Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Cyclist's Best Accessory - A Car ...

We all know riding a bicycle is a very eco-friendly activity. And if you're able to integrate it into your daily routine by commuting, using it for local transport, going to the liquor store, etc, it becomes even more sustainable.

However, when it comes to leisure, riding trails and roads away from your home, a car becomes indispensable.

Curiously, in the UK, the incidence of car ownership among regular cyclists is higher than in the general adult population. I presume that statistic is reflected here in the US. So when drivers tell us we have no right to be on the road we can, with some justification, respond that we probably pay more in road associated taxes than they do and our cars are currently parked up while we minimise our damage to the roads and to the environment.

Okay ... I'll get off my soap-box ...

Using the car does mean that there has to be a way to transport the bike, either in or on the vehicle.

Carrying the bike inside the car is an option, but bikes are bigger than you might think, and the constant loading and unloading can damage both the car and trimming and your bicycle. A common problem frequently experienced is a bent rear gear hanger which is difficult to spot - and requires a special tool to fix - and is a common cause of poor gear changing and eventual failure of the hanger.

There are a number of ways of carrying your bike outside of the car.

Strap-on Bike Rack
Strap-on bike carrier: This type of bike rack uses adjustable straps and hooks to attach to the rear of the car's trunk/boot or rear door. Some more sophisticated racks use metal straps and various locking devices to improve security and attachment to the car.

Chose a rack with a six-point fixing. Some more expensive racks use a four-point fixing, but these are carefully designed and engineered systems. Many cheaper devices employ a four-point fixing and seem to me to be very insecure.

Frequently, at the bike store, we  are asked to check if a rack has been correctly installed and are faced with a cheap big-box store device which is almost impossible to mount securely. I have to say, use these at your own risk!

Also, some surprisingly large and robust vehicles cannot use this type of rack due to elements such as rear spoilers and doors which use glass or plastic trim along the top which are unable to take any weight.

Strap-on bicycle racks are useful for occasional use. The more expensive versions can be used as a permanent accessory, but as with the less expensive versions, the rack is in contact with the body-work and glass of your car. This may eventually cause some damage either at the points of contact or with bicycles coming into contact with the car.

Roof Rack
Roof rack: This is the most expensive option and will have a marked effect on your car's gas/petrol mileage, but it looks pretty cool ...

But apart from that, remember, loading the rack will require lifting your bike to the roof of your car which could be quite a stretch if you have a minivan/MPV or SUV. There is also the risk of dropping the bike onto your car.

Some carriers will carry the whole bike. Some require you remove the front wheel and require a special adaptor if you use disc brakes or run a Lefty.

Most modern cars require a special attachment kit. Some cars, obviously soft-tops and folding roofs, but also with full glass roofs - more common in Europe, or with no gutter or attachment points cannot carry this type of rack.

However, for some types of bike, for example, tandems, a roof rack is the only way.

Suspension Hitch Rack
Hitch Rack: This is a rack which attaches to a vehicle's tow-hitch. Most cars will require a tow-hitch to be fitted, so this adds to the cost of the rack. However, it means that bikes can be carried with virtually no danger of contact with the car itself so the possibility of damage through contact is minimal.

There are two types of hitch-rack; those which suspend the bicycles from the holder and those which hold the bicycle on a lower platform.

The suspension type tend to be less expensive, and, depending on the weight class of your hitch, can carry up to five bikes. The proximity of the bikes means they can swing or rattle against each other so the possibility of damage is still there. More expensive models have facilities for folding down or swinging out to enable rear doors to be opened.

Platform Hitch Rack: I've recently changed my bike rack to a Thule T2. You can see the bike sits on the rack and is secured by a lockable arm which swings up and holds the front wheel so there isn't even any contact with the frame of the bike. Another advantage is that the bike only has to be lifted a few inches to sit on the rack. This type of rack can only carry two bikes, unless you have a hitch with a higher weight rating. In the US this means a hitch with a 2" receiver.

When in bike carrying mode the rack extends from the rear hitch, but it can be folded up when not in use.

Being able to carry your bikes in, on or behind your car is a major element in expanding your cycling horizons.

Just get out there and do it!!!