Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Roof Rack Dilemma

There are many milestones in a canoeist life - such as paddling for the first time, purchasing your own canoe, surviving your first rapid or making love in a canoe (still working on that one). But sometimes it extends beyond the usual stuff, such as buying a new vehicle. You're probably saying, "What!?" Well, if your life centers around canoeing (ahem,...I meant after my significant other), you have to ensure that everything around you has to align itself to further your goal of paddling. Hence when I was looking to replace my "adequate" Ford Escort, I had to think and choose carefully about the next canoe vehicle.

My Ford Escort did an admirable job of carrying my
canoe, but it was time to replace her. Never
mind the snow, - don't ask!

So I am thrilled to recently become the owner of a new vehicle, a 2009 Toyota Matrix. She's a beauty, but lots of consideration went into picking the right vehicle for my needs. Marylou already has a Honda CRV as most of you know, so it doesn't make sense to purchase another truck-like vehicle. As much as I drool over the Toyota Tacoma and would love to own one, the reality is that its not practical for many reasons. First off, we both don't need canoe-carrying 4x4 vehicles. Secondly, the huge increase in fuel cost had us thinking about its implications - considering the dozen or more trips we go on per year. So really, we needed a more compact fuel efficient tripping vehicle for the majority of paddleable areas with road friendly access. Some other considerations included things like ample space for gear and road clearance, but the most important was its ability to transport a canoe. That's where the problem comes in.

Wondering what to do? - a brand new 2009 Toyota Matrix
with no prospects of a roof rack!

Considering Canada is regarded as the "canoe-capital" of the world, you'd think canoe related gear/accessories would be available left, right, and center. Well unfortunately, its not. Don't get me wrong, we have stuff, but its not like we have a dozen or so to chose from. So when it came to my car purchase, I naturally considered a roof rack and thought I'd have lots to choose from. Wrong! There are tons of roof related-stuff for bikes, kayaks, and carriers, but they haven't put much thought towards the humble canoe, let alone a simple sturdy elevated roof rack! Am I asking for too much?!

I really wanted stock roof racks, but car companies barely offer any that are suitable for a canoe. Let me rephrase that, they are available, but you'd have to dish out a lot more money for those vehicles, or particular models just for a suitable roof rack. (not in my budget!) So I'm stuck with ones that are either too flimsy, not the right size, or barely able to hold much weight. I believe roof racks today are more cosmetic features to spruce a car's appearance rather being the utilitarian devices that they are supposed to be. Even Subaru with their notable 4x4 drive trains - particularly the Impreza model, which is somewhat similar to the Matrix in shape, doesn't come stock with roof racks anymore! (what market are these cars made for?!!)

No fuzzy dice in this vehicle - appropriate
paraphernalia for a canoeist vehicle!

I didn't purchase the stock roof racks from Toyota as it was very short lengthwise (?!!!), low clearance from the roof, and not very wide. (37-38" across - barely wide enough for my Nova Craft Prospector!) So I decided to check out Yakima and Thule, the foremost names in roof racks and related contraptions. Well as it stands, both provide only clip-on towers for the cross members which basically latch onto the top of the window sill. The problem with these is that over time and use, they gradually scratch the paint off the roof. I've seen cars with rust all around the clips/pads, as well, my sister-in-law's vehicle has the tell-tale scrape marks on her Protege5. They only trip a couple times per year, so imagine - I would have the equivalent amount of markings in one year that they would have in six! Foam blocks won't work as the rear spoiler makes contact with the canoe (haven't tried the Pal yet), but the straps also rub the sides of the roof and will abraid through the paint. (realized from previous experience) Dilemma, dilemma.

Recently, I spoke to a company well known for specializing in roof racks. They told me if I don't get the usual ones that clip on to the side of the roof, the only other option is to get a custom job. This entails laying down 2 tracks along either sides of the roof and then have towers installed which will hold the actual rack. All said and done, the job including the parts would put me out roughly $500-600. Not cheap. The one other thing that is a major issue concerns the warranty of the vehicle. Since I would be altering the exterior of the roof, I would most likely void the manufacturer warranty on the vehicle. Great, so I'm back to square one! It seems to be a case of one step forward, two steps back. Who would have guessed?! I never knew I would have so much issues!

Is it a little obvious that I own a Nova Craft canoe?

As it stands, I've decided to hold off and do nothing. For now we've decided to use the truck exclusively on canoe trips and my vehicle for everything else. Its obviously frustrating, but I don't like the options I have so far. Maybe I'll change my mind later on, but for now I will give it some time and more thought before doing anything. So much for this paddler's "milestone"! If anyone has any ideas or suggestions, please email me! I'm all ears! Thanks for hearing me out!

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