“We thought we’d ask you; you’re always strapping things on…”  accompanied by a Kenneth Williams roll of the eyes, my neighbour was asking advice on transporting a Christmas tree which wouldn’t have looked out of place in Trafalgar Square. His blatant double entendre was justified; he did, after all, have a big one.

In my last article, I looked at ensuring that your roof rack is legal and up to the job, but there is no point having the latest, low-profile, galvanised, aerodynamic roof rack with whizz-bang attachments for equipment that hasn’t been invented yet if you are going to lose your load by not securing it properly.

You may think that I am teaching granny to suck eggs, but as in my last article, experience shows that aberrations occur even among sane, sensible people. A friend, who shall remain nameless, slewed up at the beach one day with his board at a jaunty 45 degrees to the roof of the car, barely retained by the cord from his terry towelling dressing gown. “It’s windy…! Had to get here quickly… All I could find…” was the mumbled justification.

On a recent trip to Egypt, we lost John’s ‘Joker’ from the roof of our minibus because the driver categorically refused to let us use the straps we had brought to tie it on. We were not leaving the airport unless we used his bungies; “Very strong. Like driver…” he said, flexing them across his chest in a bungie-based metaphor for substantial mojo. He would not entertain leaving even with our straps as a back-up; his bionic bungies needed no assistance to keep it up for hours. Later, faced with the compelling evidence of flaccid, frayed bungies, with hooks now straightened by the board’s aerobatic departure, he still insisted that his bungies retained their vigour; although they had lost their load prematurely the first time, it had never happened before and with just a little manipulation they’d be ready to ride again…

GET ME OUT OF HERE! And not just because it felt like I’d suddenly woken up in ‘100 Worst Dates.’ Imagine a motorway somewhere in the desert near Suez, with Mac trucks thundering by, inches away from your head; not a place you would automatically choose to retrieve then re-load a board onto the roof of a minibus; particularly not while simultaneously conducting a heated argument with a Cairo Cabbie, who takes your rejection of his bungies as a direct slight to his virility. It is bad form to mix metaphors, so I was glad that the Egyptian police, a common sight around Suez, were not around to add their massive machine-guns to this monstrous mix of mojo metaphor… Fortunately, our mini-Suez crisis turned out OK in the end. The board’s departure hadn’t caused an accident and the cracked rails were fixed with superglue. John remained sanguine about the whole affair. His main regret was that his Joker had performed its first loop without him.

The Cam Strap is King

We windies have a special understanding of aerodynamics. Unlike Cairo Cabbies, we know that wind resistance increases EXPONENTIALLY with speed, don’t we?!!! The forces acting on your roof load are HUGE, which is why elastic bungies, dressing gown cords, bits of frayed string you found in the shed etc. are NOT SUITABLE to tie on a load!

Cam straps are strong, webbing straps which you can pull tight around a load through self-locking, cinch buckles. They don’t stretch or break under tension, are widely available, inexpensive, last for ages, are quick and easy to use and don’t rely on knots (which can slip) to secure. What’s not to like? In my book, for securing a load safely, the Cam Strap is King!


Tips to Tie The Mother Down

  1. One cam strap is just not enough! Two (front and back) is a minimum. (We routinely use four to tie on three boards.)
  2. In motion, the air flow will try to lift the front of the load. Putting boards on with the nose rocker pointing down helps to prevent this. Tie down the front of the load extra-securely.
  3. We always run at least one cam strap through the handle of our board bags to help to prevent the load from slipping forward or backward when accelerating or braking suddenly.
  4. Boards have a honeycomb interior construction. Tighten the cam straps so that they are taut, but not crushing or leaving permanent dents in the rails of your precious boards!
  5. Tie off the loose ends of the straps to prevent them from flapping around noisily and loosening. On long journeys, check the ties occasionally to make sure that they haven’t worked loose.
  6. Make sure that the straps are not twisted, as they will vibrate and make lots of noise.
  7. If you carry masts or sails on your roof rack, make sure that each item is tied on securely. We have seen masts and sails just pushed through the straps holding on the boards. They are retained in transit by inertia, friction and gravity – but mostly by hope!
  8. Check the condition of your straps or ties from season to season. Make sure that they are not frayed and that the buckles are not corroded and still lock effectively.
  9. Boards automatically give you a fairly even load distribution, but when carrying other items, it is important to balance the load. Think of it like foot steering – weight on the back foot (weight too far back) will make the steering loose, too far forward encourages a nosedive and too much on one side – a permanent 360!

Protecting your Kit in Transportation

  1. Board Bags – Protecting modern boards with a board bag is a good idea, as the construction of the outer skin is often quite fragile. Bullet holes made by stones thrown up from the road may add to street cred, but not water-tightness. Bags also help to prevent scratches and indentations caused by an enthusiastically over-tightened cam strap.
  2. Foam Roof-Bar Covers – These cover the actual roof bars to make sure that your delicate kit is not resting on the metal. For those on a budget, lengths of foam pipe-insulation from a DIY store work just as well if you cut a slit down one side!
  3. Foot Straps –Tennis balls inserted into the foot straps will stop the straps from being flattened as you pile boards on top of each other and crank down those cam straps. It may sound like a Top Tip from Viz, but the minute you hit warp speed and your tentative tootsies seek out a robustly open and welcoming strap, you will thank me!

Know Your Limits

  1. Height – Obvious, but easily forgotten… With a load on your roof, you may no longer fit under low signs and height barriers eg in car parks. Also, beware if you leave the fin in your board – an altercation with a low branch left a friend’s wave fin looking like it has been chomped by a shark. Again, good for cred, but not performance! A high load also makes you more susceptible to side winds.
  2. Weight –A load on the roof makes the car top heavy and alters handling. It will lean more when cornering and be prone to sway, particularly at speed. 4x4s and people carriers already have a higher centre of gravity, so be wary of adding heavy roof loads. Extra weight increases braking distances and may require adjustment of tyre pressures or headlights. As mentioned in my first article, NEVER exceed the load limits of the either the roof rack or the vehicle.
  3. Overhang – If you don’t want the law to require signs, lights or a special escort to get you to the beach, your load should not protrude more than 1m beyond the front or rear of the vehicle and should not exceed the width of the body.
  4. Speed – Wind resistance increases exponentially with speed; the airflow is trying to lift the front of your load; the aerodynamic shape of your car is wrecked by a roof rack; a bulky load creates turbulence and drag; FACT – the faster you go, the more fuel you will use – and the more likely you are to lose your load! For the sake of the people behind you, the planet and your pocket, keep your speed within sensible limits, particularly on the motorway.

What to do if it all goes Pete Tong?

If you follow my advice, you should never see your precious equipment in your rear view mirror as it cartwheels down the carriageway. If the worst does happen and you do lose your load, however, don’t turn a bad situation into a disaster by suddenly slamming on the brakes or reversing back up the road. On motorways, NEVER attempt to recover the load yourself. Pull onto the hard shoulder and notify the police, who can deal with the hazard safely. You may love your kit, but it really is not worth risk to life and limb!

And Finally…

So! There you have it – all you need to think about in terms of transporting your kit; that is until IT happens… A conversation overheard down the beach; “What are the signs, when IT is about to happen?” The gaze was fixed covetously on a long-wheel base and capacious racking. “What do you mean ‘IT’?” queried the creator of the capacious racking “You know…when you suddenly realise that you are definitely going to buy a van…”

We missed the signs. How we quit the Rack Pack and joined The Van Guard – well that’s another story!

Jackie Lambert

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