How to transport your bike by car

Roof rack, boot rack or inside the car - which is the best way to transport your bike?

Clock10:19, Friday 5th January 2024

Transporting a bike by car is something most of us will end up doing at one time or another. Entering an event or race or just simply looking for somewhere new to ride will have you packing your bike up and putting it in or on your car to get it to where you want to ride.

There are several ways you can do this but is one any better than the other? Manon Lloyd, Conor Dunne and James Lowsley-Williams look at the pros and cons of each different system to help you make the best choice for you.

Roof rack

The roof rack is a versatile solution that can be fitted to most vehicles and can be left in place when not in use. Most types of roof bars and racks will accommodate all bikes of all sizes, however some full suspension mountain bikes and e-bikes may struggle to fit into the down tube clamp.

One thing to bear in mind with a roof mounted system is the height clearance it allows. That means your vehicle will become too tall for some car parks or other areas with height restrictions. Be mindful of this when travelling – you definitely don't want to crash your bike into a barrier.

If you are looking to carry multiple bikes at once the roof rack is a great option. Depending on the system you choose, you can fit up to four bikes to the roof leaving more space in the car for kit or carrying other passengers. It also means that you have access to the boot of the car. Although most bike racks have an integrated locking mechanism, the bikes should also be locked to a fixed point on the car for extra security.

As far as fuel economy is concerned, having your bike mounted on top of your car in direct air flow will result in greater fuel costs. If you're driving relatively infrequently or shorter distances this shouldn't be too big a deal, however if you're driving longer distances for a riding holiday it might be worth considering more fuel-efficient methods.

Boot rack

This is another externally mounted carrying solution, but instead of mounting the bikes on top of the vehicle they are instead mounted at the rear of the vehicle, laying sideways across the width of the car. A boot-mounted rack is a good solution if you only plan to use it periodically as it does restrict your access to the boot. Much like the roof rack you can carry multiple bikes on it, however getting more than one bike mounted without any chafing can be something of an art in itself.

A boot rack is relatively low cost compared to a lot of roof rack options out there and their associated fitting kit. With a boot rack, height restrictions are also considerably less of a worry in all but the tallest vehicles as only the saddle sits above the roof of the car.

Similarly to the roof rack, bike security needs to be a consideration as the bikes are in an easy-to-reach position for thieves. Using cable locks that can be shut in a door will deter an opportunist thief.

The final potential consideration for a boot-mounted rack is the weight limit. For some e-bikes, especially if you are carrying more than one, you might exceed the safe load limit of the rack so it's always worth knowing the total weight of the bikes you'll want to transport before purchasing a boot rack.

Suction-mounted racks

Suction racks are the most versatile external racks out there. They will mount to any smooth flat surface and are incredibly quick and easy to install. The advantage of suction racks over a traditional roof rack is that they can be removed and stored in the boot of the car when they aren’t in use.

This makes them a perfect choice if you often swap which car you are mounting your bike to. Another advantage is they are compact enough to be taken on holiday if you are hiring a car at the other end.

As far as drawbacks are concerned for suction-mounted racks, there are a few. Firstly, you will need to find somewhere to put your front wheel so if space is a premium in the car this might be an issue. Also, there is no locking mechanism built into the racks, so using a cable lock is essential at all times as the bike is in an easy-to-steal position.

Putting the bike inside the car

Although this is clearly more straightforward in a bigger car, it is possible to fit a road bike into almost any car of any size. If you're travelling solo, putting the bike inside the car can be a great solution as it keeps it safe and secure and doesn’t have any effect on fuel economy. It might be the case that either one or both of the wheels need to be removed in order for the bike to fit, so finding a good order to do things will be important.

If you do decide to carry your bike inside your car, using an old bedsheet or towel to lay over your drivetrain will help prevent getting any oil on your car or on any other items in the boot.

The only real drawback here, depending on how highly you value the interior of your vehicle, is the amount of kit you also need to carry to keep your bike reasonably clean. In the depths of winter, this might not be the nicest way of carrying your bike, especially if you like a cyclo-cross race or two.

Did we miss another way to transport your bike by car or do you have a preferred way to carry your bike? Let us know in the comments section below and make sure to head over to our buying advice section for more information to help you get exactly what you want.

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