THE CONVENIENT CYCLIST

Hauling a bike? Here are 4 common ways and 1 genius way

So you want to get out on a bike more. Not just around your neighborhood, but everywhere, getting the absolute most value out of your bike by using it for commuting, health, and recreation every chance you get.

Excellent idea! Now comes the reality planning…   How are you going to take your bike places? Unless you are completely tied into mass-transit infrastructure, eventually your bike is going to need to coexist well with a car.

Lots of people do this a variety of ways, but the best solution–last on this list–may be something you’ve never heard of.

1. The hitch-mount car rack.

In this method, you buy a bike rack designed for a trailer hitch and then attach your bike, or multiple bikes, to that.

hauling bikes on a hitch car rack
Offering a balance between security and access, this approach is the most commonly used rack approach for carrying bikes.

But first, you need a trailer hitch. Many trucks come with them already. If you don’t have one, that’s an additional expense. Then you either have it professionally installed, or use some cheaper work-around. For example…

hitch mount car rack adapter
If your bumper is small enough in cross-section, you can just bolt this hitch onto it then stick a loaded bike rack on it to twist against these bolts as the nuts gradually loosen on the freeway. What could possibly go wrong?

Instead, let’s make a leap here and say that you prefer to have your hitch professionally installed. How much will that cost? That depends on where you have it done and how much custom work is needed, like welding and bumper-cutting.

It will cost less at a place like U-Haul, which installs a lot of these, and more at a car dealer (often as much as $1,100). According to HowMuchIsIt.org, the average hitch installation price is from $225-625, including hitch parts.

Then you’ll also need the bike rack itself, which is relatively inexpensive at $100-200, unless you’re buying one that swivels sideways out of the way so you can lift the hatchback and actually get into the rear of your vehicle. Some cheaper racks also advertise” folding”, which really just folds the entire rack down and plops the attached bikes down onto the dirt or pavement. Obviously, open carefully, and always re-check the latch before hitting the freeway!

hitch mount car rack on sedan
The back end of this type of car is much more accessible with the same type of rack. And the rack still “folds” at the knob for even more access. But finding a parking space just got tougher.

Overall, here’s the hitch-mount rack scorecard:

PROS:

  • Relatively secure attachment (with a professionally installed hitch)
  • Relatively easy owner access
  • With large rack, you can haul lots of bikes (sometimes up to 6)
  • Removable: The owners can just take it out of the hitch

CONS:

  • Removable: Non-owners can just take it out of the hitch, unless locked in.
  • Relatively easy non-owner access (AKA stolen and vandalized bikes)
  • Much longer parking space needed
  • Cameras and motion sensors may be obscured (just when your parking spots are tighter)
  • Hitch installation may involve cutting into the rear bumper
  • Relatively expensive: expect $500 if you have to install a hitch too.
  • Bikes can bang into each other or the rack
  • Bikes traveling outside get covered in road grit, especially close to the road.
  • Non-transferable: one car must always be “the bike car” unless both have hitches

2. The trunk-mount car rack.

In this method, you buy a bike rack designed for the trunk of a vehicle and strap it onto the trunk.

trunk car rack for hauling bikes
Trunk-mounting is by far the cheapest approach. You can get a trunk-mount rack for just over $40.

Installation is as easy as strapping it to your trunk. That also makes theft of your bikes as easy as cutting the straps with a pocketknife. Even the most secure locking to the rack can’t eliminate that risk.

Back-up cameras and sensors are generally–depending upon the bike mounting–fully operational. That’s worth checking to verify. When mounting your bike on the rear, it’s also critical to check the sides. How much does your bike stick out?

dangerously mounted bikes on a car rack
We photographed this car going down the freeway with 1/3 of a bike sticking out to the right. On another road, passing a cyclist in a right-side bike lane, that bike placement could be deadly!

With a trunk-mount, your hatchback is more accessible, as long as you don’t mind your tailgate being heavier by the weight of one or two bikes every time you open it.

A trunk-mount rack can be moved from one car to any other trunk-based car with some effort–loosening and recinching straps. Just be aware that any car it is installed on may experience wear on the weather-stripping around the edge and body paint where the pads sit on the outside of the car.

Overall, here’s the hatch-mount rack scorecard:

PROS:

  • Relatively easy owner access
  • Lowest cost solution
  • Cameras and motion sensors usually not obscured
  • No hitch or bumper work needed
  • Transferable from one car to another  (AKA multiple bike cars)

CONS:

  • Very easy non-owner access (AKA stolen and vandalized bikes)
  • Slightly longer parking space needed
  • Pads and straps can wear paint and weatherstripping
  • Bikes can bang into each other or the car paint
  • Bikes traveling outside get covered in road grit, especially close to the road.

3. The roof-mount car rack.

When you see bike races like the Tour de France, this is what you see–a crazy number of bikes, all smooshed together tightly on the roof of a support car.

roof mounted car rack
I’m still trying to figure this out, but it looks to me like “only” six bikes and four spare wheels on this car.

If you’re a pro racer or rider support member who needs to carry the maximum number of bikes on one vehicle without them bashing each other, and still need to park the car easily, this is hands-down the best way to do it.

And yet, there are reasons not to do it. As I discovered before my shoulder surgery, a roof-mount bike rack on a truck is a long way up and can literally be a pain at times. And if your car is low-slung and more convenient for you to access, then it’s more convenient for anyone to access; one night, my daughter actually had her roof bike rack stolen off the top of her car, without even a bike involved!

tall rack on a low roof
And then there’s this side-effect of a roof rack. It happens sometimes. But it usually all evidence of the oversight is quickly and embarrassingly eliminated.

As with a hitch-mounted car rack, there’s a dual purchase expense here: the roof rack (the crossbars that attach to the car, which can run $500, especially with a locking system), and the bike rack that goes on top, which can cost $250 (with its own lock).

Also, the bikes are still outside the vehicle, so this phenomenon common to all cars also applies to the bikes carried around outside them.

road grit made obvious
Pro riders may not care. Either they have folks who keep all their bikes clean, or with race purse money on the line they’re fanatic about daily cleansing anyway.

Overall, here’s the roof-mount rack scorecard:

PROS:

  • Bikes are secure from wobble and each other
  • Tougher for non-owners to steal or vandalize (especially with a locking system)
  • Store lots of bikes on one vehicle
  • Cameras and motion sensors never obscured
  • No hitch or bumper work needed
  • Can park in same size spot (but watch the overhang!)
  • Does not harm car paint
  • All car doors are easily accessible

CONS:

  • Tough (and possibly painful) to access bikes overhead
  • Beware of driving into the garage (literally!)
  • Worse gas mileage on longer trips or windy days
  • Relatively expensive: Expect $700+ for a recognized brand
  • Non-transferable (one car is always the bike car)
  • Bikes traveling outside get covered in road grit

4. The bike-friendly car.

Generally, we don’t buy an entire car just to carry a bike. Not explicitly, anyway. We buy a car that matches our lifestyle that includes biking, doing lots of fun outdoor stuff, and hauling all those things related to biking, after researching and verifying that our bikes fit.

So yeah, we’re really doing this–buying a $30K car as an accessory for a $2K bike.

bike in a car
If you’re doing this, a long, open bed is essential, whether you’re carrying just one bike on its side…

 

two bikes in a car
…or two bikes on a special in-vehicle mount. You just need to remove the quick-release front wheels.

(One quick note… If you’re going with the bike-on-the-side approach, there are now space-saving options that keep your pedals and bars from scraping the car’s upholstery on the way in and out–options that also help in an apartment or garage. We call it house-training your bike.)

If you’re OK with your bike more accessible to others and exposure to the elements, you can even go with the pickup bed approach, often with the bikes turned and hanging over the tailgate.

bikes in a pickup bed
You can carry a lot of bikes this way. Just make sure you also have a bed rack like this vehicle, to keep bikes from crashing into one another. (Your front wheels are still exposed and vulnerable even without theft; Is that far front wheel hitting the brake disc of the wheel next to it?)

Overall, here’s the bike-friendly car scorecard (inside-bikes only):

PROS:

  • Bikes are secure from theft or vandalism (Someone has to break into the car)
  • Bikes are safe from the elements and road grit
  • Cameras and motion sensors never obscured
  • No hitch or bumper work needed
  • No effect on parking
  • No effect on gas mileage or car handling
  • Does not harm car paint
  • All car doors are easily accessible

CONS:

  • Most expensive solution: costs as much as a car!
  • Non-transferable (one car is always the bike car)
  • Limited space in vehicle for other stuff or passengers

 

5. The car-friendly bike.

We all know what trade-offs most folding bikes have–small wheels, long seat post and steerer tube, and a ride that’s shaky at best on uphills or downhills. But a foldaway bike is different.

A foldaway bike like the CHANGE 812 portable mountain bike looks and rides like a rugged, well-made aluminum hardtail MTB, yet folds in half to fit in virtually any car.

CHANGE 812 foldaway MTB
One moment it’s like this…

 

812 Foldaway MTB folded in half
…and a minute later it’s like this, ready for transport in any car trunk or back seat. You just need to remove the quick-release front wheel and open a couple of frame latches.

Astute observers may notice that the bike above has no pedals to get in the way. This quick change is done using a quick-release mechanism called pop-off pedals, standard on all CHANGE bikes, but also available separately.

When your bike folds in half, any car becomes “the bike car”, even if it’s not designed for carrying lots of stuff. And you can now combine your bike ride with an Uber or Lyft ride.

two bikes in a car the easy way
Here are two bikes going into a Nissan Leaf. No racks, and no road grit to clean off.

Foldaway bikes are available from Flatbike in MTB, rugged hybrid, and road bike styles. They have from 20-27 gears, range from $1,380 to $1,880, and are designed for light weight, yet are ruggedness-certified (ISO 4310).

Overall, here’s the bike-friendly car scorecard (inside-bikes only):

PROS:

  • Bikes are secure from theft or vandalism (Someone has to break into the car)
  • Bikes are safe from the elements and road grit
  • Cameras and motion sensors never obscured
  • No hitch or bumper work needed
  • No effect on parking
  • No effect on gas mileage or car handling
  • Does not harm car paint
  • All car doors are easily accessible
  • Transferable (any bike can be the bike car)
  • Foldaway approach also helps with inside storage in garages or apartments (and keeping it inside helps your bike last longer)

CONS:

  • Requires a special bike. Available in aluminum frames only (Won’t help with portability for an existing favorite carbon frame  bike)
  • Price of a quality foldaway bike may be out of range for some riders
  • Carrying multiple bikes takes up the back seat, limiting space in the vehicle for other stuff or passengers

In the end, you’ve still got the same wonderful, ambitious goal–to get out, explore the world around you, go places, and stay healthy because you’re out cycling everywhere. How you do it is a matter of choice. Which option works best for you?

See you out on the trails, wherever you car takes you.

Bob Forgrave's Signature

Bob Forgrave

President, Flatbike.com

flatbike-logo

425-985-6219

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *