Awkward ways to carry bikes outside your car

It’s pretty simple, really. When you drive around with your bike on the outside of your car, stuff happens to your bike. Maybe even to your car.

I can speak to this personally, at least twice.

Life with a trunk rack.

Back in college, the most common type of bike rack was the low-tech, strap-on-the-trunk bike carrier. You fill your trunk, add the bikes, remember that you forgot to pack something, remove the bikes, put the bikes back on… it gets old fast.

If race car spoilers are popular to make sports cars look fast, then something like this that resembles a drag-car parachute should be super spiffy.

But there’s a hidden issue that my roommate and I discovered–shock absorbers.  When you load up the back of the car for a big move, the back end of the car sags. The bike wheels get closer to the ground. One speed bump and your bike wheels hit sideways and bend. I am happy to report that my bending aluminum wheel caused absolutely no damage to Chris’ bike rack or car.

(And in a bizarre twist–literally–a nearby physics student saw my pretzeled wheel, made a quick assessment about reversing the transition, applied quick force in four places, and untwisted the wheel with a snap.)

Life with a roof rack.

Roof racks are away from the busy trunk area and the furthest you can get from the ground, so those pesky trunk rack problems disappear. You’re left with the issue of lifting your bike over your shoulders, cleanly depositing it in the trough on top of your car or truck, and locking it securely with one free hand.  The fun is just beginning…

From “I have ancient and cheap roof-mounted Thule carriers for three bicycles and in over a decade have not had a single issue with them – other than driving under the height-restriction bar on a MacDonalds Drive-Thru. (That was user error – as in choosing to go to Macs).”

My wife had a clearer sense of clearance risk, always hiding the garage door opener as we left the driveway. I preferred to use my infallible memory–until the day I heard a prior roommate’s business ad on the radio as I approached the house, focused on that exciting news instead, and promptly drove into the gutter over the garage.

That was the day I started fantasizing about full-size bikes that easily fit INSIDE any vehicle.

Roof rack failures like this rarely happen… but at least the bike would now fit through my garage door.

Life with a hitch-mounted carrier.

Here’s an idea. Instead of mounting a bike rack on the hatch door, where you have to lift everything to get into your vehicle, how about mounting it at the bottom, for maximum inconvenience?

There are ways around this. Some systems have hinges to swing to the side or swing down to make the assembly less in the way.

Has anyone done the clearance math on this? And why does this remind me of a memorably deformed bike wheel back in college?

Ultimately, these are the small issues with hitch mounted racks. A bigger issue is that you need a trailer hitch. And if only one car has the hitch, then nobody else in the family can take bikes out for a ride someplace safe. It limits you.

Hitch-mounted bike racks are also a separate part. And separate parts sometimes separate at the wrong time.

Do it yourself solutions.

Of course, you aren’t limited by what others do. It’s a free country…

The trailer-trailer hitch-mount. At least it’s out of the way of the car…
The handy, completely free bike rack… until your bike gets completely free on the highway!

Or complete biking freedom.

Let’s revisit an idea for a moment. You attach a bike to the outside of your car…and then drive around that way in traffic. Who normalized that behavior?

Here’s another idea to revisit…

CHANGE 811 folding rugged hybrid
This is a folding bike.

In fact, let’s go a bit further. This is a 27-speed, aluminum-frame, carbon-fork bike with 27.5″ wheels. It’s your everyday, go everywhere bike that also happens to do this in under a minute…

And it’s not just this bike. All our bikes, from mountain bikes to the upcoming road bikes, all are this convenient to take places in your trunk or back seat. And it’s great for bike safety too.

This is real freedom. I rode here, rented a sedan, and drove away with my bike in it.

So…now that you have a choice, would you rather balance your bike on the outside of your car, or get a full-size folding bike? Which bike is right for you? (You can see it fold there, too.)

Bob Forgrave's Signature

Bob Forgrave



4 thoughts on “Awkward ways to carry bikes outside your car

  1. Great article, very funny but yet helpful in pointing out all the flaws in the various bike racks. I had a similar accident with our garage when I drove my husband’s SUV and forgot that the bikes were mounted on the roof.
    Luckily he now drives a truck and I have to say that truck bed bike racks are far more convenient.

    1. Absolutely, Kirsten. I’ll bet there are a LOT more folks who have had this type of garage accident than are willing to admit to it!

      Rack Maven is a truck bed rack, and I’ve even seen a video showing how to roll your own with $25 of Home Depot parts…

    2. This was great for the cons. What are the pro’s and suggestions on what you think is the better bike rack?

      1. Correct, Jeffrey. All of these methods are awkward, as is the whole idea of glomming a bike onto the outside of your car. Far better to have a full-size bike that folds in half, like a CHANGE bike.

        But not everyone does have a CHANGE bike, so even I have a bike rack on my truck. It’s a roof rack. About once a year, we find the attachments somewhere in the garage and help someone else carry a bike the old-fashioned (awkward) way. Works for us!


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