Swagman Jackknife 4 Hitch Rack

Words Jon Harris
Photos Jon Harris
Date Aug 20, 2013

After years and years of throwing my bike on to my roof bar mounted racks I finally ended up living in a condo with underground parking. I’ve always been good at remembering that my bike is on the roof, so it wasn’t an issue from that point of view, but the hassle of having to parking on the road (in a busy neighbourhood) then going to get my bike and load the car got me to the point where a hitch was installed and I purchased my first hitch mounted rack. I went with a two bike Kuat rack and I’ve been pretty happy with it. Recently though it’s been getting a little tired and my riding crew is expanding so often I need to take more than two bikes with me, getting me looking around at a new rack.

Swagman, Swagman rack, jackknife, hitch, jackknife 4

The Swagman Jackknife 4 holds bikes vertically by just the wheels, and folds up when not in use.

I’ve always been a fan of the North Shore Rack style rack. It’s something that can carry 4 bikes without having a precarious looking extension hanging off the back of your vehicle like you can end up with if I were to go with the Yakima, Thule or Kuat options. My engineering background just gets uneasy with the amount of torque that ends up being put through the hitch on the platform type of rack when extended for 4 bikes. That and when folded up you end up with a lot of rack on the back of the car.

The issue for me with the North Shore rack design is that I’m known to dabble in the dark side of the two wheeled world and occasionally need to transport some road bikes. It was then that I came across some pictures on the NSMB forum of the Arbutus Racks that were being built in Victoria. The rack looked compact, didn’t secure the bike on anything other than the two wheels and generally seemed to fit the bill to carry all the bikes that I might end up with. The issue was that the racks were no longer being made but some digging led me to find out that Swagman had picked up the design and were bringing their own version of it to the market called the Jackknife. I decided that from the pictures and design I’d wait and get that rack once it was available.

Swagman, Swagman rack, jackknife, hitch, jackknife 4

Offset trays keep handlebars separated.

To quote the description on the Swagman website – “Get your bikes upright and out of the way without sacrificing aerodynamics with our new vertical hitch racks. Adjustable wheel baskets and ratchet straps secure the front and rear wheels in place with zero frame contact. Super compact when folded our Jackknife 2 and 4 Bike racks fit 26”, 700c and 29” wheels.”

Well now I have the rack and used it for a good amount of time, including a good road trip, I can give you an overview on this new rack on the market. Firstly it arrives in a box in a semi-assembled state. You’ll need to install the wheel baskets and tighten a few bolts but it’s a pretty simple job. I will say that doing the assembly is easier once you put the rack onto the car. It is a pretty heavy assembly and trying to balance the rack and bolt stuff to it on your own isn’t easy. With some simple tools, assembly took me less than 30 minutes.\

Swagman, Swagman rack, jackknife, hitch, jackknife 4

The Jackknife can be folded down to access the trunk or hatch of your vehicle by removing the pin in this photo.

The rack slides into the hitch with a fairly tight fit and once in there is a study threaded bolt to make things totally snug. The end of this bolt takes a lock so that your new investment is secure on the vehicle.

The baskets are adjustable, sliding in and out enough to adapt for different sized wheels. I’ve carried a variety of different wheel sizes now without issue.

Once on the car (in my case a 2013 Ford Escape) the rack goes from it’s compact folded away state to extended with an easy pull of a lever at the top of the rack. As the top arms rotate up, the lower arm rotates down. There is some interaction between the straps on the arms as they pass which with a bit of diligent strap management can be avoided, but all in it’s a quick and easy process.

Swagman, Swagman rack, jackknife, hitch, jackknife 4

Adjustable trays with plenty of strap length on the lower tray to accommodate a variety of wheel and tire combinations.

With the rack opened up and ready for bikes, loading bikes onto the rack couldn’t be easier. Get the straps in the wheel bucket out of the way, and open up the strap on the lower arm and lift the bike so that the front wheel drops into the bucket. It’s a bit like if you end up as the 4th wheel on a lift at Whistler bike park, but a little easier than trying to catch the hook. Locate the back wheel into the lower bucket and strap away. The straps are pretty neat in that they have a rubber piece attached that compresses against the rim. Given the rubber straps it isn’t totally necessary but it does give you a little more trust in that the straps will hold the wheel tight. The straps are almost overly long though, which is fine but they even deal with my deep carbon rims on my road bike without issue.

Then it’s time to drive. The rack seems solid on the move, little discernable movement in the bikes and everything arrived at the other end of the drive as we’d left it when loaded. I would say that with larger bikes it will be worth putting the seat posts down so the saddle doesn’t hang out from the side of the car too much. On my large Tallboy LTC and the dropper post all the way down, the saddle is no wider than my wing mirrors. Also (and maybe not too much of a concern here) when loading road bikes the down tube can come quite close to the upper arm on the rack. I need to try with a few other bikes but it may be that smaller road bikes might interact with the upper arm a little.

Swagman, Swagman rack, jackknife, hitch, jackknife 4

Folded up when not in use, the Jacknife has a slightly slimmer profile than traditional 4-bike tray racks.


  • Easy to load (can load multiple bikes at once on either side)
  • No frame contact
  • Easily adapted to various types of bike
  • Easily folded down and compact.
  • Comes with lock and cable to secure the rack and bikes.
  • Quick to put together and install from the box
  • Easy to move out the way to access the trunk when unloaded (see comment below for loaded).
  • Seems well built with quality fasteners, powder coated all over.
  • Bikes are held securely when loaded.


  • The 4-bike rack is heavy. If you’re someone that removes the rack a lot it might be better to look elsewhere.
  • Really heavy when rotating out the way to access the trunk when loaded with bikes, also lower bar contacts the ground so needs human support while your buddy rifles around in the trunk for his wallet.
  • Not really a big deal, but need to remember to drop the post on the bikes to prevent the saddles hanging out wider than the vehicle (unless you drive a Hummer).
  • Some of the straps are a little fiddly to feed through the ratchets. Mainly down to a lack of counter sunk screws.
  • Expensive but competitive with others on the market.


So far so good for the Swagman Jackknife 4. It’s an easily loaded bike rack that is compact and easily lived with when not in use. It holds the bikes securely and safely with minimal movement when in transit. It’s also very adaptable for various types of bikes and wheel sizes.

The Jackknife 4 retails for $719 CDN while the Jackknife 2 goes for $579 CDN.

The Jackknife definitely has some features that make sense: wheel only contact, foldable, and keeps bikes separated. What do you think of it?

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Jon-boy  - Aug. 22, 2013, 11:01 p.m.

So it was I who was the reviewer here and I can add a little more to the review since I now have a touch more time with the rack.
- there was a little more 'sway' in the rack after things beded in, but a quick tighten up has fixed it and it certainly doesn't allow the bikes to bobble around like the Kuat rack I had did.
- road bikes fit just fine and yes the extra rubber spacer on the strap does help with the shallow rims, you do need to load a road bike on the rack with a little care as the down tube is close to the rack.
- it also takes 24″ wheel bikes just fine which I had to test when my nephew was in town.
- I am quite sure that the length of the rack is shorter than an equivalent Thule, Yakima or other tray type rack as the bikes stack closer together, but at the same time it sits higher so I haven't had any issues with tire clearance on step inclines, water bars, bumpy roads etc.
Overall I am still happy with it and seems to be holding up to regular use really well.


Larry Wilson  - July 1, 2016, 5:42 p.m.

Hi, I've read and been told at bike shops that this rack doesn't accomodate road bikes. Is this at all true? What would be the issue?


skifreak  - Aug. 21, 2013, 1:44 p.m.

I also tried this rack on a 2013 Ford Escape, and found about a 25% decrease in fuel economy. Also had a couple of XC Race bikes with tall seats, adjusting them regularly would not be much of an option and as such the seats stuck out significantly.

There was some movement on the highway although the bikes remained steady and solidly mounted, but off road was pretty loose. The rack had been used for a couple of months already so it was probably in need of a couple of adjustments.

The Shimano guys had one at BC Bike Race and it did miles on the back roads without much issue. Maybe a combination of the Escape receiver hitch flexing compared to the full size pickups made the rack stay more solid?

This being a first generation model I can see it getting a few tweaks before it's a good competitor to the North Shore rack.

For the price I'm going to go for a 2+2 system such as the Yakima Holdup or Thule T2 Tray mounting.


Kenneth Perras  - Aug. 21, 2013, 12:19 p.m.

I have this rack so I can comment on the height of it: it works great for shuttling when the roads have steep, abrupt pitches or waterbars to cross. Conversely, if you have a steep driveway, again the rear tires are high up enough to stay out of the way.

I can also echo all of the comments made by the reviewer, albeit with one clarification: the rubber "blocks" on the straps are for strapping down road wheels which sit much shallower in the designed groove in the wheel trays. Well thought out.

Will some bikes contact the rack? Yes, there are so many frame and component designs to factor in, let alone the combination of those parts together, to accommodate everyone.

I will say as a 4 bike rack, this does the job. The only disclaimer I will offer is if you're abusive on racks, like myself liking to shuttle road fire roads at high rates of velocity, it will be tough to find any rack that doesn't sway or bounce around without custom, feature removing (no swing down, less pivots) modifications.


Bogey  - Aug. 21, 2013, 10:55 a.m.

"Get your bikes upright and out of the way without sacrificing aerodynamics". Seriously?! I know this is just marketing spew but the height of this rack definitely sacrifices aerodynamics. I can only guess that they're comparing against a roof rack but the main competitors to this are the Thule T2, Yakima Holdup and Kuat NV.


Nanaman  - Aug. 21, 2013, 10:49 a.m.

Looks like it blocks the back window.


Tim Coleman  - Aug. 21, 2013, 9:30 a.m.

I like the look of this rack, and that it can carry road bikes, but it looks like I'd have to remove the front fender in order to strap down. :Sigh:


Oldfart  - Aug. 21, 2013, 7:06 a.m.

I discovered that my size small Giant Defy did contact the the rack at the down tube. All the the rack needs is an extended rear tire tray to fix that but I wasn't about to start modifying the rack. And I did see the rack swaying a bit in the rear view mirror and I had only the two bike version. I am sure that swaying is within design parameters and you just get used to it. I returned it to MEC. I don't think there is a perfect rack. There are downsides to any rack or other way of transporting bikes. I do miss my Honda Element though. That car was perfect for bikes and dogs.


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