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How to carry bikes with your car safely and legally

There are many ways to safely and securely transport your bicycles.
Graham Smith
Contributing Journalist
CarsGuide

26 Dec 2015 • 7 min read

With the growing popularity of recreational cycling there’s a corresponding growth in the desire to take them with us when we hit the road. When we do we must do it safely and legally.

A poorly restrained bicycle has the potential to cause severe damage or injury if it were to come loose while you’re driving along, so it’s worth the effort to restrain them securely.

Carrying our bicycles

Some cyclists carry their bicycles inside their cars, but most choose to carry them on a roof-mounted rack or one attached to the rear of their car.

Whichever you choose you should make sure the attachment is strong enough to take the weight of the bicycle or bicycles.

Carrying the bikes inside the car

If you drive a vehicle that has sufficient cabin or boot space, and you are prepared to partly dismantle your bicycle, such as removing the wheels, you might prefer to carry your bicycle inside your car.

An unrestrained bike can quickly become a dangerous object

While that eliminates the need for an external bike rack it still needs to be safely stowed.

Even inside the car a bicycle needs to be restrained, particularly if it’s not in a separate part of the car such as the boot.

An unrestrained bike can quickly become a dangerous object flying around the cabin and cause serious injury to occupants in the event of a crash or a sharp change of direction.

Using something as simple as an octopus strap can prevent a bike from moving.

Roof racks

If you carry your bikes on the roof you must use a rack specifically designed for the purpose.

There are a large range of racks made to attach to the existing roof rails fitted to many wagons and SUVs and carry one or more bikes.

Some racks allow the bike to be carried upright; others require them to be upside down. With some the bike can be left intact, others require the front wheel to be removed.

If you choose to use a roof-mounted rack be aware of the effect of the bikes on the car’s handling in windy conditions or on winding roads, and don’t forget they’re there when entering places with restricted heights such as car parks or parking areas with low hanging tree branches.

Rear mount

If you choose to carry your bikes on the rear of your vehicles, the rack you use must be specifically designed for attachment to the rear. Usually that means to the towball or the boot.

Make sure your bikes don’t obscure the car’s registration plate or the rear lights, as that is a contravention of state laws

If it’s mounted on the towball make sure the load on the towball doesn’t exceed the maximum allowable specified by the car manufacturer. To find out what that load is refer to your car’s owner’s manual.

Some rear-mounted bike racks are designed to swing out of the way to allow you access to the rear of the vehicle or the boot. Others are fixed, which can make them inconvenient if you need access to the rear of the vehicle.

Owners of sedans, hatches or station wagons might prefer a bike rack designed to attach to the rear of their vehicles using straps.

When you mount your bicycles on the rear of your car make sure they don’t obscure the car’s registration plate or the rear lights, as that is a contravention of state laws.

If the plate is obscured you must use an auxiliary plate, which can be obtained from your state’s registration branch for a small fee, and it must be lit so it’s visible at night.

Make regular checks

It’s not enough to simply mount the bikes on your rack and forget about them until you reach your destination.

Make a final check before you set out on your journey to ensure the bikes are securely attached to the bike rack and that the rack is securely attached to the car.

You should also stop and make regular checks along the way to make sure the bikes and the rack haven’t become loose. Regular checks are particularly important if you’re on a long trip.

Keep your bikes secure

Bikes perched on top of our cars, or on the back, are in full view of anyone who might want to steal them.

Every state has laws relating to the transportation of bikes on cars and it’s your responsibility to know and understand them

To keep them secure lock them to the rack and lock the rack to the car. That way they will still be there when you return to your car.

Don't forget to remove the bike rack

While all states allow bike racks to be fitted to cars for the purpose of transporting bikes, they also require them to be removed when not being used for that purpose. Failing to do so could result in a fine.

Check your state laws

Before you mount your bikes on your car familiarize yourself with the laws that apply where you live and where you’re going.

Every state has laws relating to the transportation of bikes on cars and it’s your responsibility to know and understand them.

To find out more, check your local state roads authority.

Do you travel with your bikes? Let us know in the comments below.

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