We test Yakima’s LockNLoad platform

A multipurpose cargo-carrying system that adapts to a variety of loads.

Yakima LockNLoad platform
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BACK in the days when Corona was served with a wedge of lime on hot sunny days, our team at 4X4 Australia were launching into an in-depth look at the latest and greatest in roof platforms.

Low-profile roof trays had become all the rage but, truth be told, our evaluation plan was really an elaborate excuse to get out and play away from the office.

However, a sneaky bugger of a virus turned up uninvited on our antipodean shores and ‘just like that’ the entire world came to screaming halt, including our getaway plans. Now as doors begin to reopen there is increased interest in roof platforms and unprecedented demand for the adventure toys they transport.

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We agree, 2020 is a year we’d all like to forget, however it also brings the ten-year anniversary of Aussie engineers teaming up with US brand Yakima to deliver a rack designed to survive the Australian outback. As one of the largest roof rack manufacturers in the world Yakima’s unofficial motto has been “put gear on cars and friends in cars” and with domestic touring surging as we plan our post lockdown escapes, this motto is maybe more relevant today than it ever has been.

With this in mind we decided it was high time to fit its latest and greatest LockNLoad Platform to our trusty ol’ Prado 120. We then loaded her up with all the essential ‘adventure bits’ and buggered off for ‘a bit’ to examine the pros, cons and everything in between of the latest tech in roof carrying systems.

ONE FOR ALL

CAN a roof platform really do everything? Well in short … yes!

There is a reason low-profile roof platforms have become so popular in recent years. Rather than restricting roof-load placement upon vehicle-specific bars and rails, platforms offer increased space, load capacity and mounting options, along with a plethora of accessories for toys … and most importantly they look tough.

Yakima has a long history stacking stuff on cars and a brief history lesson reveals Otto and Jeanne Lagervall established Yakima as a small machine shop in Yakima County, Washington, USA in 1973. Otto, a tinkerer and inventor was a keen kayaker who began fabricating custom roof racks for paddle sports enthusiasts.

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Outdoorsmen Steve Cole and Don Banducci saw promise in Lagervall’s venture and purchased the company in 1979 to relocate the brand to a remote but progressive region of California with a promise to, “put gear on cars and friends in cars.” Now based in Oregon, Yakima has delivered 50 years of doing just that, and continue to produce vehicle mounts for the attachment of sport, commercial and off-road equipment to vehicles globally.

Yakima’s cutting-edge modular e-coated aluminium LockNLoad platform is a long way from Ottos’ original tinkering, so we decided to fit a platform to our Toyota Prado 120 to test the brand’s paddle-sports heritage and see just how well it handled our five-metre, 30kg sea kayak, along with a load of other fun stuff.

The ‘Platform E’ arrives flat packed and immediately obvious is the robustness of the black powder-coated framework and the copious 21mm accessory slots on all slats, including a perimeter mounting track on the frame.

Clear concise instructions meant it took under two hours before two square metres of a fully assembled ‘vehicle adventure hub’ lay before us.

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The LockNLoad platform offers track-mount, fixed-point mount or rail-mount options to suit most vehicle variations.

For the Prado we could use LockNLoad Raised Rail Platform Legs to fit to the roof rails or alternatively use LockNLoad Fixed Point kit to direct-mount to our Prado’s roof via the three ditch mounts (in which the factory rails are usually affixed). We chose to fix directly to the ditch mounts to offer a lower profile and deliver a maximum on-road/dynamic and off-road load capacity. (See ‘The Tech Stuff’ box for load details).

Fitting the platform to the roof is a simple process but best done with a mate and involves fixing a few mounting blocks to the legs and then fixing the legs to your vehicle’s mount points. The platform can then be lifted atop the legs before being secured to your ideal roof position with the provided easy-install slat clamps.

Once fitted, our platform was solid and secure, and throughout the entire evaluation period produced very little noticeable wind noise. The platform sits a little higher above the roofline than some competing manufacturers, but in part due to the bulk of the bombproof frame and in part to the slightly stacked leg and block fitment. One advantage to the heightened profile is extra clearance for those who have a tiltable sunroof, but we would ideally like to see an ever-so-slightly lower profile offering.

Our off-road adventures were adequately covered with Yakima’s extensive selection of 4x4 Accessories which secured firmly and solidly to our LockNLoad T-slots with a minimum of fuss. We combined eye-bolt kits, spare-wheel restraints, recovery track holders, shovel holder, high-lift jack clamps, gas bottle holder and jerry can holders to fill out our camping kit.

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The installation and removal of accessories is where the small things matter, and we were excited to note T-Slot nuts with springs affixed to raise the nut off the T-slot base and assist with ease of installation. The SKS lockable Ace-O-Spades is a nice touch that kept not only our shovel safe but also our carbon kayak paddle, while the three-strap spare wheel restraint, eye-bolt kits and high-lift jack mounts all provided firm, solid securing of their intended accessories.

We chose to use the adjustable Corner Brackets and a tie-down strap to secure our jerry can horizontally rather than vertically and most importantly when we arrived at camp, we found the all-important bottle opener worked without a hitch, over and over again.

We discovered a few minor annoyances such as the gas bottle holder straps are too long to secure a regular 4kg camp-stove bottle, but a few twists in the strap shortened it enough to work. Also, the recovery track holder sits higher than we’d like when side-mounted but can be flat mounted for a lower profile, and both positions secure the tracks firmly in place.

Yakima’s heritage in car mounts for sport apparatus meant we had confidence in the LockNLoad platforms ability to fix our toys to the roof.

For the bike we fitted Yakima’s Front Loader bike mount. The front loader is tool-free, zero-frame-contact bike mount that secures the bike’s wheels rather than the frame and thus avoids potentially damaging carbon frames in particular. Tool-free attachment leads to quick installation and removal of the mount in just a few minutes by unlocking the SKS lock and tightening or loosening the clamps by hand.

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Yakima gets bonus points for this because when not in use we can simply whip the mount off to fit under those car park sprinkler systems. The Front Loader will accept a majority of road, hybrid and mountain bikes with wheels from 20 to 29-inch, tyre widths up to 3in and bikes up to 18kg.

Our only bugbear with the Front Loader is the clamp mounts offered only limited placement options on the LockNLoad Platform due to the placement of the fixed-point mounts. Fortunately, Yakima’s new HighRoad is a similar bike carrier but compatible with SmarT-Slot and so will fit to any of the T-Slots on the LockNLoad platform.

For our 5.13-metre, 30kg Exodus Sea Kayak we fitted Yakima’s rear loading ‘Sweet Roll’ kayak/ski mounts. The Sweet Roll’s neatest features are the small rollers embedded within the two rear hull-slides that allow the kayak to roll cleanly through the brackets. The brackets worked flawlessly and once again being tool free, allows for easy fixing and removal.

We fitted Yakima’s universal Load Roller to the rear of our platform to allow for an easier load and unload of the kayak but when we swapped the Dagger for our sit-on-top kayak, we found the 470mm width of the roller too narrow. We would like to see Yakima provide full-width rollers for the LockNLoad platforms.

We were excited to discover the AceO’Spades offered a very secure lockable paddle mount, but having such a low profile meant the paddle blade came in contact with the platform. A simple spacer should alleviate this issue. Bonus points go to Yakima however for its clever SKS Lockable Ripcord straps and Soft Strap system which provide a quality neoprene cover for those flailing loose tie down ends.

THE VERDICT

THE Yakima LockNLoad Platform is a solid, hard-wearing roof platform solution from one of the best manufacturers in the market. The system handled all abuse we threw at it, from loading timber for DIY to 4x4 accessories for a quick jaunt to the snow, and bikes and kayaks for local adventures.

The East West slats were one of our favourite features, allowing ease of attachment and removal of accessories. The design and build quality is of an extremely high standard and neither the platform or mounts failed us in any way throughout an extended evaluation.

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The Yakima LockNLoad system loses a few points for minor annoyances. Personally, we’d like to see a sleeker, lower profile mount and an ability to easily fix a roof box. We’d like to see some wider load rollers, height spacers for the AceO’Spades, more adjustment in the Gas Bottle Straps, a lower profile recovery track side mount … but all such requests are personal wants rather than a failing by Yakima.

In summary, the Yakima LockNLoad system does what it sets out to do, delivers a strong, durable, user friendly and stylish roof carrying system that certainly sits in the ‘best in class’ category when it comes to putting stuff on your car rather than in it.

THE TECH STUFF : LOAD CAPACITY

WE chose to fix directly to the Prado’s ditch mounts to offer a lower profile and deliver max on-road/dynamic load capacity. When fitted to the Prado’s existing ditch mounts, the Fixed-Point mount sat at 80mm above the centre mount and with the platform affixed atop delivered an overall height of 120mm above the roofline at the center mount.

The max load capacity of the E platform is 150kg and whilst each fixed-point leg can handle 50kg, the system is limited by the Prado’s max roof-load capacity of 120kg. If we deduct the platform, leg and mounts combined weight of 33kg then the max on-road/dynamic load capacity equates to 87kg. As soon as we venture off road we must deduct 30 per cent (for fixed-point mounts) and so we end with a max off-road/dynamic load capacity of 60.9kg.

Of note: Had we fitted our platform to the Toyota factory rails we would have raised our platform height farther whilst reducing our max on-road load capacity to 67kg. Deducting 50 per cent (for clamp-type mounts) would result in a rather limiting max off-road load capacity of 33.5kg.

RATINGS

BUILD: 5 / 5
Solid, durable with a confidence inspiring thickset profile

STYLE: 4 / 5
Smart, matt powder-coated finish slightly let-down by leg fitment which looks a little ‘stacked’. The fit-all-vehicle design is well considered but a flusher, lower profile vehicle-specific rail mounts like Rhino-Rack’s backbone generally fit and look better. Yes! We want to have our cake and eat it too.

FITMENT: 4.5 / 5
Easy to assemble from flat pack. Easy to fit platform to track legs (or existing roof rails). Universal fitment means for ease of installation on a variety of vehicles with roof rails, gutter mount, track mount, fixed point or crossbar. The assembly of x6 individual legs is more time consuming than some other brands … but we’re being picky.

DRIVE: 5 / 5
Excellent solid fit with very little wind noise on-road and no movement or creaking of mounts or accessories off road. Both tool-free and bolt-down accessories fix firmly and securely.

ACCESSORIES: 4 / 5
Well considered and large range of accessories for both 4x4 and adventure equipment, but a few accessories required some ‘tweaking’ to better accommodate our needs.

USE-ABILITY: 4.5 / 5
Extremely usable once set up but loses a few points for some minor annoyances, predominantly due to limitation of tool-free placement due to leg attachment points

OVERALL: 27/30

AVAILABLE FROM: www.yakima.com.au
RRP: $1419 (LockNLoad Platform E 1235 X 2130 mm $979, Fixed Point Kit 3 Bar Toyota Prado 120 x 1 $149, Fixed Point & Track Legs mk2 (Pack of 6) $279, Height Packer Pack of 2) $12.
WE SAY: Tool-free LockNLoad accessories are strong, sturdy and durable, and easy to fit and remove.

 

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Mark Watson
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