How to Safely Transport Bikes on a Car:
At a Glance
Here are the main ways to transport bikes safely on a car. This article will break them down in greater depth.
- Hitch-Mount Racks
- Roof-Mounted Bike Racks
- One for the Pickup Drivers
- For the Trunks and Hatchbacks
- Going Rackless
When people start getting serious about cycling, the question of how to safely transport bikes on a car inevitably comes up.
Between being a cyclist for more than 20 years and working in a bike shop, you can bet that I’ve seen every method of lugging bikes around in and on cars. Let me tell you, some of them can be truly terrifying — especially the homemade contraptions made out of two-by-fours, carpet and PVC pipe.
So what’s actually the best way to safely transport bikes on cars and trucks? Let’s break them down. [For Context: I race occasionally, and the 6/12-hour formats I prefer often let riders set up a pit area. I like racks that are helpful for this option. I use my rack for cross-country mountain bikes and road/gravel bikes.]
How to Safely Transport Bikes on a Car
Hitch-Mount Bike Racks
If you have a receiver hitch, these racks slide into it nicely. There is a huge spectrum of pricing and features. I can say for certain that the Kuat NV is excellent. I’ve used one for more than 5 years.
I like its integrated cable for locking bikes to the rack; they’re not enough to stop a determined thief, but it makes them more likely to move to an easier target. The Kuat’s integrated bike stand is also very useful for repairs and quick tune-ups (especially at races). Another nice feature — the NV leans forward to get out of the way if you want to open your rear door/tailgate.
It’s a big, substantial rack, though. It can be a handful for smaller people to mount and remove from a vehicle.
People new to hitch mounts might also find some of the swaying a bit unnerving when they’re driving with a bike. The tolerances in a hitch just can’t be tight enough to remove all the sway. That’s just all there is to it. There’s also another issue: Hitch-mounted racks also cut visibility from your vehicle’s backup camera.
But here’s a good sign that hitch-mounted carriers are The Way: Go to your local bike shop. Look at the employees’ cars. You’ll notice that most of them opt for hitch-mounted.
If the Kuat NV is a bit bulky for you, the 1UP line of racks is extremely popular among people who know their stuff.
Roof-Mounted Bike Racks
Roof-mounted racks are not something I ever recommend when people ask me how to safely transport a bicycle on a car. They have absolutely zero redeeming qualities. They’re so bad that I’m going to have to give you a bulleted list.
- Roof-mounted racks are tough for shorter people. I’m 6’2, so this doesn’t affect me. But I’m a Man of the (Short) People, too. With vehicles seemingly getting bigger all the time, this problem isn’t likely to get any better.
- These racks are also a prescription for destroying bikes. You would not believe how many times I’ve had someone come in with a crumpled head tube and a sob story that starts with “I was just riding along – can you warranty this defective frame?” As if I wouldn’t notice the paint streaks and woodchips that are the telltale sign of a cyclist/driver pulling into their garage after completely forgetting they had a bike on their car’s roof.
- The drag from roof-mounted bike racks will put your gas mileage in the shitter. Your bike will also get coated in squashed bugs. There are actually companies that make shields for this, which reeks of treating the symptoms instead of the disease.
I had one of these on my old Jeep, and I’m still thankful I never destroyed any bikes after a day at the races.
One for the Pickup Drivers
Drive a pickup? You can snag a pad that lets you haul your bike in the bed with the front wheel dangling over the tailgate. The pad prevents the bike and the truck from getting all scratched up.
I suppose this is an OK option. You definitely won’t want to linger over your post-ride pizza, of course.
It’s a relatively low-cost option, and it does take advantage of your vehicle’s attributes.
For the Trunks and Hatchbacks
This last option is for the cheapskate, I suppose. Don’t get mad at me — this describes me during my college and post-college years. I ran around with my bike(s) on my Chevy Celebrity station wagon.
I was not able to drive more than 427 feet without nervously looking in my rearview mirror to make sure that the straps hadn’t loosened and dumped my mighty Pro-Flex 855 onto the pavement to get squished by a Peterbilt.
I haven’t used one of these for years. The rack-mount option is just too good, so I’m not inclined to jack around with this. If you’re hauling cheap bikes, fine. But if your bike is at least as much as a good down payment on your vehicle, opt for something better. Hmmm, I better check my math – my Pro-Flex probably was nearly as much as my Chevy Celebrity!
A Final Way to Safely Transport a Bike on a Car
These days, I drive a weird Tesla-powered Toyota RAV4. It’s perfect for hitting all the local trails.
That’s because even my monstrously huge 29er hardtail fits right in the back. I just need to fold the seats down, and it’s a perfect fit. For races, I can slide a cooler, a repair stand, and all my other gear into it with room to spare.
It’s super-secure, doesn’t screw up your gas mileage and you’ll never ram your bike into the wall above your garage.
This doesn’t work if you ride with other people or your ride is part of a family road trip, of course. Unless, I suppose, you’re driving a Sport-Utility Hearse the size of an Imperial Star Destroyer.
Final Thoughts on Hauling Bikes
When it comes to how to safely transport bikes on a car, it’s obvious where I stand: Hitch mount or stuff it into a CUV or SUV.
I realize that this won’t work for everyone. But I’m still going to stand firm on my anti-roof rack stance. I’d go for the trunk/hitch mount any day. They just don’t have near the potential to turn a moment of inattention into a destroyed bike.
As you’ve noticed, I’ve barely mentioned brands here. There are too many out there to adequately cover, aside from those I’ve already mentioned. Yakima and Thule also have good reputations and are widely available. Just avoid the DIY variety made out of PVC pipe and duct tape, and the odds will be ever in your favor.