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A bike with a step-through frame has traditionally been interpreted as a woman’s bike, mainly because it’s easier to mount whilst wearing a dress or skirt.
Step-through bikes may appeal to men and women alike. They’re quick and easy to mount, but they’re less convenient when it comes to carrying them on a bike rack.
The vast majority of “hanging-style” bike racks are fundamentally incompatible with step-through bikes. And that accounts for a large proportion of bike racks.
This issue also applies to many kids’ bikes, BMX bikes, and some MTBs.
First Up, Can Women’s Bikes Go On Racks?
The short answer to this is yes, women’s bikes can be mounted onto a bike rack.
Some bike racks, like those that secure bikes by their wheels rather than the frame, accept almost any bike without problems.
Hanging-style bike racks are designed to hold bikes by their horizontal top tubes, which don’t exist on step-through women’s bikes. But this is not an unsolvable problem.
Bike racks that create this hurdle include nearly all trunk-mounted racks and hanging-style hitch racks. Bike racks with ratcheting frame hooks may also struggle.
Video: Women’s Vs Men’s Bikes
Ways To Safely Mount Ladies’ Bikes Onto Car Racks
Crossbar Adapters / Top Tube Adapters
The top tube or crossbar is the tube that travels horizontally between the seat post and head tube on a “men’s bike”, which also includes modern unisex bikes.
A classic bike example that doesn’t have this top tube is a women’s cruiser, which will potentially cause problems with many bike racks.
A simple solution to this problem is to buy a crossbar adapter. It may be annoying to have to pay extra before using a bike rack, but these adapters start at low prices.
How To Mount
1. Safety Check
Check that the handlebar stem and seatpost are both secure, as they will support the weight of the bike and keep it on the rack.
2. Adjust Adapter Length
Adjust the length of the adapter (usually spring-loaded or ratcheting) and wrap the hooks or clamps around the seat post and handlebar stem.
3. Lock Into Position
Lock the crossbar adapter in position using whatever mechanism the design provides. This may be a cotter pin or latch, for instance.
4. Ready To Use
The bike is now effectively a “male” bike in old-fashioned terms and ready to mount onto any bike rack.
Most crossbar adapters are ruggedly made and get the job done, but you might want to pay attention to the material used in the hooks or clamps if you have an expensive bike. Bare metal hooks are more likely to mark the finish.
Crossbar adapters tend to have a maximum weight capacity of around 33-35 lbs. This matches the max per-bike load of many bike racks, so it’s not too limiting.
Heavier bikes like some e-bikes and fat bikes would be better carried on a platform-style hitch rack. Many of these do not hold bikes by their frames and require no adapters.
Some hanging-style bike racks have adjustable cradles that better accommodate different bike types.
This extra versatility may be enough to avoid buying a crossbar adapter.
How To Mount
1. Vertical Orientation
A cradle that swivels to a vertical orientation may allow you to hold one part of a women’s bike by the seat tube. If you can do that, you can probably load the bike so that it’s level without using an adapter.
2. Horizontal Orientation
With one of the bike cradles holding the bike vertically, you’ll rest the sloping top tube of the women’s step-through bike on the other, horizontal cradle.
One effect this method has is to mount the bike higher than normal because it’s not holding it at handlebar level. This works fine and has the benefit of keeping your wheels away from exhaust heat.
Video: Mounting A Women’s Bike On A Trunk Rack Without An Adapter
One way to avoid any problems with women’s bikes is to buy a platform-style hitch rack or a roof rack with wheel clamps. These usually hold your bike by the front tire and don’t touch the frame. Hence, the frame shape is immaterial.
A downside to this solution is that it might cost you much more than a trunk rack plus adapters. However, it is more versatile and likely to include security features.
How To Mount
1. Fold Out Wheel Clamp
You’ll need to fold the wheel-clamping arm out ready to receive the front wheel.
2. Get Bike Into Position
Grip the bike at a low part of the frame and lift it onto the wheel cradles of the rack.
3. Clamp Front Wheel
You’ll then clamp the front wheel using the hooked or looped arm of the rack. This may have a ratcheting mechanism and possibly a torque limiter to prevent overtightening.
4. Adjust Position Of Rear Cradle
Many platform racks allow you to adjust the side-to-side position of the wheel cradles to accommodate bikes with different wheelbases.
5. Secure Rear Wheel
Clamping the front wheel steadies the bike while you make further adjustments. With the bike in position, you’re ready to secure the rear wheel using a ratcheting strap.
Note that the bike frame is left untouched throughout this process. This type of rack is ideal for ladies’ bikes as well as expensive carbon bikes.
Any Which Way
You can try to mount step-through women’s bikes onto a rack any way they’ll fit. This may work sufficiently well if you’re lucky.
The main problem with doing this on hanging-style racks is that bikes will hang diagonally. This can result in wheels getting too close to the ground or sticking out excessively from the side of the car, creating a hazard.
Bikes are also easier to mount if you only have to lift them horizontally. And you can have more confidence in the stability of the load this way.
If in doubt, stick to one of our first three methods.
Time To “Rack Off”: Conclusion
To summarize, then, some hanging-style bike racks may have adjustable cradles that let you carry women’s bikes without adapters.
A good trunk-mounted bike rack that has this adjustment is always likely to be the cheapest way to carry your bikes.
If you’re in a hurry to get set up, just buy the crossbar adapters for all your step-through bikes. They keep the bike-mounting process simple and safe.
For ultimate versatility, consider a wheel-secured bike rack rather than one that grips the frame. Then, the whole issue goes away.
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