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Transporting bikes on a bike rack is not meant to damage them in theory. But in practice, things can go wrong.
Bikes often move on racks to some degree, which can cause damage by abrasion when surfaces meet. It might be the bike that’s damaged or the trunk of your car.
Bikes may also become damaged in adverse weather by grit and grime from the road.
This article looks at how to protect bikes on a bike rack using a few simple measures.
Ways To Protect Your Bicycles From Damage When On A Rack
There are several ways you can prevent damage to your bike or vehicle when using a bike rack. These will enable you to transport bikes with more confidence.
1. Mount A Hitch Rack Firmly (Hitch Tighteners)
The first task is to install your bike rack in such a way that your bike does not move around any more than necessary when you’re on the move. It’s unsettling to see a bike swaying about on the back of a vehicle, to say the least.
One way that bike movement happens is through play in the hitch receiver of a hitch-mount rack. Unnervingly, the whole ensemble then moves around. You can use a hitch tightener to address this.
A hitch tightener bolsters the join between hitch and hitch receiver to eliminate movement and noise between the two. For such a cheap item, you get a big return on investment in terms of peace of mind.
Video: Using A Hitch Tightener
2. Tighten Straps On A Trunk Mount Without Causing Damage
One of the hazards of using a trunk mount is the hooks can abrade the finish of your vehicle where they clamp onto the trunk. Some of these hooks are made of metal with no padding, so it’s almost inevitable they’ll leave marks.
And yet you need to tighten these straps securely to prevent movement in your bikes and a potential catastrophe.
To prevent damage to your car when securing a trunk mount, you can improvise some padding between the hooks and the vehicle’s painted finish. Old inner tubes are one way you can add some cushioning.
You can also buy purpose-made scratch protectors for specific use with trunk-mounted bike racks. These will help protect your bike, too, as you’ll be less tentative about doing the straps up tight and the hooks will grip better.
3. Secure Wheels To The Bike Frame
Bike wheels that move about on a rack can potentially scrape the finish of your vehicle or other bikes. This is more of a problem on trunk racks, where the bike is invariably attached by the frame’s top tube and not the wheels.
Bike racks usually come with Velcro or rubberized straps so you can secure your wheels to parts of the frame (e.g., down tube or seat tube). It never hurts to add your own bike rack straps, since many racks only include a couple of them at best.
It may also be useful to have longer cinch straps in case your bike is mounted at an angle and awkward to secure. Lashing your bike to the rack in several places keeps it secure. Overkill is better than regret!
4. Protect The Saddle / Seat
If you travel in poor weather, it makes sense to protect the one part of the bike you demand comfort from—the saddle. Rain won’t usually damage the bike saddle, but the saddle might take a few hours to dry out properly if you drive through a downpour.
Most saddles are designed to withstand moisture. It’s part of their remit. But they can be expensive items that you don’t want to expose mercilessly to the elements.
Saddles can also become damaged when carried in pick-up trucks or against tightly packed bikes. A seat cover is cheap, anyway, and it’s cheaper still if you improvise it yourself with a plastic bag and some string.
5. Cushioning Between Bikes
One of the main ways bikes are damaged on a rack is through either scraping or knocking each other. This can damage the finish, but it can also harm vulnerable parts like drivetrains and derailleurs.
How do you make sure bikes are kept apart?
Buying a rack that allows more clearance between bikes is one way. This spacing is a feature that varies quite a bit.
A more reassuring way to separate bikes is with some padding. A custom-made product like Saris Protect-O-Pads is ideal for the task. While it may be possible to improvise other forms of padding, in reality, it’s often awkward to hold them in place.
The above being said, maybe you have unused items around the house that would suit this task? Foam is the ideal material for the job. Pipe insulation foam, for instance.
You can use other convenient products like Foam Pool Swim Noodles to either cut up and wrap around bike tubes or tie whole between bikes. Each of these is over 4’ long, so they’re a handy length for separating adult bikes.
6. Bike (Rack) Covers
You can protect bikes completely by putting a cover over them and the rack. There are many products on the market for this precise purpose (do not be tempted to use ordinary outdoor storage covers).
This is a solution you might choose for long drives in erratic or poor weather.
A bike cover is likely to obscure your taillights if the bikes aren’t doing that already. Hence, you may need to attach trailer lights to mitigate this.
Some bike covers have translucent panels to retain the visibility of rear lights. How well this works is likely to vary between different vehicles and set-ups.
Another challenge with a bike cover is to cinch it down enough that it doesn’t billow while you’re driving. Use extra bungee cords or similar to ensure this doesn’t happen.
Once you have everything sorted, bike covers are great for total protection!