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Roof racks, boot racks, estate cars and more

[This article was last updated on June 25, 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

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 — £104.95

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 — £115

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, 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 — £459.95

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.

35 comments

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Edgeley [540 posts] 1 year ago
5 likes

 "look out for low entrances to car parks & garages"

Yup, good advice.  It is ahem, very easy to forget that you have a bike on the roof.   As a friend, ahem, once found out.

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Hipshot [61 posts] 1 year ago
2 likes

Just take the wheels off stick it in the boot. Even small cars with tailgates usually have room, if not drop the seatpost or stick it on the back seats on a tarpaulin.  Safe, clean, secure (alarmed)  and free of charge.

I don't see the point of racks. All the fannying around fitting the rack, then fitting the bike, then locking the bike to the rack and the constant worrying when it's out of sight, then refitting the bike locking it again, unlocking it when you get home, removing the bike and taking the rack off the car and finding somewhere one to store it.  All yours for £80-£500

 

 

 

 

 

 

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wildoo [45 posts] 1 year ago
4 likes
Hipshot wrote:

Just take the wheels off stick it in the boot. Even small cars with tailgates usually have room, if not drop the seatpost or stick it on the back seats on a tarpaulin.  Safe, clean, secure (alarmed)  and free of charge.

I don't see the point of racks. All the fannying around fitting the rack, then fitting the bike, then locking the bike to the rack and the constant worrying when it's out of sight, then refitting the bike locking it again, unlocking it when you get home, removing the bike and taking the rack off the car and finding somewhere one to store it.  All yours for £80-£500

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thats fine if you do not have a family as then you will find the boot space & back seats are full of children & their stuff!!

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iso2000 [91 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

Surely a disadvantage of putting a bike inside a car is that in a road accident there is a chance that the bike is going to come hurtling towards you, chainset first. 

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Hipshot [61 posts] 1 year ago
1 like
wildoo wrote:
Hipshot wrote:

Just take the wheels off stick it in the boot. Even small cars with tailgates usually have room, if not drop the seatpost or stick it on the back seats on a tarpaulin.  Safe, clean, secure (alarmed)  and free of charge.

I don't see the point of racks. All the fannying around fitting the rack, then fitting the bike, then locking the bike to the rack and the constant worrying when it's out of sight, then refitting the bike locking it again, unlocking it when you get home, removing the bike and taking the rack off the car and finding somewhere one to store it.  All yours for £80-£500

 

Thats fine if you do not have a family as then you will find the boot space & back seats are full of children & their stuff!!

 

You're right of course, I meant to add the caveat that racks are great  if you have a full car or more than two bikes. Otherwise they aren't worth the bother (I have an expensive roof rack btw). 

As for the danger of  a chainset  (in the boot as opposed to on a rack behind your back window) injuring you in an accident, if you are  that risk averse may I suggest cycling is not for you.  

 

 

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BikeBud [261 posts] 1 year ago
9 likes
iso2000 wrote:

Surely a disadvantage of putting a bike inside a car is that in a road accident there is a chance that the bike is going to come hurtling towards you, chainset first. 

Likely it would have to be a significant impact for that to happen, and a bike would usually be large enough to be stopped by the front seats.  

A friend of mine once crashed his brother's car.  As the car went through the hedge sideways he was hit on the head by a biscuit tin full of first aid items - a delightful irony!  

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Hipshot [61 posts] 1 year ago
3 likes
BikeBud wrote:
iso2000 wrote:

Surely a disadvantage of putting a bike inside a car is that in a road accident there is a chance that the bike is going to come hurtling towards you, chainset first. 

Likely it would have to be a significant impact for that to happen, and a bike would usually be large enough to be stopped by the front seats.  

A friend of mine once crashed his brother's car.  As the car went through the hedge sideways he was hit on the head by a biscuit tin full of first aid items - a delightful irony!  

 

That's proper irony! The only be that could surpass that is getting concussed by a flying helmet.  1 

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wycombewheeler [1340 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes
iso2000 wrote:

Surely a disadvantage of putting a bike inside a car is that in a road accident there is a chance that the bike is going to come hurtling towards you, chainset first. 

eh?  either my bike is in the boot with the back seats up, or it can only come towards me front wheel first. And it would have to come through the seat to hit me in either case.

I have roof bars and 4 cycle carriers but only use them if I am taking more than 2 people + bikes anywahere

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PaulBox [681 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

External carriers are much more useful for mtb trips when the bike ends up caked in all kinds of crap. Would always keep my bikes inside the car if possible, less likely to get damaged or stolen if you need to stop somewhere.

There was a video going around a few years ago where a guy was in a petrol station (I think), bike was locked on the roof carrier and a kid just ran up to it, grabbed the bars & saddle and pulled it free. The lightweight aluminium of the carriers has absolutely no strength.

My first carrier was a rear mounted one (not tow bar), it was a massive pain in the arse to fit, got loose, rubbed paintwork and stopped you accessing the boot.

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mbrads72 [227 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes
PaulBox wrote:

External carriers are much more useful for mtb trips when the bike ends up caked in all kinds of crap.

With the added benefit of a free 'jetwash' if it rains during your drive home!

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LastBoyScout [455 posts] 7 months ago
1 like

There are times when I very much miss my Escort hatchback/Focus estate - boots were cavernous enough to swallow 2 mountain bikes, wheels and saddles off, without having to put the seats down, although it helped if you took the lowest pedal off.

Problem with most cars these days is there's so much trim rubbish in the boot that you lose the essential width required to get the handlebars in.

In these days of kids, I can get 1 bike in a bike bag in vertically with the middle part of the rear seat folded down, so it slides between the car seats. Any more than that and they have to go on the roof.

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Moist von Lipwig [136 posts] 7 months ago
6 likes
LastBoyScout wrote:

In these days of kids, I can get 1 bike in a bike bag in vertically with the middle part of the rear seat folded down, so it slides between the car seats. Any more than that and they have to go on the roof.

Out of interest, what are you currently using to attach the kids to the roof? And where can I get one?

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Scottish Scrutineer [25 posts] 7 months ago
0 likes

VW Caravelle (Multivan), two bikes (ours) across behind the front seat with the front wheels off and held with fork clamps in the floor tracking, 2-3 bikes on the carrier on the rear tailgate, 5 people and lots of room for luggage smiley

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alansmurphy [1851 posts] 7 months ago
5 likes
Moist von Lipwig wrote:
LastBoyScout wrote:

In these days of kids, I can get 1 bike in a bike bag in vertically with the middle part of the rear seat folded down, so it slides between the car seats. Any more than that and they have to go on the roof.

Out of interest, what are you currently using to attach the kids to the roof? And where can I get one?

 

I'm not sure this is the place for the birds and the bees chat...

 

#alwayswearahelmet 

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BehindTheBikesheds [2154 posts] 7 months ago
4 likes
iso2000 wrote:

Surely a disadvantage of putting a bike inside a car is that in a road accident there is a chance that the bike is going to come hurtling towards you, chainset first. 

Having carried bikes around in cars for 25+years on a very regular basis and up and down motorways I'd be interested to see the data on that occurence?

Seriously if it's that kind of force to project the chainset at you as opposed to say a tyre or any other given part IF it did indeed get past the headrest then I'd suggest that the very minute potential of that occuring is the least of your problems.

Estate car for me, I've had two in the boot with self catering kit and 2+2 and could have got two kids bikes in if need be.

The article stating that a 'con' of using an estate is that you're having to drive around in a "box", aren't all cars boxes, my Passat Estate is the same/similar length and not as wide than a lot of the latest 'mid' sized stuff and a lot less width than a decent sized MPV like a Nissan Qashqai.

A new Nissan Leaf 'compact' is 4480mm/1790mm l/w, 2001 B5.5 Passat Est is 4681mm/1740mm, so the "box" label for an estate is simply BS.

As for getting cars dirty, ffs, they are tools not adornments to be put on show, given the nature of the rest of your kit if doing 'dirty' cycling then you're going to have dirty kit and all the rest of the bits inside the motor anyway. Stiff bristled brush and a dustpan and a vacuum out now again keeps things in check, hardly a bane.

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Grahamd [964 posts] 7 months ago
0 likes
iso2000 wrote:

Surely a disadvantage of putting a bike inside a car is that in a road accident there is a chance that the bike is going to come hurtling towards you, chainset first. 

Like many cars, I have anchor points in my boot, I use the same straps to secure my bike that came with my old bike rack. Nothing is guaranteed, but feel these provide adequate protection. 

 

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Beecho [405 posts] 7 months ago
1 like

We comfortably get both of our road bikes, in Decathlon’s £50 bike bags, on the backseat of the Clio (seats up), leaving the boot free for bags. Or perhaps a small child or two.

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don simon [2439 posts] 7 months ago
1 like
iso2000 wrote:

Surely a disadvantage of putting a bike inside a car is that in a road accident there is a chance that the bike is going to come hurtling towards you, chainset first. 

That's the weekend sorted. I'm going to invent the ratchet strap on Saturday, the rope/cord on Saturday evening and the bungee on Sunday.

This time next year, Rodders!

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SteppenHerring [378 posts] 7 months ago
3 likes

The late, great Beryl Burton used to ride out to 12 hour TTs and ride home. Because she was nails.

 

Must suggest that to Alice next time I see her

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RMurphy195 [143 posts] 7 months ago
0 likes

If you already have a towbar, look at the Witter racks, they are very good value for money. If you have the "British-style" 2-bolt fixing for the towball, so much the better - yo9unhave an extra plate behindn the ball, the Witter rack just drops into this, a strap across to the top of the hatch or boot lid andn you are away.

BUT don't try hooking up your caravan while the bikes are on the rack - you'll have to reduce the noseweight of your caravan if you do (bad for stability), and you risk trapping the bike between the caravan and car bodies when turning (The same applies if using a boot rack of course).  Not good!

BIKES IN BOOT - the advice given in the article is all well and good - if you don't have mudguards. If you do, then removing the back wheel simply doesn't help! I put my tourer in the hatchback with the rear seat folded - then strap the bike to the side (upside-down, anmd pulled tight agains thick padding) with straps going to the front and rear to stop fore-and-aft movement and keep it all stable. The lugs that the folding seat catches hold on to are useful for this. I've travelled across France with 3 occupants and luggage, and my tourer, in a Golf 4 hatchback this way, and came back with the obligatory duty-free plonk!

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Nick T [1142 posts] 7 months ago
0 likes

A shame all these smart Alec’s dont realise they’re having a go at a year old post

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don simon [2439 posts] 7 months ago
3 likes
Nick T wrote:

A shame all these smart Alec’s dont realise they’re having a go at a year old post

I know, no one, I mean no one carries bikes on their car anymore rendering the whole article pointless.

I don't know why I bother sometimes...

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BehindTheBikesheds [2154 posts] 7 months ago
0 likes
RMurphy195 wrote:

If you already have a towbar, look at the Witter racks, they are very good value for money. If you have the "British-style" 2-bolt fixing for the towball, so much the better - yo9unhave an extra plate behindn the ball, the Witter rack just drops into this, a strap across to the top of the hatch or boot lid andn you are away.

BUT don't try hooking up your caravan while the bikes are on the rack - you'll have to reduce the noseweight of your caravan if you do (bad for stability), and you risk trapping the bike between the caravan and car bodies when turning (The same applies if using a boot rack of course).  Not good!

BIKES IN BOOT - the advice given in the article is all well and good - if you don't have mudguards. If you do, then removing the back wheel simply doesn't help! I put my tourer in the hatchback with the rear seat folded - then strap the bike to the side (upside-down, anmd pulled tight agains thick padding) with straps going to the front and rear to stop fore-and-aft movement and keep it all stable. The lugs that the folding seat catches hold on to are useful for this. I've travelled across France with 3 occupants and luggage, and my tourer, in a Golf 4 hatchback this way, and came back with the obligatory duty-free plonk!

you need to learn which way to place a bike inside a car the best way around with regards to mudguards, I've never had problems with that when one figures the simple logistics to it.

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ChrisB200SX [799 posts] 7 months ago
0 likes
Beecho wrote:

We comfortably get both of our road bikes, in Decathlon’s £50 bike bags, on the backseat of the Clio (seats up), leaving the boot free for bags. Or perhaps a small child or two.

You could probably get three in the boot if you dismember them?

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TheSmallRing [14 posts] 4 months ago
0 likes

I was tempted to get a Saris Bones, but then I read all the warnings about how it obscures the rear lights and the number plate, and how the police can stop and fine you. Not worth the hassle.

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MalOSB [8 posts] 4 months ago
0 likes

I have found with all the racks, boot and roof that they will damage the paintwork on the frame where they are held. Thule bike carriers have lefts marks on all the bikes I have carried around the area the arm holds the frame at the bottom bracket, sure not an area that is seen much but still sucks. 

And even multiple bikes in a boot/estate can damage each other with relative ease on long journeys. My friends new MTB coming of marked even with a groundsheet between the bikes.

Sad Panda

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muppetkeeper [36 posts] 4 months ago
0 likes

Does anyone have an SUV or similar in which you can stack two road bikes vertically (front wheel off)?

My Vito van is on its last legs, and only does 25mpg, so need to look at a new transport option.

Preferably less than £30k new..

Thanks

 

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BehindTheBikesheds [2154 posts] 4 months ago
0 likes
MalOSB wrote:

I have found with all the racks, boot and roof that they will damage the paintwork on the frame where they are held. Thule bike carriers have lefts marks on all the bikes I have carried around the area the arm holds the frame at the bottom bracket, sure not an area that is seen much but still sucks. 

And even multiple bikes in a boot/estate can damage each other with relative ease on long journeys. My friends new MTB coming of marked even with a groundsheet between the bikes.

Sad Panda

I've not damaged a bike transporting them in the back of an estate in 25 years, even a simple blanket works easily enough to protect if you're too lazy to put bikes away from each other and/or anchor them in place.

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BehindTheBikesheds [2154 posts] 4 months ago
0 likes
MalOSB wrote:

I have found with all the racks, boot and roof that they will damage the paintwork on the frame where they are held. Thule bike carriers have lefts marks on all the bikes I have carried around the area the arm holds the frame at the bottom bracket, sure not an area that is seen much but still sucks. 

And even multiple bikes in a boot/estate can damage each other with relative ease on long journeys. My friends new MTB coming of marked even with a groundsheet between the bikes.

Sad Panda

I've not damaged a bike transporting them in the back of an estate in 25 years, even a simple blanket works easily enough to protect if you're too lazy to put bikes away from each other and/or anchor them in place.

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paulrattew [272 posts] 4 months ago
0 likes
TheSmallRing wrote:

I was tempted to get a Saris Bones, but then I read all the warnings about how it obscures the rear lights and the number plate, and how the police can stop and fine you. Not worth the hassle.

 

I picked up a saris gran fondo rack of ebay - only carries 2 bikes but leaves lights and number place completely clear. Easy to put on and take off. Holds bikes securely

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