Thule GateMate Pro Tailgate Pad

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Tested: Thule GateMate Pro

New and improved tailgate pad for hauling bikes in your pickup.

Rating: Vital Review
Tested: Thule GateMate Pro

Ever since making their first ski rack in 1962, Thule has been committed to creating solutions for hauling recreational gear around on your car. Bikes, boards, skis, camping gear - if you want to take it with you there’s a good chance that Thule makes what you need to carry it. For 2018, the company launched a new and improved tailgate pad for hanging bikes off the back of your truck, and since the company is well-known for the quality of its gear, we thought we should check out what they had come up with. After a few months on the road, here is our report.

Strengths

Weaknesses

  • Flexible design able to accommodate different tailgate shapes
  • High degree of protection for both truck and bikes
  • Sturdy materials
  • Easy to wash
  • Holds the bikes securely in place even without strapping them in

Ever since making their first ski rack in 1962, Thule has been committed to creating solutions for hauling recreational gear around on your car. Bikes, boards, skis, camping gear - if you want to take it with you there’s a good chance that Thule makes what you need to carry it. For 2018, the company launched a new and improved tailgate pad for hanging bikes off the back of your truck, and since the company is well-known for the quality of its gear, we thought we should check out what they had come up with. After a few months on the road, here is our report.

Strengths

Weaknesses

  • Flexible design able to accommodate different tailgate shapes
  • High degree of protection for both truck and bikes
  • Sturdy materials
  • Easy to wash
  • Holds the bikes securely in place even without strapping them in
  • Storage pockets for holding extra gear
  • Flap door provides access to tailgate handle
  • Backup camera can be used when flap door is open
  • Bike straps are too long
  • Sides of the pad get caught on tailgate latches on compact trucks
  • Compact version has 7 bike positions, but 7 bikes won’t fit in compact trucks, so straps end up in awkward positions

Thule GateMate Pro Highlights

  • Flexible padding adjusts across a wide range of tailgates and large handle opening provides backup camera visibility
  • Number of bike positions: 7 (Small), 8 (Large)
  • Bikes remain securely in place with integrated bike separation and multiple position strap anchors
  • Bikes and pick-up trucks are protected during transport with heavy duty vinyl, adjustable padding 
  • Gear can be stored securely, even while driving, thanks to the inside facing mesh pockets
  • Dimensions: 52 x 15.5 x 2.75 inches (Small), 59 x 16 x 2.75 in (Large)
  • MSRP: $179.95 USD

Initial Impressions

Tailgate pads with separation blocks are nothing new, but Thule’s design is visually appealing and seems to make a lot of sense at first glance. There are multiple rows of blocks to allow the padded area to wrap fully around the top of even the thickest tailgates out here. We tested the compact version which features 7 positions for bikes, each separated by the aforementioned foam blocks and equipped with a Velcro strap to tie the bikes down with. The pad itself is constructed from heavy-duty vinyl, with a soft, fleece-like interior that makes sure your truck’s paint is safe, while the separation blocks are covered in an even sturdier material. The last separation block on either side is taller than the others, to make sure any wayward bikes don’t make it all the way off the edge should they decide to make a run for it.

To allow access to the truck’s tailgate handle even with the pad on, there is a large flap door that can be secured either in the open or closed position with the help of a couple of Velcro strips. The opening is extra large to allow your backup camera a good chance of seeing something when the flap is in the open position (depending of course on where your camera is placed).

To provide a little extra cargo space, there are a couple of mesh pockets in the inside of the pad – a great place to store spares, discarded tubes or maybe your smelly, dirty shoes for the drive back home. To secure the pad to the tailgate, there are three long straps with plastic buckles to allow you to cinch the whole thing down properly.

On The Road

Installing the GateMate Pro is straightforward. Position the pad correctly, run the three straps around the tailgate and tighten it all down. Secure the loose strap ends (there’s a little elastic band on each strap to help with this), and you’re good to go. One of the useful aspects of Thule’s design is that the pad can be moved up or down to make sure the tailgate handle flap is in the right position, given that there are multiple rows of separation blocks that can adapt to the thickness of your tailgate accordingly. On our compact truck, the inside of the pad was a bit too wide, and it would end up getting caught on the latches of the tailgate when closing it. It’s not a big deal, as it can be twisted out of the way fairly easily to allow you to close your tailgate again, but making this part of the pad slightly narrower would make it easier to use on compact trucks.

Loading up your bike is easy, just drop it into a spot and secure it using the appropriate Velcro strap. We did find these straps to be a little bit too long, so we’d end up running them a bit further down on the downtube – the way they attach to the pad gives plenty of room for adjustments. Another advantage to Thule’s design here is the thick strap that covers each bike slot. We’ve used other pads where a row of stitching would end up directly under the downtube, leading to cosmetic damage on the downtube and premature wear on the pad side. No such issues here, each bike has a wide, flat, and smooth area to rest against.

The separation blocks are large, and do a fine job of holding the bikes in place. In fact, they work so well that we’ve completely given up on actually using the safety straps. There’s simply no need to strap the bikes down, even in rough terrain - just drop ‘em in and you’re good to go. In our experience, even our surfboards seem to stay in place without requiring any strapping (another advantage of a tailgate pad for those still wondering what they are good for).

The compact version we tested provides slots for 7 bikes – that’s at least one too many in our opinion. A compact truck will only take 5 mountain bikes side by side, while a mid-size truck might manage 6, so 7 definitely seems to be overkill. However, it does provide you with multiple configuration options when carrying just 3 or 4 bikes, and even if a couple of bikes end up between slots, they are still properly protected and still not prone to moving around. A minor inconvenience, and one that did not affect the stability or the security of the load in any case.

Things That Could Be Improved

As mentioned in the previous section, we found a few small things that Thule can improve upon. The downtube straps are too long which makes it hard to cinch them down. There are 7 slots for bikes on the compact version (8 on the full-size pad), which seems to be at least one too many for most compact and mid-sized trucks. The inside flap is a bit too wide for compact sized trucks and it can end up interfering with the tailgate latches on either side. 

Long Term Durability

We’ve had the GateMate Pro out on the road for a couple of months now, with lots of shuttle days in the bank already. The GateMate Pro seems to be holding up just fine, we’ve had it through the car wash a number of times already and it comes out looking properly fresh each time. Our last pad lasted quite a few years, so that will be the benchmark that this Thule has to measure up against, but given the quality of the workmanship and materials on display here we don’t expect it to start falling apart any time soon.

What’s The Bottom Line?

There are a number of good tailgate pads on the market already, so Thule could not afford to take the easy road when designing their latest offering. Loaded with practical features, the GateMate Pro does a great job of protecting both your truck and your bikes, and the particularly effective separation blocks keep your load secure even without having to strap it all down. Extra storage pockets and a wide handle flap that uncovers your backup camera are the cherry on the cake, clear signs of a product that was designed to work in the field as well as on paper.

More information at: www.thule.com.


About The Reviewer

Johan Hjord - Age: 46 // Years Riding MTB: 14 // Weight: 190-pounds (87-kg) // Height: 6'0" (1.84m)

Johan loves bikes, which strangely doesn’t make him any better at riding them. After many years spent practicing falling off cliffs with his snowboard, he took up mountain biking in 2005. Ever since, he’s mostly been riding bikes with too much suspension travel to cover up his many flaws as a rider. His 200-pound body weight coupled with unique skill for poor line choice and clumsy landings make him an expert on durability - if parts survive Johan, they’re pretty much okay for anybody. Johan rides flat pedals with a riding style that he describes as "none" (when in actuality he rips!). Having found most trail features to be not to his liking, Johan uses much of his spare time building his own. Johan’s other accomplishments include surviving this far and helping keep the Vital Media Machine’s stoke dial firmly on 11.

Photos by Johan Hjord

Specifications

Product Thule GateMate Pro Tailgate Pad
Car Rack Type Other (Tailgate Pad)
Features Flexible padding adjusts across a wide range of tailgates and large handle opening provides backup camera visibility.

Bikes remain securely in place with integrated bike separation and multiple position strap anchors.

Bikes and pick-up trucks are protected during transport with heavy duty vinyl, adjustable padding.

Gear can be stored securely, even while driving, due to the inside facing mesh pockets.

Two sizes: Small, 7 bike positions (compact and mid-sized trucks) / Large, 8 bike positions (full-size trucks).

Dimensions: 52 x 15.5 x 2.75 inches (Small) / 59 x 16 x 2.75 inches (Large)
Miscellaneous
Price $179.95
More Info

www.thule.com

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