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BUYER'S GUIDE

How to transport your bike by car - check out our simple guide to car bike racks and more

Roof racks, boot racks, estate cars and more
Updated June 10, 2020

While it’s great to roll out of your front door for a ride, loading up a car bike rack or some other way of carrying your bike by 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 — car racks — 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 bike car racks that carry your bike outside the car. 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, though folding down the seat might be considered cheating (CC BY 2.0 Rick McCharles:Flickr)

You don't have to use a car rack at all. 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, so if you go for an estate you just don't need a car rack for your bikes. With a load liner to protect the carpet you can even stack bikes vertically with the front wheels out and saddle lowered. A big estate will easily take half a dozen bikes like this.

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 FrontLoader is a very easy-to-use roof rack

The traditional bike car rack, a roof rack uses 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 the frame of the 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 car rack is really easy to use, mounting the bike 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 bike car rack, 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 — £126.00

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

Whispbar WBT31 3 bike tow bar carrier11.jpg

The Yakima JustClick tow ball rack can carry up to four bikes and the optional ramp makes loading heavy bikes easy

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: Yakima JustClick — £494.95

The Yakima JustClick 3-Bike Carrier (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 (four if you buy the adapter) options, and you can add accessories like the ramp shown to transport heavy bikes.

The headline feature of the Yakima JustClick is the 'Just Click' ease of mounting on and removal from the towball. You lift it into place and drop onto the towball folded up – it's impossible to open if it's not sat correctly on the towball, so storage and transport are easy, including the ability to wheel it short distances on the built-in trolley wheels or push into a corner. Lifting and carrying the WBT31 short distances is easy using the curved arm loop.

Not everyone wants or needs the ability to carry four bikes, and if you stick with just three your make and model options broaden considerably. But for three or four bikes, the quality and expandability of the Yakima JustClick  is a good investment, and the online price is almost always below £500, a 10% discount on RRP.

Read our full review of the Yakima JustClick.

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