Courtesy Feedback Sports
As cyclists go, I'm pretty middle of the road with a wrench. I don't bring my bike to the shop except for things that require a trained person's touch (e.g., truing a wheel) or better set of tools (e.g., bearing work). There's a lot I can't do, or certainly can't do well, but for the things that come up most often -- tires, drive trains, and basic cleaning -- I can muddle through. About once every six weeks you can find me in the driveway or back yard with my workstand up.
I bought a basic Performance Bike workstand a decade ago, and in keeping with my abilities we muddle through. It occupies a space in the corner of my bike closet where the protruding arm doesn't block the door from opening and if I lean it correctly it won't keel over and trap DS Little Bear underneath. I've long since learned to appreciate the need for a workstand.
But I've never appreciated the need for a really nice one, until Feedback Sports sent me their Pro Elite model to try out. The Pro Elite is the top-line model from Feedback Sports, which specializes in highly functional workstands for consumers on the go (as well as storage, measurement tools, and shop displays). All of their workstands fold down into a shape that fits in a smallish duffel bag. They bill this for "mechanics on the go," meaning the shop tents you see at races, but for every mechanic on the go there are probably a dozen home amateurs who could use a workstand that folds down to the size of... oh, a portable camping chair? Pack it in the duffel and it'll fit in the smallest closet, or the overhead compartment.
The Pro Elite base is a tripod that unfolds by sliding it down the sturdy main tube. Same with Feedback Sports' other models emphasize, but some of them emphasize lighter weight, so I can only speak with certainty about the Pro Elite. I popped my Cross bike on it last weekend for a tuneup and the tripod opened much easier than my clunky old stand, locking in place with a quick-release, and holding my 25 pound bike as steady as a rock. The specs say the Pro Elite can handle up to 85 pounds, and since none of us wants to imagine a bike that fits that description, let's just say that the Pro Elite has ample capacity to hold up your racer, CX rig or MTB. I'm sure there's some benefit to shop mechanics from the added heft of a heavy-duty shop-weight mega-stand, but I can't imagine anyone reading this needs that. The work arm also folds down, thanks to a rotating clutch that holds it firmly in either the open (360-degree rotating) or folded position. No L-shaped storage space needed.
One thing the Pro Elite (and other models) don't sacrifice in the name of portability is height. Some packing stands get your portability by cutting down on the length of the main tube, but the Pro Elite telescopes upward from 42 to 71 inches. Like the tripod base, it uses another quick release to lock into place. These are big tubes, so the quick release doesn't work as nimbly as the one on your wheel, but once you tinker with the cap opposite the quick-release lever, the stand is ready for action. (I didn't set the lever right at first and found my rear wheel pivoting away from me. Remember when I said I'm not that sophisticated?)
Apart from striking a balance between heft and portability/storability, the Pro Elite has some features that you won't find anywhere else, namely in the clamp. The red hard-rubber bits in the to photo are the clamp and the push-button release. The entire clamp system ratchets open and closed, with a knob on the end to fine-tune the grip. When the clamp is open, you can put your bike in place and push the clamp closed with one touch, rather than having to crank the knob however long it takes to wind it into place. Of course, the pushing action isn't precise, but it gets the clamp 95% of the way, and you can tune the clamp pressure from there with the knob.
But the headliner is the push-botton release. Want your bike out? Just whack the triangular knob next to the clamp, and the ratchet action causes the clamp to let go. At first I thought this was a solution in search of a problem -- are people in a hurry to unclamp their bike? Then, because of course, I quickly found myself in a delicate position while trying out the stand and cleaning my drive train, needing to get the bike down to put the wheel on tight, without letting go of the chain cleaner I should've waited to load. I hit the little red triangle with my right palm, the clamp popped open, I grabbed the bike with the same hand without having to let go of anything else, and solved the problem. So yes, the push-button release is not just a nifty gimmick, it's the solution to at least my first-world dork-wrenching problems.
It's probably a significant improvement for the race-wrench-tent guys too, now that I think about it, because if you pull in to get your back brake centered and the starter is calling your field to the line, you really would value the quick in-and-out feature that the Pro Elite offers. This much, I know from experience. And the anodized aluminum tubing isn't just a weight saver or eye-candy, it's also rust-proof, so you can safely wrench on the go in places like Seattle too.
Basically this has to be the best stand for me. I don't know, I can't try out every iteration in the stand world -- and there are plenty -- so your needs might take you in a different direction (e.g. cheaper, if space and portability don't matter). I can say that the Pro Elite has no downsides for a space-challenged pseudo-wrench like me, and I think I can say that this stand would be great for serious mechanics on the go, offering all the sturdiness and other features you need while still being able to fold up to something you can shove into a tight space, maybe even under a seat. I'd look closely at Feedback Sports' other models before buying, since this is the top end, but the quality of the Pro Elite bodes well for their other offerings. This is an excellent workstand, and at $220-260 retail it'd be a worthwhile solution compared to the clunky, heavy closet-killer you or the cyclist in your family has been regretting, or avoiding altogether.