The Ultimate Guide To Transporting Your Road Bike Safely

Ready to hit the road and take your road bike with you? Maybe you are driving across the country to take part in a bike rally or flying to the other side of the world to bike along a remote path. Regardless of where you are headed, transporting your road bike safely is likely at the forefront of your mind.

Are there ways to safely transport a road bike? The most common ways to safely transport a road bike include:

  • Roof Rack
  • Trunk Rack
  • Hitch Rack
  • Bed of a Truck
  • In Trunk
  • Backseat

A quality road bike is an investment. Transporting your road bike safely requires understanding how best to transport your specific model of bike as well as an understanding of any conditions that you may encounter during your travels that may affect your bike. In this article, we cover everything you need to know about getting your road bike safely to your destination, no matter where the path may take you.

Important Tips for Safe Road Bike Transportation

If you are ready to learn more about safely transporting your road bike, including the pros and cons of the most popular ways to do so, keep reading for everything you need to know.

Beyond aesthetics, there are many different options for transporting your road bike. However, no matter which option you choose, you will need to make sure to follow these tips to help ensure you protect not only your bike, but yourself and passengers should anything occur during your travels.

  • Always Completely Secure Your Bike – Using locking straps, bungee cords, or fasteners to make sure that your bike will not move and shift during transportation is extremely important. A loose bike can quickly become a road hazard for you or others.
  • Protect Your Vehicle – Whether you are transporting inside your vehicle or outside, you will want to make sure to protect your vehicle from damage while transporting your bike. This may involve protecting your seat from chain lubricant or dirty tires or protecting your exterior by properly installing any mounting devices.
  • Avoid Leaving Your Bike When Not Traveling – You will want to avoid leaving your bike for a long period of time mounted on the exterior of your vehicle. Travel bike racks are not designed to protect from theft properly, and unfortunately, bikes are one of the most stolen items. If you must stop for some time, unmount your bike and secure it to a permanent bike rack in a highly visible area and check on it often.

Now that we have covered some of the tips, we will cover all the details of how to safely transport your road bike.

Ways to Safely Transport A Road Bike

There are probably many different ways that you can transport your bike, all of which will greatly depend on the type of vehicle you have as well as what other items you may be transporting. However, in general, most regular bicyclists utilize one of the following methods to transport their bikes.

No matter which method you use, you will want to make sure to secure your bike thoroughly to protect your bike and vehicle.

Roof Rack

A quality roof rack has become a popular way to transport a road bike. These work great for smaller vehicles such as compact cars or when your interior is full of luggage or people. When using a roof bike rack, there are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Choose a Rack that Works for You – There are roof racks that carry a bike with the front wheel in place, while others require removing the front wheel. If you are often traveling to areas where theft may be an issue or leaving your bike unattended for a period of time, there are roof racks that lock the front forks into place to help deter thieves.
  • Size of Your Vehicle (or you) – Roof racks obviously go on the roof of your vehicle will require the ability to get the bike on the roof. Whenever possible, try out the roof rack to see if you can safely and easily secure your bike before spending a bundle on a roof rack, you will not be able to use. If you need a step ladder, do not forget to stick it in the trunk, so you have it when you arrive.
  • Roof Racks Save Space – Using a roof rack is the most compact way of transporting a bike. Not only does it leave the rest of your vehicle free for people and other items, but it also does not make getting to your luggage difficult, such as with a trunk rack (see below).
  • Height – Different than the size of your vehicle, you want to consider your clearance level when your bike will be mounted on your vehicle. When using a roof rack, you will want to know your exact clearance measurement to avoid driving your bike into some low hanging branch or other fixtures. Drive-thrus and low overhangs will likely need to be avoided.

Pros of a Roof Rack:

  • Space-saving
  • Doesn’t interfere with car storage
  • Considered the most secure option

Cons of a Roof Rack:

  • Low overhangs must be avoided
  • May be difficult for some to use
  • May impact gas mileage due to wind resistance

Trunk Rack

For those who only travel occasionally with their road bike, a great option is a trunk rack. A great trunk rack is not a permanent addition to your vehicle and can be used on whatever vehicle you use, as long as it has a trunk, of course.

Pros of a Trunk Rack:

  • Compact and portable
  • Versatile, can use on multiple vehicles
  • Easy to load and unload
  • The bike remains visible during transport
  • No impact on clearance height
  • Often less expensive than other racks

Cons of a Trunk Rack

  • Leaves bike open to damage from road debris
  • Less secure than a roof rack – for long-distance travel use straps instead of flexible bungees.
  • Potential for damage to bike from other drivers
  • Impedes access to your trunk
  • Leaves bike open to thieves, as well as entire rack

Hitch Rack

Unlike a trunk rack, a hitch rack requires that your vehicle be equipped with a hitch, often referred to as a trailer or tow hitch. A hitch rack is usually used when transporting multiple bikes and can be easily used on any vehicle with a hitch.

Please note that a hitch can be mounted on most vehicles as long as what you are carrying does not weigh more than your vehicle can pull. Even the largest bike racks will not hold too much weight for most vehicles.

Pros of a Hitch Rack:

  • More secure than a trunk hitch
  • Easily access storage, such as the trunk, in most models
  • Easy loading and unloading of your road bike
  • Many lock bike into place, to avoid theft

Cons of a Hitch Rack:

  • Leaves bike open to damage from road debris
  • Heavier than a trunk rack
  • Requires hitch mounted on the vehicle
  • Quality models can be costly

Bed of a Truck

We know that not all bicyclists use a car or SUV; there are those that use a truck bed to transport their bike. Hopefully, you already know to avoid just throwing your bike in the bed of your truck and heading down the road.

You want to be sure to completely secure your bike in the bed to ensure that you, your truck, and your bike, as well as everyone else on the road, is as safe as possible.

There are a few ways to transport your bike in your truck bed.

  • Straps and Bungee Cords: For those who do not want to purchase a special rack, you can easily secure your bike using straps and bungee cords. We recommend securing your bike near the center of your truck bed. Be sure to secure both the front and rear of your bike to avoid the bike flipping over the handles.
  • A Bed Mount. A bed mount will secure your bike to the side of the truck bed. These mounts allow you to easily load and unload your bike to either side of your bed and leave your front wheel mounted. However, most bed mounts offer little or no security from theft. Another version of a bed mount secures the front forks to a bar that spans the width of the truck bed.
  • DIY Bike Rack for a Truck Bed. Some riders have been known to make their own bike racks to secure their bikes in the beds of their trucks. The most common appears much like a traditional bike rack that you may see outside a building, and the rack is secured to the bed in some way.
  • Tailgate Mount. A tailgate mount secures your bike over the top of your tailgate. These should be used with a well-made tailgate blanket to avoid damaging your tailgate. These are quickly becoming a popular option for truck and bike owners due to the ease of use.

Can A Road Bike Fit In A Car?

There is no single answer to this question, other than it depends on your car and bike. For example, a full-sized bike will not easily fit into a super compact car, such as a Volkswagen Bug or Toyota Prius. However, for most other cars, your bike will likely fit. You can carry your bike inside your car or, in many cases, in your trunk.

How Do You Transport A Road Bike In A Car?

Now that you know it is possible, you may immediately think: but how? We’ve got you covered, here are the full details of how to transport your road bike in your car.

In Trunk

When traveling with your bike in your trunk, you will want to take a few precautions to avoid damaging your bike.

First of all, always lay your bike on its side with the drivetrain up. This will help to avoid any accidental damage to your entire drivetrain. Additionally, you will not want to place anything on top of your bike.

Next, be careful when removing your front wheel and place the wheel in the trunk first, again to protect the drivetrain. Removing the front wheel will allow you to turn the handlebars to lay flat with the bike. Some people will also remove the handlebars to make their bikes even more compact.

Another great option is to purchase or make a case for your bike. These cases are most often used for airplane travel and are made specifically to transport a bike, often including space for tools and the small parts you take off when you remove the front wheel. Although this is an investment, often costing hundreds of dollars or more; however, your bike will be very safe from damage.

Backseat

The lucky few can transport their bike in the main area of their car, the backseat. Although you will most likely still need to remove the front wheel to place the bike in the car. Here are the complex issues when transporting inside your car:

  • You can potentially cause damage to your car’s interior from the bike’s forks, chain, pedals, tires, and even the seat.
  • Removing the front wheel can be difficult for a novice and potentially damage the bike.
  • Placing the bike into your car can be difficult and often requires the assistance of another individual.
  • You may want or need to place some cushion between your bike and any window that it could potentially come into contact with during the ride.
  • You should still somehow secure your bike even when inside your car to avoid it shifting or moving throughout the ride.

Bonus Tips for Traveling with Your Bike on a Road Trip

In addition to ideas for securing your bike, here are some other travel-related tips for taking your bike with you.

Use Ground Floor Motel/Hotel Rooms

If possible, use a ground floor room with easy access. This allows you to back up nearer your room and easily move your bike (or bikes) into your room, securing them quickly and easily. You may want to ask where you are staying if it is okay to bring your bike into the room. And, of course, be mindful of the walls in your accommodations. You don’t want extra fees for tire marks. 

Avoid Bad Weather When Possible

This may seem like common sense, but for those that are not used to traveling with a bike, it may not cross their mind to avoid rain or snow. Additionally, even if it is not currently raining or snowing, traveling in areas where temperatures are low enough for snow, the roads may be treated with chemicals or salt that can damage your bike during transport.

Cover Your Bike’s Gears and Moving Parts

One way to help reduce damage to your bike, especially if you have to travel during inclement weather, is to cover the moving parts, such as the gears, brakes, controls, etc. with plastic and duct tape. Many recommend using a thick trash bag, and plenty of tape as a tarp will inevitably come loose and flap around and possibly rip or tear.

Thoroughly Inspect Your Bike Regularly

On long trips, make sure to inspect your bike at each stop or at least every couple hundred miles. Not only will you want to make sure that your bike is not enduring any damage, but you should also double-check your rack to make sure it is still properly secured to your vehicle.

Wash and Lube Your Bike When You Arrive

In a perfect world, you will only be traveling on perfectly clean roads and have perfect weather. However, chances are you will have to get some road grime and bugs off of your bike, at least. When you arrive at your destination, and then again, when you return home, you will want to clean your bike thoroughly.

Even if you have not traveled through any wet weather, high winds from traveling can dry out the gears on your bike. Before going for a ride, make sure to properly lubricate your bike’s chain and gears and check to make sure the bike is in proper working order.

Alternative Ways to Transport a Road Bike

You may not always be able to transport your road bike with your vehicle. Perhaps you are not driving to your location. In these cases, you will have to transport your bike by placing it in a cargo department, like on a bus or train, or even an airplane.

There are some ways to secure your bike when storing it in cargo properly. We’ll go through these options, as well as specific things you must know when flying with your bike.

Bike Box – Cardboard

The most affordable option is to pick up a cardboard bike box. You can often get this for a nominal fee from most bike shops or specialty shipping supplies stores. These boxes offer limited protection for your bike, which can be increased using proper packing materials.

You will need to remove at least the front wheel. However, they add little weight to your bike, saving on the costs of cargo.

Bike Box – Wooden

For those that want some additional protection, you can get a wooden box to fit your bike. While you can order a wooden box made, you will likely want to make one yourself, or have a local handyman make one for you to save some money. The biggest advantage of going with a wooden box is that you can reuse the box over and over, as well as have the box custom made to fit your bike.

Bike Bag

Another affordable option is a bike bag. These bags are specifically made to transport a bike. They are also usually see-through, helping cargo handlers to see inside without having to open the bag. These bags are designed for multiple trips, some up to 10 times before having to be replaced. A great affordable option for individuals that travel often but do not want to put the money out for a hard case.

Hard Case

The top of the line is a hard case. Hard cases are specifically designed to transport bikes. There are generic options that can be purchased or rented to save some money. You can also order a hard case that is designed to fit your specific bike.

Hard cases offer the best protection during transport. They are designed to be used over and over. While these cases can be heavy, they are designed to handle some abuse that cargo containers often undergo while still keeping your bike safe and sound.

Traveling By Air

Flying with a bike comes with a few obstacles. First, all airlines have requirements that state that the handlebars and pedals must be removed and secured to the frame during transport. Additionally, all tires must be completely deflated.

When flying with a bike, you will want to be in contact with your airline well before your arrival at the airport. In many cases, your bike size may inhibit your checked bag options, requiring early loading. This also means that your bike bag or box may be one of the last pieces off the plane as well.

Make sure to give yourself plenty of extra time on both ends of your flight to deal with loading and unloading.

Another thing to keep in mind is your tools. Many of the common tools that bicyclists carry do not meet the standards of most airlines. Check with your airline to be sure; most allow tools specifically for bikes if packed securely in a proper bike bag, box, or case.

Finally, the cost of flying with your bike will vary by airline. You can expect to pay between $50 and $200 to check your bike, although the costs can and do vary depending on airline and flight.

Shipping Your Bike

One final option is to send your bike ahead to your destination. Many bicyclists that travel on a regular basis are concerned when traveling long distances by road, or when dealing with layovers that something may happen to their bike. This is an understandable worry. Shipping is a viable option if you have the means and time, especially as larger packages often cost more and take longer to arrive.

Traveling with Your Road Bike: Ultimate Packing List

There are a few things that you will need and a few that you may want to immediately put on your wish list for packing and traveling with your road bike. Here’s a quick checklist of essential and bonus items:

Essential Items to Pack

  • Bike – Okay, this may seem obvious, but you may be surprised at how easy it can be to forget the main item, so put it on your list and make sure it is checked off.
  • Bicycle Multitool – There are plenty of options for great multitools. Look for one that is compact and easy to use. You will likely want one with Allen and Torx keys, as well.
  • Chain Lube/Grease – Make sure to place these in a protective bag to avoid any leakage on other luggage, or worse, your seats.
  • Zip-Ties and Cutters – Zip-tying smaller items and loose parts to the frame of your bike during transport will help to ensure that you do not lose anything. For really small parts, you may want to use a heavy-duty bag to secure them and attach the bag to the frame.
  • Tire Pump – You have to have air in your tires. Unless you are only riding around a parking lot with an air pump, having a small collapsible tire pump should be in every bike bag.
  • Digital Tire Gauge – A digital gauge takes any guesswork out of having the proper inflation in your tires.
  • Bike Helmet – Although you should not pack your bike helmet with your bike, you want to make sure you take it and any other protective gear with you on your travels.

Bonus Item to Pack

  • Bike Bag/Box – When flying these may be essential. However, even traveling by car, truck, or SUV you may benefit from using a bike bag or box as well. One huge advantage is that it will protect your bike and give you a way to pack everything together in one package.

Final Thoughts

We have covered a lot of ways to make sure your bike arrives safely at your destination, whether driving yourself, riding, or flying. If you are using commercial transportation or choose to ship your bike, we recommend purchasing additional insurance to cover the cost of your bike.

None of us wants to consider losing our bikes or having to deal with major damage. However, the truth is, it happens a lot. Taking additional precautions to ensure your bike arrives safely is definitely worth the trouble.

We hope that you have found this guide full of helpful tips to help you find the best way to travel with your bike (or bikes). We do not have to be bound by the distance we can travel on our bike, get out there, see the world on two wheels and experience life as only a bicyclist can.