[This article was last updated on April 10, 2018]
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
With a solid connection to a part of your car that usually has handy electrical connections for, 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
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.
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.