Gear Review

Yakima JayLow Kayak Roof Rack

Yakima JayLow Kayak Roof RackFor years, paddlers have had to choose between one of two manufacturers when it comes to roof racks and requisite components: Thule and Yakima, though there is a dark horse candidate, Malone, which came on the market not too long ago, offering the paddlesports community as much hope as, say, a viable third party in electoral democracy. (I reached out to Malone and was blown off with as little breath as a passing thought, so for all intents and purposes I’m keeping to the original binary rivalry between Thule and Yakima.)

Regardless, Yakima offers a terrific kayak carrier that is both sleek in form and ingeniously functional. The JayLow is the more streamlined sibling of the BowDown: a carrier arm with a pliable elbow that can be lowered to a flat position when not in use or positioned upright like the classic JayHook when cradling a kayak. For years I’ve (Timothy) sported a JayHook, as have many of our friends on their vehicles (except Barry who is a J-Hook/Thule guy). What makes the JayLow a wonderful improvement on the JayHook is its collapsible arm to fold down, instead of always sticking up (much like the Thule Hull-a-Port). The BowDown does this as well, but it’s a little beefy for my taste. The JayLow combines the sleekness of JayHook with the versatility of the BowDown.

But that’s not all. The JayLow can be positioned at a 90-degree angle, which then can allow for two kayaks – yes, two – to be strapped down using the vertical arm, at opposite ends. One carrier for two kayaks. Or, if you have two JayLows at either end of the roof rack, you can squeeze in a third kayak between the two carriers – hell, even four kayaks, depending on their size and the length of your car’s crossbars. That may not be applicable to all paddlers, but it sure is handy in some situations, especially when shuttling and avoiding an extra trip of driving.

The JayLow comes with four total tie-down straps – two for going through the cradles and over your boat, and then one each for tying down the bow and stern of the boat to the underside of your vehicle.

What We Like:
The JayLow is extremely easy to attach to your vehicle’s roof rack. For those familiar with JayHooks, the JayLow takes even less time to attach (or remove, for that matter). There are two couplers/clamps that first fit around your rack’s crossbars – cylindrical or square (yes, either!), and then the carrier itself rests atop and then fastens into these couplers/clamps. Think bird talons latching onto an object. It’s intuitive to line up just right and takes maybe 60 seconds to securely tighten in place by turning a user-friendly knob. That’s it. No more nuts and bolts to line up. No tools at all, actually. Super simple, super quick.

The cradles themselves are wide and accommodating, such that whether your boat is sleek and slender or is little wide in the hips, the JayLow will have your ride snug and secure. But the overall design of the JayLow is slimmer and more streamlined than its predecessor, the BowDown, which I really like.

The JayLow’s arm is controlled by a lever that you detach to move it into your desired position, then snapped back into place with nary a huss or fuss. At the risk of sounding like an infomercial, it’s just that simple. Seriously though, it is.

This might sound a little wonky, but one thing I personally love is that each coupler/clamp can be placed on either side of the tower unit. What’s a tower unit you might ask? That’s the part of a roof rack that attaches the individual crossbars to your vehicle itself. So, why am I grateful that the main unit can be attached to couplers/clamps on either side of the tower? Because it means that the units can be spaced out closer to the sides of the car and not compressed toward the center of the roof. And that matters because with the units spread out further away from one another, there’s more space in between them. Space, say, for a third boat.

We’ve all seen this scenario: a vehicle with two jets of JayHooks at either end of the roof rack, their tops leaning towards another like a teepee. Back to back, two JayHooks make a kind of triangle. That may be aesthetically pleasing to geometry types, but all my eye sees is a waste of space in between the two cradles. With the JayLow carriers placed in a vertical, 90-degree position, there’s no more leaning-to teepee triangle thing. Instead, there’s ample space to safely secure an additional boat on its side (or, again, two boats, depending on their size and how far apart the JayLow carriers are spaced from one another). Honestly, seeing this in action just makes my heart happy.

Also, allow me to repeat something that may have been passed under radar, but commands due attention: the JayLow is compatible with square bars, round bars, elliptical bars, and aero bars. The couplers/clamps are uniquely molded to fit securely into any of these shapes. In other words, whatever you’ve got already on your car for crossbars, the JayLow should be adaptable. This is a great, thoughtful design feature allowing paddlers to upgrade on their transportation system without replacing their crossbars.

What We Don’t Like:
There are only two things I didn’t like, both surprising – one incidental, the other more intentional. So there you are, excited to have this new, cool kayak carrier atop your car, whether it’s cradling a boat or folded down, and you go for a ride. As soon as you get to, say, 40-50 mph, your ears will discern an unmistakable sound: a shrill whistle. Huh? Isn’t that what those fairing things are for – to deflect the wind/air resistance and cut down on the noise that a roof rack invariably makes? Why, yes. So then what’s that new sound? That kettle-on-the-stove sound when the water’s ready is created by a couple tiny holes in the JayLow inexplicably a part of the design. What’s the purpose of these holes is anybody’s guess. It seems like a clumsy oversight, in retrospect. Of course air will pass through them, and being such a small space, a whistling sound will be created once you’re driving at a certain speed.

Among the 270+ reviews of this product on Amazon, many of the 1-3 star ratings mention the whistling noise. One 4-star review offered a simple enough remedy that costs nothing and takes only a minute: electrical tape. The black color of the tape matches the color of the JayLow itself with pitch-perfect camouflage, and the individual pieces of tape need only be half an inch in size to cover the small holes. But after taping over every single hole, cavern, and crevice, the noise persists. That is, when you’re not transporting a boat. When the arm is folded down, you’ll hear it whistle. I have not heard the whistle-noise when the arms are up and cradling a kayak. I never did finish that final credit in aerodynamics to get my degree in Physics, so I’m not sure what’s happening here. The noise is hardly deafening, especially if you’re talking or listening to music, but it’s still a regrettable, inevitable aspect. I can only hope that Yakima will remedy this in a second edition of the JayLow.

The other thing I didn’t like was the bow and stern tie-down straps that come with the whole kit (at least my kit). While I do like the fact that the lower ends are sheathed in a plastic strip so as to protect the body of your vehicle from being chaffed when tightened down – look ma, no pipe insulation foam/pool noodles! – it’s the opposite ends that I found puzzling and disappointing. Instead of coming in standard metal buckles, like most tie-down straps, mine were plastic (think backpack plastic buckles through which the arm straps are tightened or loosened). Seriously, plastic? What is this, The Graduate? Considering that the JayLow is priced at just shy of $200, the tie-down straps coming with plastic buckles is a bit of a joke bordering on insulting. Gimme a break…

For what it’s worth, on Yakima’s website for the JayLow one sees metal buckles, not plastic, included in the total parts. So, maybe they’ve already remedied this and what I received are older parts. Still though, caveat emptor: open the box before you buy and make sure you get the metal ones.

The Final Word:
The JayLow is a commendable evolution of the kayak carrier/cradle from its humble JayHook origins. It has a sleek design in a cool charcoal gray and black color. It’s much simpler and easier to install than the original JayHook (or saddles, for that matter). It’s a supremely versatile carrier such that it can be folded down when not in use, extended to a class ‘J’ position, or now only to a 90-degree position. With it in the latter position, two kayaks can be securely tied down to just one JayHook carrier, or at least three kayaks with two JayHooks. It’s a small difference that goes a big way.

While I was surprised and disappointed by the pesky whistle noise, it’s relatively minor and hardly seems worth getting worked up about. And provided that the tie-down straps now do come with metal buckles, I really don’t take issue with my plastic ones.

The JayLow takes less than five minutes from opening up the box to installing it on your vehicle’s crossbars – or vice versa, come winter – but the smile on your face will last indefinitely.

Photo Gallery:

Key Info:

Manufacturer: Yakima
Load Accomodation: 80 lbs (or two boats with combined weight of 110 lbs or less)
Rack Fit: Yakima or most factory racks with just about any shape crossbars
Fit Guide: Yakima Racks
Accessories: Yakima Load Bars

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