 5-foot-5 wife really has to muscle it up, and would probably be best served by a step stool as aid. Of course this issue applies to any upright roof rack no matter the make or model.
As for compatibility, BrassKnuckles fit 20" to 29" wheels, including all manner of road bikes and all three mountain bike wheel sizes with tires widths up to 2.7". Rocky Mounts will also soon be offering a $20 fatbike kit to accommodate even wider tires. It's also worth noting that Lefty one-sided mountain bike forks are no problem. "That's one of the main reasons we include the front wheel strap, which Thule doesn't have," said Noyes. "It's one extra step, but one lost bike is not worth it."
Form-fitting mounting hardware fits all crossbars, including Rocky Mounts Ouray, Thule, Yakima, Aeroblade, Whispbar, Rhino Rack, and most factory models.
The rack works with all manner of bikes from 20-29 inches, road, mountain or cyclocross, tires up to 2.7". You'll also soon be able to purchase a fatbike adapter for wider tires.
The pivoting arm has also been engineered to allow for driver-side or passenger-side installation. If you come by the HQ store in Boulder, Rocky Mounts will do the install for free.
Our test model included installation of the just released Flagstaff towers and Ouray crossbars, which enhanced the clean look and symmetry of the whole system. Noyes says the crossbars have a 3-to-1 profile ratio front to back, which makes them more aero and quieter. We haven't done a gas mileage check yet, but the noise level compared to our old Thule cross-bar set-up is night and day. Much, much quieter.
The BrassKnuckles come stock set-up for driver's side installation. If you opt to place on the passenger side - or buy two racks - it takes a few minutes to switch it over. Other features include stackable contact pads that enable you to level your bike even on crowned crossbars, and a secure locking system that locks the rack to your car and bike to the rack with Rocky Mounts lock cores. Two are required and they are sold separately.
Finally, there is the question of security. Without a mechanism that locks directly to the frame, it is conceivable that a thief could undo the bike's front quick release or thru-axle, and then wiggle the bike off the rack. We haven't actually tried this ourselves yet, but it's clearly possible given the rack's set-up.
"We are aware of the challenge with locking a bike with an upright mount," admitted Rocky Mounts president Bruno Maier. "We design our racks for convenient and safe transport. We include a lock in the handle as a theft deterrent. The product is designed to slow down bike thieves and make the theft more difficult. Frankly, there isn't a full proof solution for locking bikes to any vehicle racks."
Continue to Page 2 to learn more about Rocky Mounts and to see an extended photo gallery »
Company founder Bobby Noyes started Rocky Mounts out of the trunk of his car.
Know Your Rack Man
This is in no way a knock against Thule, Yakima, or any of the other rack makers out there, but we'd be remiss if we didn't give a shout-out to Rocky Mounts the company. Noyes and his nine-person staff are a easy-going bunch that have long been an integral part of Boulder's local cycling community and two-wheeled advocacy efforts.
Besides being a showroom, sales, and install facility, company HQ occasionally serves as a de facto cycling community center, hosting number pick up for local amateur bike races and opening its doors for fundraising events. Each month, Rocky Mounts puts on celebrity guest bartender events that benefit a variety of causes. Noyes was also one of the main players in getting Boulder's famed Valmont Bike Park built.
"It's a sometimes stratified community that we try to bring together by being a gathering place for the local cycling population," said Noyes, a former bike shop employee who started the company out of the back of his car in 1994 after hearing one too many bike rack buying customers ask, isn't there another option? "In the beginning we hung our hat on fork mount racks. Then came pick-up truck racks and tandem racks, then ski racks and upright mounts and hitch racks. Now we're focusing on our own roof systems and not just attachments. The next progression is towers and crossbars."
Guest bartender charity fundraising nights always draw a crowd to Rocky Mounts HQ.
We'll update this review in a couple months with notes on durability and whether we're able to get the sticking issue to abate. In the meantime, you can learn more about Rocky Mounts BrassKnuckles at www.rockymounts.com.