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Field Testing the SARIS MHS Hitch Rack – by Byrone

I got the word in late January about the new Saris MHS Rack System, and I was intrigued.    I’ve been using a SARIS Freedom 2 with fat bike trays for about six years and it was a reliable, trusted friend that had hauled my prized possessions without incident.   But…it was starting to show the wear and tear of year-round use, through rain and snow and salt and all the other detritus that northern Illinois could throw at it. My history with the brand’s products and my variety of bikes made me the perfect candidate to test this newfangled system from Saris.

SARIS launched the MHS hitch-mounted system on February 1st. It’s a completely new design for them and at an initial glance, appears to be trying to imitate the industry standard from 1UP.  It comes in several configurations including 1 ¼ and 2” hitch sizes, and 1, 2, and 3 bike options.   THE MHS is a modular system, consisting of a base, bike trays, and a bike add-on accessory.   The bike trays don’t touch the frame of the bike and work with any wheel size.  The single-tray capacity of up to 60 pounds makes the MHS one of the few racks on the market that can handle the weight of an e-bike, which promise to get more popular AND lighter over time.  

The sturdy base swivels up and down, nothing new, but the beauty of this new tail clinger is its versatility. In addition to bike hauling capability, SARIS intends to develop several accessories that can be mounted on the MHS base.  Plans call for a basket and travel box to provide more cargo space during road trips.   This will be a huge win for those of us that love to haul our bikes to our favorite haunts for weekends packed with riding, camping, and hanging with friends.   SARIS will have really hit a home run if these accessories can mix and match with bike trays to haul both bikes AND cargo.     

Assembly and First impressions.

The  MHS arrived at my door on a cold February day and I was surprised that it came in three boxes.   Seems my short-term memory is not so good and I forgot that this was a modular system instead of the more compact Saris Freedom 2. After hauling the three boxes down to my basement and unboxing the three components, all I could think was “holy shit, this is a lot of packaging!” I’m not just talking about cardboard and styrofoam, I’m talking about spacers made of different thicknesses of cardboard and even wood shims to hold the contents in place during transit.   I’m not sure if it was their intent, but I complement SARIS on using mostly recyclable material in their packaging.  

Let me say that I am not mechanically inclined.  If you had to rate my mechanical ability, with 10 representing a pro wrench and 1 being a cranky, drooly, infant, I’m about a 3.   Imagine the panic that set in as I’m unboxing this beast of a bike hauler.  

One word kept crossing my mind as I started arranging the different parts of the MHS around my basement.    BEEFY!  The MHS is big! And heavy!  The base is well constructed with a smooth swivel mechanism that instills confidence even before you mount the trays.  

As I started to put the pieces together, I was reminded of just how inept I am.   Once the base was assembled, it became clear that there was no way I was going to assemble the MHS in my basement because once assembled, it would be too large and heavy to lug up the basement stairs.   So out to the garage, I go to finish the job in sub 20-degree weather.  I was so glad that I had just bought a radiant garage heater!

Assembly was a comedy of errors that I won’t describe in detail, but let’s just say that it took me about an hour and a half to put this thing together.   A “normal” person may have done it in a third of that time.   Assembly though can provide some insight into the design of a product and the MHS was no different.   I’m easily annoyed at putting things together, but the MHS seemed to be trying to piss me off.   The biggest offense was several blind treads that took forever to find.   This made the wheel blocks on the base as well as the arms almost impossible to install, so much so that I left them off of the blocks…more on that later. Finally, the rear wheel straps perplexed me.   I could not figure out how to install them and finally gave up, telling myself that I would just use the integrated locks as the belt to the MHS suspenders. More on this later.

Once assembled, the two bike setup (MHS 2+1 Base and qty 2 MHS DUO bike holders) weighs 71 pounds, but it’s still easy to slide into the hitch receiver and install the security pin.   When this baby sits on the back of your car, it’s handsome and lets everyone know that you’ve got one serious hauling machine on your tail.

Hauling with the MHS

The most important quality that a rack can provide is confidence and ease.   When you consider that you’re entrusting your prized possession(s), which are a significant investment and major source of pride and joy in your life, that provide miles and miles of smiles,   that you daydream about almost constantly, well you get the picture.   All you want a rack to do is haul your bikes and sort of disappear into your life.  

The Saris MHS is just that:  a rack that is designed to haul your bikes (and stuff) safely and securely.   I can tell you with confidence, it does that, and it does it well. Despite its 71-pound weight, the MHS slides easily into the hitch receiver and the bolt/lock assembly solidly secures the rack to the vehicle.   The grab handle on the base gives you sufficient leverage to fold the rack up and out of the way while not in use and the swivel mechanism feels solid and locks into each of its three positions (up, haul, down) with a satisfying metal “clunk.”   I remove it often to wash my vehicle and despite its heft, the MHS is easy to handle.   I would describe the entire design as well-balanced.  

When hauling, the bikes sit solidly with no sway.   I have a habit of checking my precious cargo in the rearview camera, which I don’t seem to do much anymore.   Aside from the ever-present worry of getting rear-ended with bikes on the back (common for all trunk mounts), the SARIS MHS instills complete confidence as you careen down the road to your favorite trailhead.

Perhaps the best feature of the MHS is its ability to accommodate wheel sizes of 20-29”.   You can move the block up and down the support arm without tools to do this.  While this is a benefit, they could improve the functionality a little better…remember my comment about blind threads?  This is one of the culprits. I have multiple bikes, a 29+ MTB, three fat bikes (one with 27.5” wheels), two gravel bikes, and a 26” Fat Ebike.   The MHS carried each of these with aplomb, and I was really pleased with the amount of space between trays, making it possible to haul two bikes without them touching each other.   My old Saris Freedom was a much tighter fit that had me constantly worried about ripping a seat with a brake lever as I hauled two bikes.  

Another small issue is that the MHS does not work well with fenders.   My ebike and both gravel bikes run fenders and you cannot secure the rear wheel arm.   Kevin Harris, Senior Product Manager at Saris, told me that Saris will offer a Fendered Bike Wheel Holder as an accessory.   The shape of the accessory sits lower on the rear wheel, under the fender, and provides a more horizontal force to the rear wheel for improved bike stability.  This accessory will drop in June 2022.   

Before I got Kevin’s answer, I wanted to haul my Surly Cross-Check (with fenders) to a gravel ride.    Enter the rear wheel straps that I mentioned before and viola…front wheel is secured by the wheel arm and the rear wheel is secured by the rear wheel strap, which is only attached to the bike tray by its own strap!   So if you don’t want to shell out the dinero for the FBWH accessory, I found a fix for you.  

Overall, I’d say that the Saris MHS is a solid bike hauler.   I’ve used it now for about three months and enjoy being able to move the rack up when not in use.   The drop-down feature also works well and allows me to securely put my bike on the rack after a ride, then drop it down and sit on my tailgate to soak in the post-ride goodness that we’re all familiar with! 

I’m excited to see the forthcoming accessories from SARIS for gear-hauling and look forward to posting a long-term review, in March of 2023.!

For more information about Saris visit – www.saris.com

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