Sooner or later all cyclists have to resolve how to get their bikes somewhere with the aid of a car. It used to be that your choices were limited to roof racks or trunk-mounted carriers. Recently, however, a number of companies have come out with carriers that can be used in the back of station wagons, vans and sport-utility vehicles. These in-car carriers offer an interesting alternative and, for some, a few advantages as well.
The first big advantage that an in-car carrier offers is anti-theft security, without the semipermanence of a roof rack. If you own a vehicle on which you do not wish to mount a large roof rack, the in-car option gives security that a trunk-mounted rack can’t match and an impermanence that beats the trunk variety, too. For those of us prone to driving into things with bikes on the roof, the inside-carry alternative means no more bent seatposts, mashed forks or dented roofs. Since using an in-car carrier, I’ve noticed a few other benefits as well: Since the bikes are in the car, the aerodynamically cleaner profile means the car’s gas mileage has gone up, my car doesn’t sway in the wind as much and (my favorite) the bikes are infinitely cleaner whenever I arrive at the ride, race or home. And not everyone in the world is able to lift a bike (no matter how light it is) onto the too-tall roof of a sport-utility vehicle, which makes the in-car solution all the more attractive.
For this in-car buyer’s guide, we sourced six different carriers–four that come with their own stabilizers and two that come as mounts you can install on a stabilizer, wooden board or vehicle bed.
Before deciding whether an in-car carrier is for you, there are a few details you’ll need to know. Before you even look at a system, measure your vehicle. Take a measurement of the back of your vehicle between the wheel wells.
Some sport-utility vehicles have enough space between the door and the wheel wells that you can fit one of the wide stabilizers in, but you usually need about a foot from the door or hatch to the stabilizer in order to leave space between your bike’s brake levers and the door.
While sport-utility vehicle owners will find they have few worries space-wise, station wagons are limited not only by width but by height. If you ride a particularly large frame, you may have some trouble backing it into your car. I’ve tested some 60-centimeter bikes and found I needed to put the mounting system toward the front of the car’s backseat to avoid ramming the bike’s seat collar unceremoniously into the roof.
Also, if you are going to be using an in-car bike rack, we recommend that you get the best car air purifier that money can buy.
Bike Tight uses a stabilizer for its mounts called the Gliderboard. The Gliderboard comes in two sizes–35 or 47 inches in width. The 35-inch-wide model retails for $60, or it comes with two of the Bike Tight mounts for $129. The 47-inch-wide Gliderboard costs a little more at $70. The Bike Tight mounts use a 9-millimeter skewer and are now available in a locking version. This locking skewer can be used to retrofit any existing 9-millimeter skewer bike mount on the market. Because the Gliderboard features a single track, it does not offer as much variety for mount placement as some systems, but Bike Tight does make an angle mount for the fork mount so that your bikes’ handlebars can be staggered in such a way that up to six bikes can be carried on the 47-inch Gliderboard. Wondering what to do with the front wheel? Bike Tight makes a front wheel mount that will cost you an additional $20. I’ve had plenty of time to drive around with the Bike Tight in the back of my car and it is one of the reasons I’ve decided that in-car carriers are my carrier of choice. Unless someone smashes one of my car’s windows (or hijacks the car itself), bikes can’t be stolen from my car. It’s possible to pass a cable lock under the Bike Tight so if you can mount the stabilizer to something permanently (there are two screw holes to mount it with), you can ensure your bike’s security.
The BIKEtransPORTER system ($159.95) uses a three metal-rail system to mount quick-releases in a removable format. Two straps with quick-release buckles anchor the rails in place so the BIKEtransPORTER won’t slide around in your car. Unfortunately, I couldn’t mount the straps because the screws would deny me access to my car’s spare tire. The 40-inch-wide rails can hold up to six bikes in a large vehicle and, thanks to the swiveling quick-release bracket (which requires no additional hardware), I was able to easily load three bikes into my car and they came out with nary a scratch to the paint jobs. BIKEtransPORTER also makes the BIKEtransPORTER Lite ($129.95) which uses a two-rail, two quick-release system. BIKEtransPORTER comes with a vehicle-fit chart that gives a breakdown on the number of bikes a vehicle can hold and the number of cargo hooks you’ll need to hold the frame in place. The BIKEtransPORTER can also be mounted on a wall with a $5.95 pair of brackets as a garage storage unit. Hook-and-loop tie-down straps are available ($5.95 for three) to keep your bike’s front wheel from flopping around in the back. Additional quick-release brackets retail for $22.95. Because the fork mounts are mounted on three different rails and can be swiveled with the aid of a 4-millimeter Allen wrench, I found the BIKEtransPORTER to be the system that fit three bikes into my car most easily. But because I couldn’t anchor the transporter itself to my car, it did slide around a bit. For those willing to do some sewing, there is a hook-and-loop closure kit included for use with car carpets.
Metal Concepts Traps
Metal Concepts’ Traps system uses a board similar to Bike Tight’s Gliderboard, but in a three-track format to allow staggering of handlebars. The Track board comes in two widths: 35 ($40) and 47 ($65) inches, but does not include any fork mounts. Traps mounts carry a suggested retail of $24.95 and can be mounted either straight on the Track board or can be staggered with one bolt mounted in each track for a 45-degree shift of the fork. I’ve tended not to stagger the mounts on any of the systems I use because that would require me to push the bicycle even farther back into the car in order to prevent one of the brake levers from hitting the back window. The Traps mount itself is well made, but it does not have a hole in the mount large enough to pass a cable lock through. A front wheel holder is available for $19.95. The 47-inch-wide Track board can fit up to six bikes, while the 35-inch board held three fairly easily. For less than $100, you can have a two-bike carrier with a measure of security not usually seen in this price range.
Renniks Bike Tote
The Bike Tote is a heavy-duty bike carrier designed for use in vehicles with hard sides. The Bike Tote expands in width and can then be locked in place. Once that adjustment has been made, a clamp arm extends to brace the Bike Tote against the sides of the vehicle in question. The Renniks system is remarkably adjustable; it can range in width from 39 to 100 inches and comes with anywhere from two to six fork-mount carriers. The basic two-rail, two-mount carrier retails for $250, while the larger three-rail, six-mount carrier will cost you $395. A rail can be added to the two-rail version to convert it to the three-rail variety for $50, and extra fork mounts cost $36.96. The Bike Tote can carry up to nine bikes safely. While this is the priciest system tested, it is also the most solidly built. The super heavy-duty fork mounts cannot be locked with a cable, but they can be swiveled to permit bikes to be carried close together.
Rocky Mounts Bed Mount
Using a sturdy 9-millimeter skewer, the Bed Mount is a heavy-duty fork-mount unit that can be used to add on to any fork-mount board-style carrier. The mount is made from cast aluminum in a design that permits passing a cable lock beneath the mount for security. The $24.95 add-on unit comes with hardware that allows you to bolt this mount to most panels you can get a drill through.
Wheels Manufacturing Forker
The Forker mount by Wheels Manufacturing is one of the best-made fork-mount units I tested for this buyer’s guide. For $25 you get an industrial-strength fork mount with space to pass a cable lock through and a beefy 9-millimeter skewer. The hardware that comes with the Forker is simple and the bolts are long enough to pass through most things you’d consider drilling a hole in; it can also be used as an add-on to the Traps and Bike Tight as well as any drillable panel.