What's the easiest-to-use, non-scratch bike rack for my new car?
September 19, 2005 11:46 AM   Subscribe

I need a bike rack that won't scratch my new car. Suggestions?

I use a bike rack frequently, and the last two I owned (trunk-mounted) ultimately scratched the paint -- minor dings, many of them from the bikes themselves. Convenience is a big priority for me, so I don't want a roof rack. I'm considering a hitch-mounted rack, which looks like it'll keep the bikes from banging my car. Anyone with experience with these? I'm driving a Cadillac CTS.
posted by sixpack to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total)
The bike rack that I got for my wagon, which attached with clips to the trunk door, came with this thick clear 3M tape stuff. The instructions recommended that the tape be placed where the clips would make contact with the frame, to prevent scratches and paint damage. It's worked great so far. I'm not sure where you could buy the stuff, possibly an art supply store. You can't really tell it's applied to the car when the rack isn't attached, so it does the job nicely.

The only real downside to the hitch-style racks are that sometimes they block use of the trunk. This probably won't happen with your car.
posted by odinsdream at 11:52 AM on September 19, 2005

The other downside of hitch-style racks is that bike bits can cover your brakelights. I was stuck behind a guy with same in stop-and-go the other day and it was driving me mad. That said, trunk seems to be the way to go if you want no-paint-contact bike carrying. Even with pads or the 3m tape, if either surface isn't perfectly clean you'll get scratches.
posted by mendel at 12:03 PM on September 19, 2005

I think trailer hitch mounted is the way to go. The only solution to a trunk mounted or roof mounted system is to put a piece of cotton or chamois under whichever parts touch the paint.

Or you could just get an old car...
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 12:23 PM on September 19, 2005

Have you ever used a roof rack with a frame grabber? They are more convenient than having to mount the rack and then put the bikes on. You just pop the bike on top, grab the frame and secure the wheels. It takes about one minute. Most frame grabbers can lock with a key also.

A roof rack will leave an impact on the car though. For instance the paint may fade around where the rack makes contact but not under the rack contact points. Who cares? You will not ever take it off, even when you sell the car. I had one on a car for five years and it did not leave any scratches when it came off; but I could see how the black paint on the roof had faded ever so slightly.

If you will not be using the rack often then a hitch rack is probably better because it comes off the car easily and despite the expense it is probably still cheaper than a good roof rack.

If you do go with a roof rack, Just remember to take the bikes off before entering the garage. In my old car I used to toss the remote into the glove box as a reminder. However, all the new cars now seem to come with a built-in remote.
posted by caddis at 12:31 PM on September 19, 2005

Caddis: Good notes, but I think a roof rack is out for 2 reasons:
1. Lifting is a problem on my back.
2. A permanent roof rack on a Caddy? That's possibly the only thing worse than one of those square trailer hitch boxes. (OK, I'm vain.)
posted by sixpack at 12:42 PM on September 19, 2005

I'm a roof rack person myself, but parents have done trunk racks for probably the past 10 years. Before this year, they've gone through a cheap trunk rack every other year and always struggled keeping all the bikes from moving around and the rack stable.

After a cheap rack caused some scratches on their new toyota avalon, they finally took the plunge on a decent rack - the Saris Bones. I used the rack myself and it probably the best trunk rack I've seen - very stable, and the bikes won't move around.

One last thought, if you're worried about the bikes scratching you car, you may want to consider removing the pedals during transport. Depending on the car, it seems unavoidable that they sometimes hit right where the rear bumper juts out.
posted by dicaxpuella at 12:49 PM on September 19, 2005

True. I might not put a roof rack on a Caddy either. Currently, I use the trunk - I fold down the rear seat, remove the front wheel and put the bike in the trunk. It is a bit unwieldy getting the bike in, but it protects the car.

I have a trunk rack for carrying more than one bike - the Saris Bones dicaxpuella mentioned. It is a great trunk rack, but with all the limitations of a trunk rack - the hassle of mounting the rack first, and the danger of scratches. The key to avoiding scratches is being scrupulously clean and padding the hooks. Any dirt on the main pads will get ground into scratches. The hooks supposedly come padded with most models but I never found it sufficient. I like to use thin styrofoam packing paper, like much furniture is wrapped in for shipping. It is thin and soft. A little piece between the hook and the car seems to prevent scratches.
posted by caddis at 1:02 PM on September 19, 2005

I'd go with the hitch-mounted rack, but I've also used the Bones rack linked before, and with some cotton rags (read: old torn t-shirts) under the rubber feet, it was the best trunk-mounted rack I've used.
posted by Merdryn at 1:14 PM on September 19, 2005

If we didn't have a tandem I would never use a roof rack. Bugs, water, and decreased gas mileage. Trunk racks are bad for the reason mendel pointed out, obscuring brake lights plus the scratches on the car.

My friends and club-mates that have hitch mounted racks love them. One style that I have seen is hinged and swivels down with bikes still mounted to allow for access to the trunk. It also keeps the bikes a good six or eight inches from the car. You can even get a little Jesus fish hitch cover for when you are not using the rack.
posted by fixedgear at 1:32 PM on September 19, 2005

Oh, and sixpack/Don, I read your column.
posted by fixedgear at 1:33 PM on September 19, 2005

Thanks all - sounds like my best bet is the trailer hitch. (And thanks, fixedgear, for reading... I personally like this hitch plug.)
posted by sixpack at 3:09 PM on September 19, 2005

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