How to bring your bike on a road trip

From bike racks to tune-up tips, here’s what you need to know before bringing a bicycle on your next road trip

Photo: Shutterstock

Riding your bicycle around the neighborhood has its charm, but bringing it along to new, scenic locations is even better. Getting out and pedaling is an excellent way to break up the monotony of driving during a long road trip. These tips can help you properly transport your bike both longer and shorter distances.

How to tune up your bike before a road trip

Before bringing your bike on a road trip, you’ll want to make sure it’s in good condition—this is particularly true if you’ll be traveling to an area that doesn’t have a bike shop. Be sure your tires are inflated (and bring a bike pump), and confirm that the brakes are in good working order and the chain is well-greased and in good shape. If you haven’t ridden the bike in a while, go for a quick ride to make sure everything feels right. If it doesn’t, swing by your local bike shop to have it looked at.

Be sure to bring some basic tools and supplies with you so you can adjust the saddle, patch a tube, and fix a flat. Even if you don’t plan on riding at night, bring front and back lights with you, just in case. Regardless of when or where you’ll be riding, always wear a helmet.

Can you put a bike rack on any car?

Bike racks can be installed on most cars, either via a rooftop carrier, trunk rack, or back hatch. Small sports cars, cars with a rear spoiler, or those with a lot of glass in the back may not be able to support a bike rack. Though some smaller cars can support a rack (you can get a factory-issued rack from the dealership), tiny cars and smart cars may not have room for a rack. Even if you don’t purchase a rack from a car dealership, it’s a good idea to call and ask if the manufacturer makes a rack for your model car. If they do, chances are that an aftermarket rack is also available, just make sure it’s installed correctly.

Two bicycles installed on a bike rack behind a truck
Bike racks can be installed on most cars or trucks. | Photo: Cassandra Brooklyn

What kind of bike rack is best?

The best bike rack for your car depends on the type of car you have, how often you’ll travel with a bike, and how much money you want to spend. Simple rooftop and trunk racks start at $40 but may only be able to carry one or two bikes and they could be difficult to use or require you to remove the rack to access the trunk. Premium trunk and hitch racks can run up to $600 but they can hold multiple bikes, are very user-friendly, and don’t need to be removed to access the trunk.

Roof racks (which typically need to be installed on crossbars) mean bikes are completely out of the way so that the trunk can easily be opened and accessed. The flipside is that they add additional height (remember this when entering parking garages and drive-thrus), and can sometimes be difficult for a single person to get the bike onto. This is particularly true if the person is short, the car is tall, or the bike is heavy.

How fast can you drive with a bike rack?

Most racks allow you to drive up to 70 to 80 mph with bikes attached. After installing your bike on the rack, start out by driving slowly and gradually increasing speed. Pull over after about 10 minutes to confirm that the rack, straps, and bike are still properly in place. Regularly check on your bike through the rearview mirror and every time you make a rest stop.

How much weight can a bike rack hold?

The amount of weight a bike rack can hold varies dramatically by rack, so confirm the weight of your bike(s) before purchasing a rack. Keep in mind that e-bikes are heavier than other bikes and require a stronger rack.

Do bike racks damage your car?

If a bike rack is installed correctly, it should not damage your car. If the rack is not installed correctly or if straps are not properly affixed, it could potentially damage both the car and the bike To protect your car from damage, bungee cord the wheels of the bike so they don’t move around, and wrap a sock around the interior pedal. Pedals won’t typically scratch the car but if you hit rough road conditions, it could happen.

Silhouette of two bikes on a rooftop rack with a sunset and palm trees in the background
If a bike rack is installed correctly, it should not damage your car. | Photo: Shutterstock

Can I fit a bike in my car?

Many bikes do fit inside cars, it just depends on the type of bike and the type of car. A large mountain bike or cruiser bike with wide handlebars will not fit in the back of a sports car, but many mid-size road bikes, single speeds, or hybrids fit into the trunks of cars and trucks. Fitting a bike inside a trunk is easier if the front wheel is removed and if the car’s backseat folds down. SUVs and trucks tend to have the most space but my single speed, road, and touring bikes have fit into the back of quite a few sedans.

How to transport a bike without a bike rack

Bike racks are best when traveling since they securely hold the bike in place, preventing it from shifting around. But if you’ll be traveling without a bike rack, here are a few tips to minimize the risk of damage to your bike or vehicle:

  • Remove the front wheel so the bike is less crowded in the trunk.
  • Position the bike chain-side up so that the chain ring doesn’t get bent or damaged.
  • Refrain from placing anything heavy on top of the bike. Ideally, nothing will be placed on top of the bike.
  • Put a blanket, tarp, or plastic garbage bags down under the bike so that bike grease does not stain the upholstery. 
  • Do not leave the bike inside the car during very hot weather, as extreme temperatures can cause the tires to pop.
  • Drive slowly and avoid bumps, which can cause your bike to shift and be damaged.

If you’re considering purchasing a bike rack, head to your local bike shop and speak with knowledgeable staff. Not only will they be able to speak from their own firsthand experience, but they’ll also be able to make suggestions based on bike rack set-ups other customers have contrived.

Even if the shop doesn’t carry bike racks in-store, they still may be able to suggest a rack that would work well for your specific car and they might be able to special order it for you. Even though you may be able to order the same rack online yourself, it’s always a good idea to support your local bike shop.

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