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But what if you don’t want to spend the money on a bike rack or don’t want the hassle of installing one?
In this article, we’ll tell you how to transport a bike without a rack. With some know-how, it can be done with little or no extra expense.
Ways To Transport Your Bike Without A Bike Rack
1. Putting A Bike (Or Two) In The Trunk
The easiest way to transport a bike is in the trunk of a car, though this is a little trickier in a sedan than in a hatchback. With a large hatchback, liftback, or station wagon, you may fit a bike in without having to dismantle it at all.
The smaller a car is, the more likely it is that you’ll have to break down your bike to fit it in. The process goes something like this:
Step 1. Prepare The Car
You’ll need to prepare the car before it receives your bike. If it’s a hatchback, this usually entails putting the rear seats down to create space. You may also want to lay an old blanket or plastic sheet down to stop bike grime from dirtying your car.
Step 2. Remove Wheels
Take off one or both wheels as required. The goal here is plainly to make the bike smaller so it’ll fit into your car. You’d normally start with the front wheel to avoid having to disengage the chain if possible.
Step 3. Introduce Bike
Lift your bike into the car with the drive side up (chain side), which helps preserve the cleanliness of your car. It also avoids damaging vulnerable parts like the rear derailleur. You may have to turn your handlebar for the best fit.
Step 4. Find Space For The Removed Wheels
Place any removed wheels somewhere where they won’t move or rub against the bike’s painted finish. If space is at a premium, put a cover over your bike and the wheel on the cover provided the wheel is lightweight.
Step 5. Close The Hatch Carefully
Ensure there is sufficient clearance for you to close the hatch or trunk without slamming it into the bike! This is easy to do if you misjudge the height of a protruding part like a handlebar or brake lever.
2. Rest The Bike On The Rear Seats
If you can’t fit your bike into the trunk of your vehicle, resting it on the rear seats may be an option. This always depends on your not having more than one passenger in the car.
The main downside with this technique is that you may get bike grime or oil on the upholstery. For that reason, you need to have a clean bike, an old car, or a cover to place over the seat. A bike bag also works.
This is how you’ll get most adult bikes onto the rear seat of a car:
Step 1. Cover The Seats (Or Your Bike)
If the condition of the car matters to you (or you value your marriage), put plastic sheeting or an old blanket over the back seat before introducing your bike.
Read more: Covers for bike travel
Step 2. Remove Front Wheel
Take the front wheel off your bike. This ensures the bike is short enough to fit inside the car. You’ll normally put the wheel behind one of the front seats or in the trunk.
Video: Front Wheel Removal And Install With A Quick Release
Step 3. Put Your Bike In The Car
You now have two options: a) place the bike upside down on the rear seat or b) put the rear wheel behind one of the front seats and rest the fork on the rear seat. Make sure the drive side is not pressing against anything in either case.
Step 4. Secure Your Bike
Secure the bike to the back seat using either seat belts or bungee cords attached to the seat or doors. If you’re ever in an accident, loose items or occupants on the back seat are potentially lethal.
Step 5. Cover The Bike
Cover the bike to help prevent movement and to conceal it in case you need to briefly stop somewhere on your journey.
Video: Fitting A Bike Into A 2-Door Coupe
3. Buy A Full-Sized Folding Bike
Consider buying a full-sized folding bike for your cycling adventures. These bikes give you the big-wheel riding experience but add portability. Their main benefit is the ability to fit into a car trunk without putting the seats down. Cost is the downside.
To fold such a bike, you do something like this:
Step 1. Remove The Front Wheel
Remove the front wheel as you would with any regular bike. A folding bike is likely to have a quick-release wheel.
Step 2. Position Cranks & Pedals
Move the cranks into a position specified by the manufacturer and remove or fold the pedals. Some pedals re-insert into the inner side of the cranks.
Step 3. Fold The Bike
Undo the bike’s locking mechanism and fold the bike in half (the rear triangle folds alongside the main frame). The handlebar folds flat so it aligns with the frame.
Step 4. Deal With The Wheel
The removed front wheel will often attach to the folded bike via a special holder, so you have a single movable package.
Step 5. Lower The Saddle
Reverse the saddle orientation and lower the seat post to its minimum level.
Few reputable manufacturers make full-sized folding bikes. Look at Change Bikes or Montague Bikes if this idea interests you.
4. Tie A Bike To Your Roof (With Crossbars)
You can secure a bike to a car roof without a bike rack. Time consumption is the main downside, and it can be harder work to get your bike(s) into position.
Below is the method you might use if you have crossbars on your car roof.
Step 1. Add Protection To Your Handlebar
Wrap your handlebar in a half-slit pool noodle or 1 to 2 layers of cloth to protect it on the car. You’ll need to cover the left and right mid-sections of the bar at least.
Step 2. Flip & Lift The Bike
Flip the bike upside down and lift it onto the roof. This way, you can create three attachment points rather than the two you’d normally get with an upright bike.
Step 3. Attach Handlebar
Attach the handlebar to your front crossbar using two ratchet straps on the left and right of the bar. Add a third strap in a figure of eight across the bar for extra security.
Step 4. Attach Saddle
Strap the saddle to the rear crossbar diagonally so the strap cannot slip off. Again, you might want to cover the saddle first to avoid damage as it rests on the crossbar.
Step 5. Test & Re-Test
Test the firmness of your work before driving by giving the bike a gentle push and stop at regular intervals to check the secureness.
5. Tie A Bike To Your Roof (Without Crossbars)
Tying a bike to a roof without crossbars is a different challenge altogether. You need to secure the bike without damaging your roof. But it can be done.
This is one method for tying a bike to a bare roof:
Step 1. Cover The Roof
Place a cover on top of your car roof. This can be an old thin mattress or a heavy-duty blanket of the type a removal company uses.
Step 2. Lay Bike On Cover
Position your bike on top of the cover so it’s laying with the drive side up, as always. Remove the pedal from the crank that rests against the cover.
Step 3. Rope Bike & Cover To The Roof
Use long lengths of nylon rope to tie the bike and the cover to the car. You’ll do this by feeding the rope through open front and rear windows and threading it through the car. This solution works for occasional bike trips, preferably in good weather.
Do I Need A Bike Rack?
Whether you need a bike rack or not depends entirely on your situation. For instance, if you’re driving to cycling venues on your own with a single bike, a bike rack is a luxury. You can easily put a bike into the back of many cars.
On the other hand, if you’re taking a bike on a family vacation and the car is full of passengers and luggage, a bike rack is a necessity.
Yes, you can tie a bike directly to a roof at a pinch and still access all the space in your car. But even that is much easier if you have a purpose-built roof rack to support the bike while you position it.
As long as you have a regular bike and not a hefty e-bike or fat bike, inexpensive trunk-mounted bike racks will do the job.
If you have a bike that weighs much more than 40 or 50 lbs (e.g., many e-bikes), a platform-style hitch-mounted bike rack is useful. Putting bikes in or atop your car becomes less doable if their weight is extreme.
So, Can You Get By Without A Rack?
In summary, yes, you can get by without a bike rack if you are typically traveling alone to cycling locations.
For purposes of family vacations, carrying multiple bikes, or transporting dirty MTBs, a bike rack is a wise purchase.
We hope this article helps you to carry your bike to new and exciting places, with or without a bike rack. Please feel free to leave a comment or share.