Anyone who’s ever loaded multiple bikes onto a bike rack knows that it presents challenges that must often be resolved with much patience. If you are a family of four or, god forbid, five, you will have to dig deep and, hopefully, possess a fair amount of contortionist skills, or the job will become a nightmare!
Here are ten tips that will hopefully make your life a little easier.
1. Choose a Rack with Enough Capacity
Invest in a Heavy-Duty Bike Rack
“Tools maketh man.”, as the saying goes. Start by ensuring you have the right bike rack to handle the number of bikes you need to load. A heavy-duty bike rack is essential if you regularly transport four or more bikes.
No tall bike rack mounting types are suited for loading multiple bikes. Trunk and spare tire-mounted racks are often unsuited for four or more bikes. And while you can load four bikes onto a roof-mounted rack, it is not for the faint of heart. Hitch-mounted bike racks are by far the best suited for carrying multiple bikes. They are easier to load and unload, and hitches are designed to carry substantial additional weight.
Check the Weight Limit
Regardless of which bike rack mounting system you settle for, remember to check the weight limits of the hitch, the mounting or attachment points on your vehicle, and that of the rack. Weight your bikes, and ensure they do not exceed the total weight capacity of your rack or towing and loading limit of your car.
2. Plan the Loading Order Carefully
Load Center to Sides or Back to Front
Your type of bike rack will largely dictate how you load the rack. On all bike rack mount types, except roof-mounted bike racks, it simply makes sense to load the rack from the back (closest to the vehicle) to the front. Bikes are typically positioned so close together that you won’t be able to do this any other way – you won’t be able to squeeze a bike between two already mounted others!
Loading multiple bikes on a roof-mounted rack requires packing from the center and moving out to the sides. Roof-mounted bike racks on SUVs are challenging to load, to say the least. You may need assistance or a small step or ladder to help you get the bikes in the center onto the roof without damaging your car.
Consider Bike Sizes
loading bikes of different sizes can sometimes make your life a little easier. Staggering smaller kids’ bikes between full-size bikes helps to solve the problem of handlebars pushing up against each other. Ensure you secure the smaller bikes in between properly, though, so they don’t move around during transit.
Create a systematic approach to loading and unloading your bikes and memorize, or take note of, what works well for your bike configuration so you don’t need to go through the whole planning exercise every time you travel.
Pro Tip: If you find a configuration that works well, take a picture, or even better a video, with your mobile phone so you’ll have a record to refer to or consult in the future
3. Properly Position and Secure the Bikes
Stagger the Bikes
When loading three, four, or five bikes, you must stagger them on the bike rack to prevent the handlebars and pedals from tangling. Alternating the direction the bikes face will enable you to fit the handlebars behind or in front of the seat post of the adjacent bikes, allowing you to move them close enough together the fit on the rack. This is usually easier said than done. After a few tries, you typically figure out an optimal sequence for your bikes.
Use Individual Tie-Downs
Secure the bikes individually to the rack using whatever mechanism was provided by the manufacturer. If possible, ensure each bike is secured to the rack, not just to the adjacent bike. It makes sense to invest in additional straps or bungee cords to secure your bikes further. Pay special attention to parts that may move or swing while driving.
4. Balance the Load
Distribute Weight Evenly
Always distribute the weight of your bikes evenly over the rack. On hitch-mounted bike racks, ensure the load is evenly spread from left to right when standing behind the vehicle. Heavier bikes should be loaded first, closest to the car, to reduce the leverage force on the hitch. Remember, do not overload your rack under any circumstances!
Re-Check After Loading
Double-check your load once the bikes are on the rack. Move around the vehicle and check that the load doesn’t pull the car or cause the rack to sag or hang to one side. Give the rack a gentle but firm shake and ensure nothing moves or shifts on the rack.
5. Protect Bikes from Damage
Ensure Proper Spacing
The first step in protecting your bikes from damage is ensuring they are properly spaced on the bike rack, not touching each other. Pay special attention to protruding components like handlebars and pedals. Pedals are often the culprits, damaging the frames or spokes of other bikes, especially on bumpy roads. Staggering your bikes smartly, as discussed above, especially if they are different sizes, as with most larger families, can help you maintain the distance between bikes.
Use padding or individual bike covers to prevent bikes from rubbing against each other. There are many padding solutions for bikes available on the market. You don’t need to invest much money into this, though. Many DIY solutions will cost you a fraction and serve you just as well as their more expensive purpose-made counterparts.
Pro Tip: Pool noodles are inexpensive and are excellent buffers and padding for your bikes. Weave them inbetween the bikes, cut them shorter where needed or split them open and fold them over frames and pedals.
6. Consider Aerodynamics
Minimize Wind Resistance
Though easier said than done, you should attempt to arrange your bikes on the rack to minimize wind resistance. Your choice of bike rack will have a more significant impact on the wind resistance of your bikes, but n to the extent that changing the order of the bikes around will have any effect, you should do it. Besides lowering the noise levels, this will improve fuel efficiency.
Use Aerodynamic Accessories
Some bike racks or brands offer accessories that can be bought separately or with the rack that will streamline your setup by reducing or diverting the airflow. In cases like roof-mounted bike racks, or bike racks on SUVs, where the mounted bikes are exposed to a lot of wind resistance, any help to improve the aerodynamics should be welcomed.
7. Ensure Visibility and Legal Compliance
Don’t Obstruct Lights or Plates
Before leaving on your journey, ensure your rack or bikes don’t obstruct your number plate or rear lights. Besides the fact that covering your indicators or rear lights is dangerous, you will be breaking the law in most states. Some hitch-mounted bike racks, especially the larger models suited to carrying multiple bikes, have their rear-light assembly and a fixing point for an additional number plate. This is your safest and best option to get around this problem.
Add a Flag or Warning Sign if Required
In some states or counties, you must attach a warning sign or flag to your bike should it protrude from the side of the vehicle. Ensure you understand the laws and regulations for the areas on your journey.
8. Utilize Anti-Theft Measures
Lock the Bikes
If you carry multiple bikes on your bike rack, chances are that you’ve made a substantial investment in buying them, so it’s common sense to lock your bikes to avoid the possibility of bike theft. This becomes more important if you plan any extended stop-over or overnight parking. Secure your bikes to the bike rack with a solid well-protected cable or chain that will not damage your bikes during transit. Most reputable bike shops will be able to help you with this.
Invest in a Locking Rack
Some bike racks are equipped with locking mechanisms. These mechanisms will either ensure the rack is secured to the car to prevent it from being removed, and some have claws with locks that will lock the bike’s frame to the bike rack. If your budget allows you, then there’s no harm in buying a rack with these features, even though similar security can be implemented with aftermarket purchases.
9. Monitor and Adjust During Travel
Regularly Inspect the Setup
Loading and securing your bikes properly while parking in your garage or yard is the most crucial step in ensuring you have a safe journey and arrive at your destination without damaging your precious cargo. A close second is making regular stops during your trip to ensure everything is still in order.
Road vibrations, wind sheer, and other forces will work in on your bike setup, and there is always a chance that something will shift to move. Stop occasionally, shake your bike rack and the individual bikes, and confirm they are still as you left home.
Carry Essential Tools
Chances are you have a toolkit if you need to repair your bike at your destination or while on the trails. Include some essentials in this kit that will enable you to make minor tweaks, changes, and repairs to your rack setup while traveling. Pack additional tie-downs, straps, and protection for your bikes.
10. Evaluate Unloading Facilities at Destination
Check for Appropriate Unloading Area
Once you get to your destination, or even better, before you arrive there, if at all possible, ensure there’s a suitable spot where you can unload multiple bikes. There should be enough room, so bikes won’t bump up against each other, potentially damaging the frames of components. The ground conditions should be such that unloading multiple bikes will not cause you to slip or injure yourself.
When unpacking, take your time, plan your unloading, and systematically and patiently unload your bikes one at a time. There’s no point in safely transporting your bikes all the way to damage them while unloading!
Have Assistance if Needed
If you’re carrying multiple bikes, then chances are you are not traveling alone. Ask for help or arrange for assistance if needed. If ramps or lifts are available at your destination, y all means, use them.
By considering these additional aspects of aerodynamics, loading order, visibility, theft prevention, and unloading facilities, you can further optimize the transportation of multiple bikes on a rack. Follow the tips above to ensure the process is safe, efficient, legally compliant, and tailored to the specific requirements of carrying this number of bikes. Safe travels!
Willem is an avid mountain biker and outdoor sports enthusiast. For years, he has been riding mountain bike stage races, including the grueling Cape Epic. As a father of three adventurous kids, he knows about packing a vehicle to haul his gear safely and responsibly from home to any exciting weekend or holiday destination.