I promised to write about all of the improvements we got during our Airstream’s visit to Colin Hyde’s shop in Plattsburgh NY—so here’s the second one: we installed a receiver hitch on the rear of the Airstream.
Carrying bikes on an Airstream trip is often a hassle. There are numerous ways to do it, and all of them come with compromises. I wrote in detail about 7 options to consider, in a separate blog that you can read here. You can carry them in the truck, on the truck, in the Airstream, and behind the Airstream.
My personal choice is to install a receiver on the rear of the Airstream, to hold a bike rack. I like this option for several reasons:
- you can use the same rack on the Airstream or the truck (when not towing)
- the rack can be removed easily when not needed, especially if you need access to a rear compartment
- a rear rack that is rated for RV use is stable and much easier to access than a roof-top or tonneau cover rack
- the truck bed is free for other stuff
- the interior of the Airstream is free for other stuff
- you don’t have to put permanent holes in the Airstream’s body (unlike the Fiamma rack)
- a well-designed receiver mount can carry more weight than a Fiamma rack
- there’s the option to use the receiver for other accessories, as long as they aren’t too heavy
The downside of installing a rear receiver is that it’s not simple. A small amount of custom engineering and fabricating is required to reinforce the structural ribs of the Airstream’s frame, as well as to design the receiver. The metal fabricating and welding requirements put this project out of the realm of most DIY’ers, and into a custom metal shop. So it’s somewhat expensive—figure at least half a day in the shop plus materials.
We ran into two challenges:
- The power stabilizers on our Globetrotter have a square shaft that directly crosses the path of the receiver tube.
- The ribs of the frame that we needed to attach to are very thin and designed only to support weight from above. They needed reinforcement to take the added load.
It would have been easy to just bolt a shorter receiver tube to one frame rib (thus avoiding the power stabilizer mechanism) and call it good, but that design would have failed in short order. 100 pounds of bikes plus bike rack becomes a much larger load when the trailer is bouncing on a rough road. Colin and his guys knew that the receiver tube needed to reach as far forward as possible and connect at multiple points in order to spread out the load.
So they cut out a U-shaped section of the receiver tube to span the power stabilizer shaft, and welded on a “bridge” to add strength back. You can see it in the picture below.
As noted in the photo, they also removed the belly pan and reinforced two of the frame ribs so they could take the stress of the bike rack without bending. The receiver tube is attached through the belly pan into those reinforcements with four strong bolts. The forward bolts are about two feet from the receiver opening, which spreads the load from the rack out nicely.
For the final touch they painted the entire assembly with POR-15, which is amazing stuff. I’ll put a topcoat of black paint on later, since POR-15 needs to be protected from UV light.
We’re 2,000 miles from home at this writing and we don’t have our bikes with us (alas) so we can’t test the receiver yet. But we already have big plans for cycling weekends around the southwest starting in November, and I can’t wait to be able to easily take our bikes with us from now on!