Gear

Thule Helium Platform 2 hitch rack: What I love; what bugs me

The Helium Platform 2 hitch rack is one svelte carrier, with its bare aluminum appearance and simple functionality. But one thing really bugs me...

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Bike racks tend to be bulky and heavy, which makes them a pain to store, and equally a pain to mount on the car. Not so with Thule’s Helium Platform 2 hitch rack; as the name implies, this rack is lightweight (as compared to others in the two-bike category) and easy to move from the car to the garage. But that’s not really what measures the worth of a good car rack. That comes down to stability, security, and ease of use.

In all three of those categories, the Helium Platform gets high marks. Installing the Helium Platform takes seconds; just slide it into your trailer hitch (it accommodates both a 2-inch receiver and a 1 1/4 inch receiver; the former requires the included adapter), turn the dial on the front of the rack to snug it up, then turn the lock. The process takes seconds and requires no tools at all. And given that it only weighs 42 pounds (I know that sounds heavy, but for a rack, it’s not bad at all), it won’t break your back either.

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Thule Helium Platform 2
The Helium Platform 2 carries two bikes easily. I have carried both road and mountain bikes, often at the same time, with no troubles. The rack can fit up to 3-inch tires. Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com

Once it’s installed, the Helium Platform rack is easy to adjust up and down with the release lever. It’s conveniently located at the rear of the rack, closest to you. That means you don’t have to pull a contortionist maneuver just to reach a lever stowed underneath the rack, as some manufacturers have done.

There are three positions: Up for stowage when the rack isn’t being used, down for when you want to carry your bikes, and full-down for getting the bikes out of the way when you want to access the rear of your vehicle.

Downward tilt
The downward tilt position allows you to access the back of your vehicle, even with bikes loaded on the rack. Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com

The arms hold the front and rear wheels of your bicycle; the rack never makes contact with the frame. More importantly, the arms snug up easily and release just as easily — just pull on the release levers at the top of each arm. The entire process is quick and easy.

Finally, Thule has strayed from the traditional black color scheme of most car racks, in favor of a bare aluminum aesthetic. It looks very cool on the back of my beater truck, and it’s likely to look even nicer on the back of your car should it be a decade or two newer than mine. Even when the rack gets dirty, it doesn’t show it as much as a black rack does.

release handle
The release handle, as seen from below. It’s comfortable and easy to activate, and you can adjust the rack to any of its three positions quickly and easily. Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com

The aluminum frame is mated to plastic hinges and other components, which initially had me worried about durability. But I’ve had the rack on my truck for most of this year, through all sorts of weather ranging from 100-degree heat to snow storms (yes, in the summer…Colorado is weird). I’ve even bumped the rack a few times on off-road excursions. Both the plastic components and the aluminum frame materials seem no worse for the wear.

What bugs me: It’s always in the way! I have a pickup truck, so I access the bed frequently. My camper shell complicates things further, which means I can only access the bed from the back — right where the Helium Platform lives. Sure, I’m able to tilt the rack downwards, even with bikes attached, so at the very least I can get to the rear tailgate. But I have to step between the rack and the back of my vehicle to truly gain access.

adapter
The included adapter allows you to use the rack with either a 2-inch or 1 1/4-inch receiver. Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com

Of course, Thule has thought of this already and offers the Thule Access accessory, which mounts into your hitch and integrates with the Helium Platform rack so you can swing it out of the way to access the back of your vehicle. That’s fantastic, and it’s exactly what I want!

Unfortunately, the Thule Access costs $350. That brings the total tally of the bike rack system to $1,050. Yikes. If the Access accessory was included with the Helium Platform rack at no extra charge, or if the Helium Platform design simply integrated a swing-away feature to begin with, this rack would absolutely live on my truck full-time. It is otherwise a wonderful piece of equipment that makes owning a car rack much easier due to its light weight and smooth, easy function.

downward tilt with bikes
While the downward tilt position allows me to get to the back of my truck, I really wish the Helium Platform 2 came stock with a swing-away feature to truly get the rack out of the way for full access. Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com