The Best Ways to Transport Bikes Safely

transport bikes

The Best Ways to Transport Bikes Safely

By Kristen Seymour

Cyclists know how to make the most of a road trip — both on four wheels and two. When you transport bikes on your trip, you can experience sights as you whizz by at 70 miles an hour in the car, and at any time, you can stop somewhere interesting to explore nearby roads and trails by bike. In addition, when cycling, you can cover more ground than on foot and take in the atmosphere more thoroughly than with a vehicle.

It is enjoyable to pedal down new trails and view the scenery at your leisure.  However, transporting bikes for long distances via car can be daunting, especially for occasional or recreational riders. But the good news is you don’t have to be a bike mechanic to bring your bike on a long road trip safely. Read on to learn how to take your bike anywhere you go, whether you keep it inside your car or use a bike rack.

Transporting Your Bike Inside Your Car

Keeping your bicycle inside your vehicle is not always feasible, but when it is, it’s usually the safest option to protect your bike from road debris and thieves. Spacious SUVs and cars with large trunks or adjustable back seats often have enough room for a bicycle if you remove the front wheel. In a smaller space, you may have to remove both wheels and even the saddle. (Of course, that’s assuming you only need to transport a single bike and don’t need your back seat or trunk for passengers and luggage!)

Thank goodness for the quick release on the wheels that make it easy to take them off when putting a bike inside the car.

If you can travel with your bike inside your vehicle, keep the following tips in mind to ensure a successful trip.

  • Grease stains won’t do much for the resale value of your car. Instead, shift the gears, so the chain is on the smallest ring. Wash off mud or manure from your bike and wheels, and place a sheet or tarp in your car to protect the upholstery.
  • In most cars and even SUVs, you’ll need to do some disassembly, such as removing the front wheel. Play around with different options. Some vehicles have plenty of room for you to lay your bike down in the hatchback or trunk, while in others, you’ll need to position the bike upright with the back wheel behind the passenger seat and the forks of your front wheel resting on a towel on the backseat. Setting the left pedal on the seat can provide additional stability, but place a cloth under the pedal to prevent staining.
  • Unless your bike is in your trunk, restrain it using your seatbelts or with bungee cords, so it doesn’t pose a safety hazard if you’re in an accident.

What to Know Before You Choose (and Use) a Bike Rack

If you can’t fit your bike inside the car, you need a rack to transport bicycles. A few types are available, and each has pros and cons. Before you make a purchase, think through how you plan to use your rack.

  • How far — and how frequently — do you anticipate transporting bikes?
  • Will you carry multiple bikes? Are any of them heavy? Do any of them have unique frames or other considerations?
  • Do you need a rack that will work on multiple vehicles? If you’re using multiple vehicles, does each have a hitch?
  • Do you want a rack that carries other equipment such as kayaks, skis, stand-up paddleboards, or cargo boxes?

With any bike rack, you should keep a few considerations in mind to transport bikes safely.

  • Plan travel for times when the weather looks clear. Snow, road salt, and even excessive rain can lead to problems with rust and degradation. It may help to cover your bike with a tarp or garbage bags and duct tape, but even the sturdiest tarp may not endure a long drive at 70 miles an hour in inclement weather.
  • Are you taking a multi-day road trip? Take your bike at night to prevent theft. Lock it securely if you need to leave it outside.
  • Are you using a rear-mounted rack? Add a bright flag to make it more evident to drivers behind you.

Click on the image below to see the Saris bike rack for sedan cars.

Saris bike rack

Roof-Mounted Racks

Most roof-mounted bike racks have feet that attach to the roof of your vehicle as well as crossbars for attaching other accessories, although some options use suction cups. These racks may require you to remove the front wheel on your bike. Removing the front wheel keeps the bike lower and is a sturdier option. But some people prefer to transport bikes on racks that don’t require frequent wheel removal even if it sacrifices stability. Generally speaking, experts recommend roof-mounted carriers for shorter trips, not long road trips.

carry a bike

Boot- or Trunk-Mounted Racks

Wanting to transport bikes and looking for an option that’s affordable, easy to use, and doesn’t require any permanent or significant updates to your vehicle? A trunk-mounted rack may be a good option, but it comes with a few potential concerns as with all racks.

transport a bike

Tow Bar- or Hitch-Mounted Rack

A tow bar or hitch-mounted rack may be the best option to transport bikes.  Considered by some to combine the best aspects of the roof- and trunk-mounted racks, a hitch-mounted rack is easy to use and offers serious security, but often with a higher price tag. You have a variety of options when it comes to hitch-mounted models, ranging from racks that allow bikes to hang in rubber or plastic cradles to those with a wheel tray that locks bikes in place. However, many cyclists believe tow bars and hitch-mounted racks are the best options for long or frequent road trips.

hitchmounted2 1

Secrets for Bike Rack Success

Whatever type of rack you choose, be sure to install and use it properly.  Even the highest quality rack won’t keep your bike safe if it’s not set up correctly. Here are a few suggestions to ensure you are on the right track before taking your bike on the road.

  • Ask the salesperson to show you how to attach the rack to the car. Of course, you won’t be the first to make this request, and any salesperson who cares about customers and bikes will be happy to walk you through the process.
  • If you attach the rack with straps, hang your body weight on it to ensure the straps are tight enough to transport bikes.
  • Most racks with a cradle will require the use of an adapter to ensure women’s, kids’, and suspension bikes fit correctly. Ask the salesperson if you need additional accessories for the bikes you plan to haul.

Once you are confident you can install your rack, use these methods to keep your bike safe on a bike rack, no matter how long the drive.

  • No touching

Your bike shouldn’t touch anything other than the rack, including other bikes. Any added vibration could wear down your bike parts and cause damage or dangerous problems.

  • Don’t spin out

Use bungee cords or soft Velcro straps on your tires to keep them from spinning and moving while you drive.

  • Clean up

Upon arrival at your destination, wash and lube your bike. Check the tire pressure, especially if the elevation or temperature changes dramatically.

Enjoy the Journey

Next time you’re planning a road trip, don’t be intimidated about taking your bike along for the ride. With the right vehicle or rack, you can experience the freedom you only find on two wheels wherever your travels take you!

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