This turned out to be more fun than I planned (meaning it was a little harder that I thought it was going to be). That may be due to the choice of model or manufacturer, but I'll get into that. I own a Thule xSporter rack that is on my partner's Ford pickup. It works great, but that truck is often not around when I want to go on a solo paddle. So, I researched what rack options were available to me. Naturally I started at REI, because I'm often there, and they have great service for these things. Perhaps they even install racks, I don't know, I didn't ask. I wanted to install it myself. Now my hands are very sore, but I'm getting ahead of the story.
Since I already own a Thule, I started with their fit guide (like a small phone book), which is on a table at the REI store in Berkeley that I go to. You search for your model of car, and it will tell you the exact Thule parts you need for your vehicle. Yes, they have a rack for my car that is recommended for kayaks (the load limit is 130 pounds and should be enough for two kayaks). They have two options, fancy or simple. By fancy, I mean they have Aero load bars that are oval and are kind of cool, and simple means plain square black load bars. Since it is a '97 Honda, I'm just looking for the minimum investment to get my kayak to the water. The simple configuration is about $310 (plus tax). I think the fancy setup was $50 more, and maybe would have been easier to install. Anybody out there tried to install an Aero roof rack on a car with a fit kit? I'd love to hear from you.
I also decided to check out at least one option, so I priced the same setup from Yakima. I was very please that for the same $310, Yakima would throw in a faring for no extra charge (a $60 value, Thule charges $65 for a similar faring). For a while, my mind was made up, when a friend told me that the Yakima is made in China, and I might try to buy American Made. With a little research, I found on the Thule About page this statement, "From this decision grew the strategy to design and manufacture products in the USA for the US market." So, based on this statement, I decided to say bye to the faring, and go with Thule.
You can also access the fit guides for both Thule and Yakima on the Internet. You can probably find them at the respective websites, but I go to REI's, click on kayaking, then click on car racks. From there, the links for either Thule or Yakima are on the left.
I ordered everything I needed from REI, and waited for the rack to be delivered to my local REI store (no shipping costs this way). I picked it up yesterday and guess what. At least it isn't made in China. The feet are made in the U.S.A., but the fit kit and load stops are made in Sweden, and the lock tumblers are made in Belgium. I couldn't find any indication of where the load bars were made. So, at least I sent a little business to countrymen, but not as much as I wanted.
It took me about three hours to assemble and install the rack on my Honda. The hardest part was clamping the feet onto the load bars. It takes sheer strength, and I just had to keep at it, applying my body wait through my thumbs to get the clamps to click closed. My thumbs are painfully sore today. I did get the rack onto the car, and today drove a distance with it. The fit kit ties the feet pedestals which sit on the roof, to the door frame. The fit kit clamps are so snug, that the doors close right over them. When I shake the rack to test it, the whole car moves on the shocks. It is that solid. I have complete confidence putting my kayak up there.
There are a lot of options for kayak mounting like rollers and cradles, but they add another $160 (and up) to the price. I opted for a set of 4 load stops for $50. We use these on the xSporter, and they keep the kayaks from moving side to side on the racks. Plus, you can strap right through the load stops, which means a very snug tie up.
Tomorrow, I'll put the kayak up there and take it to the water, to start getting my money's worth from the rack. Can't wait! I'll post some pictures later. Gotta wash the car first.
Added May 10, 2008: WARNING My thumb on my right hand still hurts from clamping the feet onto the load bars. DO NOT use your hand as shown in the instructions. It requires too much force. The easy way to do this without injuring yourself is to use the fit clip and screw to pull the unit together until it clicks, but first you have to pivot the female bolt inside the unit. Twisting the screw through the fit clip will compress the unit around the load bar and click it into place. I only discovered this when installing on the car, but you can just as easily do this in the assembly area before you go out to the car. Inside the foot, the screw goes into a female bolt that is on a pivot. The bolt must be pivoted into the proper direction so that the screw may pass through the fit clip at the proper angle. Without the fit clip, insert the screw into the bolt and pivot it. Then remove the screw and put the fit clip on. Then reinsert the screw to ensure the proper angle. Now tighten the screw until the unit clicks into place around the load bar.