2020 GMC Sierra 1500 Bike Hauler Review

Is the MultiPro tailgate bike-friendly?

GMC Sierra 1500 4WD HD Denali
Cycle World’s GMC Sierra 1500 4WD HD Denali came fully optioned including the MultiPro tailgate. Did the six-function tailgate make for a more bike-friendly hauler?John L. Stein

In 1961, the Chevrolet Corvair Rampside pickup debuted. Instead of a rear tailgate, which was impractical due to the rear-engine placement, it had a right-side gate that nicely lowered to the sidewalk or ground. This created a natural gentle slope for wheeling or carrying cargo on or off the truck. The Corvair’s bed height was around 18 inches, and with the side ramp lowered, this made for a nice easy vertical lift. Easy-peasy.

There is a point to this story: Fast-forward 50 years, and the typical height of a full-size 4WD pickup bed has doubled to about 3 feet, nearly half the height of an average rider. That is an absurdity for people attempting to roll 200- to 900-pound motorcycles into a truck. Manufacturers have not addressed this in a meaningful way with the exception of various Band-Aid tailgate-step options—the latest of which is GMC‘s MultiPro tailgate.

We tested a MultiPro-equipped Sierra 1500 4WD Crew Cab Denali over an 850-mile weekend to attend the 2019 AHRMA VMX series final round in Marysville, California. Our mission: Load up two bikes, race fuel, an E-Z Up, lawn chair, tools, food and liquids, camping equipment, riding gear, and everything else a race weekend requires, to see how the GMC works as a race hauler.

MultiPro or Muddled Mess?

The MultiPro tailgate, which is available across the board on GMC full-size pickups, is a creative attempt at slaying the over-height bed monster. Basically, it consists of a deployable “gate within a gate” (our term for lack of a better one). Perhaps easier shown than explained, the MultiPro tailgate can operate like a traditional pickup tailgate—upright and locked, or folded down level with the pickup bed. But its unique element is the smaller secondary inset tailgate. This hinged panel swings downward, allowing a third articulated piece to fold out, creating an intermediate step between ground level and the truck bed. A grab-pole on the left side of the bed swings up, offering a handhold that makes stepping up and into the bed easier. Dig?

The MultiPro tailgate is novel but isn’t the perfect solution. For starters, with its electromagnetic latches, it’s not as easy to use as Ford’s manual tailgate step, and the Ford’s extendable assist pole is better positioned too.

However, the MultiPro tailgate does include a pair of Kicker speakers, a USB port, an auxiliary (MP3) input, and a control panel for playing Black Sabbath at 6 a.m. in the pits. It’s a cool idea, though not totally unique because Honda’s Ridgeline, for example, also has a rear audio system ready for raging.

Nice Bed, But Too Short

Inside the Sierra’s bed, things get better. The carbon-fiber surface is grippy, textured, and durable, meaning that après moto, your beautifully gritty dirt bikes and gear can ride home without damaging paint or finishes. It also helps keep cargo from sliding around while that metal box on wheels is rushing down the road.

MultiPro tailgate
A textured bed surface and multiple tie-down options make for a great bike hauling space on the 2020 GMC Sierra 1500. The MultiPro tailgate was less impressive.John L. Stein

Someone whose brain was fully awake in a GMC cubicle came up with a great plan by adding 12 robust steel tie-down points at floor level, and at intervals along the box walls. This is the most tie-down points we’ve found on any standard pickup, and GMC should be celebrated for making such a bike-friendly bed. Although we only had two bikes with us for the Marysville weekend (no, that’s a lie! The author bought a CZ 400 and 1-1/2 Ossa Pioneers on the way home—Editor), the multiple anchor points suggested this truck can absorb more, even without using wheel chocks that many riders chose to integrate. However, its 5-foot, 10-inch bed requires that the tailgate be left down for transport. Trust us here: After encountering every bed length in the business, we’ve determined that for dirt bikes, a long bed option is best if you want to close the tailgate, but those are few and far between in the half-ton class. This of course allows ancillary gear to ride along without jitterbugging from the open truck bed onto the fast lane.

GMC Sierra 1500
Plenty of room for two or three bikes in the GMC Sierra 1500 width-wise, but the standard 5-foot, 10-inch bed lacks the length to get the tailgate closed. There is a 6-foot, 7-inch option however.John L. Stein

Cushy Crew Cab

The reason for this GMC’s relatively short bed has much to do with the crew cab. In order to keep trucks from becoming inordinately long, the cab size and bed size are interrelated. Bottom line: Often, the longer the cab, the shorter the bed. It’s a trade-off that you may have to make: More inside room equals less outside room (obviated here if you order the Sierra’s optional 6-foot, 7-inch bed).

A night spent in the Sierra 1500’s rear seat was comfortable enough to forego a hotel room.
2020 GMC Sierra Denali backseatJohn L. Stein

Inside, the Sierra’s crew cab paid dividends by accepting all of our riding gear, a cooler, camping gear, and valuable tools and spare parts with room to spare. When we got to the Marysville track, luckily no rain was forecasted but with cold temperatures projected overnight, I decided to crash inside the rear cab because I flew solo to the season finale. With some padding, a sleeping bag, a pillow and blankets, the 5-foot-wide by 2-foot-long rear floor area made an acceptable bed. Yes, $100 saved on a motel.

Hit and Miss Electrics

As night arrived, racers in their motorhomes and toy haulers began firing up generators for lighting, heaters, and appliances. Oh, well, we had instead…cold and darkness. Or rather, that plus the Sierra’s annoying LED interior and bed lighting. One wonders if any GMC bean counters, product planners, or engineers actually use what they design and sell. Because, frankly, every such LED lighting system we’ve tried is junk. They draw so little current, you’d think a robust battery of the caliber required to start the Sierra’s turbo diesel could run the lights for days. But, no, instead, they shut off after a precious few minutes—even though you’ve faithfully pressed the intended button with this basic wish: “Lights, please illuminate and stay illuminated until I decide otherwise.” You know, like a ’61 Corvair Rampside would do! Piling on grievances here, the LED lighting is insufficient for doing any kind of detailed work. Fail.

AC/DC Solution

Thoughtfully, the company provides a 120-volt AC power outlet at the right rear of the truck bed. Once again though, there’s a caveat: The engine has to be running for the outlet to work. That’s understandable, but a reasonable solution would be to equip the truck with a second battery designed for running such accessories, you know, like in the pits at a race? That way the primary battery that starts the engine and runs the basic systems can’t be depleted by unwitting overuse of lighting, chargers, or the AC outlet. Importantly, this would also permit adopting better interior and bed lighting, and allow using AC without running the engine. Anybody offer a kit for this? Let us know. Thank you.

Best Diesel Economy

We were delighted to see the Duramax 3-liter V-6 turbodiesel, backed by a 10-speed automatic, return up 27 mpg on our weekend MX blitzkrieg. That’s the highest we’ve ever seen in decades of reviewing full-size pickups. Nice job, GMC. The diesel clatter is louder than in the Ram Rebel we tested recently, but the fuel economy is more than 17-percent better, a fair trade-off.

3-liter turbo diesel
GMC’s 3-liter turbo diesel returned 27 mpg on the 850-mile race-weekend road trip.John L. Stein

Another Sierra success is its suspension compliance. With bikes and gear loaded the ride was plenty good, even with the bad-boy 22-inch wheels and all-season 275/50R-22 tire package; we noted only modest tire-initiated noise, vibration, and harshness—impressive considering the low-profile rubber.

Command Central

Whether you’re doing 100- or 1,000-mile days, the Sierra Denali seats are pure comfort: Neither too hard nor too soft, they’re ready to go for as long as you are. The CarPlay-enabled touchscreen is a great asset, even though its merely average 8-inch size needs upgrading, stat. Cars like the Tesla Model 3 and its giant touchscreen are leading the way in driver interfaces, making normal touchscreens like the Sierra’s seem outmoded.

Elsewhere in the truck’s broad electronics suite, the adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist are bloody good. The truck won’t drive itself but nearly does so, and so while you actually need to stay engaged on a long interstate trip, they’re excellent safety watchdogs, as are the auto-high beam LED headlights.

Sierra Summary

Initially, our focus in testing the new Sierra 1500 was the MultiPro tailgate. It’s clever, but at its core only a patch-job for the bike loading and unloading problems posed by pickups with tall beds. And so, despite GMC’s design and marketing prowess, we found that a long ramp and a step stool are still just as valuable, if not more so.

GMC Sierra 1500 rear
Even with the MultiPro tailgate, you’ll still need a ramp and long legs or a step stool to load bikes in the back of the GMC Sierra 1500.John L. Stein

We’re waiting for a company to invent a full-size pickup with independent rear suspension and a commensurately low or even adjustable bed height, fold-down sides, or some other feature that makes them easier for bikers to load and unload (upcoming Tesla Cybertruck maybe?). Until then, though, certain criticisms aside, the 2020 GMC Sierra 1500 4WD Crew Cab Denali ($71,850 as tested, by the way!) is an exceptional truck overall; delivering great fuel economy and sterling comfort, it’s truly a great traveling companion. Just bring a step stool and a flashlight.

Cycle World Bike Hauler Grade: B+