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SmartCrossBars

An intelligent roof rack solution for switching between gear

by James Thorne in Design on 26 September 2012

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Thomas Vollbrecht knows gear. The self-professed "fun hog" lives in Park City, Utah, where a community of avid outdoorsmen creates a demand for functional equipment. Vollbrecht first thought of SmartCrossBars—the flagship product from his company, Wasatch Powder Monkeys—while eating with his family at the B&B Cafe in Castle Rock, Colorado. Vollbrecht kept staring out the window at the family car, unable to enjoy his meal because he was so consumed with the thought of having to change out the winter ski rack for the summer bike rack. He flipped over his placemat and began frantically scribbling ideas for the design that would become the SmartCrossBars system.

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Currently, the roof rack industry is dominated by Thule and Yakima. Vollbrecht sees no problem with the mounts or the racks themselves, but knows from experience that the crossbar system is flawed. "Essentially, they make the crossbars a dumb terminal, with all the affixing mechanisms on the attachment itself—bike racks, cargo box, whatever it is. Which means every time you want to change something, you have to fiddle around with socket head caps, screws and clamps and all this different stuff for every attachment." SmartCrossBars use a quick-release system that affixes a permanent attachment to racks and boxes, which are easily mounted on and off of the crossbars. Once removed, the components can then be stored upright and indoors on the company's Smart Storage Rack.

Vollbrecht points out that all the industry focus on aerodynamic crossbars is pointless with the current systems: "If you leave components on the crossbar, it's not going to make any difference in the world because a ski rack is essentially an enormous air brake." By making it easier to remove storage boxes and racks, users are able to take advantage of quieter rides and increased fuel efficiency that come with aerodynamic crossbars.

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The initial prototype was created in tandem with Vollbrecht's father, a retired engineer who turned to machining after leaving his job. The sleek design was handled by a team at the Utah Center for Aeronautical Innovation and Design (UCAID), who modeled the bars after an airplane wing. Parts are also produced locally, with hard anodized, extruded aluminum coming from a plant in Utah.

Currently tailored toward smaller cars, the bars work with virtually any mount and rack system, which Vollbrecht explains is possible due to the relatively stagnant nature of the industry. A lack of patents and clear room for improvement were enough for Vollbrecht to recognize and capitalize on the opportunity. The Smart Cross Bars system is available from the company's online shop.

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