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I have a compact SUV without a trailer hitch and a 65-pound (30 kg) e-bike. The e-bike is originally designed for mountain trails so I naturally want to take it up the mountain but I'm not sure how do so without damaging the vehicle. I've tried putting the bike on top of a couple of blankets but the bike starts moving around when turning or braking, which makes me worried of the car interior getting scratched over long periods of time.

What is the best way of transporting the bike inside my car? I could get a trailer hitch but would rather avoid doing so as I only need to transport 1 bike at a time. A roof rack would be out of the question as the bike is too heavy to lift up safely.

Update as requested: my car doesn't have a tow hitch receiver and installing one will cost at least $500. I'd rather not spend money needlessly if I can help it.

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    If you have to lay it on its side in the back of the car then consider taking off the left pedal and laying it left side down. It will protect the gears and the bike won't swing around on a pedal on a crank.
    – Transistor
    Aug 2 at 18:55

12 Answers 12

35

You have discovered why you commonly find MTB'ers driving small vans or old cheap estate cars. I'm driving a 10yr old Hyundai with a boot full of mud and a boot lip covered in chainring/pedal scars.

It doesn't matter how careful you try to be, eventually you'll arrive back at the car exhausted, muddy and wet at which point you make the ill advised decision to lean bike against the car. You'll scratch the paintwork, which will make you angry and flustered (since you are already exhausted), which will then cause you to gouge the boot lip and somehow get mud all over the interior roof lining.

Your pristine car will never be the same again, but you'll come to realise it really doesn't matter.

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    The conclision is not limited to biking.
    – fraxinus
    Aug 2 at 12:35
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Personally, I'm using a Decathlon "Bike Transport Cover" (with cupboard made supports for the rear derailleur and the fork). A sturdier bag will be required to an ebike though - the keyword to search is bike travel bag. That requires me to unmount the two wheels, the pedals and optionally the handle bar, so I'm using that solution for multi-day trips. But the big advantage of that solution is that the bike fits on the rear seat of a regular car (VW Golf hatchback in my case), and that the "dirty work" relating to the bike parts arrangement is done outside the car.

Otherwise, "compact" SUVs comes in various sizes and shapes, and compact doesn't mean the same thing in America and other countries, so the following solution (inside rack) may not work for you, but can be interesting for reference.

Trunk bike rack.

Compared to the blanket, I like this solution because the bike is fastened and transported vertically.

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    This is genius. Best solution I've seen so far. Aug 2 at 10:37
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Personally I buy my bikes to use, not for their ornamental aesthetics, so my answer may reflect my attitude to cosmetic damage. Being a MTB bike used on trails, you also have to consider your tolerance for dirt and mud inside the vehicle.

A hitch, with a decent quality platform rack would be the best option but is not cheap. A platform rack means the bike sits on it wheels and is less likely to get shuttle rash than most other rack styles I have used.

Carrying inside the vehicle can be done if you don't rush putting the bike and taking it out oft he car, which is when most of the damage to bikes is done (other damage is shuttle rash cause by rubbing when traveling - this is lack of attention when putting the bike in/on the car) . When packing the bike, pay special attention to shock and fork stanchions, as shuttle rash to these is more than cosmetic.

Packing the car is best done as follows.

  • Before leaving home empty boot/trunk space of all items not needed.
  • If needed, lower seats to make space for bike
  • Lay down a blanket to protect he car. A thick, waterproof picnic blanket is ideal.
  • Remove wheel(s) if needed. Removing wheels lightens the bike and reduces its size, so makes it much easier to put in the car.
  • Put bike in on blanket.
  • Use bungy cords to hold bike in place. Most cars have tie points to attach. Style and length of cords largely determined by your preference and where tie points might be.
  • If the bike is lying down, cover bike with another blanket, put wheels on top of this, disks up. If its standing, hang a blanket over the wheels, lean them against the bike.
  • Arrange and bungy wheels so they do not move.

With a compact SUV and rear seats folded, you will probably find it easier to remove front wheel. If you are lucky, you will have the height to stand the bike up, then use bungies on handle bars and seat post to hold the bike in position. A standing bike can often be 'wedged' into a corner and need minimal bungies. You can often lift the back wheel in first, roll the back wheel into the corner of the boot space and wedge it there.

Spend time experimenting what works for your car and your bike to find a balance between quick and easy and secure. You may also find one of those bumper protectors that cover the rear bumper while loading will help

If you have two bikes, follow the same process, but it becomes a lot harder to ensure no shuttle rash. Packing other than blankets can work well from old pillows to purpose made foam- experiment with what you have.

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    Sorry, clarified that I'm worried about car interior damage. Damage to the bike (cosmetic) is okay! Aug 2 at 1:58
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    You are rare species, a cyclist more worried about his car than his bike :) See the bit about standing the bike up and (added ) bumper protector .
    – mattnz
    Aug 2 at 2:01
  • Is something like this what you have in mind for how to use bungee cords? Aug 2 at 2:08
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    Yep, pretty close I would try to tie down rather up (wheel less likely to slide around with downward pressure).
    – mattnz
    Aug 2 at 8:28
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    @mattnz having had company/leasing cars, I totally understand the concern of being afraid to damage the car ;)
    – Renaud
    Aug 2 at 9:46
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Depends how much other stuff you need to move at the same time, or how many passengers.

Initially, wash your bike a day before you need to pack the car. This gives it time to dry.

  • Ideally you'd load your other stuff so it lies flat in the car.
  • Remove the bike's battery from the bike, and pack that in a rolled up towel.
  • Wrap a couple of clean plastic bags around your chain areas. Use masking tape to stick them down. These are to stop oils coming off and staining other things.
  • Remove the front wheel and put aside. If you have disk brakes, put something between the brake pads to stop an accidental press. If you can remove the rear wheel then do the same there.
  • Use an old blanket or sheet to wrap your bike frame. A large piece of recycled bubble wrap would work too. Use the masking tape to lash the blanket to the frame. The handlebars should be turned around 90 degrees to the right, and it may help to lower the saddle too.
  • When loading, put the wrapped frame either in the back tailgate or the rear side door of the bike. Lay the bike on its left side, so the chain/derailleur is on the upper side.
  • Secure the bike frame using rope or tiedowns so it can't slide about. Don't need to be super tight.
  • Put the two wheels in on top and tie them down. Nothing else should go on top.
  • Remember to pack along your bike charger too. Plus spare tubes, helmet, lights, whatever other gear you want along for the ride.
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    Cheap robust blue/green/brown plastic tarps are good for keeping dirt and mud away from the car interior, and are easy to shake or hose clean. Also, cargo nets and or velcro straps can be useful along with the many good suggestions made above.
    – Armand
    Aug 2 at 2:51
  • @Armand true - tarpaulins tend to not absorb any oils or water, so those fluids can run down and drop off the edges later. Given enough quantity, fluids will soak through a blanket. A dry bike is easier to stow, or dry-ish.
    – Criggie
    Aug 2 at 12:50
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You could use a strap-on bike rack which attaches to the rear door using nylon straps with plastic coated metal hooks. They tend to like to press on the back window which is scary but apparently OK.

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    Good idea, but might be worth mentioning "weight limit" because OP specifically mentions a heavy bike of 30 kilograms.
    – Criggie
    Aug 2 at 12:51
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    Most of the strap-on racks are designed to handle 2 or more bikes. Although 65 pounds exceeds the per-bike weight capacity of, say, the Saris Bones strap-on rack I own (nominal capacity 3x35 lbs), I personally would be comfortable putting just one heavy bike on it.
    – Brian B
    Aug 2 at 13:27
  • I was also going to suggest this. There are sturdy racks that can easily handle 3 bikes. A single heavy bike should be in the range of one heavy bike. Also, If the bike's battery is easily removable, you could take the battery inside the car to have less weight on the rack.
    – Jahaziel
    Aug 2 at 19:44
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A cheap part of a solution could be a rubber boot liner - it prevents stuff in boot from scratching the car, and you can easily pull it out and wash away the water or mud.

Something like this: https://www.fitmycar.com/au/boot-liners

Or there are also 'full boot' liners, originally meant for dogs, but they shield most of the boot interior: https://www.amazon.co.uk/NOSOA-Premium-4-Layer-Protector-Waterproof/dp/B07Q3HBQMB/

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A low cost way I have used for my MTN bike is just a $5 tarp which I attach to the passenger windows and leave it on the floor towards the trunk. Great way to ensure 1) You don't scratch the interior of the car and 2) Can easily clean it with a hose after every ride.

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    How do you attach it to the windows? Aug 3 at 17:31
  • @JonathanReez What I did was just let the tarp hang out the window a bit and roll it up. For longer drives I would poke a hole through the side of the tarp and just tie it to the top handle via a rubber band! Aug 3 at 17:34
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    Combined with the solution by @Renaud I think this is what I'll end up doing. Thanks! Aug 3 at 17:46
  • Of course, Happy to help! Aug 3 at 17:57
  • better to close the tarp in the door than to pinch it with the window glass. some tarps have metal components in the edges and you might shatter your window inadvertantly. a LOT safer to pinch something between the door gasket and door opening
    – Billy C.
    Aug 4 at 16:17
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The cargo area of your car will anyway scratch over time. No need to worry. There can be any number of reasons why the value of your car goes down, not only scratches in plastics around the cargo area, but also aging of the car, technology becoming obsolete (will electric cars take over?), mechanical problems, etc. Cargo area scratches are just one of many reasons why the value of your car WILL certainly decrease.

I store my Brompton bicycle in my car trunk. It's a folding bicycle so it doesn't need the rear seats to be folded. I have found that since I started carrying Brompton in my car trunk, I have adopted a less aggressive riding style with major fuel economy gains in order to prevent the Brompton from moving around in the trunk. I suggest the same solution to you: drive less aggressively, don't accelerate hard, don't brake hard, take corners at low speeds.

If I need to carry a full-sized bicycle, I find it easier to remove a single wheel. Usually front wheel is the easiest to remove and on bikes with full fenders and rear mount kickstand, removing the front wheel removes more of the length of the bicycle than removing the rear wheel does. Also the fork is more sturdy than the rear triangle due to being two-dimensional as opposed to being three-dimensional like the rear triangle is, so the tubes are thicker and it's less likely to bend a fork with removed wheel than it's to bend a rear triangle with removed wheel. You'll still need to fold the rear seats unless the car is a very large one. If you have disc brakes, be sure to insert a plastic transport spacer between the brake pads of the removed wheel so that if you accidentally compress the brake lever, the brake pads won't jam together. Such spacers are a really cheap insurance -- although one could of course argue that disc brake pads are cheap anyway and if the pads jam, you could simply remove the jammed pads, respace the pistons and fit a new set of pads in.

If you drive in rainy weather, don't carry the bike externally in any bike rack on the roof or on the rear of the car. A car that goes 120 km/h will shoot the bearings with a machine gun like spray of high-speed water droplets that will get inside the bearings and ruin them. Bike bearings are designed only to withstand rain droplets at bike speeds like 30-40 km/h.

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I could get a trailer hitch but would rather avoid doing so as I only need to transport 1 bike at a time.

So get a one-bike hitch rack, no?

enter image description here

https://yakima.com/products/singlespeed


This answer was based on a previous misconception that OP cannot find a bike rack for just a single bike.

Since the issue is money related then I just want to point out that a trailer hitch is a worthy investment even for non-biking purposes.

A proper hitch and harness would cost about $200 on Amazon if a person has the tools and is inclined enough to perform the installation.

If not then a local U-Haul would do it for about $500 total. I have my reservations about recommending U-Haul because if anything goes wrong like a broken bolt then they will tell you to go to a mechanic to resolve the issue.

You could check around with local mechanics willing to install customer-bought parts and their price will likely fall way lower than a dealer.

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  • I'd first need the actual tow hitch receiver installed which is $500. Not worth it for just 1 bike. Aug 2 at 15:08
  • @JonathanReez Sorry, your explanation made it sound like your issue is that you've only been able to find multi-bike racks. You should clarify that it's for money reasons. I'd argue that a tow-hitch is a worthy investment regardless of your bike situation. You'll quickly find uses for it outside of biking.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Aug 2 at 15:10
  • @JonathanReez Additionally, if you're even slightly mechanically inclined and have the tools then it's a nominal time investment. eTrailer has great products and tutorial videos.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Aug 2 at 15:14
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    @JonathanReez If you're looking at dealer prices then I have no reason to try and persuade you any further =)
    – MonkeyZeus
    Aug 2 at 15:20
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    @JonathanReez I see. Check out amazon.com/dp/B00C4B1F7U for the hitch and amazon.com/CURT-56165-Custom-Wiring-Harness/dp/B00BD62X9Q for the wiring harness. Note, you'll have to check your vehicle's specific compatibility. I just picked random stuff that said "Rav4". I installed that brand on my wife's 2015 Town and Country and I've been thoroughly satisfied.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Aug 2 at 15:26
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  1. Short term, low effort suggestion. Get a pack of very thick socks. Put them on the bike's pedals, handlebar ends/ brake levers. And something you can wrap around the chainring, or get a chainring protector. The socks will prevent the bike pokey bits from scratching your car

  2. Mid term, medium effort, medium cost DIY suggestion: a semi permanent over-liner for the interior of the booth.

At least here in my country I can easily obtain a carpet material that has some cushion between a fabric like backing and a vinil top. The fabric backing would not scratch the plastic panels of the car, and the vinyl top will be easy to wipe to clean the mud off. It is about 5mm or 3/16 thick in total.

With that or something similar I'd make a booth liner, so to speak. The idea is to fashion carpet panels conformed to the sides of your car. Usually the back of the seats and the inside of the rear door is flat, so that's the easy part. The sides however have a lot of funky contours. There you'd have to be creative with cutting and gluing or stitching, so you get at least a somewhat aesthetic side panel cover. You don't need to conform to every nook and cranny, just the general contour. The smaller spaces formed between the car's panels and the custom one could be useful to store/hide some tool or accessory.

Now find a way to attach it semi permanently. Your car may have small hooks or loops to secure cargo, those may be good enough if they are placed correctly. Another option, if the side panels are held in place with bolts or screws, is to use longer ones that could hold in place both the car's inner panels and your custom liner. I wouldn't recommend adhesives as the stronger ones may damage the car, and the others may be not strong enough or will not last attached long enough to be worth.

With a long strip of the carpet material, elaborate a liner for the rear bumper / trunk lip, and wrap it. You could fix it in place with zip ties or paracord.

If done aesthetically enough and the right material is chosen, it would give your car a "rugged" appearance, and if fit correctly, you don't have to install and remove it every time you need to transport your bike, bout it would not be bothersome when using the car for something else.

However, I really think this is a lot of work and would work more towards the value preservation of the car than to the current aesthetics. I definitely think that the way to go for the long term is the hitch receiver with a proper rack. I know you think $500 is too much for a single bike, but in your case, it is not $500 for a single bike, it is $500 for the aesthetics and value preservation of your car, plus the ease of use for you. that is, put "value" on the time and effort you are going to save on each an every trip you make with your bike in the car.

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My other half races bikes, and top-end bikes are very delicate things. To transport them he has a special frame inside the car. His is German, but if you google it ("In-car bike rack", "transport bike in car") you'll find plenty on offer in your area and price range, e.g. Bikeinside, Veloboy.

His version is a horizontal bar, with attachments specially for his car (an Audi estate). It attaches to the hooks for tying down cargo. When he bought a new car he bought new attachments but the rest could be reused. On this bar there are fittings to affix the bike and its front wheel separately - again, every system does it differently - and it can be extended for more bikes by buying more parts. You can pack your luggage tidily around all this.

This thing can stay in the car, or be taken out in 30 seconds. The bikes are in and out in 60 seconds. The sensitive racing bikes are transported safely, and they are securely locked away inside the car.

Obviously this costs more than a blanket... but it does the job very well.

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As someone into tandem biking, I have seen roof racks you can use with a very heavy single-person bike. They work by having a rotating element for the fork skewer, so you only lift half the bike at a time.

I don't personally think this is your best solution, but it is an option.

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