I have a 2002 Subaru Impreza TS (which is the wagon model), it has been a good car, I have driven it around the country, and back and froth to work a few times too. I also have a kayak, a 12 foot Old Town Dirigo 120. Previously I had been moving the factory roof rack, using foam blocks to protect the kayak, and a bunch of tie-down straps to secure it. While this worked OK for short drives at low speeds, the kayak seemed to wobble quite a bit at interstate speeds on a long drive. The factory cross bars are not terribly stiff, they actually bend when I tie the kayak down on them and I suspected they are where the wobble comes from, they are probably bowing up/down as I drive. So, I decided to replace the cross bars with an after market set, since they feel much stiffer. This will also allow me to use fancy rack accessories without needing to get adapters.
The first step was to remove the old cross bars. This is easily done just by removing four screws (4mm hex head), each on top of one of the brackets holding the cross bars to the rails:
Once the screws are removed, the bars just pop off, and you are left with the factory rails. The rails don’t need to come off thankfully. Now we just need to install the new cross bars. I am using the Yakima 48″ cross bars, with their Low Rider towers. They clamp directly onto the factory rails (just by hand-turning a pop out handle-thingy), no other adapters needed (thankfully, since a set of Low Riders and the cross bars totaled about $170 even on sale). I also installed lock cores, though this wasn’t necessary (some towers require the use of lock cores, the Low Riers do not). This will prevent someone from unscrewing and walking off with my expensive rack, or at least slow them down/ inconvenience them slightly. No tools were required to install the cross bars/tower, and they were easy to install. I spent more time measuring for positions then doing anything else. the bars overhang the rails by about 4 inches on each side in the front, and about 5 inches on each side in the back. It does not stick out enough that I am worried about hitting my head on it when getting into/out of the car.
The next bit of hardware to install was the Hullraiser kayak mount, also made by Yakima. This too is a tool-free installation, and very easy. Just attach some pads to the mounts with some snaps, attach a couple of connectors to the cross bars, and tighten the mounts to the connectors using a set of bolts with thumb-screws. Hand tightening made them reasonably tight, they wouldn’t move along the bars, but you can rotate them along the round cross bars. I don’t know if this is good or not, if I don’t like it I can also use some channel-lock plies to tighten them down more. Here is the rack with the mounts installed:
And of course we need to do a test with the kayak. The one drawback I see with this style mount is that with a wide kayak like mine, it ends up being very tall. So, before putting the kayak up on the mounts, I threaded the straps through the back of the mounts, and hung them off the far side of the car (these buckles are wrapped in soft rubber, so it won’t scratch/ding the car when tossing it around). After putting the kayak in the mounts, I just tossed the two loose ends back over the kayak, and I could tighten it down easily. Since this is a long load, it needs to be fastened at the bow/stern, using the provided straps. These are much easier to get onto the kayak then my old straps, mostly because the kayak is now much closer to the side of the car. The hooks that attach to the car are loose from the straps, which I don’t like. I will probably bend the hooks to be permanently attached instead so I don’t lose them. These straps do conveniently come with a bit of vinyl hosing around a small section, so it straps don’t rub the paint off your car. Unfortunately, the front one is way too short, but I can pick up some vinyl tubing from Home Depot to fix that. Here is the kayak completely mounted on the car:
I took it out for a test drive and it seemed to be much more stable, and even with some crazy slaloming, it didn’t feel like it was moving around. Visibility is better because the bow/stern straps are only on one side of the car (I put the kayak on passenger-side to take advantage of this). There was a noticeable bit of wind noise, this was most likely caused by my positioning of the kayak, it was not completely straight and the back of it was further out then the front, this might have caused wind to be caught in the cockpit of the kayak. More testing will be needed to determine the optimal position. One nice unexpected side effect of the different kayak position is that I can open the rear hatch of the car much more now with the kayak on the roof, compared with the direct-to-rails mount approach of the past. Very useful for last-minute packing.
In conclusion, I spent about $300 (thanks to REI’s 20% off sale) for the towers, bars, locks, and Hullraiser just so I wouldn’t feel like my roof rack was going to crack in half and my kayak would go flying down the NJ turnpike with the remains of the cross bars.