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Roof racks, boot racks, estate cars and more

While it’s great to roll out of your front door for a ride, loading your bikes on the car opens up a vast range of rides and destinations. Here are your bike-carrying options.

Cars really aren’t designed for carrying bikes. There isn’t room for a fully-assembled bike inside most of them and you need add-ons to attach them anywhere on the outside. As you’ll see when we go through the options, most of them have more downsides than advantages — aside from being able to transport your bike of course — so your choice comes down to which disadvantages you’re prepared to live with.

Security is a big issue with all forms of carrying a bike that leave your bikes exposed or visible. Lock the bikes to the rack when you stop, and don’t leave a car with bikes on the rack out of your sight. A stack of expensive bikes inside a car is also attractive to thieves; it’s not worth loading up the night before.

In the boot

Bikes in the boot (CC BY 2.0 Rick McCharles:Flickr).jpg

Bikes in the boot (CC BY 2.0 Rick McCharles:Flickr).jpg

Bikes in the boot, though folding down the seat might be considered cheating (CC BY 2.0 Rick McCharles:Flickr)

If you’ve got a sufficiently large saloon, you may be able to get your bike in the boot with only minimal disassembly. Just drop out the front wheel and away you go. You’d be surprised how small a boot you can squeeze a bike into with both wheels off and the saddle out, though.

Pros: Bike is as safe as possible; very convenient; easily loaded; no extra cost

Cons: Not much room for anything else

In an estate car

The big load space of an estate car is ideal for bikes, especially with the rear seats folded. With a load liner to protect the carpet you can get in a lot of bikes stacked vertically with the front wheels out.

Pros: Bikes safe from the elements; reasonably secure against theft; negligible effect on fuel consumption; no extra cost

Cons: Inside of car gets dirty; have to drive round in a box all the time

Roof rack

Yakima rack  - 1

Yakima rack - 1

Yakima FrontLoader is a very easy-to-use roof rack

The traditional way of carrying bikes, roof racks use all that empty space above your head. Most designs require you to take off the front wheel, but some have an extra arm to grab frame bike so will take a complete bike.

Pros: There’s plenty of room up there so carrying up to four bikes is feasible; bikes can’t damage car paintwork; roof bars are handy for other things

Cons: Extra lock etc needed to prevent theft; look out for low entrances to car parks & garages; worst for fuel consumption; awkward to load; bikes get wet or dirty in bad weather; can’t be quickly removed or fitted

Recommended: Yakima FrontLoader — £119.95

The Yakima FrontLoader bike carrier is really easy to use, mounting the bicycle securely by the front wheel and avoiding potential frame damage, and it easily accommodates different wheel sizes.

Unlike racks that clamp onto the frame, the FrontLoader has a two-piece contraption that at the front expands and wraps around the front wheel, while the rear section is preloaded by the large red dial, effectively clamping the front wheel in place.

It's stable and secure, there's no potential for frame damage, and it'll more easily accommodate any odd bicycle designs than racks that use frame clamps.

Read our review of the Yakima FrontLoader

Boot/hatch rack

Probably the most popular way to carry bikes, a boot rack is held on by straps with hooks that slot into the edges of the boot lid. There’ll be padding where it rests on the car, and a pair of arms for the bikes. More sophisticated designs have cradles on the arms for bikes, rather than just expecting you to dangle them from bare tubes.

Pros: Easy to load; less effect on fuel consumption than roof rack; quick to fit and remove; folds for storage; inexpensive

Cons: Extra lock etc needed to prevent theft; restricts access to back of car; fiddly to get secure; obscures plate and lights; can damage bike and car paintwork if not loaded carefully

Recommended: Saris Bones 2 — £125.99

Saris Bones rack

Saris Bones rack

Saris Bones 2, a design classic that works really well and looks good too

The Saris Bones 2 isn't just a great-looking bike carrier, it's also one of the best at actually doing the job.

The design has has stood the test of time: this is a proper classic. As a rack for transportation to events or holidays, it's ideal. We've been using it for audax transport and it's served very well. The folding design also means that it stores easily between uses.

Fitting the rack is dead easy. Simply set the arms to fit your car (outer two brace their sturdy rubber feet on the bumper, middle arm braces on the rear window or boot lid) hook the straps onto the edge of the boot and tighten up. The hooks have a good thick rubberised coating and are stamped with their placings, so they won't scratch the paintwork and you can't put them in the wrong position. Tension fittings like this always look alarmingly flimsy, but once set you can haul away on the struts and all that happens is that the car wobbles.

Once fitted you just drop your bike onto the struts and secure it with a couple of straps over the top tube.

Read our review of the Saris Bones 2

Towball rack

Thule EuroClassic G6 LED 929 3 Bike Towball Carrier 3

Thule EuroClassic G6 LED 929 3 Bike Towball Carrier 3

Thule EuroClassic G6 929 3 Bike Carrier — not cheap, but easy to use and built to last

With a solid connection to a part of your car that usually has handy electrical connections for lights, a towball rack is a very convenient way to carry bikes.

Towball racks usually cradle two to four bikes by the wheels, with arms that grab the bike higher on the frame for stability.

Pros: Very secure attachment to the car; less effect on fuel consumption than roof rack; quick to fit and remove; some designs fold for storage; usually includes lights and plate mount; many tilt to allow rear access; can be very solidly built

Cons: Extra lock etc needed to prevent theft; non-folding designs bulky to store; needs a towball; often heavy and expensive

Recommended: Thule EuroClassic G6 LED 929 3 Bike Towball Carrier — £469.95

The 929 Euroclassic G6 is a flagship model, with good reason. It's a three bike rack, but with the option of increasing the load by another bike if you use an additional adapter. It's made predominantly from aluminium, along with other high tensile materials to keep the weight down. It fastens onto the tow bar with a lever, which locks, to keep security and confidence levels high.

It tilts out of the way if you need to get into the boot, and the three bike holder arms lock on to your bikes using the same key that locks the rack on to the car.

There's no denying that £450 is a lot of money for a bike rack but this really is an absolute feat of engineering and design, and will last well, giving years and years of reliable service. It's also incredibly easy for just one person to manage on their own, unlike many bike racks.

Read our full review of the Thule EuroClassic 929

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

41 comments

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jollygoodvelo [1652 posts] 1 year ago
5 likes

And yet, somewhat inexplicably, you've missed out what is by far the best solution, reviewed by your good selves no less: http://road.cc/content/review/154825-seasucker-talon-bike-rack

 

 

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northernrebel [74 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

Fiat Doblo MPV - Rear seats down and you can get 2 bikes in diagonally across the back without taking either wheel off. Loads of space around them for helmets/panniers/clean clothes after an MTB ride etc. Best of all you can stand under the large rear door and keep dry while it's raining!

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rjfrussell [390 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

The Cannondale instruction manual warns strongly against using any carrier where the top tube is clamped or strapped down if you have a carbon frame.

However, Maxxraxx say that it is fine to use their carrier with carbon frames.

Any thoughts/ experience-  given the Cannondale strictures, I am very nervous about ratcheting down the strap and cracking the tube.

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demiurgik [6 posts] 1 year ago
2 likes
Gizmo_ wrote:

And yet, somewhat inexplicably, you've missed out what is by far the best solution, reviewed by your good selves no less: http://road.cc/content/review/154825-seasucker-talon-bike-rack

 

 

 

Got to agree with Gizmo the Talon is brilliant. Super quick and easy.

Just leave it in the boot as it takes up no space and its always good to go. Happy Days

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MuddyGoose [53 posts] 1 year ago
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I go for the 'lob it in the boot' technique.  No disassembly and all seats folded down in my C4 Picasso and my road bike lays nicely on its side.  I then tend to leave it permanently in place so that I can pull it out and ride whenever the chance arises (lunchtime at work or after work when working away from home etc).

A collegue can get her mtb in her Seat Leon hatch with seats down and front wheel removed and did the same in an Alfa Giullietta too.  But then it is a small womans frame size!

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Grizzerly [364 posts] 1 year ago
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I've carried a 58cm road bike in the boot of a Fiat Panda.  Wheels out,  back seats in place,  parcel shelf lifted slightly.   Takes a bit of wangleidge and fiddlery, but it's easy enough. 

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cyclesteffer [263 posts] 1 year ago
2 likes

A Honda Civic can get a road bike or Cyclocross in the back, both wheels still on, and still one seat up! They are a flippin Tardis!

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wycombewheeler [1099 posts] 1 year ago
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rjfrussell wrote:

The Cannondale instruction manual warns strongly against using any carrier where the top tube is clamped or strapped down if you have a carbon frame.

However, Maxxraxx say that it is fine to use their carrier with carbon frames.

Any thoughts/ experience-  given the Cannondale strictures, I am very nervous about ratcheting down the strap and cracking the tube.

with the mont blanc baracuda I find you don't need to clamp the bike too firmly, the bike is essentially secured by the wheels, with the support only stopping the bike falling sideways. So the clamp only needs to be tight enough to stop the arm lowering . The force on the tube is essentially the centrifugal force  of the light bike frame.when cornering, not enough to damage the bike in my opinion.

 

Having said that, I prefer to put my bike in the boot when there are two or fewer bikes, and only use the roof when there are 3 or 4 people with bikes

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Richard D [77 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

The biggest con with the roof rack - and it's one that I am not alone in having experienced - is the ease with which you can forget that you've got a bike up there.  At which point car parks, fast food resteraunts and your own garage turn into very expensive mistakes.  If you turn into them.

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jasecd [449 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

I mostly carry just one bike in my Passat estate. Fold down the single rear seat, then remove the front wheel and slip on my homemade cardboard fork protector then stand the bike in vertically. Secure it using a couple of bungees attached to the passenger handle and the seat bracket and you're good to go. I  tend to wrap the front wheel in an old blanket and then also use it to cover the rear mech and chainset.

Yes, I have to drive around in a box but I need to do that for work anyway. Plus it's quite a stylish box and my bike is safe from the elements, theft and it doesn't affect the fuel economy. On the downside it does need to be fairly clean before it goes in the car. I've carried two bikes this way a number of times by folding down all the seats.

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Luv2ride [85 posts] 1 year ago
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I use a Saris in-car carrier in my SMax, meaning I can carry 2 bikes securely with their front forks attached the QR adaptor on the boot floor (and only need two seats down).  Rack also has neat attachments to securely hold the front wheels too.  I like the security of this solution, which I picked up from an online retailer for under £45.

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rogermerriman [115 posts] 1 year ago
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since a motorway cruiser makes sence, and both I and my wife have bikes, bought a Volvo V70 takes 29er MTB with ease no need to remove wheels comftably takes road bikes.

 

Used to have bike racks and what not, they are fine for standard road bikes, but don't do as well with multple bikes or FS MTBs or step though womans bikes etc.

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sunDOG [25 posts] 1 year ago
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I bought me first estate car eight years ago for the express purpose of carting bikes around; there is no way I'd go back to a 'saloon' now!

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Edgeley [463 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

Top Tip.  When carrying a bicycle on top of your car, do not forget it is there when entering a multi-storey carpark.

 

Ahem...

 

 

 

 

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typekitty [12 posts] 1 year ago
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Pfft, signficantly large saloon. I can get two road bikes in the back of Polo no worries. 

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Duncann [1046 posts] 1 year ago
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Perhaps the greatest achievement of my lifetime was fitting four six foot blokes and their mountain bikes inside a Volvo 340. Being inside a Volvo 340 is generally best overlooked but the packing was pretty awesome.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volvo_300_Series

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rjfrussell [390 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

any other views on maxxraxx and carbon?

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severs1966 [400 posts] 1 year ago
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I wish I could buy a car that my tandem would go inside without splitting it in half...

https://www.flickr.com/photos/severs1966/18886935632/

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fustuarium [215 posts] 1 year ago
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Richard D wrote:

The biggest con with the roof rack - and it's one that I am not alone in having experienced - is the ease with which you can forget that you've got a bike up there.  At which point car parks, fast food resteraunts and your own garage turn into very expensive mistakes.  If you turn into them.

 

I've got a Saris and roofrack. I far prefer the roofrack as it feels miles more secure adn you do forget it's up there bar some wind noise. However, in future I'd go tow bar for two reasons:

1) My wife can't lift the bikes on to the roof. So when she's off with the kids she can't take them all out with the bikes. Tow bar would get round that.

2) On the continent loads of carparks have height restrictions to stop camper vans entering. Butit also stop you with roof racks and bikes entering. Same with lots of multi storey and underground carparks. Sure you can take the bikes off, bit with four it's a monster PIA. So in busy towns or seaside areas you can spend quite a while trying to find somewhere to park or just puling the bikes off, locking them up and picking them up again later. 

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gmac101 [175 posts] 1 year ago
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I went for the tow bar option for several reasons 

  1. With a family of four, fond of camping trips;fitting two kids, family camping gear and 4 bikes inside a Skoda Octavia isn't going to happen.
  2. You can't get rear racks that fit the Skoda easily and anyway getting anything out of the boot en route is a nightmare. 
  3. Ferries, Car parks etc become a real pain with a roof rack on. 

The cost was large but, the whole set up will hopefully last a while.

but it's not that simple. You need to check the nose weight the car can take, take the weight of the rack off this and that's the weight of bikes you can carry. A typical saloon takes about 75kg nose weight,  a rack weighs about 20 kg so you can carry 55kgs or so of bike. - if you're carrying 4 bikes it soon adds up.  

I got an Atera which was lighter than the equivalent Thule so more bike capacity and it was only 1m wide so I can fit it in the boot 

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flange [3 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

Or you could get round the carpark height restriction thing with one of these..

 

http://www.tiltshiftltd.com/

 

Also gets round the loading issue for shorter people too

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armb [111 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes
flange wrote:

Or you could get round the carpark height restriction thing with one of these..

http://www.tiltshiftltd.com/

Also gets round the loading issue for shorter people too

Loses the "carrying up to four bikes is feasible" advantage though. 

How does it help with loading? "For loading and unloading, Orientate rotates into an upright position toward the edge of the vehicle making lifting you bike on as easy as using a traditional rack" makes it sound easier than just strapping the bike flat to roof bars, but no easier than a standard rack.

 

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northrj@gmail.com [2 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

Always check your cars handbook on positioning and weight of loads and follow instructions, including your bike holder / mounts instructions. If you are told not to exceed 50mph there is a good reason for that! And Please remember that the higher up the load is, the more it will affect your cars handling... plus, roof mounting may only allow up to 50kg, including the rack! And think about what happens in event of heavy braking, harsh steering...... or an accident. For instance, bikes not securely strapped down in the back of your car might fly forward......After considering all this I realised towball-fitting was the safest option, with a light-board on the back and keeping lights on, even in the daytime to reduce risk of someone not noticing your projecting load! Hope this helps someone....

 

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BertYardbrush [60 posts] 12 months ago
0 likes

Toyota Yaris Verso. Ceased production 2005.

Voted best used car 2011. You can pick one up for a reasonable price and fit you bike in the back (rear seats down) without laying it flat and without removing the front wheel. 

Only drawback, it's really uncool.

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Yorkshire wallet [1252 posts] 2 months ago
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Saris solo is a really useful carrier if you've only got one bike to transport. Weighs nothing and holds the bike perfectly. Only £35 at the most as well.

Sadly it won't fit on my new car so I'll have to invest in a roof mounted system instead.

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cbrndc [46 posts] 2 months ago
0 likes

Ford CMax;  removeable rear seats and with the accessory dropout clamp cycle rack that fits on the seat mounts two bikes can be carried.

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PaulBox [664 posts] 2 months ago
0 likes
cyclesteffer wrote:

A Honda Civic can get a road bike or Cyclocross in the back, both wheels still on, and still one seat up! They are a flippin Tardis!

My mate had a Civic, it took three of us with Mountain bikes (wheels off) to Wales and back in comfort. As you say, they are a tardis, the scret is in the depth of the boot so you can stand the frames upright side by side.

Far better than my Merc estate can manage!

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Sven Van Anders [38 posts] 2 months ago
1 like

Place bike between thighs and pedal. Simple

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Simmo72 [651 posts] 2 months ago
0 likes

-1 for Saris Bones.  Purchased a 3.  It sat in my garage, boxed for a year before I actually got around to using it as was off the bike for some time.  Easy to set up and fit bikes securely but on first drive I looked in my mirror and saw the bike hanging awkwardly.  On inspection one the main clamp had sheared off its mount, the plastic resin snapped.  

I'm sure it was a one off defect, they sell well but as it was over a year out of date I have no waranty and it put me off doing anything apart from using the boot.  

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hsiaolc [350 posts] 2 months ago
0 likes

Thats the guide?!! 

I was expecting all makes and models!

 

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