Bike carriers have revolutionised the way cycling enthusiasts travel, giving independence from public transport and freedom to travel further afield. Being able to carry your own bikes on the back of your car, van or even caravan has made cycling holidays and cycle group trips all the more enjoyable, whether you’re a road cyclist off to a weekend sportive or a mountain biker going to a dedicated MTB track.
Though they appear simple to use, and indeed many are, the fact is that not all bike carriers are suited to all vehicles. And not all carriers are suited to all bikes. Choosing a bike carrier is more than just fitting the mechanism itself, or learning to load and unload it safely. Even the more experienced among us can fall foul of the basic errors, because we’re rightly focussed on the vehicle and the bicycle, perhaps missing the bigger picture.
So these are the most common mistakes when it comes to choosing the right bike carrier.
- Blocking Boot Access, Obscuring Lights & Car Registration Plate
- Not Considering Your Driving Route
- Aerodynamics and Fuel Efficiency
- Load Appropriate Carriers
- Towbar Installation
1. Blocking Boot Access, Obscuring Lights & Car Registration Plate
Rear-mounted bike carriers are some of the most popular designs and they’re often recommended for a first carrier purchase. That’s due mainly to how easy they are to fit as well a simple cost-effectiveness. Despite their simplicity, rear-mounted carriers are the biggest culprits when it comes to blocking access to the boot of your car and obscuring lights.
Boot access may be something you don’t always worry about but each journey is different and a particularly long trip with luggage could see you repeatedly taking the carrier off and on, which isn’t good for you or the car. A simple workaround is to invest in a towbar mounted or roof mounted bike rack. Some higher spec models will even come with tilting boot access and integrated lighting boards that work even when bikes are fitted, which is the ultimate workaround for obscured lights. But a more cost-effective option is simply to load the boot so it can be accessed from the back seat doors, and test lights against a reflective surface like store windows to see how the bikes affect it.
2. Not Considering Your Driving Route
One of the joys of driving throughout the UK and indeed Europe, is the myriad of winding country roads, the idyllic stone bridges and the twists and turns of a quirky landscape that has evolved over centuries. However, this advantage can very quickly become a disadvantage if you’re carrying a roof rack bike carrier and you find yourself stuck at a tunnel too low for your vehicle height.
This is where planning each route is really important, no matter how confident we become with our cycling, or our bike transportation, it can be hard to foresee all issues but most can be offset before you even mount the bikes and set off on your journey. All it takes is a simple Google map search as well as some research on your destination from the local council websites or cycling club forums.
3. Aerodynamics and Fuel Efficiency
Carrying extra passengers or luggage in general is well known to take it’s additional share of fuel when driving, so it should come as no surprise to learn that bike carriers do have an effect on fuel consumption. There isn’t a lot that can be done, given that the majority of aerodynamic design concentrates on the roof and rear of cars – the two places we’re most likely to put a cycle rack. However, there are differences in the height of carriers, especially those that are towbar fitted, so it might be worthwhile trying to get one that sits lower in the air stream if you do a lot of miles at high speeds and find the fuel efficiency is negatively impacted.
If aerodynamics become a real issue for your driving, or your particular vehicle, you could think about trying to transport the bikes inside it. Of course, that will only be a viable option to you if your car is a people-carrier style with an extended boot area, and providing you have a maximum of maybe 2 bikes to transport with you.
4. Load Appropriate Carriers
There are certain load rules when it comes to bike carriers. Roof mounted racks generally hold 2 bikes on an average sized motor, whereas rear mounted carriers can hold upto 4 bikes. Some towbar mounted racks can even hold up to 5 or 6 if kids bikes are included but this isn’t something we’d recommend.
When you find your bike number going above 4 on a journey, it could be worth looking towards a cycle trailer. These are by no means a cheap option, but its an investment worth making in the long run if either your journeys and/or your bike numbers are higher than the average. The trailers will also get around many of the other issues listed above including rear view and brake light visibility, height reduced routes and aerodynamics.
5. Towbar Installation
A towbar mounted bike carrier is good option in between the rear-mounted introductory carrier and the full scale cycle trailer. The more modern designs are less cumbersome than they used to be, some even fold away for storage when not in use. Even more clever are the tilting designs, which allow you ease access to your boot storage area while the bikes are still mounted.
But it is one thing to be familiar with cycle carrying mechanisms and quite another to understand the mechanical jargon and specifics of motor tow bars. Like trailers, tow bars are an investment, and it’s important to make sure that you get professional advice on which type will be best for you. Designers and fitters David Murphy Towing suggest also asking for additional advice from a fitting engineer about the current legal restrictions on towing in the country you’re travelling to (speed and registration plate visibility in particular), how far out your bikes can legally sit from the back dimensions of your car as well as whether you want a towbar to do other jobs aside from carrying a cycle rack (like towing a trailer or a caravan).
Looking at the most common pitfalls with bike carriers, its comforting to know that most are pretty easy to avoid or solve. Most people who are considering purchasing their first cycle rack are so worried about how they’ll work the mechanics or what impact it might have on the appearance or value of their car, that it’s easy to overlook the bigger issues. Finding other cyclists who have experienced a range of options before settling on their current car modification is a good idea as they can share their experience. Similarly, local towbar fitting companies will have seen a lot of issues but also heard stories from many users and can relay all that knowledge to you as you discuss your options with them.
David Murphy Towing
David Murphy Towing are based on the outskirts of Belfast, Northern Ireland. They are experts in fitting towbars and roof racks to cars. They also manufacture and distribute Broniss Trailers.
Broniss trailers are manufactured at their Carryduff premises using CNC machinery. DM Towing are proud members of the National Trailer and Towing Association (NTTA), an organisation that ensures quality standards throughout the Industry.