Buying and fitting a cycle rack
Need your four wheels to transport two? Read our guide and make sure that you do it safely and affordably
Got a push-bike? If you live in a city, the best and quickest way to get out and into the country is to drive a short while and then cycle. So the next question is, how do you transport one in, or on, the other?
You can, of course, just stuff your bicycle in the boot. But that can be awkward, no good for the bike or, if your car is small, simply impossible.
A cycle rack is the answer. But with so many different types available, buying one that’s right is no easy task. Unless you get some expert advice of course. Here’s our guide to buying the right rack and fitting it safely.
Up top, or out back?
Racks either go on the car roof or on the back. If you pick the second of these choices, they attach to the car’s tailgate or boot, or to a tow bar (if you have one). Hanging bikes out back is best if you need to drive some distance because it causes less ‘drag’ on the car than if they are mounted on to the roof. It also means that the car drives more normally and – crucially – will use less fuel. The drawbacks are that the bikes will get dirty if the road is wet and, in winter, they will get plastered with road salt – which can play havoc with their brakes, bearings and gears.
Placing them out back also makes them easier to load and unload, particularly if you’re on the short side. But not every type of car takes a rear-mounted rack easily. They work best on estate cars, MPVs and off-roaders and they are OK on many hatchbacks, too. But if you’ve a saloon (a car with a boot), a coupe of an open-top sports car, you’ll struggle.
Roof-mounted racks are usually very secure, will carry up to four bikes, and keep your precious two-wheeler away from grime thrown up from the road. They are also handier because you can open the car’s tailgate or boot when the bikes are aboard. What’s more, with most you can deter thieves by securing the racks directly to the bikes, using a key-operated lock.
But they are more awkward to use, particularly if your car is tall-roofed. And they suffer wind drag if you’ve a distance to drive. You’ll find that fuel consumption increases a fair bit, too.
Finally, and most important, you need to watch overhead wherever you drive – barriers erected at car parks to exclude lorries and low-hanging tree branches are particular dangers.
Rear-mounted racks cost from £50; roof-mounted ones begin at twice that. A really good, sturdy model capable of hauling up to four bikes can easily top £300, though.
Fixing the rack
Rear-hanging racks are the quickest to fit and remove. Usually they rely on six or eight straps and hooks which need to be attached to the car’s rear and pulled tight. But before you get to that, you need to discover which racks are right for your car. To find out, contact your nearest main dealer, or else the customer services department for the make you own.
One drawback with a rear mounted rack is that you can’t open the boot or tailgate once the bike(s) are in place. To overcome this, get a rack that will mount on to a towing hook. These will swing clear, allowing you access to the back. These are fine if your car is already set up – otherwise, buying and fitting a towing rig will be expensive.
If the rack plus bikes obscures your car’s rear number plate and lights, you’ll need a lighting board (which duplicates the rear lights and number plates). And these don’t come cheap at a typical £320 – that’s three times what you might spend on a rack.
The way around this is to pick a rack that sits the bikes high enough to ‘clear’ the lights and number plate. But check first that such a rack will suit your car and bear in mind, too, that if the cycles sit above the car’s roofline, you’ll feel plenty of wind turbulence whenever you drive at above town speeds.
If you’ve decided on a roof rack, you’ll also need roof bars and cross bars, too. If you’ve a car with bars built-in or already fitted, you’re halfway there. There are two types of roof racks – those that clamp on to the cycle’s front forks once the front wheel is removed, and those that fix directly on to the cycle’s frame. We prefer the second, mainly because you don’t have to dismantle the bike first.
Whichever rack you choose, we’d advise against buying one second-hand or borrowing one from a friend. Why? Because you can’t tell that the rack is safe for your car. And the fitting instructions may have been lost, leaving you to guess how it gs.
And, whenever you drive with bikes aboard, remember that they are there. Sounds crazy, but it is amazing how easy it is to damage car and bikes by ignoring low height signs or by parking too close to another car.