29th October 2010 Words: Matt Lamy
Taking your bike on the car can be a nerve-racking experience — if you’ll pardon the pun — let Cycling Active find you a product to put your faith in.
There comes a time in every cyclist’s life when it simply won’t do to stroll out of your front door, sit upon your saddle, and ride on out. At some point you’re going to want to head a little further afield. Transporting your bike any great distance is a fraught process: by train or plane the fate of your prized possession is largely out of your hands.
But if you’re planning to use your car it’s a whole different matter. From familiar names such as Halfords, to dedicated car rack experts like Pendle, to vehicle manufacturers themselves, there is no shortage of choice when it comes to buying a cycle carrier.
In effect there are three main types of carrier: the rear rack which clips around your boot lid and rests on the rear of your car; the roof rack which attaches to roof bars; and the towpoint mounted rack which can either fit on the towbar or towball.
For the purpose of this test we have looked at rear and roof racks, simply because they will fit the majority of cars. If you don’t already have roof bars, they are easy to fit and can be bought for around £100. A towpoint, on the other hand, is a garage-fitted option and will cost significantly more.
Finally, your last consideration has to be how many bikes you are planning to transport. Roof racks are great for quickly loading one or two bikes or, if you put a little care into arranging them, even a full complement of four cycles. If you’re a little challenged in the height department, however, they can be a difficult to reach.
Rear racks can be loaded more easily but face other pitfalls: often the bikes have to be packed together so tightly that rub damage is a common occurrence unless you’re very careful to wrap and isolate the tubes, and fully-loaded rear racks have a tendency to obscure your number plate and lights, making your car illegal.
So what do we think is the ultimate way to take your bike by car? Let’s rack ’em up.
On the rack
Just to confuse matters even more, roof bars now come in two flavours — traditional square-profile and more modern oval, aero bars. These oval bars are designed to cut through the air, reduce drag, and in the process cause less wind noise. Just make sure when you pick your roof rack that it will work with whichever shape roof bars you have fitted.
In the rear
Similarly, be aware of the shape of your car’s rear end. Different rear racks are designed to work best with saloons, hatchbacks or people carriers. If you are in any doubt, log on to the rack manufacturer’s website where you should find a vehicle checker, showing which products fit your motor.
Finally, whatever sort of rack you choose, be aware of the increased length or — especially — the increased height of your vehicle; you wouldn’t be the first person to destroy some expensive machinery at the entrance to a multi-storey car park. It may sounds silly, but putting a little sticker on the inside of your windscreen to remind you of your unusual load could save a lot of heartache.
Our 7 of the best
Although the nice people at Halfords were keen to show off their slightly bigger-budget racks (see below) we wanted to see what you get in a sub-£20 cycle carrier. There’s nothing more than functional about the Value rack, but that’s not to say it doesn’t do its job of carrying a bike dandily.
It’s not too taxing putting the thing together, and once you’ve got the bike firmly in place it is carried as assuredly as on any other rack in this test.
8/10 Best on a Budget
Despite the rock’n’roll brand name, the Hollywood is a bit of an old-school rear rack — but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The frame unfolds from its initially compact shape to fit your boot, but it only offers so much adaptability. As long as you can give the rack a good grip on a solid bit of your car the bikes are held wobble free. Rubber retaining straps are provided to keep everything safe, and there’s no arguing with the price.
Whether it’s 500-mile round trips to Scotland, or carrying heavyweight Dutch bikes, we’ve been using the Halfords Advanced roof rack since March and it has performed perfectly. Although initial installation seems daunting, once fixed to your roof bars with a helpful quick release system you can quickly change it to fit any bike. As long as you tighten the lockable down tube clamp enough, the bike is rock solid. Two for £65 is an absolute steal.
10/10 Test Winner
Made in Lancashire by Pendle Engineering, this British-built rack is a solid bit of kit. Unlike the other roof mounts tested here, this works by removing the bike’s front wheel and clamping its fork to the rack. This makes the bike super steady, but also requires you to use the correct fork mount for your particular bike. The rack is easy to fit to the car, although it’s heavy and it takes a bit of adjusting if you’re going to use it to carry different bikes.
This Italian roof rack certainly has all the visual appeal of a premium product, but we found it a bit disappointing in use. It features many of the same qualities as the Halfords Advanced — a lockable down tube clamp, movable tyre cups — but unlike Halfords’ offering everything on the Asso is fiddly to alter once set up. It’s a question of unscrewing things rather than just flipping a quick release. We also found it a tad wobbly in transport.
Saris makes cool bike racks, and this is no exception. It takes a bit of preparation to get the ‘bones’ shaped right to fit your car — the rack’s legs and arms have to be completely removed and then refitted at the correct angle — but that means it is adaptable to a great range of rear ends. The Bones comes with everything you need — such as bike-retaining straps. Saris also makes similar racks for one and two bikes.
The law says that lights, indicators and licence plate must not be obscured. If they are you need a supplementary lighting board. These are normally powered by a seven-pin power socket, which come with a towbar. If you haven’t got a towbar this Evoboard is a good alternative. Once the control unit is wired into your car’s electrics, the battery-powered board works wirelessly, replicating braking and indicating functions.
Discounting the Evoboard as a useful extra, we’re left with six options. Of the two rear racks the Saris is the best buy, despite costing almost twice the price of the Hollywood. Among the roof racks the Halfords Advanced is the clear winner — it comes with all the features of premium racks, but at half the price.
That said, if you only ever intend to carry one bike, the Pendle will still be working when the rest of your car has turned to rust.