Sometimes getting your bike to the trail can be the most challenging part of a mountain bike ride. Mountain bikes are often large and unwieldy, and for some, the act of transporting a mountain bike from home to trail is difficult and discouraging. But it doesn’t have to be.
Here we’ll explore some options for transporting your mountain bike to help eliminate any excuses or barriers between you and your next ride.
Ride to the trail
If you’re fortunate enough to live within riding distance of your favorite trail, don’t load your bike into a vehicle, just ride there. Riding to your local trail not only saves gas and minimizes your carbon footprint, it also serves as a great warmup. Obviously, what constitutes “riding distance” will vary between riders and depends on ability and fitness, but don’t forget that must also ride home when you’re done. If you’re heading out for long or demanding ride, a 25-kilometer ride home afterward might be too much. So be smart and plan ahead.
Cram it in
While there are many racks and after-market products available for transporting your mountain bike –which we cover in detail below – it’s wise to first assess your vehicle to determine if a rack or transportation system is even necessary. Some vehicles offer more than ample space for hauling a mountain bike, or at least enough space to get creative and squeeze it in. While you may still choose to purchase a rack system for convenience, it’s good to be aware of your options.
Here are a few helpful tips and pointers for hauling a mountain bike inside your car:
The trunk or cargo space is usually the best place to transport a bike inside your vehicle. If your trunk is too small – as is typically the case in most sedans – try the back seat.
If you drive a hatchback or SUV, fold the seats down so that you can lay your bike across the expanded cargo area.
To fit your bike inside your vehicle it may be necessary to remove one or both of the bike’s wheels. In many cases removing the front wheel is sufficient and will provide you with enough space to fit the bike into your vehicle. But if necessary, remove the back wheel as well to buy a little extra space.
If laying your bike down in the cargo area of your vehicle, be cognizant of the gearing (cassette, derailleur, etc.) and lay the “drive side” up. This will prevent damage to the drive train.
If your bike is equipped with hydraulic disk brakes, it’s a good idea to insert a spacer between the pads to prevent them from closing/locking together in transit (not a fun issue to sort out). Spacers are small and inexpensive and can be purchased at most bike shops. Here is an example of a spacer from brake manufacturer, Avid.
It’s always a good idea to secure your bike – and the wheel(s) if removed – with something like a bungee cord or rope to keep it from falling over or slamming into the window when navigating turns, etc. Look for cargo loops, seat belts or anything else that you can lash the bike to before heading out to the trail. This simple step will help protect both your vehicle and your bike. Nite Ize reusable rubber twist ties are great products for this purpose that allow you to quickly secure your bike.
During the process of removing your wheels (if necessary), it is a good idea to lean them in a place where you will not forget to put them back into your car, such as the driver’s side door. This simple tip will prevent you from having to ride a wheelie for the entire outing, and will also ensure the wheel is free of the rear or front of your car.
To see how it’s done, check out Ivanhoe Cycles’ quick how-to video on YouTube.
As a supplement to the above “cram it in” approach, you may also consider purchasing an interior, fork-mount bike rack system to help better secure your bike(s) inside your car. These racks basically consist of a metal strip with fork mounts that can be secured to the bottom of your vehicle’s cargo area. If your mode of transportation offers enough head space to stand the bike(s) up, this after-market option can offer added convenience. One example is the Saris Traps Single Track.
For an easy and cheap alternative, you might also consider making your own interior bike rack. There are some videos on YouTube that will show you how to assemble an interior unit using a few, commonly available materials – click here for an example.
Naturally utes are great vehicles for transporting mountain bikes. While the bed of a ute allows you to simply toss your bike in and go, that may not always be the best idea. Mountain bikes are often expensive and contain parts and components that should be protected. When transporting your mountain bike in a ute, you may want to consider securing it using one of the following:
Fork mount – Both Yakima and Thule – the two largest providers of rack systems for outdoor recreation – as well as other brands offer fork mount products that attach to the inside lip of the truck bed. Check out Yakima’s Bedhead and the Thule Bed Rider for a couple of options. Going the fork mount route will require you to remove the front wheel of your bike when transporting it.
Tailgate pad – If you’re looking for a quick and easy solution to keeping your bike secure in the back of your ute, a tailgate pad might be right for you. As the name suggests, this pad goes over the tailgate of your ute and stays in place thanks to a couple of straps. The front wheel of the bike is then placed over the tailgate and the bike is secured by a strap that rests on the top of the gate. This solution is also great when transporting multiple bikes as the pad can secure several bikes. While the number of bikes you can carry depends on the pad and obviously the size of your ute and tailgate, some pads come with up to seven straps. Dakine, Race Face, Yakima and Thule are a few brands to check out if you’re interested in a pad for your pickup.
Bars and towers – For those looking to take their ute’s rack game to the next level, the big brands also offer bars and towers that can be mounted to the bed providing further options and room for virtually all the components available for roof rack systems. Check out Yakima and Thule to learn more.
Allows for added stability and security in the open bed of your ute when transporting bikes
Many options are very easy to install
Limits the amount of storage space for other items in the ute’s bed
Roof racks are popular methods of transporting bikes for good reason. For starters, roof rack systems are versatile – you start with a foundation of bars and then add accessories for the gear you wish to transport. Once you have the base system, you can add bike racks, ski racks, cargo boxes, mounts for a variety of watersports…you name it, there is probably an accessory that will allow you to haul it on your roof. Unlike trunk racks and some hitch racks, roof racks do not restrict access to your trunk or back hatch, which is an added benefit in terms of convenience.
There are numerous options when it comes to roof racks and accessories, but regardless of brand, the basic premise is:
“Fit” a rack system to your vehicle. What you drive will determine what parts you will need to setup a rack on your roof. Most roof rack providers, including both Yakima and Thule, will walk you through the process online. Simply enter the make and model of your car, as well as what gear you want to haul and how you prefer to haul it, and they will tell you what “fit kit” you need.
Once you have your fit kit and mounting hardware, you’ll need bars. Bars come in all shapes and sizes and you should select the length based on the width of your car and what you wish to transport – i.e. if you’re looking to haul a lot of bikes, you may opt for bars that are wider than your car so you can fit multiple bike mounts. It is also important to note that not all bars are the same and shape and configuration vary between brands. Yakima bars are round while Thule bars are square. Some accessories are interchangeable between brands but others are not. Always consult the manufacturer’s website or contact their support team before purchasing a part or accessory to ensure it will be compatible with your system.
Note: Most rack brands’ fit kits will utilize any factory racks, rails or crossbars that may come standard on your vehicle. But it is also a good idea to research what options are available with your factory roof rack before purchasing an aftermarket system. Some automobile manufacturers offer their own bike racks designed to attach to the factory system which may be an easier or cheaper option.
When it comes to bike rack options for rooftop systems, there is a staggering number to choose from. Once you have decided to go down the path of a roof rack for your bike, the best thing to do is peruse the websites of the brands in which you’re interested. Yakima, Thule and Rocky Mounts are a couple of brands worth exploring as they offer a multitude of configurations and models.
That said, here are a few things to consider when selecting your roof rack:
Does your bike have a thru-axel? Most newer mountain bikes utilize a thru-axel as opposed to a quick release skewer on the front wheel. If this is the case and you’re planning to use a fork mount rack to transport your bike, you’ll likely need a thru-axel adapter. You can purchase an adapter at most bike shops or online and they are easy to use, but it is important to purchase the appropriate size adapter for your axel.
Wheel on or off? Many racks are now available that don’t require you to remove the front wheel of your bike. While this type of rack offers added convenience, it is also typically more expensive. Determining how you wish to transport your bike, as well as your budget, will help guide you to the option that is best for you.
Versatility and the ability to haul a variety of gear and sports equipment
Locking mechanisms for added security
No front or rear visual obstruction
Requires you to lift your bike over your head
Roof racks are permanent systems that require tools and time to remove
Clearance – be careful with overhangs, parking garages, drive-thrus and the like
Possible wind resistance or road noise from bikes on the roof
Hitch racks have been growing in popularity as more and more companies develop offerings in this category designed to offer mountain bike enthusiasts with an easy to use system that can accommodate bikes of all shapes and sizes. Whereas a roof rack requires lifting the bike over your head to mount it on top of the vehicle, hitch racks are much lower and allow you to load and unload at about waist level.
Here are the two main types of hitch racks:
Arm support/mast-style – This is a common type of hitch rack and also one of the least expensive. The unit fits into your receiver hitch and is essentially a swing arm with multiple loops and straps allowing you to transport multiple bikes. Allen Sports’ Deluxe Four Bike is one example of a mast-style rack. It is important to note that the geometry and angles of some bikes, such as some full suspension models, make it difficult to carry them on this rack. In those cases, a mast-style rack may still be used but it will be necessary to purchase an adapter or device such as Yakima’s TubeTop.
Tray style – These racks are typically much more expensive than their arm support/mast-style cousins, but for good reason. Tray style racks are easy and secure, allowing you to basically load and lock your bike in securely, sometimes with one motion. The tray style system consists of trays to hold the bike and some form of arm or clamp to securely lock it in place. Some models, such as offerings from Küat (one of the leaders in this category) also offer a work stand incorporated into the rack so you can make adjustments and do some simple tuning at the trail head.
Be sure to check the size of your hitch before purchasing a hitch rack. The standard hitch sizes are 1 ¼” and 2”. Some models will fit either size, but others are specific to one or the other.
Relatively easy to install
Minimal lifting unlike roof racks
Not permanent/can be removed when not in use
Locks are available on most models
May block trunk or access to rear hatch or door
Some models can be very pricy
Adds length to the vehicle so you must be careful when backing up and maneuvering
If you have a vehicle with a hatch and aren’t looking to spend a lot on a transportation solution, a trunk rack might just be the way to go.
There’s not a whole lot to say about hatch ranks as the basic design is very similar across all brands. While there is a range of models available at various price points, all will attach to the hatch via straps and ratchets. Most hatch racks feature two arms with loops or straps that hold the bike’s crossbar. Like the arm support/mast-style rack mentioned above, you may need a crossbar adapter if your bike’s frame configuration is not compatible with this type of rack.
Saris offers a variety of good, affordable trunk rack systems.
Light and portable
Not vehicle specific – can be swapped between cars
Ideal for short trips or occasional use
Blocks trunk access
Not the sturdiest or most secure option
Typically, does not allow you to easily lock-up your bike
Fat bike racks
Fat bikes and plus size tires are becoming increasingly popular as mountain bikers experience the benefits of a wider footprint. If you’re rolling on a fat bike or wide rubber, it’s important to select a bike rack that is fat bike-compatible and will accommodate wider tires.
Most racks require some form of accessory or kit to accommodate fat bikes. Be sure to check product descriptions for a mention of fat bikes or plus size tires and when in doubt, contact the company to confirm that it will fit your rig.
A couple of notable fat bike-friendly racks include:
1UP USA – Popular among fat bikers, these sturdy racks come in both single and double varieties and can hold fat bikes with the company’s Fat Tire Spacer Kit.
Hollywood Racks Trail Rider – This rack secures bikes with a padded top clamp and wheel holders, but requires an additional Fat Tire Wheel Holder to haul fat bikes.
Yakima’s TwoTimer and FourTimer – As the name implies, these models can hold up to two and four fat bikes respectively. Yakima does require “Fat Straps” for this rack to cinch down fat bikes.
With the right setup, you can haul fat bikes along with the standard bikes in your stable
Cost – few racks are fat bike-ready right out of the box so you’ll likely need to purchase a kit or adapter
Spare tire racks
If you own a Jeep or other SUV or off-road vehicle with an externally mounted spare tire, this is the way to go. Check out racks like Yakima’s SpareRide or the Thule Spare Me™ for some examples of spare tire racks.
Generally simple to install
Not permanent and can be removed fairly easily
Must remove tire cover to use
Not the sturdiest or most secure option and bikes may shift or sway in transit
Get vertical: a different approach
All of the racks on this list hold your bike horizontally. However, North Shore Racks takes a different approach by carrying bikes vertically. This hitch-mounted system is a great way to carry multiple bikes, with one model capable of transporting six “shred sleds.”
No, that’s not a typo. There is a rack that allows you to carry a bike on your bike. Besides increasing your cool factor by about 100%, these racks are very sturdy and easy to use.
If you’re interested in transporting your mountain bike on two motorized wheels, check out 2×2 Cycles.
The bottom line
As demonstrated by this article, there are countless options for transporting your mountain bike. Before investing in a rack or other transportation system, determine what your priorities are for bike transportation. Do you value versatility? Then a roof rack might be right for you. Does the idea of hoisting your heavy bike over your head at the end of a long ride make you tired? You may want to consider a hitch rack. Establishing a budget is also helpful in the process of choosing a transportation system.
Once you’ve decided what you wish to get out of your transportation method and how much you’re willing to spend, all that’s left is the details of which brand and model to choose. Read online reviews, peruse mountain bike message boards and look for testimonials from people with your specific vehicle to see what others are saying works and what doesn’t. It’s also a good idea to see for yourself. If you have a friend or riding buddy who owns the rack you’re considering, ask him or her if you can try it out and practice loading and unloading a bike. Visiting your local bike shop or outdoor store is also a great way to see a rack up close and experience its functionality first hand.
But the most important thing is choosing a transportation method that will encourage you to ride. Finding a system that is convenient and right for you will ensure you spend more time on the trail and less time coming up with excuses to stay home.
Keep in touch and see you out on the trails.
About The Author
Like any sport, bicycling involves risk of injury and damage. By choosing to ride a bicycle, you assume the responsibility for that risk, so you need to know — and to practice — the rules of safe and responsible riding and of proper use and maintenance. Proper use and maintenance of your bicycle reduces risk of injury.