Unless you're lucky enough to have good bike trails or traffic-free country roads right outside your front door, or you've dedicated yourself to living car-free in all conditions, you probably have to deal with loading your bike onto your car to go for a ride.
Choosing the car rack that's right for your needs is a process of finding a balance among cost, convenience, and security. Of course, the staff at all three of our stores has plenty of experience with installing car racks of all types. We can help you select the right rack to meet your needs and budget, and ensure that it is installed according to the manufacturer's specifications for the utmost in safety and security.
Regardless of the style of car rack that you have or are considering buying, here are five tips that cover some of the most frequently-asked questions that we get about racks, as well as the most frequently-made mistakes.
1. Choose your rack before choosing your car
This may sound a bit ridiculous at first--if you're preparing to invest many thousands of dollars in the car of your dreams, why should your choice be affected by a $100-$200 bike accessory? However, if you're serious about cycling, then you're probably serious about carrying your bike(s) around safely and conveniently. Once you've settled on both the car and the rack you want, check with us or use the rack manufacturer's fit guide to verify that the rack is compatible with the vehicle. If you've already got a car rack, and are considering replacing your vehicle, verify the fit of your rack on the new vehicle that you're looking at.
2. When you're setting up a trunk-mounted rack, be sure to have the lower feet resting on the horizontal surface of the car’s bumper
This will ensure that as much of the weight of the racks and bikes is supported by the bumper, and only the minimum necessary strain is put on the supporting hooks and straps. See the photos below for examples:
3. Keep the bike’s wheels from turning using straps or bungee cords
For short trips down to your local bike trail, it's okay to leave your wheels spinning, but for long drives, you'll want to have some way to keep them in place. If you're using a trunk rack, then you can tie the loose ends of the support straps around each wheel. Most hitch racks come with a spare strap that you can use for this purpose. This won't be an issue for most roof racks (and some types of hitch racks), since the wheels are held in place by the rack itself. Keeping the wheels from spinning while you're driving down the highway saves wear and tear on your hubs' bearings. If the wheels are spinning, it's almost as if you're riding your bike the whole distance that you're driving!
4. Don’t let the bike hang too close to the ground
This applies to both trunk racks and some hitch racks, and is a problem more often with cruiser-style bikes or ladies-frame bikes using a frame adapter bar. If one or more of a bike's wheels are hanging too close to the ground, then as you go over a big bump or approach a steep incline, you run the risk of having the wheels dragging on the pavement, or even worse, having the bike knocked off the rack or the rack knocked off the car. To solve this problem, try to fit the arms of the rack into a different area of the bike's frame so that the bike hangs higher. You might also be able to change the position of the frame adapter bar, if you're using one. Also, make sure the rack's bike support arms are set at the appropriate height. See the photos below for examples:
Less than ideal
5. Remember not to pull into the garage with bikes on your roof
At least once a year, we have somebody bring in a bike for evaluation after it's been crashed into a garage while on a roof rack. Avoid this situation by coming up with a system for reminding yourself when you have your bikes loaded. One common scheme is to put your garage door opener inside one of your cycling gloves. Another method is to place your garage door opener in a different location inside your car whenever you're carrying bikes. Of course, you've still got to worry about public parking garages and drive-thru service lanes with low clearance. Some people have a sign that they tape or suction-cup to the winshield that says "Bikes On Roof." Whatever it takes to avoid a catastrophe that can mean costly repairs to your car, your bike, and your home.
Century Cycles is an authorized dealer for Thule (say "TOO-lee") and Saris (SARE-iss), two of the most popular and reliable car rack manufacturers, and all of their racks are made here in the good ol' U.S. of A! Stop by any of our three stores and let us help you find the best rack for your vehicle!
This article was published on August 14, 2013.