RockyMounts BackStage Swing Away Platform Review
Cons: Heavy, pricey, limited tray clearance
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Our Analysis and Test Results
If you own a van or just value easy access to the back of your vehicle, then you've likely already run up against the issue of hitch racks being in the way. The BackStage answers the call of bike nomads and provides a viable solution to a common problem. RockyMounts has come to the rescue with a platform hitch rack that swings away allowing access to the rear of your vehicle. Other brands now offer pivoting rack attachments, although they are sold as an accessory and add to the already high price of most rack systems and add significantly more weight.
Ease of Everyday Use
The BackStage is similar in function and design to most other hitch mount tray racks and is basically a RockyMounts MonoRail rack attached to a pivoting swingarm.
It features an easy-to-reach tilt release handle at the end of the main support arm that is easily manipulated with one hand. In general, the platform hitch rack design is inherently easier to use than other styles of racks due to a low loading height. The BackStage is no exception, and our testers found the front wheel clamps and the rear tire clamps to be relatively hassle-free.
The swing-away feature is unique to the BackStage and allows the rack to be swung out towards the passenger side to enhance access to the rear of the vehicle. Other brands have followed suit and now the Kuat Pivot is available as an aftermarket accessory that can adapt any hitch mount rack to function in this way. Swinging the rack is accomplished by turning the large T style handle at the rear to release the threaded pin, and then pulling the tray portion of the rack to the side. Pivoting the rack out of the way is relatively easy to do, even with bikes loaded.
Once it is opened to the side it takes up a lot of room, so you might want to double park if you're going to try this in a parking lot. The BackStage also has a tilt function, which allows for the tailgate or rear hatch of some vehicles to open with the rack on the vehicle. Even with no bikes on board, the rack does not tilt far enough down to allow some swinging van doors to open, and those who may want full, unobstructed access to the rear of their vehicle may also enjoy this swing-away feature.
Ease of Removal and Storage
While the swing-away feature is a game-changer for many van travelers, the pivot mechanism adds a considerable amount of weight to the BackStage, about 16 lbs more than the Monorail on its own.
At 60 lbs, the BackStage is quite heavy, and mounting the rack to your vehicle can be a bear, particularly for those who are smaller in stature. All of the hitch racks we tested are somewhat awkward to carry, but the pivoting arm of the BackStage adds to the difficulty by making the rack even more unbalanced, as the weight is not centered. The BackStage does not take up any more storage space than its competitors, but due to the weight, we recommend finding a place to store it that minimizes the distance to your vehicle.
Once the BackStage is placed in the hitch receiver, a threaded hitch pin is used to take the wobble out of the system. Threaded hitch pins used to be standard equipment on hitch racks, but most of the newer high-end models have moved to some expansion wedge or ball that is tensioned using a hand knob. Threaded hitch pins get the job done but are much more labor and time intensive, and they require tools to remove and secure. We found the threaded hitch pin to be particularly problematic when mounting the BackStage on our Sprinter test van. The trailer wiring plug assembly blocks access to the lock side of the pin. We eventually disconnected the wiring assembly to use the BackStage on the van.
The BackStage is a highly versatile bike rack that can fit a huge range of wheel sizes and tire widths. RockyMounts claims it works with wheel sizes from 20-29-inches in diameter, as well as tires up to 5-inches in width without the need for any adapters. Its 36-inch to 50-inch wheelbase compatibility should also work fine for almost any bike except the smallest of children's or BMX bikes. With a 60 lbs per bike weight limit, it can handle just about any bike, including heavy electric models. Due to the front wheel clamp design, it doesn't work with most fender-equipped bikes.
RockyMounts only makes the BackStage for 2-inch receivers. With only 13" of clearance to the center of the first tray, we encountered problems with handlebars making contact with the back of some vehicles. For those running 800mm handlebars this could be an issue. During testing, we were not able to put bikes on the inside tray that had bars longer than 760mm when using the BackStage on a Sprinter van. RockyMounts does make an 8-inch hitch extension for those who may encounter clearance issues.
Ease of Assembly
As previously mentioned the BackStage is cumbersome. The rack is shipped in several pieces, and a good amount of assembly is required.
The BackStage was the most difficult rack to assemble that we tested. Due to the weight and awkward nature of the assembly, it is best to assemble it using the hitch receiver of your vehicle to hold the base. The trays are attached to the main support mast with four hex bolts, similar in design to the Thule T2 Pro XT. While this design is quite sturdy, it makes tray adjustment rather difficult.
We had a particularly challenging time lining up the holes in the trays with the slotted mounting plates on the BackStage. The tolerances are quite tight, and the machining on the mounting plates of our rack was a bit off. We did eventually get all of the bolts in the appropriate position, but a lot of manipulation and angling of bolts was required to get things to line up correctly. The bottom line here is preparing for a challenge when you go to assemble the BackStage, and we recommend you tackle this one with a partner.
The BackStage scored well for its security features.
The rack locks to the vehicle with a locking hitch pin, and while it is a pain compared to the tool-free designs, it does deter would-be thieves from stealing the rack off your vehicle. That said, the hitch pin lock doesn't feel especially robust and could potentially be broken with a blow from a blunt object. The BackStage also comes with a nice, long, noose-style cable lock that locks to a post on the main frame of the rack.
The cable system has the advantage of being able to be strung through wheels and the frame. We also appreciate the thicker diameter of the cable, when compared to the thin cables found on some other models. The detachable cable does have the disadvantage of needing to be stored somewhere when not in use, but we would gladly trade this bit of inconvenience for the added security that the cable provides. As much as we like the inclusion of the cable lock, we feel it serves as little more than a theft deterrent. Those seeking the utmost security for their bikes would do well to purchase and use an additional aftermarket lock.
The BackStage is a stout and well-built rack. The vast majority of the rack is made of metal, other than the plastic wheel trays, and rear wheel straps. The black finish held up well during testing and proved to be resistant to scratches and corrosion.
All of the pivot points on the swingarm are appropriately burly, and the central threaded handle that holds the pivot arm in the closed position is more than stout enough for the job. We really can't envision this rack having any substantial durability issues, but it should be noted that the swing-away feature adds a lot of moving parts to the equation.
The RockyMounts BackStage is not a cheap way to carry your bikes. This price is in line with other comparable high-end racks we tested. The swing-away feature alone is worth the price, but the BackStage is also fully functional if you don't need to swing the rack thanks to a well-executed design. Overall, we feel that the BackStage is an excellent value. If you don't need the swing away function then take a look at the RockyMounts MonoRail which will save you some cash.
The BackStage is a great hitch-mount option for those who have vehicle access issues with other hitch racks that only have a tilt mechanism. The swing-away arm is a true game-changer for van travelers and those with a cab-over camper. Beyond the swing-away feature, the rack is highly versatile and user-friendly and can fit most bikes with ease.
— Curtis Smith
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