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.
With some subtle tweaks to the classic Bones design, the new Saris Bones EX offers all the practicality of previous models but now fits even more vehicles, including those with rear spoilers. Add some upgrades, particularly to the bike tie-downs, and you've got one of the best three-bike rear-mounted cycle carriers on the market.
Anybody familiar with previous Saris Bones boot-mounted cycle carriers won't find anything too overwhelming with this new EX version. Indeed, the only major differences to previous Bones three-bike carriers is a unique dog-leg design to the two upper legs with built-in strap guides – which allows it to fit on vehicles with spoilers – along with some premium bike tie-downs. However, that's not such a bad thing as the original Bones design is a modern classic.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Yakima JustClick 3 — previously known as the Whispbar WBT31 — 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 JustClick 3 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.
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Acknowledged by the Telegraph as a leading cycling journalist, John Stevenson has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc editor Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013 and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.