Why must taking a bike places be such a fuss?!
May 28, 2012 6:20 AM   Subscribe

Trunk-mount bike racks: Are they really the enormous pile of awfulness that everyone keeps telling me they are? Are there ones that don't damage your car?

I want a bike rack that will fit 3 bikes (mine, my partner's, his 5 year old son's) so that we can go biking places other than the tiny stretch of road in front of our house. We live pretty far out of town and to bike any place else would require biking along the highway, so either we suck it up and just bike back and forth on this one road, or we figure out a way to take our bikes other places via a car and bike there.

Problem: My partner and I each have a Corolla (mine is a 2010, his is a 2011). If we fold down the back seats we can each fit ONE bike in each of our trunks, but that doesn't leave much space for my step son's bike, and it DEFINITELY doesn't leave space for his car seat. We spent an hour trying to fit a bike in this way and that but no matter how we got it in there we couldn't make it so that part of the back seat could be left up so that we could get a car seat in. Taking off the front tires is a no-go as well.

So that brings us to bike racks. I looked online and there are some well reviewed, relatively affordable trunk mount bike racks. When I suggested it everyone I know got their knickers all in a twist, saying how they are a huge hassel and how they always scratch the hell out of your car. My partner is ADAMANT that a bike rack of that sort cannot go on his car because he would forever worry it was destroying his car. I was told by multiple people that a hitch mount bike rack was the only way to go. Well, that is lovely except neither of our cars has a hitch and the cost of a having a hitch added to one of our cars PLUS the cost of a hitch mount bike rack then becomes too much money and outside our budget. So that brings me back to trunk mount options...

So.... are trunk mount bike racks actually that bad? Are there any that won't scratch the car, or are there things we can do to keep that from happening? I'd really like to find a way to make this work that didn't cost a gigantic amount and that won't cause a gigantic amount of damage. I'd also just have one for ME so that when I want to go for a bikeride downtown I don't have to fight trying to get my bike in and out of my trunk, which is seriously getting old.

Bonus: We live in canada, so were we to order something online it would have to be from a canadian site so that the shipping isn't insane.
posted by gwenlister to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total)
Trunk mount racks are really good at messing up finishes, it is true. If you are REALLY good about keeping grit out of the system, they aren't terrible though. Also, be sure there isn't an errant pedal that will keep bouncing around and messing up your bumper. I like to keep rags and tape handy.

Getting a hitch-mounted rack is actually generally not that bad- craigslist often has many, many available for much cheaper than you would expect. Mounting a hitch on a corolla is stupid easy, because it has threaded hard points on the frame for shipping that you can just bolt the hitch to.
posted by rockindata at 6:35 AM on May 28, 2012

Funny to find this here...I just bought a 2 bike Saris Bones rack -- they also make a 3 bike rack -- but haven't had much of a chance to test it yet because of a bad back. What people keep telling me is that they work great and don't mar the paint; having put it on the car once, I can tell you that it could potentially mar the paint, but that you should be able to ameliorate that potential by padding the clips with a little bit of inner-tube rubber. The clips are vinyl-encased steel -- the vinyl could come off, but again, if you take care, you should be able to prevent it from chipping the paint. The feet will probably make temporary marks on your fender, but unless they're resting on painted plastic, they're not likely to mar the paint. So, if you think about a Bones, look at the design, figure out where the bottom feet will rest, and see if it's metal or plastic. I seem to recall the instructions having some tips about that in them, too, though, so that might not be a slam-dunk-negative.

That said, I cannot vouch for its stability or durability. Once you figure out how it works, though, it's a really nice, flexible design.

[will be eagerly peeping on this thread to see what folks say...]
posted by lodurr at 6:36 AM on May 28, 2012

... also, you can secure the pedals with a bit of string, just as you should be securing the front wheel to keep it from flopping around.
posted by lodurr at 6:38 AM on May 28, 2012

Hitch + hitch mounted rack < repaint job.
posted by flabdablet at 6:44 AM on May 28, 2012

I have such a rack. It's been with me for three cars now and works fine. The rack is heavily padded wherever it makes contact with the car (and it only makes contact with the bumper and the back window), and the rest of the rack stands well away from any paintwork and keeps our three bikes similarly away from anything they might scratch. The straps/hooks are coated with a rubber-like material that causes no damage.

I'm not one to really worry about the odd scratch, but it seems to me that the main risk of damage arises from the fact that you're lifting and moving bikes in close proximity to your car, and any scratches are likely to come about when you're lifting bikes on or off, not while you're travelling. That risk is pretty much the same with any rack that attaches to a car. If any part of a bike is in danger of making contact with the car when you're moving, it's because the rack isn't correctly set up.
posted by pipeski at 6:50 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I had two roof mount bike racks (an option you didn't mention). I liked it because the roof rack was useful for other stuff, and because I could lock the roof rack and the bike racks onto the car the night before and then just fling the bikes up there in the morning and go.

Plus I could still open the car boot during all of this, and I didn't need to fiddle with an extra number plate / lighting board.
posted by emilyw at 7:05 AM on May 28, 2012

We use a fairly affordable one all the time, even with really expensive road bikes on hour long highway trips. We bought it at a garage sale for $15, but it doesn't seem to cost as much as some of those other ones. It's a Rhode Gear.

I haven't seen much damage due to the rack. I did scrape the car with a pedal when I was mounting a bike.

I really like the idea of putting some additional rubber over the parts where it clips into the trunk. We also tie up the wheels with the remainder of the straps so they aren't spinning around as we drive. I'd also recommend taking it off of the trunk when you aren't actually using it. I don't know why people leave them on, but I see it all the time.

I love trunk mount racks. Better fuel economy than roof racks, less danger of smashing your bike into the garage.
posted by advicepig at 7:07 AM on May 28, 2012

I have a nice Yakima trunk rack. One of the ones with "Joe" in the name. It has foam and rubber padding where it contacts the car. It's lightweight and I put it on and take it off frequently. No problems at all. One thing that was helpful was having the sales guy fit it to my car when I bought it. The straps are all set to the right length and I got to see how he installed it all neat and tidy.
posted by nonmyopicdave at 9:03 AM on May 28, 2012

Trunk mount racks work ok as long as you take care to make sure that the pedals/handlebars/tires of your bike can't flop onto the car and scratch it, and as lo as you don't leave it on the car for weeks at a time, wherein the rubber pads that mount to the car slowly fuse to the paint, and so long as you don't actually want to get into the trunk of the car, because you can't without removing the rack.

Really though, just get roof racks. They have none of these problems (they can have a wind noise problem, though).
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:05 AM on May 28, 2012


I have a Saris (not Bones) 3-bike model trunk rack that I have used on a Saturn ION, Saturn AURA, Pontiac Vibe, and Toyota Camry close to 100 times in the last seven years. I have no paint and finish issues at all. Not one.

I would put two adults bikes and a kid bike on the rack and drive across the Midwest at 70+ mph and have no issues. None. Never.

I am just very careful about using bike locks (cable and U-locks) to secure tires and pedals from hitting and rubbing on the car.

What people usually overlook about hitch racks is the weight on the hitch itself. For example, my ION had a hitch that would pull a trailer way heavier than the car could handle, but no way would I have been able to use a hitch rack with three adult bikes with the same hitch. People do it all the time, though...
posted by TinWhistle at 9:12 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

We put socks on our pedals and bungee up everything else so aren't wheels spinning or bodies turning, and this helps prevent scratches on our cars. The rack that we have has some padding where it touches the car, so we haven't scratches from that. That said, the extra work is annoying, and we don't actually use our bike rack very much.
posted by echo0720 at 10:03 AM on May 28, 2012

Oh, also, do some research on the rack you're buying - the one we have says it's for three bikes, but I really don't know how that is possible.
posted by echo0720 at 10:03 AM on May 28, 2012

I have a Saris Bones and like it. I was going to buy a roof rack, even though it was crazy expensive, but figured out it didn’t work well on the Mini. The Saris works great, it has left marks on the paint after years of use. I could probably buff it out, and could have avoided it by putting something soft under the feet, but I don’t care that much.
posted by bongo_x at 10:22 AM on May 28, 2012

Yakima Joe something rack as well, on a 2002 Cavalier. Years of use have left a few minor scuff marks on the trunk. No other issues, because I religiously strapped the wheels and pedals down to avoid scratches. Mounted correctly, you can still open the trunk. Just clip the bottom straps to the edge of the trunk lid rather than to the underside of the car frame. Just as stable, but doesn't block the trunk.

Once we ended up with a kid we sprang for the Yakima roof rack system and a pair of High Roller bike racks. When the kid is big enough to need his own bike we'll probably throw his back on the trunk. Old rack is in good enough shape to keep using it if needed.
posted by caution live frogs at 8:57 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

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