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Bike Carriers & Bike Racks

Bike Carriers/Cycle Rack Buying Guide

The aim of these pages is to help you decide how to carry your bikes/cycles. On top of the car? Behind it? Both?

Having decided which type of carrier(s) to buy you'll then need to decide which model(s). Which features matter to you? How much do you want to spend? The good news is that there are some guidelines to help you through this maze...

> Considerations
> Roof mounting bike/cycle carriers
> Tow ball mounting bike/cycle carriers
> Rear door mounting bike/cycle carriers
> Spare wheel mounting bike/cycle racks
> Bike/cycle Boxes, Bags and Cases


First of all, please consider the following questions and answers / observations:

  • How many bikes/cycles am I likely to want to carry, now and over (say) the next five years?
     If you need to carry more than four bikes, you'll need to use a combination of roof mounted carriers and either a tow ball mounted, or rear door mounted carrier (if permitted for your vehicle). Although it is sometimes possible to fit 5 bikes on a set of aluminium through bars, the weight limit on the bars and/or vehicle will seldom allow for this.
  • What else do we need to put on the roof?
     Note that a ‘long medium wide’ box is generally big enough for a family of five and you can still (usually) carry 2 bikes/cycles next to it. If you think you might want to carry multiple accessories in the future, always go for a set of aluminium through bars.
  • Do I have a tow bar fitted, and am I prepared to invest in a tow bar for each new car I buy in the next few years?
    Many people fit tow balls specifically for bike/cycle carrying purposes. The cost of the tow ball is peanuts compared to the depreciation on the car! (Get the garage to throw it in as part of the deal.) The total cost of good quality systems is in fact very similar, whether they are roof or tow ball mounted.
  • Which types of cycle carrier are available for my vehicle, and how many bikes/cycles can be carried on each type?
    This is a key question which usually narrows the options considerably!.
    > Tow ball mounted carriers fit almost every vehicle, but smaller and electric cars will often have a lower tow bar nose weight, restricting the weight you can load on the tow ball. Tow ball carriers will take up to four bikes, but some vehicles are restricted to a maximum of three - your handbook will include information about tow bar nose weight.
    > You can usually carry bikes/cycles on the roof unless you have a soft top, 'moon roof', or a car where the roof bars are either too close together or too far apart to hold bike carriers safely - this is often a problem with three door coupes. If you find that the brands we stock list an application for your vehicle on their website, which isn't on our site, there may be a good reason - please check with us.
  • Can I carry my e-bike on a bike carrier?
    It is nearly always possible to carry an e-bike on a bike carrier, but this will usually need to be on a wheel supported tow ball mounted rack; their frame shape is rarely suitable for the hang on type of tow bar rack (which are anyway usually weight-rated to a maximum 15kg per bike).
    E-bikes are usually either too heavy or too long for roof mounted carriers, regardless of the effort required to lift an e-bike onto a vehicle roof.
    You'll need to check the ‘specifications’ tab on the product pages to make sure the carrier can accommodate the weight, tyre width and wheel base length of your bike. Always remove the battery from the bike before fitting to a bike carrier, both for safety and to protect the battery.
  • Can I carry a children's bike on a bike carrier?
    Roof mounted carriers will usually take a children's bike with a 20” wheel upwards, but some carriers, the Thule FreeRide 532 and the Atera GIRO AF+, will often take a 16” wheel upwards, depending on the shape of the frame. As a general rule, if the bike will fit straight in the boot widthways, it is usually too small to go on a roof mounted carrier. For rear door mounted carriers, you'll often need an artificial cross bar as a hanger for the bike. Tow ball mounted carriers are usually a good option for children's bikes, but look out for the minimum wheel base length on carriers that have a gap between the front and back wheel holders.

Some other things to consider:

  • One roof mounting carrier is required for each bike.
  • If using a tow bar cycle rack, you must not exceed the maximum permitted tow ball nose weight, taking into account the weight of the carrier and the weight of the bikes.
  • Most people will opt for a system which is easily transferred from vehicle to vehicle.
  • Any need to open the tailgate, especially during the journey. (We strongly advise you to avoid any Strap On cycle carriers which pass a strap over the bumper).
  • If you buy a tow ball cycle carrier it makes sense to choose one with the potential to fit to every type of tow ball.
  • Am I tall and strong enough to lift bikes/cycles onto the roof?
The different types of bike/cycle carrier:

Roof mounting cycle carriers

There are three types of roof mount - frame holder, fork holder, and tyre holder, where the carrier grips one tyre or both tyres. They usually have good security - the bikes are locked to the carrier, the carrier can be locked to the bars (apart for the CRUZ Bici-Rack), and the bikes are out of harm's way as long as you watch out for overhead barriers and low branches, and avoid multi-storey car parks and your own garage or car port. You'll often be able to fit 4 bikes on the roof, or perhaps 2 or 3 bikes together with a narrow/medium width roof box if you have a set of aluminium T-Track bars. Most of these carriers will fit to standard 32mm by 22mm roof bars, or slotted aluminium aerobars.

The Atera and Thule aluminium cycle carriers not only hold bigger down tubes, and look very smart, but they are also much easier to use. If you have to lean over towards the centre of the car you'll appreciate the benefits of a quick catch / quick release handle at shoulder height. Many people with 4 bikes/cycles will therefore choose to put two easier-to-use carriers in the middle of the roof, and cheaper ones on the sides.

We'll supply matching locks with multiple Atera roof mounted carriers purchased, or you can use our Thule Lock Matching Service (added at the shopping basket) to order matching locks for multiple Thule items.

Tow bar mounting bike/cycle carriers

These fit any standard 50mm tow ball, including detachable tow balls. Up to 4 bikes can be carried on most vehicles; up to three on most vehicles with a rear mounted spare wheel, but again, this will be dependent on the nose weight on the vehicle.

'Bolt on' Tow ball

A 'bolt on' tow ball cycle carrier - fixed with 2 bolts to a mounting plate

'Swan Neck' Tow ball

A 'swan neck' tow ball cycle carrier - it just appears from under the bumper

There are two types of tow ball - 'bolt on' (sometimes known as "two bolt flange") and 'swan neck' (which includes detachable tow balls). Be warned that some makes of cycle carrier only fit to one type of tow ball or the other.

Tow balls are less expensive to fit than you might think. Most franchised car dealers are ridiculously expensive - but try and negotiate a 'free' tow ball as part of a deal.

The cheaper racks are 'hang on' racks - you hang the bike/cycle from its crossbar. Bear in mind though that you'll need to add on at least £15 for a lighting board. An artificial cross bar is available for ladies' bikes and Y frame bikes, although generally it doesn't matter if one wheel is higher than the other.

'Wheel support racks' do what they suggest - the bikes stand on their wheels. Special supports keep the bikes apart and prevent any rubbing damage, especially with full suspension bikes and e-bikes. Wheel support racks always come complete with a lighting and number plate unit.

Most wheel support racks tilt, even with the bikes in place, to allow the tailgate to be opened. This is very handy, and sometimes almost essential e.g. if you have a dog.

The majority of wheel support racks are very quick to fit, and easy to load. It makes sense to supplement any locks supplied with the carrier by threading a cable lock around all the bikes, and the carrier, passing this through the vehicle towing loop for additional security.

Note that you can never tow with a wheel support cycle rack in place, as the rack sticks out behind the tow ball.

Rear door mounting bike carriers

The cheaper 'strap on' carriers are relatively cheap, carrying up to 3 bikes/cycles. They are held on with straps and can be considered to be safe if used properly. All the cycle carriers we sell can be left on when the boot is opened on most vehicles, although the bikes must be taken off first to avoid damaging the tailgate hinges, damaging your back, and the risks of the heavy tailgate crashing shut. (We recommend that you avoid any strap on carriers which have straps fitted below the bumper, as you'll need to take the whole lot off to open the tailgate - this is a dead waste of time and always exasperating!)

Most 'Y frame' and ladies' bikes/cycles will require an artificial cross bar, as the bikes should be held on their point of balance. Unbalanced bikes/cycles will be trying to twist the carrier, which is definitely not safe.

The Thule OutWay Hanging and OutWay Platform carriers use steel straps instead of fabric straps and are therefore intrinsically much safer. The OutWay Hanging comes in a 2, or 3 bike version hang on rack (requiring the use of an extra number plate board); the OutWay Platform takes 2 bikes and is a wheel support rack which in most cases stands above the number plate and light cluster.

Thule make a 'clamp on' wheel support cycle rack for the VW T6 which will take up to 4 bikes - each bike stands on its own wheel tray, the bikes are locked to the carrier and the carrier is locked to the vehicle. The tailgate can be lifted with the carrier in place, and in most cases the platform carriers hold the bikes/cycles above the light cluster and number plate.

All rear door mounting cycle carriers are car specific. There are application lists on the Bike/Cycle Carriers product pages which tell you whether a product has been specifically approved for your car, how many bikes it will take, whether a lighting board is required, etc.. If you have particular questions about car racks / bike carriers, please contact us.

Spare wheel mounting bike carriers

BUZZ RACK make a rear mounted spare wheel carrier for 2 bikes, but the application guide is now fairly thin. If you have any questions about this type of carrier, please contact us.

Bike bags and cases

Bike transport case BIKE SAFE

B & W bike.case

Bike Touring Box

B & W bike.box

We stock a range of top quality bike/cycle carrying bags and boxes, made by B&W of Germany. Padded bags are OK for car and train transport, but don't offer sufficient protection for air travel where you need either a hard case - see pictures - or a much cheaper composite hard case / padded bag, giving hard case levels of protection to the most vulnerable bits of your bike/cycle. Please click here for details.