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Bike Rack Info

Pic: Acura MDX With Just Rite Rack and Thule Box

Bike racks to carry your bikes on your car come in many shapes and sizes, but for the most part there exist three different types of rack: the roof rack, the hitch mounted rack, and the strap-on trunk rack.

Roof racks are the most versatile type of rack, as they can carry more than just bikes when using the proper attachments (skis, snowboards, boats, sailboards, kayaks, rooftop boxes for luggage, etc.). They also offer a high degree of security (with locks available), stability (the mounts and bike holders are typically very stable), and safety for the vehicle (contact points are minimal and well protected). Roof rack setups are also the most expensive type of rack, with a basic setup to carry two bikes, with locks, coming in at $400 or more. Click here for tips on roof racks

Hitch mounted racks are a little less versatile than roof racks, but offer a similar degree of security, stability and safety as a roof rack. Obviously, a vehicle requires a trailer hitch in order for a hitch rack to be used, but luckily hitches are available for almost every make and model of vehicle on the market. One advantage of the hitch mounted rack is that neither the hitch, the rack, nor the bikes touch any painted surface of the vehicle itself, so damage to the vehicle from scratching is all but eliminated. Click here for tips on hitches and hitch racks

Strap-on trunk racks are the least expensive type of bike rack. This type of rack does not typically offer any type of locking ability (save for a long cable or similar lock looped through the bikes and the undercarriage of the car - not terribly convenient), holds the bikes very close to the car (watch out for pedal scratches on the paint!), and have been known to fall off of the car if not properly secured and periodically checked. You may have guessed that I am not a fan of this type of rack, but having sold all different types of car racks for years, I have seen enough trunk scratches, and have actually witnessed bikes lying in the middle of the freeway, to know that this type of rack is only good for short distances when carrying inexpensive bikes on beater cars.

Photo: Yakima System.  Click to view larger version I personally use a Yakima Q Tower system with Q Stretch Kit, fairing, and two Cobra upright bike mounts.

The Cobra is one of the new breed of upright rack that clamps the front wheel instead of the frame or fork dropouts. Thule and Yakima have both released this type of model this season, partially to cope with the new crop of DH and freeride bikes that have 20mm or QR20 dropouts and large disk brakes that do not work well (or at all) with fork mount racks, and that also have unique frame designs or wide tires that do not work well with frame mount racks.

Actually, a couple of other companies (notably Sportrack USA) have had this type of rack design for a few years now, but only recently did the big two (Thule and Yakima) jump on the bandwagon. Also, Vancouver's public transit system has used a similar technique to hold bikes on selected buses for a few years now.

I was tempted to go with the more expensive King Cobra bike carriers, until I was informed that the cable lock on the King Cobra does not lock the bike holder to the rack, and thus the King Cobra is not a fully locking system. The only difference between the King Cobra and the much cheaper Cobra is the aforementioned cable lock. I just use Yakima's accessory lock housing to lock my Cobra's down to the rack, and a conventional cable lock to lock the bikes to the rack.

Yakima's new, smaller fairing does a remarkable job of cutting down on wind noise. I was skeptical at first because I was used to the older, larger fairing, but the new one works better in my estimation.

Pic: Civic SiR with Just Rite rack Up until this year I used a hitch mounted rack on my Civic (pic left). This is the kind of bike rack setup you want if you are on a budget, but you value both your bike and the paint and bodywork on your car. It is a Hidden Hitch Class I trailer hitch with a removable tongue, with a Rack Attack by Just Rite BR100 three bike rack bolted up. Easy on, easy off, does not touch your car's paint in any way, and keeps the bikes securely away from the car, as well. Not super expensive ($300 and up, depending on the car and which rack you choose), and much much better than any strap-on type trunk rack.

Pic: Astro Van Loaded For the serious setup, get a Yakima or Thule roof rack system (which brand depends on which car - Yakima fits some cars a bit better, Thule fits others a bit better. Contact me if you have any questions), but be prepared to spend some cash, they're not exactly cheap.

Photo at right was taken on the Eastern end of Yosemite National Park, on the way to the Mammoth Mountain NORBA races in 1996. Eqipment includes a Thule 415 foot pack mated to 65" bars, one Thule fork mount and one Thule Ultimate upright bike carrier, a Thule Adventurer rooftop box, a Hidden Hitch Class III 2" receiver hitch, and a Maxxraxx 2" hitch mount four bike carrier. With this setup we were able to carry three riders and their bikes and equipment, and we were able to sleep two in the van with all the equipment locked up when camping at Mammoth.


Roof Rack Tips

When purchasing a roof rack, consult a rack expert before buying. Thule and Yakima make the best racks, but Thule fits some cars better, Yakima fits other cars better. An experienced rack expert will know exactly which one is right for you.

If your roof rack sits directly on your vehicle's paint, make absoutely sure that the paint is clean every time you mount the rack, and make sure the rack's foot pads are clean, as well. Remove the rack when you are not using it. This not only prevents damage to your vehicle's paint, it improves your gas mileage, and prolongs the life of the rack itself. Also, if you leave the rack on for extended periods of time, dirt will accumulate under the foot pads and cause scratching of the paint, regardless of how clean they were when they were mounted.

When carrying bikes, make a cardboard hang-tag that you can hang on your rearview mirror whenever the bikes are on. Make the tag visible, and maybe write something on it like "bikes on top". Only hang the tag when the bikes are on. This will remind you that the bikes are up there, thus (hopefully) preventing you from driving into your garage, underground parking, or drive-through with your bikes still on top, thus crushing them and damaging your rack and car, too. This happens quite often, and not only to regular rack users - it has happened to rack store employees, and even roof rack sales reps.

One of the more common questions I get asked is "how much/how many can my roof rack carry?" Thule and Yakima roof racks are generally rated to 165lbs. If you are mounting to an existing factory roof rack, the rating for the factory roof rack is what sould be followed (generally 100 to 150lbs.), unless it exceeds Thule and Yakima's 165lb. limit. You must factor in the weight of the attachments when calculating - roof top boxes, for example, can weigh 30 to 50lbs. or more.

The other limitation when considering "how much" or "how many" can be carried, is the physical space limitation. Only so many bikes will fit side by side on the crossbars, and roof top boxes can be very wide. Thule and Yakima reccommend a particular length of load bar for each car, but it is possible to use longer bars to give more space, just as long as you stay within the weight limitations of the rack. Just be aware that the bars will stick out of the sides of the vehicle, which can be very painful when you accidentally knock your head on one.

Hitch Rack Tips

Trailer hitches are made specifically for each make and model of vehicle, and are bolted to the chassis of the vehicle. Sometimes, drilling holes in the chassis is necessary, depending on the vehicle. Also, some cutting of the lower bumper fascia is necessary, but this is rare.

Trailer hitches come with class ratings, which relate to the weight rating, or number of pounds the hitch can tow. Class I is the lightest rating, Class II can tow more, etc. On top of the class rating, hitches come with individual ratings. Mine, for example, is a Class I rated to 1,500 pounds GTW (gross towing weight).

The number of pounds the vehicle itself can actually tow depends on how much power the engine has, and what the vehicle manufacturer rates that vehicle for. For this reason, hitch manufacturers only make a class of hitch that matches what that make/model of vehicle can actually tow. So, even if I wanted to put a Class III hitch on my Civic, none of the hitch manufacturers are going to make a Class III hitch because even the most powerful Civic Honda makes can still only tow up to a Class I. So you can only get a Class I hitch for the Honda Civic. (That said, if you really really want a Class III hitch for a Honda Civic, you may be able to get one custom made if you can find a hitch shop willing to do it. I've only ever heard of one [Sealand in Richmond, BC], but there are likey others out there that can do it.)

The reason the class of hitch is important is that it dictates how many bikes you can carry. Class I hitches can only carry two or three bikes (depending on the individual rating of the hitch), Class II hitches can carry three to four bikes, and Class III hitches can typically carry four to five bikes. So, if like me you have a Honda Civic, which can only tow up to a Class I rating and thus only has Class I hitches available for it, you can only carry up to three bikes on a trailer hitch mounted rack. If you want to carry more, you will need to invest in a roof rack.

An important thing about mounting a trailer hitch to your vehicle for the sole purpose of carrying bikes is the vehicle manufacturer's warranty, and the re-sale value of the vehicle.

Honda, for example, does not warranty the Civic for any towing whatsoever. Thus, if I had transmission problems (as an example), and the dealer thought I was using my Civic for towing, they could deny me warranty coverage. However, in order to tow a trailer, you need the proper wiring for brake lights and turn signals. If my vehicle is not properly wired (it's easy to check if you know what to look for), how could I ever have (legally and safely) towed a trailer? For this reason, I do not have the wiring installed, nor do I need it just to carry bikes.

That said, if a drivetrain problem ever does develop in my Civic, just to be safe I would likely remove the trailer hitch altogether before taking the car in to Honda.

Regarding re-sale value of the vehicle, any vehicle used for towing will generally be considered to be "worked harder" than a vehicle not used as such, and thus would be worth a bit less. Again, if the wiring is not installed, it could not have been used for towing. Hopefully the prospective buyer trusts your word, assuming you are being honest. Again, removal of the hitch before selling might be a good idea just to avoid questions.

This is all assuming you only want the trailer hitch for carrying bikes and not for actual towing. If you are towing, you will need the proper wiring, and all of the aforementioned points are moot.

Well, actually, that is not exactly true. Technically, it is illegal to obstruct your tail lights and license plate like you do when you carry bikes on the back of your vehicle, either with a hitch rack or a strap-on trunk rack. In order to properly comply with the law, you would need to install a set of brake lights/turn signals and a license plate relocator behind your bikes in plain view (there is at least one company producing such a device). In order to do this, you would need the proper trailering wiring. Back to square one.

I have never seen anyone use a brake light/turn signal relocating device while carrying bikes on the back, nor have I ever heard of someone getting a ticket for not using such a device. I have, however, heard of people getting tickets for obstructing their license plates. Specifically in Vancouver, but also in other areas, there was a bit of a blitz of media attention and police crackdowns on people obstructing their license plates with bike racks and bikes a few years back. The rack manufacturers responded with license plate relocating devices or mounts on their rear mounted racks, although most are still sold without them and/or most people do not use them. Basically it has boiled down to this: generally, you will not be pulled over or ticketed for blocking your plate or lights with a bike rack and bikes, but if you do anything to attract attention (poor or aggressive driving, for example), it can be used as an excuse to pull you over and/or give you a ticket.

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