Review: The Power of Suction Cups? Sea Sucker's Mini Bomber Bike Rack
DesignSo, how the heck does this thing hold onto your car? It's as simple as pushing all of the air out between the cup and whatever surface it's grabbing a hold of, with the difference in pressure between inside and outside the cup giving it its gripping power. Sea Sucker says that their 6'' vacuum cups have a "pull rating" of 210 lb, which is roughly the weight of one e-bike. I jest, but a cup's rating is usually calculated by multiplying its surface area by the atmospheric pressure.
InstallationInstalling any type of bike rack correctly is obviously of high importance, but I feel like it's extra critical with the Mini Bomber. That said, the job should only take a few minutes, and I'd rate the mechanical skill level required a 2/10. First thing first, you have to make sure that wherever you're putting the vacuum cups is clean and dry, and they're not going to work on the roof of your '87 Tercel wagon if it's rusting away into a convertible. Sea Sucker also says you should give the vacuum cups a quick look and clean before each use, for obvious reasons. These little guys will stick to a lot of different surfaces, and even underwater (just in case your GPS leads you astray), but wherever you put them can't be too flexible, either. The plastic deck is pretty stiff but it does have just enough flex in it so as to match a roof's curved cross-section. It can still take a good amount of pressure to get the deck to flex enough so the cup can suck itself down onto the roof, but that will depend on your car's shape. Because our kind is mostly used to tray-style or strap-on racks, or tailgates, it's probably worth pointing out a few, umm, quirks of getting the Mini Bomber on your car and your bike on the Mini Bomber. Most importantly, know that Sea Sucker does point out that their racks aren't set-and-forget type of things, and also that they'll need a look every few hours. Not for the absent-minded, then. And having to clean wherever you're putting the vacuum cups is a bit of a PIA when you're late for a ride or just wanting to get to the mountain. On top of that, I suspect that putting a vacuum cup on a dirty car could lead to some paint damage over the long run, but I wasn't going to test that. Also, the suction surface of a cup has to be undamaged, of course, so you can't just go tossing these things into the back of your garage until you need them. Because the fork and rear wheel mounts are completely separate pieces of hardware, you'll need to install the deck first and then the bike before you'll know where you should put the mount for the rear wheel. I guess you could strap the cup to the wheel first and then put the bike on the rack, too.
PerformanceFirst, there's no denying that, next to throwing it over a tailgate, a hitch mount, tray-style rack is the easiest way to carry a mountain bike around, especially when it comes to loading your bike. It's not exactly difficult to get your bike on the Mini Bomber - if you can lift it over your head, you can do this - but it can be a little cumbersome to get the fork's axle through and threaded in while simultaneously keeping your bike from tipping over onto your car. I definitely recommend putting your bike on the side of the rack that lets you slide the axle in from the outside rather than the inside - the former is much easier to manage. Because the rack has such a low profile - it sits only a few inches above the car's roof - it doesn't look like the vacuum cups would be able to hold your baby up if you're doing a bit of 'spirited driving.' The bike is surprisingly solid, though, which does make sense given that each vacuum cup is said to hold up to 210 lb of pulling force, which is 840 lb across the Mini Bomber's deck. If you grab the bike and try to shake it hard side to side, it actually feels more solid and secure than on some tray-style racks I've used. Heavy crosswinds? I wouldn't even give it a second thought. Hard e-brake turn? Don't mind if I do, and neither will the Mini Bomber. When you install the two fork mounts, you can choose to angle them via three different positions. I wasn't thinking and bolted both fork mounts down at the same angle, which isn't ideal if you're carrying two bikes with wide handlebars - the inside ends will touch. I'd like to see each fork mount position moved outboard on the deck by another inch or two so you'd never have to think about, but angling the mounts is the built-in solution that works. It's when you don't need a bike rack that the Mini Bomber comes into its own. It takes about 30-seconds to remove; all you need to do is pull up gently on each of the vacuum mount's tabs, at which point they'll pop off with no effort. And since the entire thing weighs just 12lb and isn't exactly big, I can just put it in my car's trunk until I need to use it again. It will even slide under the seats of many cars or trucks without issue.
So, would I choose a strap-on rack like Saris' much less expensive Bones two-bike rack? I reviewed the Bones last year and while it carried bikes just fine, I eventually got tired of having to deal with all those straps that were a PIA because I didn't want it on my car all the time. The Mini Bomber has its own set of quirks, of course, but it's easier to install, easier to deal with when it's not on my car, and easier to get bikes into. I still have the Bones rack, but I'll be sticking with the Mini Bomber.As for which one I trust more, I'm going to say that it's a tie. I'll glance in my rear view mirror every ten minutes regardless of the rack I'm using, and I'll check both types at every gas or food stop. It took a few weeks for me to trust the vacuum cups, if I'm honest, but now I don't even think about them until it's time to have a look.
|The Mini Bomber comes with a handful of quirks that you wouldn't normally see with a strap-on or tray-style rack, and it sure seems a bit pricey for what it is, but it's also going to be the ideal solution for a small percentage of riders who either can't use or don't want to use a traditional rack. This isn't the setup for someone who's hard on their stuff, either. All that said, if your vehicle doesn't accept a receiver, and strap-on racks seem a bit hokey, you might be the ideal Mini Bomber owner.— Mike Levy|