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Most popular ways to transport your bike safely by car

Bikes are slowly gaining ground on cars, but these two vehicles can sometimes become travel partners, for instance, when we want to go on holiday and take our bikes with us, when we want to make a bike ride shorter, or when we want to take part in a cycling tour far away from our homes. There are several ways to bring your bike with you in the car, all of them with their own pros and cons. Here are some of the most common ones:

Inside the car

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By folding the back seats you can fit an entire bike inside most cars without having to take it apart. When it comes to smaller cars, you should at least remove the front wheel, and in mini-sized cars the rear wheel as well, but these are exceptions.

If you don’t want to fold or move the back seats, a regular sized bike can fit in the trunk if you remove both wheels. You could also fit the bike on top of the back seats by removing either one or both wheels.

Pros

  • No extra cost.
  • Safety against theft or vandalism.
  • Protection from the elements.
  • It doesn’t block car cameras and sensors.
  • It’s not an obstacle for driving or parking.

Cons

  • Limited space for passengers and luggage.
  • The trunk or back seats might get dirty.

Four tips to carry your bike inside the car:

  1. Make sure the bike is clean, especially the chain and the entire drivetrain.
  2. Set the gears on the smallest chainring and sprocket.
  3. Use blankets or whatever you have in hand to protect both the car and the bike during the ride.
  4. Make sure to attach the bike and the wheels properly so that it doesn’t move or slide in the event of an accident or a sudden jam on the brakes. You will be fined if you carry objects inside the vehicle that can become a potential hazard.

Outside the car

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If you can’t (or simply don’t want to) carry the bike inside the car, these are some of the most popular types of bike racks:

  • Roof-mounted.
  • Trunk-mounted.
  • Towbar-mounted.

As recommended, you should have an anti-theft system installed in your rack of choice, which can be included in the rack or purchased separately. Here are the pros and cons of each of these rack types:

Roof-mounted bike rack

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Within this category, there are models that require removing the front wheel and others where it is not necessary.

Pros

  • Enough space to carry up to 4 bikes.
  • It doesn’t block car cameras and sensors.
  • It’s not an obstacle for parking.
  • You have access to the trunk and all the doors.
  • More room inside the car.
  • Once installed, you don’t have to dismount it, and if you prefer to do so, the rack can be easily stored.

Cons

  • It takes some effort and practice to mount and secure the bike, especially on taller cars.
  • Higher fuel consumption.
  • Noise due to wind resistance.
  • It might become an obstacle for driving, especially on windy days.
  • The bike is exposed to the elements.
  • You need to be careful with low tunnels, toll booths, garages and parking lots, as well as tree branches.

Trunk-mounted rack

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This is the cheapest option, and even though it looks a bit tricky to install, with a bit of practice you’ll be able to put it on and take it off in a few minutes.

Pros

  • You can easily mount your bike on it.
  • Compatible with different types of vehicles.
  • In most cases, it doesn’t block car cameras and sensors.
  • It’s not an obstacle for driving.

Cons

  • You risk having your bikes stolen if you do not get a good anti-theft system.
  • You can’t access the trunk (only certain rack models allow it).
  • You need more parking space.
  • It can damage the car’s paintwork.
  • The bike can get damaged as well if not properly mounted and secured.
  • The bike is exposed to the elements as well as rear bumps.
  • It can increase fuel consumption. A lot depends on the type of bike rack, the vehicle and the speed, but in this study (in German) it is stated that at 100 km/h the fuel consumption with a trunk-mounted rack and the roof rack is similar, and at 130 km/h it is even higher with a trunk-mounted rack. 

Towbar-mounted rack

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This option is the most expensive one, as it requires your car to have a towbar. However, if you travel a lot with other cyclists, this will be the safest and most practical way to carry more than one bike in your car.

Pros

  • The bike will be safer during the ride and also more protected against theft.
  • You can easily mount the bikes on it.
  • It’s not an obstacle for driving and you won’t spend more on fuel. 
  • There’s no risk of damaging your car or the bike(s).
  • You’ll have access to the trunk, at least with most towbar rack models.

Cons

  • Price. It’s the most expensive option.
  • It’s quite heavy and bulky, so it can’t be as easily stored.
  • Not compatible with some vehicles unless they are equipped with a towbar.
  • You need more parking space.
  • It blocks some car sensors.
  • The bike is exposed to the elements as well as rear bumps.

Which option is the best to carry my bike?

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You already know our take on this, right? It depends. It depends on the type of cyclist, the number of bikes, the type of vehicle, the frequency of trips, whether you travel solo or with family/friends… Before you get yourself a bike rack, ask yourself first:

‘Do I need a bike rack?’ If you travel solo or with a partner, and your car has enough space to carry two bikes plus luggage in it, then you don’t need a bike rack. In any other case, you might need one. Which type of rack would you need then? First, answer the following questions:

‘How often will I be using it?’ and ‘How much money do I want to spend on it?’ If you’re planning on traveling a lot with friends or more than one cyclist, and you don’t have to stick to a budget, then the best option would be to get a roof or towbar rack. These are the most expensive options, indeed, but also the safest and most practical. The choice between these two now depends on how many cyclists will be traveling, the car itself (options to mount the rack on the towbar or on the roof), how much space you have to store the rack and your personal preferences, among other things. However, if you don’t want to spend too much money and you’re only going to use it every now and then, a good trunk-mounted rack is more than enough. Here are some examples:

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One single cyclist in a family of four who goes on family trips quite frequently and has no towbar installed in the car but roof bars instead, can go for a roof-mounted rack.

A trunk-mounted rack would be the best option for a family of three with two cyclists, who are on a budget, have a small car and no towbar or roof bars.

Regardless of your final purchase, you should always make sure to check and follow the regulations when it comes to transporting bikes by car in your country and any countries you’re traveling to, for instance: bike/car width, license plate, visible lights, mirrors, reflective warning boards… This way, you’ll get to enjoy the trip to the fullest, and make the most of the ride once you pick up the bike from the rack to start pedaling.

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