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tms j rack kayak carriers

Though it’s super easy to carry my own kayak straight on the Jeep’s roof rack, and I’ve carried three on top without issue, it sure is a pain to load all three on there! So I debated whether it was worth picking up one of those “J racks” to help stabilize everything. Eventually I decided it wasn’t worth the $125 for one rack.

Well, then I found some cheaper alternatives – two for $100. That’s pretty good – I don’t think you could build your own rack for that price!

But then, somehow I found these Universal J Rack Kayak Carriers on eBay at the astonishingly low price of $53.90 – for a pair! (Yep, four racks to hold two kayaks, for well under $100.)

They’re just metal pipes and kayaks aren’t particularly heavy, so hey, let’s go for it!

Where To Find These On The Cheap

When it comes to low-price, off-brand items made in China, you have to realize that they are all the same thing coming out of the same factory.

These racks are a perfect example. You can find the same thing in different stores from different brands, but they are all the same exact product!

For example, they are listed on Walmart.com, and I see the price fluctuate from $60-73 per rack, depending on time of year. That’s nearly triple the price I paid!

I’ve also found these under the Seattle Sports GoBoat Cradles name. You can order them for $99.95 per rack at the Seattle Sports Company site. No thanks!

[Seattle Sports actually makes some great products, but in this case, I think it’s the same cheap metal rack.]

Go to Amazon.com and you’ll find at least two sellers peddling this same item. One I’ve seen is called Pack’em, and their racks can be listed as high as $130 each!!

Another is TMS, which is the brand I purchased. That’s short for “T Motorsports.” They have an online store, plus they sell these racks on eBay and on Amazon.com for $53-70.

The day I made my purchase, I was able to get the two pairs for a grand total of $53.90 through an eBay auction (here is the auction.) Choosing eBay over Amazon saved me $2, allowed me to earn eBay Bucks, and let me pay with Bill Me Later.

I had good luck going through eBay, but I’m sure Amazon would work just as well.

tms j rack kayak carriers

How Do They Compare To Name Brands?

Normally I’d go with a name brand for equipment like this. For example, if I need a bike rack to haul around bikes worth thousands of dollars, I’m going with someone I trust, such as Thule, Yakima, Kuat, or Rocky Mounts.

For my yak, which is much cheaper and simpler, I’m going to shop around. It’s the straps that do the hard work anyway.

The rack that I seriously considered is called the Malone J-loader. It’s a nice rack and the price is reasonable – retail is $140, but the rack can easily be found for $125. It’s a better quality rack, with better straps and hardware, and it also includes bow and stern tie-downs.

Yakima has quite a few options, and the basic ones (with this same “J” style) are all around $130-170. There is one I do like, called the BowDown – it’s $199 and might be worth it, because the rack folds down flat against your roof when not in use. Great if you have to get into a parking garage!

So really, the name brands offer J racks that are slightly fancier but functionally the same.

That’s why I settled on these T-Motorsports J racks. You get two pairs for half the price of one from a name brand! That’s a crazy good value!

tms j racks for 3 kayaks

Who Should Buy These Racks?

If you have a car without a roof rack, these are clearly not for you. You would either need to install a roof rack first (very expensive) or just do the pool noodle trick for stacking 1-2 kayaks (annoying but cheap.)

If you have a $50,000 car and a $4,000 kayak, I think it’s worth your while to invest in a premium rack. Something like the Yakima SweetRoll for $219 (plus the compatible SKS locking system.)

But let’s say you’re like me, and you have an SUV with a factory rack, and need to carry 2-3 kayaks that are too wide to lie side-by-side. These J racks are ideal!

I have a Jeep with a factory rack, and I was looking for a quicker and more secure way to carry 2-3 yaks. Beforehand, with two boats up there, it was plenty secure, but I needed a second person to help load everything. With three piled up there, it was still fairly secure, but then I needed the second person to help load and a third person to help steady everything during the ordeal!

With the J racks, all the boats can be loaded by one person, since they sit securely, even when not strapped in. Of course, with two people to load, it does make things easier. But there’s no need for a third person to hold/steady the boats while you strap them down.

How to Build and Install The TMS J-Racks

These arrived in a pretty small box, which meant… quite a bit of work ahead of me putting them together!

Once I opened the box, though, I realized there isn’t much to assemble. You just have to slide the metal poles together with the rubber piece, then bolt it together. That’s it.

If you’ve ever seen one in real life, you probably won’t even need the instructions… which is good, because all the instruction you get is a one-page diagram and parts list!

It’s a simple process, but if you don’t know the tricks, you’ll probably spend hours fussing with each rack, lose some skin, hurt your fingers, and cuss up a storm.

Fortunately, I’ve tackled a number of jobs involving fitting pieces of metal together (auto body type work) where it’s nowhere near as easy as it looks, so I’ve learned the tricks of the trade. Which means I can tell you how I built and installed these racks in about 30 minutes each.

1. Make sure all hardware is included.

Each box should include the metal tubes, metal plates, 4 long bolts, 8 short bolts, nuts, plastic wingnut things, and straps. (Note: there are 8 nylock nuts which match the outer 8 bolts, as those ones are permanent.)

2. Gather the proper tools.

A cheap little wrench in included, but grab a ratchet and 13mm socket if you have one (an adjustable crescent wrench if not.) This will save LOTS of time!

A rubber mallet will come in very handy.

Also, some marine grease would be a good idea, to help prevent rust.

3. Boil a pot of water.

Wait, what?! Yes, part of this build will take place in the kitchen! Let me explain…

If you pick up the metal rods, you’ll see that sliding them together isn’t too big a deal. Just some squeezing in one hand and lining up with the other, and they’ll fit together. Problem is, you have to fit them together inside of a stiff rubber sleeve. Try to do it with brute force and it’ll never work.

My first thought was to use a hair dryer to make the rubber just a little bit more pliable. But that would take way too long to heat up such a thick piece of rubber. A pot of hot water, on the other hand, does the job in seconds! Think of it like fitting a mouth guard.

You don’t have to get the water to a boil, just get it hotter than you’d get from the tap. Then dunk the rubber pieces for maybe 30 seconds, give them a quick rinse in cold water, then move on to step 4 ASAP!

4. Piece it all together.

Now you’ll slide the metal pieces together, inside the rubber sleeves.

*If there are rust spots on your metal tubes, coat everything in a thin layer of marine grease to lessen further rusting.

First, take the softened rubber sleeve, and slide the outer metal piece in. Then, from the other direction, slide in the narrower metal tube. Jam these tight together!

They’ll need some jiggling and finesse and perhaps a quick tap with a mallet, but by having the rubber slide and expand easily, the metal ends up being a piece of cake to work with.

Once the metal is jammed tight together, slide the rubber so it lines up with all 6 bolt holes.

Finally, line up the metal plates underneath. This should be obvious – the groove on the top plate fits into the groove on the rubber part.

5. Bolt it together.

Naturally, getting all the bolts lined up isn’t easy, but it’s not too difficult. Most of the bolts went in with some wiggling and a few taps with the mallet.

Put the washers and Nylock nuts on, and tighten them down tight with your 13mm socket.

6. Mount it on your roof rack.

Now you’ll position the racks on your roof rack’s crossbars.

When ready, screw the regular nuts down tight, and secure them by tightening down the big plastic wingnuts.

And they’re ready to use!

Can You Trust The Build Quality and Included Hardware?

The racks are really lightweight – it’s definitely cheap steel – but they seem sturdy enough. I don’t think they will snap unexpectedly.

I plan to replace the hardware for next season, but the included hardware was acceptable for the first summer.

Here’s a shopping list for replacement hardware:

  • (16) M8*35 short carriage bolts
  • (8) M8*75 long carriage bolts
  • (24) washers
  • (16) 8mm nylock nuts
  • (8) 8mm nuts
  • (2) 8mm plastic handle nuts

Just take that list to Tractor Supply Company or Home Depot, and get some better stuff that’s not going to corrode as quickly.

tms j rack kayak carriers

What you might want to replace sooner are the lashing straps. They are terrible quality! After one use, they will kink and crease. It’s worth the money to get something that’s both stronger and more supple.

There are some good 9′ straps for $13.50 at REI. Or, save a little money and get the 12′ Master Lock straps from Amazon.com and cut them down to size.

My straps aren’t fraying or showing signs of weakness yet, and they don’t slip in the buckles, but I do plan to replace them for next season at the latest.

Everything else seems fine. The foam padding is good as new, and if it does disintegrate someday, I’ll just replace it with used bicycle handlebar tape! The paint is still solid, with no chipping, and I don’t see the plastic kayaks doing any damage to it. Worst case scenario, you could always repaint all 4 carriers with one can of $3 spray paint.

How Was The Overall Experience?

I tested these through Spring and Summer 2014, and after that initial build, I have essentially forgotten about them. They have been doing their job and not giving me any problems!

The first trip with them included nearly 90 minutes of highway driving, ranging from 55-65mph. The racks were super secure! The two boats stayed in place and were perfectly quiet when strapped down properly.

tms j rack kayak carriers

For the first trip, not only did I use the included straps, but I also used a pair of 14′ straps to go around both boats and loop through the base of my roof rack. This was sort of a safety strap in case the wind was strong enough to rip my crossbars out of my roof rack (since my Jeep’s factory rack isn’t as burly as an aftermarket one from Thule or Yakima.)

On subsequent trips, I’ve skipped the extra straps, and subjected everything to 75mph speeds, with absolutely no problems.

What I’ll probably do in the future is replace the original straps with higher-quality, longer straps. Then after securing the boat to the J-rack, I’ll tie the end of strap into the base of my roof rack. Then, in the extremely rare case that my crossbars would fail, the boats would still be tied to my vehicle!

Really though, the racks work perfectly fine, as is.

I actually thought I was making an ‘upgrade’ to them at one point, and that turned out to be a waste of time. See, with the more expensive racks, some have specific slots to hold the straps centered in place. On these racks, you just place the straps around smooth metal.

So, I got the great idea to place some black hockey grip tape on the ends where the straps attach, with the goal to prevent the straps from sliding around. Wouldn’t you know it, the grip tape creates too much friction! I removed it and was much happier!

My final verdict is…

The build and install process was a pain in the butt, but I’ve dealt with much worse. The racks have been solid all summer and are working out better than I expected.

When you consider you’re paying $27 for a rack, instead of $125, these are a bargain! I recommend them for any recreational kayaker looking to get a real rack without spending a whole lot.

Official website: www.T-Motorsports.com

Buy online: www.Amazon.com | www.eBay.com

Product Review Details
Company: T Motorsports
Product: Universal J Rack Kayak Carriers
Reviewed by: Coach Levi
My Rating: 3.7 out of 5
Date last updated: 2014-08-30
Obtained Product: Purchased at retailer.
CoachLevi.com Advertiser: No.

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  1. I have a 2005 Subaru Forrester with the factory roof rack. Just wondering if I could fit 3 kayaks on the roof with these T-Motorsports J racks, or if I should just invest in a trailer. I have one kayak that I usually strap to the roof rack, but I want to eventually get 2 more for my sons.

    Any advice? Thanks for the article!


    • @Tim

      You probably have the same amount of roof space as I do. You can probably fit three kayaks, although it’s going to depend on the kayaks themselves – you want one that’s pretty slim to fit in the middle spot.

      The other things to consider are…

      How much traveling will you be doing? I don’t like to put three boats on the roof like this for more than a 20-30 minute drive. It adds so much wind resistance and, even though I know they’re tied down, I get a little nervous.

      Will you be loading and unloading by yourself? That’s going to be three kayaks up, three kayaks down… paddle… three kayaks up, three kayaks down. And throw in the yoga and gymnastics of getting up on the roof and orienting the straps when there’s no free space!

      It’s not terrible, but I wouldn’t recommend making that a weekly practice.

      If you don’t mind towing the trailer, and you have room for it at home and at your boat launches, and you think your sons will stick with the sport, the trailer is probably worth the investment.

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