Sooner or later, most cyclists want to ride their bike someplace other than home. A change of scenery can revive the biking mojo when motivation flags. How will you transport your bike when riding in a different location?
One of the easiest ways to carry a bike to a distant place is to put it in a car and drive there. That’s easily said, but fitting a bike into a car is not always straightforward.
This article explores the best ways to get a bike into a car, whatever type of bike you have and whatever type of car.
Does A Bicycle Fit Inside All Types Of Cars?
Most full-sized bicycles will fit into almost any car, including some you might think impossible. Naturally, the smaller the car and its trunk space, the more you’ll have to dismantle the bike.
Important: loose bike parts may become dangerous projectiles in the event of an accident. Use straps to tie components down where appropriate.
Below are some possibilities with various sizes of cars.
A sedan (saloon in the UK) is often a big car, but getting a bike into one can be surprisingly difficult depending on the model.
The three-box design of a sedan separates the trunk area from the passenger area, potentially making that whole space harder to squeeze a bike into.
If the rear seats fold, you should be able to remove the front wheel of your bike, turn the handlebar towards the rear and slide the bike in under the parcel shelf.
You can always remove the rear wheel if you need to make the bike more compact, though most cyclists try to avoid this because it’s more of a faff and leaves the chain flailing around. (A chain keeper solves the latter problem.)
In a sedan with non-foldable seats, you’d have to take both wheels off and potentially sit the bike up on the back seats or squeeze it into the trunk. Removing the seat post and saddle may also help.
Because hatchbacks have a two-box design, whereby the back of the car opens up into the passenger space, they’re ideal for carrying bikes. You might even get two into one if you dismantle them enough.
Typically with a hatchback, you’d remove the front wheel and lay it rear wheel first into the car with the chainset facing up. You may have to position the handlebar at a right angle. Put the removed wheel somewhere where it won’t clatter with the bike.
Placing a blanket over the bike enables you to put the wheel on top of it and prevents the two from knocking together as you drive.
SUVs and Vans
With SUVs and vans, you’ll normally be able to fit bikes in whole without removing any wheel. Transporting several bikes may be different. You can fit four to six bikes in the back of an SUV or minivan, model dependent.
It’s also possible to install interior bike racks in larger vehicles if you anticipate carrying multiple bikes often.
Many things carried in the back of a truck don’t need securing, but a bike is likely to slide about and get damaged. Here are some of the options:
- Tailgate pads – let you sling a bike over the tailgate so that the front wheel hangs outside it.
- Heavy-duty moving blanket – placed over the tailgate so the bike hangs over it as per tailgate pads.
- Side clamps – secures one bike to each side of the truck.
- Bike racks – fixed to the truck bed.
- Bungee cords – stand multiple bikes up together, arranged in alternate positions, and tie them with cords.
Preparation: Before You Put Your Bike Inside – What You Need To Think About
There are a few things you need to think about before loading a vehicle up with your bike(s). The first step is to prepare the car.
Use A Blanket Or Seat Protector In The Car
You may want to put a blanket or seat protector down in the car to prevent any grease or dirt from the bike getting onto the upholstery.
How To Remove The Front Wheel From Your Bike
You’re likely to have to remove the front wheel before fitting a bike into most cars. How do you do that?
Most modern road and mountain bikes have quick-release (QR) wheels. Here’s how you remove them:
1. Creating Clearance With Rim Brakes
Flip the release lever on your rim brakes if you have them. This allows enough clearance for the wheel to come out.
You can let some pressure out of a tire (e.g., on mountain bikes) if releasing the brakes does not allow enough clearance to take the wheel out.
2. Flip The Quick Release Lever
Next, flip over the quick release lever on the front wheel. This may take a little force (never align this lever with the fork in case you overtighten it.)
Loosen the bolt on the opposing side just enough to allow the wheel to come out of the fork dropouts.
A wheel without quick-release skewers can be removed using a couple of adjustable wrenches. Hold one nut in place and loosen the opposing nut to remove the wheel. Keep wheel nuts and washers in a safe place until you replace the wheel.
3. Remove The Wheel
The wheel should pull away from the forks easily. If it doesn’t, you haven’t loosened the quick release nut enough. Place the wheel to one side, and if you have nowhere to rest your one-wheeled bike, put it straight in the car (see below).
Video: Removing A Wheel With Disc Brakes
What About The Rear Wheel?
Removing the rear wheel is more of the same, except you have to deal with the derailleur. You may not need to do it, but it’s nothing to worry about.
Before doing anything, change gears so the chain is on the smallest sprocket at the back. This makes the chain easier to disengage from the cassette.
Loosen the quick release a little and remove the wheel and cassette without snagging the chain. Use a chain keeper to stop the chain from dangling when travelling (optional).
When you replace the rear wheel, reengage the derailleur by positioning the top of the chain over the smallest sprocket on the cassette while guiding the QR axle into the dropouts.
Putting The Bike In A Car
Once you have a wheel off the bike, it’s easiest to put it straight into the car rather than rest it somewhere. (That’s not a problem if you have a bike stand.)
Although not vital, it’s sometimes useful to put the bike rear wheel first into the car because the front allows more scope for creating space. You can turn the handlebars to make any bike flatter or more compact.
Again, the drivetrain always faces upwards if you’re laying the bike flat. That’s to protect it against damage and prevent any oil or grease from touching surfaces.
Arrange the pedals so they’re not catching on anything, allowing the bike to lay or stand as naturally as possible.
Alternatives Options: Using Racks When Your Bike Will Not Fit Inside Your Car
In some situations, you may be unable to fit your bike or bikes inside the car. Maybe you’re off on a family vacation and you need all the seating space for passengers. Or perhaps you just want to keep the car interior pristine.
An exterior rack or mount is the way to carry your bike(s) outside of the car. What are your options?
Roof racks are what you might have seen in professional cycling on TV. They’re used by teams and neutral service cars to carry spare bikes on top of a vehicle.
Bikes can either be carried whole on the roof or minus the front wheel, depending on the type of rack. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this method?
- Safe – roof-mounted bike mounts are considered very secure.
- Access – they do not obstruct access to the trunk.
- Versatile – roof racks can carry a variety of bikes and gear.
- Lifting – you have to lift bikes up onto the roof and off it.
- Height – forgetting bikes on the roof can have disastrous consequences.
Hitch Mount Racks
Hitch or tow ball racks can usually secure up to five bikes at the rear of the car. They generally come in two types: platform or cradle.
Platform hitch mounts prevent bikes from clattering against each other as they stand in their own space. A cradle-type hitch mount holds all bikes together and tends to be cheaper.
Before investing in this type of rack, you should calculate the tongue weight of the load, particularly if you intend carrying multiple bikes. The bike(s) and the rack combined should not exceed 10% of the Gross Towing Capacity (GTWR).
- Easy installation – better models are easy to fit and remove.
- Security – many models include locks.
- Sturdy – hold bikes firmly in place.
- Finish – bike paintwork can be blemished with cradle-style racks.
- Obstruct – some rear racks obstruct the trunk space.
- Expensive – better platform-style racks are pricey (up to $500+).
Trunk Mount Racks
While they lack some of the features of other racks, trunk mount racks are inexpensive and ideal for carrying one or two bikes, sometimes three.
This type of rack uses straps to secure its arms and cradles—normally metal—to the car. The rack rests against the car using rubber or foam pads to protect paintwork.
- Lightweight – easy to remove and store.
- Versatile – works on multiple vehicles.
- Quick – fast to install with a little practice.
- Obstruction – blocks trunk access.
- Capacity – usually holds 3 bikes max.
- User error – care must be taken to strap bikes securely.
Video: Installing A Bicycle Rack
Carrying your bike to another riding destination can be a daunting prospect.
Putting it inside the car gives you peace of mind, but there are many good products out there that will keep multiple bikes secure on the outside of the vehicle.
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