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Need to transport a bike on your car? Here's your guide to the options

Need to transport a bike by car? Unless you have a big estate or a van, you're going to need a some sort of rack. Here are nine top-flight bike carriers.

There are three ways to transport your bike by car: inside it, on the roof and on the back. To carry a bike inside your car you'll need an estate or a saloon with a very big boot. A bike with the wheels off will fit in the boot of a few big cars, but your Mercedes dealer may not be comfortable if you turn up for a test drive with a bike to try it.

Estate cars have the advantage that carrying bikes doesn't increase your fuel consumption very much, and the bikes are safer at, say, service stations. The downside is that you'll need a load liner to protect the interior and even then scrapes in the roof interior are hard to avoid.


Eddy Merckx knew how to get lots of racks on a car roof (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 crosby_cj | Flickr)

Outside the car, your choices are a roof rack, or a rack on the back of the car. The latter option comes in hatch-mounted or towball-mounted versions. Let's look at the pros and cons.

Roof racks

Advantages

  • Bike is clear of car so can't damage paintwork.
  • Roof bars can be used to carry plenty of other things too, from skis to sofas.
  • Can carry up to four bikes, sometimes even more.
  • Very secure.

Disadvantages

  • Awkward to load bikes, especially on taller vehicles like 4X4s.
  • Substantial increase in fuel consumption.
  • Bikes not visible to driver so can't be monitored.
  • May not fit under some barriers or car park entrances.

Boot/hatch racks

Advantages

  • Easy to load as bikes don't have to be lifted far.
  • Less effect on fuel consumption.
  • Bikes visible in mirror so can be monitored.
  • Cheap; no need for other fittings like roof bars

Disadvantages

  • Care needed when fitting & loading to avoid paintwork damage to vehicle.
  • Care needed when loading to avoid damage to bikes.
  • With rare exceptions, limited to three bikes.
  • Can limit access to boot or hatch.
  • Number plate & lights board may be needed.
  • Care needed not to load with tyres next to exhaust.

Towball racks

Advantages

  • Bikes and rack clear of vehicle.
  • Easy to load as bikes don't have to be lifted far.
  • Less effect on fuel consumption.
  • Bikes visible in mirror so can be monitored.
  • Very secure.

Disadvantages

  • Can limit access to boot or hatch.
  • Number plate & lights board needed.

Halfords Essentials Rear Low Mount Cycle Carrier — £49

This cheap and cheerful rack boot rack straps on to the edges of your boot or hatch lid. the arms are padded to protect your frame, and it comes with a strap to secure the bikes, but it's otherwise quite basic. You might want to add some padding.

Find a Halfords branch.

Pendle Strap On — £95

Pendle Strap On

Pendle Strap On

Stop tittering at the back. This classically simple, British-made six-strap rack has been around for literally decades because it Just Works™. It's basic, but sturdy and well-engineered.

The uprights are adjustable so you can lift the bikes clear of your lights and number plate. That does make them a bit harder to load, but you can choose to let them sit lower and use a lights and plate board.

The Pendle Strap On can take up to three bikes.

Find out more.

Yakima FrontLoader — £120

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

The front wheel is held in an ingenious hinged clamp, while the rear is simply bound with a ratchet strap.

Read our review of the Yakima FrontLoader

Saris Bones 2 — £110

With thick rubber cradles for your bike's frame, an extra strap to stop it swaying, and six straps holding it on to the bike, this very popular rack works very well, and looks good too. You can even get it in a choice of colours if you're a bit bored of such accessories being black or grey.

This one takes two bikes. Another £20 or so at street prices gets you the Bones 3 if you need to carry three. It'll work best with fairly light, diamond frame bikes. Great for your road bikes, then, not perfect if you want to carry a downhill mountain bike, an e-bike or anything with an unusual or dropped frame.

Read our review of the Saris Bones 2.
Find a Saris dealer.

Saris Gran Fondo — £169.99

Saris Gran Fondo rack

Saris Gran Fondo rack

This unusual rack mounts two bikes vertically on the back of a car, so you can take off either. The front wheel sits in a large cradle, with the rear in a smaller on and both held down by ratchet straps.

The bikes don't obscure the number plate or the rear light clusters, so there's no need to carry a light board. You also get markedly better rear vision when you're driving. And, most importantly, it looks really Pro.

Read our review of the Saris Gran Fondo.
Find a Saris dealer.

Seasucker Talon — £311.10

Some cars won't accept roof racks, their boots or hatches are too small to take a rear rack, and you'll get drummed out of the Porsche owners' club for having a towball on your 911. The Seasucker Talon mounts to cars like these with large suction cups.

There's a bit more to these sucker cups than the one that your shower cap hangs on though. You pump the air out of them when you fit the rack to your car, and they're very firm after that. Seasucker has a video of a car being driven at 140mph with them; we had no problems at motorway speeds.

It's a niche item, and expensive for a single-bike carrier, but if you can't fit a bike rack any other way, it's a clever problem-solver.

Read our review of the Seasucker Talon.
Find a Seasucker dealer.

Thule Raceway 992 — £270

Thule Raceway 3-bike rack

Thule Raceway 3-bike rack

You can carry three bikes on Thule's top-model hatch-mount carrier and in many ways it's like a souped-up version of the Saris Bones, with a three-strap attachment for each bike and beefy arms to mount the bikes.

Thule have done the hard work of figuring out how to best fit it to your car, though. You just dial in the angle between the arms, hang it on your car and tighten the straps. You can lock the ratchets, and there's a cable lock to secure the last bike in place so it's harder to steal rack and bike than is typical of boot racks. It folds tidily, but it's not light.

Read our review of the Thule Raceway 992.
Find a Thule dealer.

Thule VeloCompact 92501 — £270.28

Thule VeloCompact 925 main.JPG

Thule VeloCompact 925 main.JPG

The Thule VeloCompact 92501 is one of the Swedish company's most affordable towball racks and it's really easy to use. It has a wide range of adjustment to suit different types of bikes, and it's very solid and secure. When it's fitted you can still get into your car boot, and it folds flat for storage. It's a good investment for anyone who regularly transports bicycles on a car.

Read our review of the Thule VeloCompact 92501
Find a Thule dealer

Thule EuroClassic G6 929 — £404.95

Thule EuroClassic G6 LED 929 3 Bike Towball Carrier 3

Thule EuroClassic G6 LED 929 3 Bike Towball Carrier 3

This classic towball-mounted rack is popular with mountain bikers who don't want to have to heft heavy enduro-style bikes to a roof rack, and families who like the ability to add a fourth bike mount.

The bikes sit in wheel troughs and are stabilised by arms that clamp the top tube or other part of the bike. The rack locks on your towball and each bike can be locked in place, so there's a degree of security for service station stops.

Unarguably it's far from cheap, but in our experience Thule gear is built to last.

Read our review of the Thule EuroClassic G6 929.
Find a Thule dealer.

Thule EasyFold XT 3 — £560

Thule Easyfold XT 3

Thule Easyfold XT 3

Eye-wateringly expensive, but very convenient and easy to use, this towball-mounted rack is easy to fit and to load bikes on, tips out of the way if you want to get into the boot or hatch of your car and folds up for storage.

Less physically strong riders may find its heft a bit much. There are wheels to roll it on flat surfaces, but you wouldn't want to carry it very far. It locks securely to your tow hitch and carries up to three bikes. The bikes are held in place with ratchet straps round the bottom of the wheels and a clamp for the top tube or, for carbon bikes, one of Thule's 982 frame adapters.

The Easyfold XT 3's nifty folding mechanism means it's easy to store. It'll fit in a corner of the shed or garage or under the stairs, which sets it apart from Thule's bulkier towball racks, but you pay a premium for that convenience.

Find a Thule dealer.

Whispbar WBT31 — £494.95

Whispbar WBT31 3 bike tow bar carrier01.jpg

Whispbar WBT31 3 bike tow bar carrier01.jpg

The Whispbar WBT31 Bike Carrier is a premium rack packed full of features to make transporting bikes a breeze. You definitely get what you pay for. If you're after a towball-mounted carrier, it's one of the best-possible three-bike options (four if you buy the adapter).

The WBT31 comes fully built and ready to use. Optional extras include a wall storage hook (£10) if you want to keep it off the floor, a dust/rain cover (£20), good for storing in a hostile environment, and a ramp (£35) for loading heavy bikes or if you aren't happy lifting them vertically onto the rack. The ramp fits all four bike positions on either side and stows securely in a holder on the rack, ready to use at your destination. I always used the ramp for getting our 30kg (plus whatever's in the panniers) Workcycles FR8 Dutch bike on and off the rack – it's fast to use and minimises the risk of slipping and dropping a very heavy bike.

Read our review of the Whispbar WBT31

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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.

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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.

12 comments

Avatar
Dave42W [49 posts] 2 years ago
1 like

We have had one of these 

http://www.roofbox.co.uk/scripts/rbvehsel4_tab.php/car-specific-accessor...

for several years. It has been excellent and drops the bikes low enough even with the very big, low and vertical boot of our Citroen Berlingo Multispace.

Oh and the multispace can take 3 passengers with 3 bikes inside (no disassembly required). Very easy to carry bikes inside.

Avatar
Dave42W [49 posts] 2 years ago
1 like

We have had one of these 

http://www.roofbox.co.uk/scripts/rbvehsel4_tab.php/car-specific-accessor...

for several years. It has been excellent and drops the bikes low enough even with the very big, low and vertical boot of our Citroen Berlingo Multispace.

Oh and the multispace can take 3 passengers with 3 bikes inside (no disassembly required). Very easy to carry bikes inside.

Avatar
BertYardbrush [60 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

I don't have a massive estate car. I have a Toyota Yaris Verso. Bike fits inside upright without any dissembly.

Avatar
cdean [31 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

I have a Honda Civic. The rear seats flip up leaving a space behind the driver and passenger from floor to ceiling. You can get a bike in there with the front wheel off, and leaving the boot empty for your and your passenger's luggage. You probably could get two bikes in there but you'd have to be careful not to damage one with the other. 

https://goo.gl/images/aOaEL2

Avatar
DrG82 [243 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes
cdean wrote:

I have a Honda Civic. The rear seats flip up leaving a space behind the driver and passenger from floor to ceiling. You can get a bike in there with the front wheel off, and leaving the boot empty for your and your passenger's luggage. You probably could get two bikes in there but you'd have to be careful not to damage one with the other. 

https://goo.gl/images/aOaEL2

I have an 11 plate civic (not sure if there's any difference between old/facelift models) and have put two 56 cm/medium road bikes in the back seat space with plenty of room. I put an old blanket between them to stop paint scratches.
The rear seats were one of the big selling points with this car.

Avatar
atgni [482 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

When they say roofracks are very secure do the mean they won't fall off, as it can't be when considering theft.
Search 'thule gone in 8 seconds' on youtube.

Avatar
cdean [31 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes
DrG82 wrote:
cdean wrote:

I have a Honda Civic. The rear seats flip up leaving a space behind the driver and passenger from floor to ceiling. You can get a bike in there with the front wheel off, and leaving the boot empty for your and your passenger's luggage. You probably could get two bikes in there but you'd have to be careful not to damage one with the other. 

https://goo.gl/images/aOaEL2

I have an 11 plate civic (not sure if there's any difference between old/facelift models) and have put two 56 cm/medium road bikes in the back seat space with plenty of room. I put an old blanket between them to stop paint scratches. The rear seats were one of the big selling points with this car.

 

Yes - I've used mine to transport loads of awkward stuff including a cast iron fireplace that was so heavy that we'd never have got it into a conventional boot with the seats down! 

Avatar
Crashboy [70 posts] 8 months ago
0 likes

Similar looking to the tow bar mounted ones above, we have an Atera Strada which is expensive but such a well made and engineered piece of kit: so easy to use / fit and the way it slides out with bikes on to allow access to the rear of the vehicle (including fully opening the barn doors on the back of a VW T5) is fantastic.

Would recommend it if you can stomach the price, and would recommend  using The Roof Box Company.

 

Avatar
contender [20 posts] 2 months ago
0 likes

I have an Acura towbar mounted bike rack, very good for conventional bikes..can slide down to let you in the boot. Fast to fit, strong  

But: it’s no good for a full suss 29er as it’s not wide enough for the wheelbase: the base of the both wheels hang outside of the rack. I’ve ended up getting some Thule roof racks for that.

i think you need to think about your n+1 and n+2 plans before fixing on a rack. 

Avatar
Dr_Lex [472 posts] 2 months ago
0 likes

I have a SeaSucker mini bomber, which takes 2 bikes. Quick to attach and remove, and a further benefit over a normal roof rack is that it is not car specific.  Sadly the distributor pulled UK supply, due to discounting, so it's an expensive option now.

Avatar
don simon [2400 posts] 2 months ago
0 likes

Peruzzo spare wheel rack for the 4x4, 1st try this weekend, no review here of 4x4 specific racks.  2

Avatar
Chillywasher [1 post] 2 months ago
0 likes

+1 on the Atera Strada.

I've had two Thule tow-ball carriers in the past and both of them didn't last that long - one had a piece of plastic broke off which held the locking lever in place and the other one developed a fault with the electrics. 

The Strada on the other hand has been super reliable, is a manageable weight to move in and out of the garage  and I love the way the whole unit slides away from the car to make it easy to get into the boot.