Yakima Exo two-story modular hitch rack gives cars pickup utility
The tailgate/roof/hitch shuffle is a summertime ritual with which anyone who regularly carries a lot of gear and people around is probably familiar. The hitch part of the equation usually gets eaten up most quickly, whether by a bike rack, hitch basket, cargo box or trailer. Yakima has launched the EXO system to encourage drivers to get more out of the hitch, readily mixing bike racks, cargo boxes, ski racks, gear baskets and vehicle-camping accessories into a two-story utility stack behind the tailgate. It's the most versatile cargo carrier solution your hitch has seen, letting the vehicle carry more gear into the field for outdoor fun and comfort.
The EXO SwingBase serves as the foundation of the EXO system, the linchpin upon which the entire system depends. By itself, it doesn't do very much outside of folding and swinging – a bit disappointing for a piece of kit that costs US$499. But the beauty of the SwingBase is that it works as the primary building block for creating a personalized dual-level gear-carry setup.
After securing the SwingBase to the hitch, EXO users can directly mount cargo-carry solutions like the $479 EXO DoubleUp dual-bike rack, $399 EXO GearLocker cargo box or $349 EXO GearWarrior basket, creating a functional hitch rack. The swing-away feature pulls the rack and all its contents to the side for clear tailgate access.
To double storage capacity and fulfill the EXO's promise of two-story gear stacking, buyers will need to add the $379 EXO TopShelf, which mounts to the SwingBase to create a second level upon which to mount racks and accessories. Just like the SwingBase, the TopShelf works with the full gamut of EXO components, so drivers can have the DoubleUp bike rack up top, the GearLocker box below; the GearWarrior basket below, GearLocker up top; two GearLockers stacked one over the other; and so on.
A different style of handy accessory, the $129 BackDeck mounts on the EXO rack to serve as a table or worktop for cooking up dinner, mixing drinks, repairing gear or whatever else you might need it for. When it's time to leave base camp, the BackDeck stows away easily.
The EXO might seem like overkill to people that don't regularly haul much gear around, but I've run into the exact type of space deficiency for which it can help. My midsize SUV was already packed bumper to bumper during family camping trips – four people seated up front; a load area filled out with sleeping gear, cooking equipment, furniture, coolers, firewood, luggage, camping gear boxes, and other necessary provisions; and roof crossbars holding a roof-top tent. When we added an 85-lb (39-kg) dog to the mix, we ended up having to move a lot of that tailgate cargo to a hitch basket to fit everyone and everything – quite snugly.
After taking up family bike rides last summer, we were scratching our heads about how to add two adult mountain bikes and two kids' bikes to that fully loaded SUV so that we could enjoy biking on camping trips. Our four-bike hitch rack works well for day trips, but we can't use it at the same time as the hitch basket that we need to fit all the camping gear. The roof-top tent leaves too little roof space for a roof-mounted bike carrier.
Options we've been considering include a gear trailer with bike rack, some type of roof box or basket that would fit next to or in front of the roof tent, or perhaps simplifying the campsite with a family ground tent. The EXO presents another potential solution that would allow us to carry the two adult bikes over top a basket or box holding the lion's share of camping gear. The kids' bikes could then fit in the tailgate next to the dog, possibly fully assembled, possibly with the front wheels removed. Snug, no doubt, but everyone and everything accounted for.
Of course, such an EXO setup comes with a hefty enough price tag to get us looking more closely at that gear trailer. The SwingBase and TopShelf bring us up to a quick $878, before we're even carrying any cargo. Add on the DoubleUp bike rack and GearLocker and we just doubled that price to $1,756. We guess we could save $50 by going with the GearWarrior basket instead of the GearLocker hard case, but we'd be tempted to give the money right back (and then some) to add the available $149 accessory wheels that turn the basket into a convenient hand cart for rolling contents back and forth to the vehicle. Either way, that's getting uncomfortably close to $2,000 for a pretty standard EXO setup – add other swappable accessories, like the BackDeck or $279 SnowBank five-ski or four-snowboard rack, and you can quickly roll right past the 2K mark.
The EXO won't be a viable solution for all needs or budgets, but it is a nice option to have, making hitch carry nearly as modular and multifunctional as roof carry. Yakima first revealed the series last October and announced rollout earlier this month. EXO components and accessories are still listed as "coming soon" on Yakima.com, but retailers like REI and Etrailer advertise them as available to order. Yakima also has a $149 rear lighting and license plate kit to help owners meet legal requirements should their EXO setup interfere with rear vehicle visibility.