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A few years ago, Saris launched a new tray-style rack to go head-to-head with the likes of 1up. The Saris MTR was a great start, but there were a few details that kept it from being a 1up-killer.
Now, Saris is back with a new take on the tray-Style rack called the MHS, or Modular Hitch System. As you’d imagine from the name, the rack is modular and there are future additions in the works. But for now, how is it at just hauling bikes?
We loaded up some gravel and mountain bikes and hit the road to find out.
Choose your Base (and how many bikes)
For now, the modularity of the MHS is limited to bike hauling, but there are still some options to consider. There are three different bases – the 1+1, the 2+1, and the 3+1 Base Hitches. Note that the 1+1 is the only Base that is compatible with 1 1/4″ hitches – the other two are 2″ only.
As the names would imply, there are options when it comes to the amount of bikes each one can carry. Since you buy the Receiver and each tray separately, you could just buy the 2+1 and run a single tray to carry only one bike. Similarly, you could buy the 3+1 Base and run only two trays to space them out for maximum room between bikes. Conversely, the 3+1 Base can actually run up to four bike trays with the addition of the +1 add-on tray.
+1 Add-On Tray
That +1 in the name is for the MHS Duo 1-bike Add-on Tray which is compatible with all three bases. This tray is different from the rest and has a riser that places it at a near 45º angle to the base. This lifts the outer bike and allows for two bikes to be spaced closer together without extending the rack out super far.
Having tried both the 2+1 and the 3+1, there are pluses and minuses to each setup. According to Saris only the 1+1 and 2+1 Bases with up to two bike trays are compatible with a swing-away adapter. The 2+1 is also short enough that it will clear the upper hatch on my Honda Element when the rack is in the fully upright position.
Truthfully, this isn’t as big a deal as it sounds since the MHS tilt mechanism has an intermediate step between up and down which angles the rack at about 45° and allows the longer Three Bike Receiver to also clear the upper hatch.
The rack can also tilt down to the ground to allow access to full-size trunk hatches, even with the bikes on the rack.
The 2+1 is also lighter, and the 1+1 lighter still. so if you only plan on carrying 1-3 bikes and want the lightest rack, it’s worth considering. Saris doesn’t give the weight of each Base, but the 3+1 Base weighs in at 30lbs, and the trays themselves also weigh
30lbs 24lbs each. So a three-bike rack with the 3+1 Base would be about 102lbs total.
The weight of the rack is an interesting consideration though. It’s heavy when fully assembled. But the trays also quickly come off with a single security bolt, so if you’re removing the rack to store in your garage, it’s actually easier to move around and store than almost any other rack. Instead of moving and storing the whole assembly, you’re working with single pieces which can be stashed in different places if storage is an issue. If you don’t leave your rack on your vehicle year-round, this seems like a very intriguing feature.
Modular means more options in the future
That modularity also makes it surprisingly quick to add or remove bike trays. This is probably less important for most people in terms of carrying bikes, but with the additional accessories Saris is teasing, it could be very quick and easy to swap out a bike tray for a cargo platform or some other accessory depending on the trip.
Changes from the MTR
When it comes to the MHS Duo bike trays themselves, most of what we loved from the MTR is still here with a few improvements. Compared to a 1up, both the tilt and ratchet mechanisms on the Saris are just simply easier to use. The large silver latch allows you to open and operate each cradle with one hand while you balance a bike with the other. Also, thanks to the front wheel block, you start by loading the bike in the tray and clamping down the front wheel. At that point, the bike is captured and you don’t have to worry about stabilizing it while you move to the back. This is an especially useful feature when loading heavy bikes when parked on an incline.
Saris also went and added tool-free adjustment of the wheel support arches. This makes it a lot easier to quickly change the rack for different-sized bike wheels – important if you ride with your kids as often as you do with friends. Rear wheel straps add extra insurance against losing a bike just in case a tire blows out while driving (I’ve seen it happen – the tire blowout part, not losing a bike on this style rack).
Each MHS Duo tray is capable of carrying bikes with 20-29″ wheels, and with tires up to a full 5″ wide. Also, the trays will fit bikes with wheelbases up to 53″ long. Each tray is rated to carry bikes up to 60lbs, though the actual weight capacity of the system will depend on what base you choose and how many bikes you’re running. One and two-bike racks can use the full 60lb rating of each tray. But on the 3+1 base, only the first two positions can hold up to 60lbs–the third and add-on positions are then limited to 35lbs for a total of 190lbs.
Loading each bike is very easy, with the uprights able to pivot all the way to the ground if needed. You may have to play around with different wheel size options on the uprights to dial it in, but once you get it right, the bikes seem quite secure.
However, one thing the MHS lost from the MTR is the “stadium tiered” bike trays. That means there’s more of a chance for interference between wide handlebars of similar-sized mountain bikes. So far, we’ve had no issue running gravel bikes of different sizes with very wide handlebars, but it is possible to get wide mountain bike handlebars to touch.
Because of the front wheel block, it’s harder to simply reposition the bike in the tray so the bars clear, but it can be done. Just loosen the front support of one of the bikes slightly, and tighten the rear. That pushes the bike forward enough that the bars clear. It’s not as secure as if you were using the front wheel block, but it’s just as secure as other racks of this type – more so when you add in the rear wheel strap.
It seems that a tiered bike position would have a positive effect on the mountain bike positioning and the departure angle of the rack, but Saris says the non-tiered design was done to allow for future accessories like a cargo platform.
How does the MHS perform off-road?
For most driving, this will be a non-issue as it’s plenty high to clear any curbs on a normal vehicle. But if you plan to do any off-roading, you may find yourself putting the durability of the handle protector to the test.
That was the case for us as we tackled some off-road trails in Alabama in my friend’s new Subaru Outback Wilderness. To be fair, we were driving through some deep holes while fully flexing the suspension. And despite getting completely packed with mud, the handle protector did its job. After knocking out the mud and rinsing it off, the tilt handle still works perfectly.
Hit the protector enough though and you’ll probably have to replace the skid plate–which is fine since it’s been designed to be replaced. That skid plate also serves as a resting point when you lower the rack to the ground.
The other big change to the trays other than the hinged attachment clamp is the loss of the pivoting feature. The MTR allowed you to essentially split the trays in half, pivoting them upwards. This allowed for a bit easier storage and possibly improved fuel economy when traveling without bikes. But it also resulted in trays that would move underneath a bike at highway speeds. I was still using my MTR to this point without issue, but the play was a little unnerving.
Now the trays are one solid piece, with the massive clamp underneath. That’s what makes the whole modularity work so well. As mentioned, the MHS is actually easier to store now thanks to this feature since you can quickly split the rack up into pieces and store them in different spots.
Much Better Locks (though not perfect)
Also improved for the MHS are the locks for the bikes themselves. Now featuring much longer cables that exit from the center of the trays, it’s now possible to lock up the frame and front wheel of each bike.
My only complaint with this lock setup is that the lock housings are all offset to the same side of the tray regardless of which direction the bike faces. That means that it’s harder to reach in and remove the lock from its housing on any trays where the lock housing is offset towards the rear of the bike. This is really only an issue on bikes with short wheelbases, but if they were all offset towards the front of the bike, it would be easier all around.
You can either purchase the MHS as a pre-configured package, or as individual pieces.
- MHS 1-Bike Package – $549.98
- MHS 2-Bike Package – $889.97
- MHS 3-Bike Package – $1,299.96
- MHS 1+1 Base 1 1/4″ or 2″ –$199.99
- MHS 2+1 Base 2″ – $199.99
- MHS 3+1 Base 2″ – $249.99
- MHS Duo 1-Bike Tray – $349.99
- MHS Duo 1-Bike Add-On Tray – $349.99
Overall, the MHS has been an interesting rack that is great at what it does with a few little quirks. Most of those quirks will probably make more sense as accessories for the system are added. If ease of use and the ability to easily break down the rack and store it are top priorities, the MHS makes a strong case for itself as your next rack. But if you’re planning on doing a lot of off-roading where departure angle is more important than optional accessories, there are other racks to consider.
We’re excited to see what Saris has in store for optional accessories for the MHS, and there are so many options with rack to begin with, it’s easy to build one to fit your needs.