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Even if you’re a hardcore rider who aims to drive as little as possible, you may occasionally find yourself in a situation where you need to fit your bike into a vehicle. Whether the weather has taken an unexpected turn or you’ve taken an epic one-way bike ride, it’s handy and sometimes necessary to load your bike into a vehicle.
If you have an SUV or other larger vehicle, this might be a snap, but with a few quick tips and tricks you can fit most bikes into even the smallest cars.
It’s important to take proper care when prepping and loading your bike to ensure you don’t damage either the vehicle or your bicycle and to reduce any unnecessary mess. If you plan to transport your bike often, you might find that an external rack is a more convenient option, but if no rack is present or you don’t feel the need for the investment, don’t worry. We’ve broken down the simple steps on how to fit a bike into a car, as well as some favorite options should you decide that a bike rack is a better choice for you.
Prep Your Car
How you prep your vehicle for transporting a bike will depend on what style of vehicle you have and on the size and number of bikes. If you have an SUV, you may be able to quite easily fit a bike inside without doing much other than putting your back seats down. If you have a small coupe or sedan, you may need to get a bit more creative.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that you’ll want to protect your vehicle from any damage or unwanted mess. It’s super-handy to store a few old towels in your vehicle to put on your seats and/or wrap around certain parts of your bike. You’ll likely find several other uses for these towels along the way, so even if transporting a bicycle inside your vehicle is rare, it’s worth the small amount of trunk space they require.
Prep Your Bike
Taking a few minutes to prep your bike will alleviate any unnecessary mess or damage, and will allow you to more easily and safely load it into nearly any size of vehicle.
Clean Your Bike
Remove any excess dirt and mud from your bike before you load it into a car. (Those old towels are coming in handy already!) A little stash of wet wipes does a magical job as well. Be sure to wrap or cover any areas that can’t easily be cleaned.
Remove Your Wheels
Whether or not you need to remove your wheels will once again depend on how much space you have in the vehicle, but this step will make it possible to fit a bike into a much smaller vehicle.
Removing the front wheel is typically a bit easier than the rear wheel, and most bikes now come with quick releases to make things even more straightforward. Removing just the front wheel may be enough to do the trick, but you may need to remove both wheels if you’re attempting to fit your bike into a very small vehicle.
How To Remove Your Bike Wheels
- Release your brakes. If your bike has cantilever or rim brakes, you need to release the cable tension so you can remove your front wheel. For rim brakes, there should be a lever near the caliper that releases cable tension, allowing your brake pads to be far enough from the rim for your tire to slide past.
- Flip your bike over. Flipping your bike over will make the process much easier and reduce the risk of your bike falling over after the wheel is removed.
- Open the quick release or remove axle. If your bike has a quick release, flip the lever into the open position. If the lever is tight, use a tire lever to pry it open. Loosen the bolt, but DO NOT remove it completely. For thru axles, open the lever and turn counter-clockwise to unthread the axle and remove it from the hub.
- Lift the wheel up and out of the fork. Make sure you don’t dislodge your calipers if you have rim brakes, and be careful with rotors if you have disc brakes.
Once you’ve removed your wheel(s), either stash them in the trunk, in wheel bags, or use them as cushioning for your frame. Just remember to wrap them up or put a towel down to protect your seats.
Adjust and Protect Components
Adjust Your Chain
Putting your chain on the smallest ring not only helps you remove your wheels but also lessens the chance of getting bicycle grease on your clothes and your vehicle.
If possible, remove any bidons, pegs, skewers, or other protruding components. This will allow you to maneuver and fit the bike better, but it also reduces the risk of damaging the components.
Use Brake Plugs
It’s highly advisable to use brake plugs if you have bikes with disc brakes. This will help reduce the risk of misaligning your brake calipers during travel.
Wrap Your Pedals
Wrapping your pedals helps prevent any scratching or fabric tearing in your vehicle. Pedals are unruly and difficult to control. I think we’ve all had our share of skinned shins from bike pedals in the past. Wrap them in one of those handy old towels or in an old t-shirt.
Use a Bike Bag
If you’re transporting a bicycle often, you may want to invest in a bike bag, which will allow you to skip many of the above steps and will ensure your vehicle stays nice and clean. You’ll still want to move your bike with care, as the bag protects your vehicle but doesn’t do quite as much for your delicate (and often pricey) components.
The Aophire Folding Bike Bag is an example of a popular bike bag for travel and transport:
You’ve got your vehicle and your bicycle prepped. Now it’s time for the delicate act of placing your bike into the vehicle.
If you’ve got an SUV or other larger vehicle, simply place your bike with the gears facing up, spinning the handlebars as needed to find the right placement.
If you’re fitting your bike into the back seat of a smaller vehicle, gently place the bike upside down on either the rear seat or the floor, gear side out. If you place the bike on the back seat, use the seat belts to secure the bike frame. If your wheels are wrapped or in wheel bags, you can use them to cushion and secure your frame as well.
If you’re attempting to transport two bikes, ensure they are both gears out (as in, away from each other). Wedge old towels or your bike wheels between them to avoid scratching and help keep them secure. Depending on the space in the vehicle, you may want to put one bike on the back seat and the other on the floor.
Consider A Rack
If you transport your bicycle a lot, have a large mountain bike, or plan to transport several bikes, you might find that an external bike rack is more suitable for your needs. There are several bike rack options and styles. Again, the type of vehicle you have will likely guide most of your selection.
Something else to keep in mind is whether your garage, carport, or underground parking has adequate clearance for a roof rack, or whether you want to opt for a trunk or hitch rack instead. I’ll never forget being at a friend’s surprise birthday party when we were all hiding as he pulled in from a day of mountain biking only to forget he had his bike on the roof of his car. He ended up smashing his prized possession into the ceiling of the garage.
If you opt for a trunk rack, keep in mind that you may lose access to your trunk when this type of rack is in use.
Below, we’ve rounded up our top pick for all major types of bike racks: roof rack, trunk rack, and hitch rack.
Roof Rack: Thule UpRide Roof Bike Rack
Its versatility is in its name. This lightweight roof rack is compatible with most 20” to 29” wheel bikes, and will fit on any style of vehicle without damaging your paint job. The Thule UpRide is easy to set up and compatible with most roof bars.
Trunk Rack: Allen Sports Trunk Mounted Bike Rack
This rack is lightweight, easy to install, compatible with most vehicle models, and won’t break the bank. The Allen Sports Trunk Mounted Bike Rack can carry up to 70 pounds, with multiple tie-downs for each bike. It might not be quite as slick as some of the pricier models, but it absolutely gets the job done at a very attractive price point.
Hitch Rack: 1UP USA Equip-D Single
Solid, durable, and super-easy to install, the Equip-D is compatible with a range of bikes from kids bikes to big fatties with up to 5” wheels. It’s secure, adjustable, and easy to load. It even swings out to allow you access to your trunk while bikes are loaded.
Bike racks are a worthwhile investment if you intend to transport your bikes often, and mountain bikers typically require them unless they’ve got a truck. If you’re more of an avid road cycler who only occasionally needs to get a bike into a car, following the above tips and tricks will help you fit your bike into almost any car. If you have a bike with fenders, see our post about the best bike racks for bikes with fenders.