Sunday, January 20, 2013

Kari-tek Easy Load Roof Rack test and review.

I have not been out sea kayaking recently. The weather has not been good but the real reason is that I have hurt my knee again. I depend on other people to help me get the kayak off the roof at the beach and when I get home I have a pulley system under my carport. However, in November and December I was staying at my mother's house in Ayr as she was recovering after an operation. I had no alternative but to get the kayak off the roof myself. On the last occasion I had very nearly done it when my left knee dislocated and I fell to the ground in some pain. I dropped the kayak and the stern hit the car bonnet denting it. On the previous outing David was helping me load at the beach. David also has arthritis and we both managed to drop the kayak. This time it hit the roof above the doors and the wing mirror and scratched both. Admittedly the kayak was a Delphin RM which is not light but enough was enough. Some action was necessary so I drove up to Kari-tek and got myself one of their Easy Load Roof Rack systems (ELRR). Due to having a really sore knee I chose to have Kari-tek to fit it but when my friend Mike saw one the next day he also bought one, which we fitted ourselves (with me directing!) in a couple of hours.

The ELRR runner bar attaches to your existing rack and stays fitted to it. It sits slightly to one side so that the sliding carriage, which carries the sea kayaks, can be lowered down the passenger side of the car but not lean against it. If assembling the ELLR yourself, check that your roof bars are parallel and that the runner bar is fitted horizontally and that the ends of the runner bars are parallel (on many cars the rear cross bar may be narrower than the front so do not just measure from the ends of the runner bar to the car roof rack mounts! Kari-tek supply a really clear illustrated instruction manual.

This is the view from the driver side. The sliding carriage has pulley wheels which run on the inverted "Vs" on the runner bars.

When the carriage is slid onto the roof rack the end of the carriage engages with  (and is secured by) the heavy duty white nylon "T" piece at the driver side of the runners.

This is the view of the sliding carriage from the passenger side when fitted to the roof rack runner bar . A heavy duty brass roller (just visible) runs in and is retained in the lower channel of the carriage. The roller is attached to a heavy duty...

...triangular aluminium plate which is bolted to the runner bar. Once the carriage is slid onto the runner bar, the driver's end is secured by the T piece and the carriage is held in place by the locking pin which you can see attached to the black retaining cord.

Note that the stainless steel securing bolts (which holds the triangular plate in place are not threaded directly into the aluminium of the runner bar. They screw into hard metal threaded inserts. This is much more durable than screwing a bolt directly into a soft metal like aluminium.

The triangular plate has two slots. The innermost one slides into a bolt which has a large washer and a spacer just a little thicker than the plate. This means that this bolt does not need to be loosened. The outer bolt needs to be loosened (it and its washer are retained in a recess at the head of the slot) then it can be swung up to release the plate and the carriage from the roof bars.  The only issue I have with the construction of the ELRR is that one of the spacers on the inner bolt (out of the four on the two ELRR  
we fitted) was cut too small and the triangular plate would not slide into it without the bolt being loosened off.

To remove the carriage from the roof bars I find it easier to remove the two hand rails (which hold the halves of the carriage together) and remove/replace them one at a time. This involves loosening 4 bolts (2 each side). At the top right of this photo you can see that the handle mounting plate slides into the upper channel of the carriage where a bolt on the top secures it. Kari-tek provide two quality spanners and an allen key to fit all the fasteners.

This photo shows the carriage pulled over to the passenger side and lowered down the side of the car. The angle of the triangular plate prevents it hitting the car side.

Here the carriage fully lowered over the side of the car and the first kayak is loaded at chest height. It is much easier to tighten the J bar straps in this position. You can say goodbye to struggling to uncross jammed straps where they loop through the top of the J bar high above your head and on the far side of the kayak (as happens when J bars are fitted to a conventional roof rack).

This is the really magic bit so watch very carefully.  You use the handle on the carriage to lift and slide the first kayak onto the roof before loading any other kayaks. You then put two more pins through the carriage between the first and second sets of J bars before...

...pulling the carriage back off the car roof and lower it back down again.

The extra pins stop the carriage sliding right down the side of the car. Not only does the kayak change into an entirely different kayak, it is now sitting higher than it was before. Being above the roller on which the carriage rotates, the first kayak now acts as a counter balance for any others that you add to the rack. If you are just carrying two kayaks the second will be perfectly balanced as you swing the carriage up onto the roof.

If you are loading three kayaks you are really just having to lift the weight of the last as the first two are counterbalancing each other on the temporary pivot. If you attempted to load all three in one go it would take a lot of grunt to slide them up in a oner!

An easy lift and I now had three kayaks on the roof rack with minimal effort, no strained back and, most importantly, no dislocated knees or more dents on the car.

When loaded the kayaks are held securely in the J bars. You can either buy Kari-Tek J bars for the ELRR or Kari-tek sell adapter kits to reuse J bars from other manufactures, such as these KCS ones. I had to drill two more countersunk holes in the midline of the KCS J bars. Kari-tek thoughtfully supply a paper template to position the new holes.

The J bars are secured by two bolts and captive nuts which slide into the upper channel of the carriage. When travelling the carriage is secured by spring loaded locking pins which go right through the carriage rails and through the triangular aluminium plate, which is bolted to the runner bar on the roof rack. These locking pins are the only metal parts of the rack that are not corrosion resistant aluminium, stainless steel or brass. The pins are plated but it would be worth spraying them with something like Corrosion Guard.

On the road, the rack holds the load securely and there is little increase in wind noise compared with just crossbars and J bars. There is minimum bounce even on bumpy, rutted roads. With at least one kayak on the rack there are no rattles but if you leave the carriage with the J bars on the rack when unloaded, it does rattle. The noise comes from the passenger side of the carriage in the region of the brass rollers. This is easily fixed... wrapping a bicycle toe strap with quick release buckle round the carriage and the runner bar at the passenger side.

This is an ingenious, superbly engineered and effective solution to getting kayaks onto a car roof. At £335 I think it is superb value for money (but note that you either have to use your existing J bars or buy some more). Once loaded the kayaks are held securely and safely. Any small or older person should have one of these but I would go further and say that any fit kayaker that ever needs to load a kayak on their own should have one. I am aware that even a decade ago I was straining myself and risking injury every time I loaded a sea kayak on my own.

My recent sea kayaking opportunities have been restricted by increasing disability. This rack has allowed me to overcome the single most difficult physical barrier on a sea kayaking trip. It has given me back my freedom to go sea kayaking. I have no option therefore but to award the Kari-tek Easy Load Roof Rack 12/10.

If you are young, big and strong I would reduce that score to a mere 10/10. Even so you should buy one now before you become young, big, and formerly strong with a bad back!


  1. Hi Douglas,
    Great review, I’m not young big and strong, so 12/10 is correct. If a kayaker can afford one - buy one (I’ve no connection to Kari-tek etc.)
    Having owned the ELRR for several years I can vouch for the durability of the rack. I see Geoff has changed the 'T' piece from being (original version) aluminium to a heavy duty white nylon 'T' piece - a sensible change as aluminium moving against itself wears. I have got into the habit of removing my ELRR and roof bars/runners after every trip as I use my vehicle (small Civic) for visiting customers.
    With use/familiarity, it takes me around 15-20 minutes to assemble the 6 sections onto the car from scratch, (2 roof bars/runners, 2 sliding sections and 2 'grab' handles) If I leave the roof bars/runners attached on my car and only bolt on the sliding sections and grab handles, it takes under 5 minutes.
    The distance between bars (and being parallel) is essential; I've Brother P-Touch taped the measurements for my car onto each bar. You don't get a smooth running action if slightly out on fitment. A tape measure is always in my glove compartment :)
    If the price makes a prospective buyer think twice, a strained back stops/severely limits kayak trips. I’m speaking from experience.
    Four other paddlers I know have bought the ELRR when they saw how easy it is.
    Hope you get out on the water soon.

    1. Bill thank you for adding your experience and also for your good wishes.

      I don't know why I didn't get one before. The first time I used it was literally a Eureka moment.


  2. Hi Douglas,
    Thanks for another great in depth review. I've got two questions, I'm guessing the ELRR is quite heavy, so presumably uses more fuel? Have you noticed a difference over just standard roof bars/J bar set up? With the system I can see the need to keep it fitted permanently to the car?

    Also- Would it accept bike carriers as well as J bars, for example Thule proride?

    1. Hello Anon, thank you. Compared with 3 sea kayaks the ELRR is actually a very amall part of the load and windage. I have not nociced any increase in fuel consumption. As Bil above says it only takes 5 minutes to take the sliding carriage off the roof rack. it would then take about another 10 minutes to remove the roof rack from the car, depending on your roof rack. I have seen bike carriers mounted on the ELRR but you would need to ask Kari-tek about the Thule proride.

  3. I love my ELRR, I am also reliant on help loading my sea kayak, but with the ELRR, I can load the kayak whilst sat in my wheelchair.

    1. Hi Zec, I consider myself lucky to be back on my feet though I was on crutches for 18 months. I saw the surgeon today abot my "good" knee. He said he would operate straight away but I have decided to see if physio might show me some exercises to reduce the number of dislocations. Whatever, I have a reprieve of 6 months!

  4. Dave Adamson22/01/2013, 11:58

    Very good revue again Douglas, I have also invested in this system, for loading onto my Landrover which is even more of an issue, added advantage of the landie is I often drive to the waters edge to load & unload. can confirm the excellent customer service from karitec.

  5. Thanks Dave, I have often thought of a Landie while pulling my trolley to the water's edge!

  6. Great review Douglas. We have an ELRR-XW for our van, it's made a huge difference to loading and unloading. If I'm not using it, I undo the roof bars from the van's roof rails, and lift the entire assembly off in a one-er and hang it on the garage wall.

    I don't think it makes much mpg difference compared to other carriers, but they all make a big difference compared to having no carrier!

    We use a Thule 591 on ours - is that a proride? Karitech provide adapters for £20.



    1. Thank you Tom. Thanks also for the info about the Thule adapters.

  7. Douglas, I can always count on you in delivering a super detailed review with excellent images.
    When I saw how basic that lower rail is (to accommodate for many types of roof rails) my imaginations kicked in and envisioned a lower profile version for the now very common T slot roof racks (your rack has also T slot rails).
    I might tinker and come up with my own prototype where the sliding action runs on/in the T slot (roller on top and inside the slot) to create a lower profile more wind-noise resistant unit (?)
    Thank you for driving my imagination (or shall I see copy/improvement streak).

    1. Thank you Gnarly. The lower rail as a variety of shaped insets at each end. These are shaped to accommodate the top surfaces of different roof bars. Good luck with your next invention!


  8. Thank you very much for making my mind up for me on a new kayak loader. I've had several injections over the years as a direct result of lifting my sea kayaks onto roof bars, not any more !, I appreciate your review, I have a few friends that are also suffering the same dilemma, some have already bought the Kari Tek & have recommended it to me too.. Thank you. Nifty

    1. Thank you Nifty, I just wish I had discovered it earlier.

  9. How does this rack compare to say the Thule 887xt slipstream in terms of ease for putting kayak on? I know the 887xt is only for a single kayak vs the 3 that the ELRR can handle.

    1. I cannot comment from direct experience but just looking at the a video of the Thule on YouTube, the Karitek system looks a whole lot easier.

  10. Hi just came across this excellent post regards Kari-Tek easyloader even there website does not give as much information or detail as your post , some of there information is rather vague , the fitting of the system seems to have changed compared to yours .
    Thanks for posting

    1. Thank you for posting. I am glad it helps. It really is an amazing bit of kit. KariTek are linked to an Engineering firm called Teal Engineering and the rack has been continually developed and improved since it was first introduced. The price has gone up a bit though, it is now over £400 for the smallest version. However, that is much cheaper than shoulder surgery. There has been some discussion about roof rack aids for kayaks over on my Facebook page