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Roof racks, boot racks, estate cars and more

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, 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 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 — £99.95

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 — £103.99

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 Whispbar WBT31 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: Whispbar WBT31 — £494.95

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 (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 WBT31 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 Whispbar product is a good investment, and the online price is almost always below £500, a 10% discount on RRP.

Read our full review of the Whispbar WBT31.

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51 comments

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LastBoyScout [601 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

There are days when I really miss my Ford Escort hatchback and Focus estate - I could get 2 bikes in the boot of both (wheels and saddle off, ideally also take the lower pedal off) without putting the seats down and they'd be hidden under the parcel shelf.

I haven't used a rear rack in years - I don't really trust them, as the boot hinges aren't designed to take the weight, they wobble around like mad, you can't get into the boot with them on and they are vulnerable to theft and some muppet driving into them. They also run the risk of being wider than the car and you may need lighting board with them.

If I have to transport bikes by car, it's either inside the car in various orientations, or on top of the car on bike carriers. I can't easily get a tow bar fitted to the car I'd want it on, as it's a company car.

You do need to be careful about transporting carbon bikes inside a car when the weather is as hot as it is now - I'm lead to believe it doesn't do the frame any good.

 

Another system you missed is the Saris Gran Fondo rack that holds bikes vertically behind the car by the front wheel - someone in the works car park has one, but they look dodgy to me, as they stick out a long way behind the car.

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paulrattew [302 posts] 2 years ago
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LastBoyScout wrote:

There are days when I really miss my Ford Escort hatchback and Focus estate - I could get 2 bikes in the boot of both (wheels and saddle off, ideally also take the lower pedal off) without putting the seats down and they'd be hidden under the parcel shelf.

I haven't used a rear rack in years - I don't really trust them, as the boot hinges aren't designed to take the weight, they wobble around like mad, you can't get into the boot with them on and they are vulnerable to theft and some muppet driving into them. They also run the risk of being wider than the car and you may need lighting board with them.

If I have to transport bikes by car, it's either inside the car in various orientations, or on top of the car on bike carriers. I can't easily get a tow bar fitted to the car I'd want it on, as it's a company car.

You do need to be careful about transporting carbon bikes inside a car when the weather is as hot as it is now - I'm lead to believe it doesn't do the frame any good.

 

Another system you missed is the Saris Gran Fondo rack that holds bikes vertically behind the car by the front wheel - someone in the works car park has one, but they look dodgy to me, as they stick out a long way behind the car.

 

I've got a Saris Gran Fondo and it's been perfect for me. I use it across a few different cars with very different rear ends. It does stick out a bit, but you get used to it quickly, like you do if using any rear mounted rack. It doesn't stick out so far that I can't comfortably reverse into most spaces in my wife's old fiat. 

Because it supports the bike primarily by cupping the front wheel, it's perfect for carbon frames or bikes with unusually shaped frames (that many racks struggle to hold safely). Also works fine with 26" MTBs, 29ers, cyclocross bikes and road bikes (the part that cups the wheel can take quite wide tyres and can be adjusted to a couple of different sizing positions. 

Disadvantage is that it only takes two bikes and is, if paying full price, stupidly expensive. I picked mine up at 60% off, so not so bad

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Morat [340 posts] 2 years ago
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Tow bar - all day long. Once you've had a car with a tow bar you'll never go back.

They're not just for shed draggers! and if you're really pro you can have one of these http://www.pendle-bike.co.uk/shopping/six-bike-trailer.php

for the price of a set of wheels*  1

 

or at the other end of the scale, one of these

https://www.amazon.co.uk/d/Automotive/Streetwize-SWTT106-Bicycle-Carrier...

 

I have one, it works great. Just get some pipe lagging and a numberplate/light board. Total cost £46 for something you can actually chuck in the boot when you're not using it.

 

*if you like expensive wheels

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Colin Peyresourde [1840 posts] 2 years ago
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Any tips for locking up your bike? And devices to use. I have a Saris Bones. Never used a lock, but never had to leave the bike/car unattended, so keen to know what people use.

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DrG82 [246 posts] 2 years ago
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cyclesteffer wrote:

A Honda Civic can get a road bike or Cyclocross in the back, both wheels still on, and still one seat up! They are a flippin Tardis!

 

Which generation of Civic do you have/bike frame size? I have a 8th gen (the last but one most recent) and I have to take a wheel off to get my M/L Giant in the back seat space.

I do however agree with you that the rear seat design is great, although I've noticed you pay for it in rear suspension quality (it's nowhere near as comfortable or stable in corners as my old Focus).

One problem with the Civic, and which should probably be mentioned in the review about boot mounted racks, is that the boot lid is all plastic and glass so you can't use a standard bike rack.

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smhopkins [13 posts] 2 years ago
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I've met someone for a ride round  Preston Guild Wheel who pulled 2 road bikes out of the back of a Fiat 500, and I don't mean the newer version on steroids. I was quite surprised how he got them in, though the only secret was removing the wheels I suspect.

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rowes [109 posts] 2 years ago
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Have a T5 Kombi (other dual purpose vehicles are available). 2 adults, 4 kids (3-14), 6 bikes, suitcases, coolbox, bodyboards and more. No problems and as the bikes aren't on top there's no worrying about rule 25! Can see myself ever going back to a normal car.

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SoBinary [64 posts] 2 years ago
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http://www.wiggle.co.uk/saris-gran-fondo-2-bike-rack/

Does not obscure rear window, rear lights, number plate.

Bikes can lift up with hatch back.

Easy on / off.

Fits range of bikes.

 

 

 

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gmrza [36 posts] 2 years ago
1 like

You forgot to mention putting them on the back seat.  I once did a trip from Johannesburg to Cape Town and back with two road bikes on the back seat of an Audi A4.  It was purely a matter of taking the wheels off.  It's just a good idea to have some thick cardboard under the chainrings.  1  The three wheelsets we had comfortably fitted into the rear footwells and all our other luggage went into the boot.

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Beecho [431 posts] 2 years ago
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gmrza wrote:

You forgot to mention putting them on the back seat.  I once did a trip from Johannesburg to Cape Town and back with two road bikes on the back seat of an Audi A4.  It was purely a matter of taking the wheels off.  It's just a good idea to have some thick cardboard under the chainrings.  1  The three wheelsets we had comfortably fitted into the rear footwells and all our other luggage went into the boot.

couldn't agree more. We have two of Decathlon's excellent bike bags and both of them hold the bikes on the back seat of our Clio, seat still up. Suitcases etc in the boot, kids on the roof. (We don't have any kids).

have recently bought a couple of wheel bags, just to make packing the bigger bags a little simpler, but they're not needed. 

The thought of driving down the motorway with pride and joys strapped to the outside terrifies me.

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Trekpro [144 posts] 2 years ago
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Unicycle.  Done.

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CraigBroadbent [5 posts] 1 year ago
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Most big name manufacturers do not recommend clamping carbon bike frames, see their comments.

https://auxtail.com/about/auto-draft-2/

Only exterior recommended way from Cannondale is tyre grip type.

 

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BarryBianchi [418 posts] 1 year ago
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CraigBroadbent wrote:

Most big name manufacturers do not recommend clamping carbon bike frames, see their comments.

That's their way of dealing with ficktards - never underestimate the stupidity of people in large numbers.  When I worked in a bike shop, we have a carbon frame back for warranty.  The manufacturer just supplied a new frame and told us to get rid of the old one.  So, obviously, at lunch we took it outside and tickled it with a ball pein hammer.  A lot.  We eventually managed to fracture a seat stay but there was nothing doing at all with the major tubes, and we were really giving it beans. In the end we cut it up with a reciprocating saw - even that was hard work.  To damage, structurally, a frame with a bike rack you'd have to being doing something monumentally stupid.

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kil0ran [1511 posts] 3 days ago
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The things they don't tell you about towbar racks

1. Bike type matters - a three bike rack won't necessarily carry *your* three bikes

2. Rider height matters. Carrying two 56cm bikes set up for similar height riders will usually require removal of saddles or turning bars 90 degrees, or dropping saddle height

3. You're almost guaranteed to chip your bike's paintwork, particularly if you're carrying more than one. Pedals, QRs, mounting hardware the usual culprits

4. If they are wider than your car bear in mind when driving out of spaces you need to make a wide radius turn, because you can drag a wheel against an obstruction

5. If you keep the rack on without carrying bikes, place a visual indicator to remind you when reversing

6. If it has a tilt/slide action double and triple check it's firmly locked. Seeing your prides and joys sliding backwards with a loud thump isn't a pleasurable experience.

7. Make sure the rack locks to the car, the crossbar clamps lock to the bikes, and you have the ability to lock the bikes both together and to the rack using a decent D-lock.

8. Remove your bike computer before parking, otherwise some scrote will do it for you. Ditto empty your panniers

9. You might have been able to load the bikes before your ride, but can same be said to be true after you've emptied yourself on a century?

Above all - ease of loading/unloading makes or breaks a rack for me. If it's a pain you'll begin to hate it and wish there was a better solution. Ideally, everything should be adjustable but secure - wheel cradles should slide, crossbar clamps should rotate to any angle, ratchet straps should self-secure the excess strap length. And the whole thing should be so rigid that you can bounce the car with it without it budging.

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Persiflage [7 posts] 3 days ago
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I have only just started cycling and needed to be able to transport four bikes so I can get the little 'uns to somewhere safe to pedal around, so I bought a Thule towball carrier which can take three, and either of the two smaller bikes will go in the car with the seats still up. £175 well spent!

Avatar
Persiflage [7 posts] 3 days ago
0 likes

I have only just started cycling and needed to be able to transport four bikes so I can get the little 'uns to somewhere safe to pedal around, so I bought a Thule towball carrier which can take three, and either of the two smaller bikes will go in the car with the seats still up. £175 well spent!

Avatar
Persiflage [7 posts] 3 days ago
0 likes

I have only just started cycling and needed to be able to transport four bikes so I can get the little 'uns to somewhere safe to pedal around, so I bought a Thule towball carrier which can take three, and either of the two smaller bikes will go in the car with the seats still up. £175 well spent!

Avatar
Persiflage [7 posts] 3 days ago
0 likes

I have only just started cycling and needed to be able to transport four bikes so I can get the little 'uns to somewhere safe to pedal around, so I bought a Thule towball carrier which can take three, and either of the two smaller bikes will go in the car with the seats still up. £175 well spent!

Avatar
Persiflage [7 posts] 3 days ago
0 likes

I have only just started cycling and needed to be able to transport four bikes so I can get the little 'uns to somewhere safe to pedal around, so I bought a Thule towball carrier which can take three, and either of the two smaller bikes will go in the car with the seats still up. £175 well spent!

Avatar
Persiflage [7 posts] 3 days ago
0 likes

I have only just started cycling and needed to be able to transport four bikes so I can get the little 'uns to somewhere safe to pedal around, so I bought a Thule towball carrier which can take three, and either of the two smaller bikes will go in the car with the seats still up. £175 well spent!

Avatar
Persiflage [7 posts] 3 days ago
0 likes

I have only just started cycling and needed to be able to transport four bikes so I can get the little 'uns to somewhere safe to pedal around, so I bought a Thule towball carrier which can take three, and either of the two smaller bikes will go in the car with the seats still up. £175 well spent!

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