Car bike rack types and security

Transporting your bike by car can open up a world of cycling adventures that can otherwise be difficult to reach via public transport, or pedal power alone.

In this guide we take you through the different types of car bike racks on the market and how best to secure your bike.

Firstly, let’s cover some general bike rack security tips:

  1. If the bike rack has a built-in lock, such as a steel cable that extends out of the casing, do use it whilst travelling. It may seem low quality, but it will help prevent any opportunistic theft when you stop in traffic.
  2. If at all possible, don’t leave your bike unattended at rest stops. If you do and there are no purpose built bike racks available, use a Sold Secure Gold/Diamond bike lock (only whilst stopped) and try your best to secure the bike frame to your car bike rack. Consider adding an alarm system (some bike locks have alarms built-in). Leave the car so it’s as visible to you and others as possible.
  3. Avoid quick release skewers on your wheels and consider security bolts on bike parts (such as Hexlox).
  4. Check the bike rack safety guidelines, but consider lightweight ‘zip tie’ (café) style locks for extra protection for bike parts and securing to the rack or bar.
  5. Your bike is a giant advert when it’s on your car. When you’re near your home (or holiday accommodation) be aware of anyone following or watching you. They may return.
  6. Whilst having a bike rack semi-permanently on your car does not indicate what bike you own, it does tell potential thieves that you likely have a bike in your garage or shed. Consider removing it when not in use.
  7. Don’t leave your bike on the car overnight.

Secondly, let’s look at the different types of racks and any specific security tips:

Bike rack for car roof

Roof mounted bike rack

Carrying your bike on the roof is a great option, as long as you can lift the bike and you remember the bike is on there when entering height restricted car parks.

Buying car roof bars can really drive up the cost of your bike rack setup. Aluminum bars range from a hundred up to a few hundred pounds. Also take note of how easy the bars are to transfer to other cars in the cost calculation – some offer adapter kits for the footings which can give them a better long-term value.

Roof mounted bike racks come in three main types:

  1. Frame holding – an arm that holds the frame and ratchet straps hold the wheels.
  2. Fork holder – secures the front fork, with the wheel taken off, to the rack via quick release / thru-axels.
  3. Front wheel holding – clamps the front wheel, without frame contact, and a ratchet strap for the rear wheel.

Extra security tips for roof bike racks:

  1. If you have roof bars and footings with built-in locks, ensure each footing is locked at all times. As well as the lock that secures the rack to the bars.
  2. If you leave your car unattended, try to wrap a bike lock around the frame and rack (considering any insurance requirements). If that’s not possible, lock around the wheel (ensuring it’s not quick release) and rack. Do ensure you remove the lock before driving again.

Rear mounted bike rack

Towbar mouted car bike rack

There are two main types of rear mounting:

Towbar

In the mountain biking world especially, tow bar mounting is a very popular option as they are so simple and easy to use. Especially the case with downhill/enduro, or e-bikes, which are typically heavier bikes.

They do tend to be the most expensive racks, even more so if you need to calculate the cost of getting a towbar fitted to your car. Do also check the towbar weight allowance if you’re planning on carrying a few bikes.

Boot-mounted

Rear boot-mounted racks are a popular and relatively cheap car bike carrier option, but they might not be suitable for all bikes, or car models. They might also cover lights, or the number plate, which needs to be considered in the cost.

Extra security tips for rear mounted racks:

  1. Ensure any integrated lock is used.
  2. Use a ratchet style strap around your bike, not only does it stablise the bike (you will have seen bikes on YouTube flying off the back of cars!) it adds a little theft protection when stopping at traffic lights.
  3. If you have to leave your car unattended, have the bike end of the car facing the building you have entered, to ensure as much visibility as possible.

Inside your car

Bike in the back of car

Okay, so we’re not talking about a bike rack, as such, but putting your bike in your boot is a popular option. That is if you have a big enough boot and the car is not always full of ‘stuff’ – especially thinking about parents of young children.

Extra security tips for storing your bike inside your car:

  1. Place a boot liner to protect your car, but also cover the bike and riding accessories up with an old sheet to avoid those prying eyes.
  2. If you’re leaving the car, try to lock the bike to something in the car, such as the door arm or seat rail. And if your car does not have an alarm, consider purchasing a bicycle alarm system.

Insurance companies and car bike racks

Cycle insurance companies tend to class a car bike rack as an immovable object when it comes to standard bike locking requirements (Sold Secure lock grade is specified). The insurance might not cover you leaving the bike overnight, or may cost more, as this would be a higher risk for them.

If the bike is inside the car then normal precautions such as locking and setting the alarm should be followed, with that the insurer will need to see that entry to the vehicle was forced.

Do check your specific policy wording and also check that it covers you to take your bike away if you’re staying away in holiday accommodation – especially if you have the bike on home insurance.

Do also check your car insurance policy. Especially check if the rack is classed as a ‘modification’ and if that impacts the current insurance coverage. Also, the policy is unlikely to cover your bike if it’s damaged. We would also recommend phoning them and asking about liability coverage if the worst happens and the bike falls off and hits property. Or worse still, a person.

Whilst not about insurance, do also note that if your number plate or car light is covered by the rack or bikes, then you could be in for a hefty driving offence fine.