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Consider a cyclist shopping for a car—one for whom a major factor for choosing one make-model or another is the ease of transporting a bicycle.

What criteria should a cyclist consider when buying a car, partly to transport bikes to trails?

Please restrict your answers and comments to criteria that a cyclist should use when shopping for a car. Thank you.

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    If you want to have a useful discussion it works better if you refrain from absolutes such as 'pointless' or 'perfect security'. May 28, 2023 at 23:32
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    How do you rank security vs convenience vs aerodynamics vs capacity ?
    – Criggie
    May 28, 2023 at 23:59
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    @Criggie I agree. And more knowledge is welcome, for everyone. The reader can ignore it. The trouble is that there is a habit on SO sites of folks with high reputation arm wrestling those with lower reputation (or not) into formatting their question in a specific way, or of telling the one asking the question that it is not the right one to ask.
    – Sam7919
    May 29, 2023 at 23:35
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    @Criggie It is not the case that those answering are the pupils and the one asking is the instructor. If anything it's the reverse. But criticizing the question asked is akin to a pupil telling the instructor that they don't like the question—that the question ought to be such and such, if only so that the writer is better able to answer it.
    – Sam7919
    May 29, 2023 at 23:37
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    I'm really beginning to wonder what the OP's point of this question is and maybe we're all missing something in trying to answer. Seems just about every possible solution, suggestion and advice is getting torn down. In short, you pick the vehicle you like, then the accessories for carting bikes in the fashion appropriate for your use case. There simply aren't mass-market purpose-built vehicles designed for carrying bikes. Even without bikes in the frame, there are still comprises to be made in purchase of a vehicle
    – Hursey
    May 30, 2023 at 2:32

6 Answers 6

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I'd say the most important thing is you need a hatchback.

This is not good:

enter image description here

This is better

enter image description here

If you take the wheels and saddle off, pretty much any car of the second type will fit one bike. If the car is small, you may need to fold one seat or both, so you have to make a compromise on the number of passengers. But if you go ride with friends, you'll usually transport as many bikes as people, and it will be impossible to fit more than 2 anyway.

Longer sedan with a hatchback:

enter image description here

Now you can put 2 bikes in the trunk without taking the wheels and saddle off (or maybe just one wheel) and drive with a passenger.

It is also possible to fit 3 bikes with a bit of DIY, and keep one rear seat usable, so 3 cyclists can travel with 3 bikes.

enter image description here

Basically if you only need to move one bike your choice of cars should be vast. For 2 bikes and especially 3, the length of the car becomes more important, and especially the usable length in the trunk. You'll have to decide if that is worth the extra cost and difficulty finding a parking spot. I like cars with large trunks because I do a lot of DIY so it's very convenient to be able to transport a lot of stuff.

Now if you go to the top of the mountain with the car to go downhill with your MTB and this involves some dirt road you may want a 4 wheel drive vehicle.

Pickups are not common here since anything that is not inside a locked car will be stolen, and that includes anything on the rear of a pickup.

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  • You might want to put something soft between the bicycles and the fragile rear windscreen heater. May 29, 2023 at 17:47
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    Yes, leaving the wheel on the bike means if something bumps against the glass, it'll be the tyre
    – bobflux
    May 29, 2023 at 20:01
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    RIP station wagon
    – DKNguyen
    May 30, 2023 at 1:09
  • The last image is a great solution, in particular since it costs almost nothing once you bought the right car (and the car remains versatile for everything else). But the rear wheel also must be held somehow, or else the frame would swing at the headset if the driver is forced to turn quickly.
    – Sam7919
    May 30, 2023 at 2:33
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The bikes are far better loaded behind the car

Until you back into something or you get rear-ended...

Don't be so quick to dismiss roof racks if you're serious about hauling more than 2 bikes.

Good hitch-mounted bike racks for four bikes that don't simply let the bikes hang from the top tube and bang together are expensive. And they're still going to flop around some - there's no way a hitch mount can be fitted to tight enough tolerances to prevent that.

Once you have a roof rack with solid cross bars, you can get four bikes solidly mounted for about 1/2 the cost of a four-bike hitch rack.

And a roof rack has other uses. A bicycle hitch rack can't be used for much of anything other than transporting bicycles.

And roof-mounted bikes won't mess up your reversing camera and sensors - if you need those to back up, you'd better not be putting your bikes there.

If you're serious about hauling your bikes in a much safer manner, get a pickup truck with a long enough bed and use some bed-mounted racks or a van or small truck where you can keep the bikes inside.

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    There may be a worthy new question about "techniques to remember the bikes on the roof while driving"
    – Criggie
    May 28, 2023 at 23:57
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    @AndrewHenle The bike racks on my mind right now hold a bike from its wheels, without touching the frame. The "buckets" where the wheels sit will get a bit scratched, but the car's bumper is nowhere near the studs.
    – Sam7919
    May 29, 2023 at 1:53
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    One other thing to consider when hanging bikes off the back is the location of the exhaust pipe. I've managed to do it on a couple combos of bike/car/rack where I've melted the odd tyre just because of the bad position.
    – Hursey
    May 29, 2023 at 2:59
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    "Good hitch-mounted bike racks for four bikes that don't simply let the bikes hang from the top tube and bang together are expensive." - in comparison to the cost of bigger cars their price is trivial May 29, 2023 at 18:53
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    @AndrewHenle: I don't understand how you reached that conclusion from my comment. I'm saying that even the most blinged out hitch mount for bikes is cheap compared to the cost of going to a larger model car or trucks, other options mentioned in this question. May 30, 2023 at 21:27
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I'm going to say that there is nothing car manufactures do to cater specifically for carrying bikes around. At best maybe a few optional accessories to support carting bikes and even then, they are just generic accessories that other accessories fit. Roof racks, hitches etc still require (commonly 3rd party) fittings for your bike.

I would almost go as far to say there are more features of modern vehicles that negatively affect carrying bikes in some way (Reversing sensors for example)

How to fit your bike to your car comes down to practicality and personal preference. You might pick a vehicle because it supports your favoured method better than others.

Personally, I have truck with a tailgate pad. Quite often I'm running around with 7-8 bikes and this suits me to the ground.

Updated after question modified

Things to consider when working out how to carry your bike on a car

  • Bike Weight. Having to hock a heavy DH bike or eBike feet in the air to get it on the roof isn't pleasant. Even on a hitch rack, these tend to have weight limits.
  • Bike Length. I ride pretty long bikes, even my XC bike sticks out a foot either side when on a hitch rack. on a roof rack, will also need to consider that the cross bars can be far enough apart.
  • Bike shape. My trail bike a very slopped top tube making it awkward to position on a hitch rack. I've either got it under the top tube which means my front wheel is nearly on the ground or I have to put it under the down tube which results in my bike being mounted real high.
  • Rules around Licence/rego plates. Having a bike on the back can obscure the rego and in some jurisdictions you're a supposed to have a supplemental plate or face potential fines.
  • Position of vehicle features relative to bikes. Like you don't want to spend 20mins taking a bike/hitch off, so you get your shopping out the back. And exhaust, you don't want that blowing all over your bike melting componentry/rubber

No matter what sort of solution you go with for mounting, there are some options that mitigate the negative, however I find the overly expensive. Eg a tilting hitch that can swing out the way of the rear of the vehicle

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  • Good point about backup cameras and sensors. I stole it. :-D May 28, 2023 at 23:32
  • I tried hard to word the question—twice—yet it seems I failed on both occasions. Let me try a third time. A cyclist is visiting 20 web sites for 20 brands of automobiles, with at least 5 suitable models under each make. What does the cyclist look for to eliminate quickly make-models from the 100 make-models to narrow the list down?
    – Sam7919
    May 29, 2023 at 23:02
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    @Sam Well, see this is the issue, being so broad this is almost an unanswerable question and it's why you're getting a lot of fluff. There really isn't anything other than, get a van\suv to put your bike in, a truck to put bikes on the back or otherwise roof/hitch solution. The feasibility of each option depends a lot on your usage, your bike(s) and your own preference.
    – Hursey
    May 30, 2023 at 0:06
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If carrying the bike(s) outside the car: the only criterion (for the car) should be the presence of a trailer hook. Non-trailer hooks solutions are not super convenient, especially if you want to use the car for a one-day event. If ebikes are involved, non trailer hooks solutions are even more complex to find, as one e-bike can be close to the max permissible height of the entire rack, and it's quite common to have a max rated weight per bike of 15kg. They are however non-trailer hooks racks that seem convenient to use on sedans, but there you need to check the other way around: look at car compatibilities for the rack, instead of finding a rack for the car you have. I haven't found quantified data on the impact on the range of an outside bike on an electric car, but that should be significant.

If carrying the bike inside the car: Getting something as close as possible as a van. Vans have a good inside height, that allows to transport the bikes vertically (bikes are tall objects), optimise cargo area volume (bikes are long objects) low loading height (to avoid having to lift the bike), and have wide openings. Personal vehicles based on vans also have removable seats instead of foldable seats, which has positive impacts on inside height, and volume. Vans also have other advantages, like being big enough to install beds inside, which eases the participation to multiday events - haven't participated to multiday events in cycling, but in other sports where space for tents was a problem.

The current car market isn't great for cyclists. SUVs are not practical for carrying bikes, as the cargo area isn't high enough to store a bike vertically (partly because of the folding seats, that take space vertically when folded), and the loading area is super high. Station wagons give me the impression to have slipped into the "sporty cars with practical considerations", rather than being practical first (narrow opening). The former segment of the MPV was a good candidate, but has been killed to favour SUVs, and the last ones (looks like they totally disappeared from North America, but there are still survivors in Europe) won't probably survive electrification - and the ones that are electrified do not have great ranges, which is a problem because cycling also usually involve traveling far.

The best answer is probably vehicles derived from commercial vehicles — that are usually sold in different circuits, if you accept the negative image that classically goes with these vehicles (and the "reduced" range for electric ones). In Europe, this segment is developed enough (in appearance at least, as there is a lot of rebranding/co-development in this segment), with the "non-commercial versions" being sold in regular dealerships. In North America, the situation seems a bit more complicated, as commercial vehicles seem to be rather based on pick-up trucks rather than vans (Ford seems to be an exception, but I haven't conducted extensive research).

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The main question to consider is what else is the car being used for, and how often does it carry bikes? Its rare for people to only use a car to carry bikes, and not wise to make lots of compromises for a small percent of use - e.g. buying a large van for pickup to carry 4 bikes once a month when a smallish car with two bikes on roof racks and two on the rear will do the bike adequately and might be much better for the other uses you have in mind.

Consider is how - on top, inside, behind, or in the case of a pickup use the deck/tray.

Next is how many bikes one, two or ten and number of passengers (same as bikes, one more than bikes for a shuttle driver, more than one bike per person)?

1-2 bikes roof rack is an option, some will put 4 up to, but it becomes a problem loading onto high roofed vehicles (SUV's/4x4's). Four will struggle to fit on narrow racks of small cars.

Behind the car even the smallest car will do two bikes, more than two, you probably want bigger car. If you are thinking more than four, you need a big car as that is a lot of weight hanging off the back. You then need to decide rack - a 2" receiver is by far the strongest, towball mounting less so, and a strap on rack OK, but not as good.

In the car needs a lot of space for more than one bike. Even many medium sized cars will need wheels removed to fit a single bike, let alone 2 or more. A van is the ideal vehicle for transporting bikes inside.

Pickups / utes (as known in parts of the world) are probably the most versatile for carrying bikes and can solve the problem a number of ways. Roof racks above the tray, bikes inside the tray, front wheels hanging over the tail gate, and rear acks are all possible.

Also consider space for other gear that goes along with cycling. If you going to be doing overnighters out of town, you need a car that carry overnight bags as well as people and bikes.

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    My current car has a sunroof. I leave the blind open when I have bikes on the roof. You notice it enough to not forget about the bikes and less likely to drive under something low.
    – mattnz
    May 30, 2023 at 1:23
  • Many good points, but a van or a pick-up truck can't be the ideal solution—even if transporting bikes is the main/only use for a car. For otherwise we would see many vans and trucks riding behind the racers at grand tours. Yet they just drive ordinary cars, and they seem to always use roof racks, incidentally, and with four bikes on top it's just as likely that the one they need is in the middle rather than on the edge.
    – Sam7919
    May 30, 2023 at 2:20
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    @Sam - The grand tour cars you see are the race day transport. Vans are not ideal race day, they create visibility problems and if you watch a bike swap, they get them off the roof much faster than they would out the back of a van. Smaller cars are far more versatile and safer in the congested space of race day. I suspect the teams move between tours with the bikes in large transports. Comparing a 'weekend warrior' needs to a pro race team is a favorite and flawed pastime of the cycle industry.
    – mattnz
    May 30, 2023 at 2:53
  • I see. Makes sense. A van would occlude too much.
    – Sam7919
    May 30, 2023 at 3:05
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Pick up truck:

  • Pros:

    • Flexibility, can carry many bikes of different shapes and sizes.
    • Easy to clean after carrying dirty bikes
    • Bikes are partially protected against collisions.
    • No need for costly accessories (but you can add them if you want)
    • It is extremely unlikely that you reach the weight capacity limit of the car with bikes alone.
  • Cons:

    • Pick-ups are longer than most SUVs and station wagons
    • Don't have an enclosed trunk and if you need one, you may need to install an accessory to overcome that.

I drive a mid-size pickup truck and it is the most flexible option I've experimented. Besides the pickup, I have used roof racks on a station wagon, rear mounted racks on a SUV, and hitch mounted racks. All of them have size, shape and weight limitations that can be easily overcome with a pickup truck for most cases. Even some tandem, recumbent, trikes and quads can be carried with a truck with no special accessories.

You can use accessories but you can also transport one bike with no accessories at all.

The single most basic accessory of all is a cargo bed liner, which is general purpose and protect both the car and the load. I add Cargo straps to secure the bikes against movement and a cable lock to secure them against theft. From there on, you can get all sorts of fancy mounts, tail gate pads, etc.

When I drive alone to a trail, I simply "toss" the bike in the cargo area and go. But when I go with friends I can easily accommodate 4 bikes. With some care, even 6 bikes using no more than a couple of ratchet straps. If you add roof rack and hitch mounted rack you can carry way more bikes than riders fit inside the cab (...).

Another great advantage is that the bikes come dirty after the ride, It just does not matter, I can hose-wash the bed liner or use a broom to take the dirt out.

Another thing that I like is that the bike is reasonably protected from read end collisions and they are not high up so they are not as prone to hit low structures like a garage door or a low bridge, a drive-thru roof, etc.

One disadvantage of a pickup truck may be the open cargo area is prone to theft of lose items when parked or even at a trafic light stop. I have installed a cargo cover that can be rolled up to solve that issue, so it is like having a very large trunk. Perfect for luggage and other stuff. It also serves a purpose when taking the bike to/from the service shop, as I can leave the bike in the car while being protected from sun/rain and it is out of view of thieves and curious people. A camper or truck cap can also solve this issue, even though it can limit the shape and or size of the cargo you can carry.

Finally, I am a DIY enthusiast, so carrying small quantities of materials (especially sheet goods) every now an then is another use case that fits perfectly for me. It would take a lot to convince me to use another car type.

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  • You're right. A pick-up truck is a great option for cyclists. The trouble is that in my area the only pick-up trucks available go by names like F-150, Ram, and GMC. Their looks and size are obscene, not to mention their gas mileage. They're simply way too much, in all respects, for transporting another ~10-kg conveyance, and outdoor exercise and leisure machine.
    – Sam7919
    May 29, 2023 at 23:11
  • @Sam, I get your point. I do not like large P.U. trucks. I have seen a nice small-ish one with a dodge badge (Ram 700). There is also a very small one from VW (Saveiro). There is one by Renault (Oroch). Also, consider Honda's Ridgeline. I understand if those aren't available In the US, but may be attainable. I'm in Latin america and the models I mention I have seen rolling down the streets. Some of them might be for this market only, but they are worth a web search, at least.
    – Jahaziel
    May 29, 2023 at 23:21
  • What about an "El Camino"?
    – Jahaziel
    May 29, 2023 at 23:21
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    @Sam7919 Ford makes a small, optionally-hybrid pickup since 2022, called the "Maverick." There's a competing Hyundai "Santa Cruz," and several more manufacturers (Toyota? Mazda?) are also expecting to produce compact trucks for the U.S. market in the next year or two. Nov 2, 2023 at 15:40

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