Travelers have three basic options for transporting bicycles: on the roof, at the rear or in the trunk. Transport in the trunk is really only recommended for day-trippers who don't need space for luggage. Since bicycles fit completely mounted only in the fewest trunks, car drivers best dismantle parts of the bicycle. For example, the front wheel, the saddle or the handlebars. If the rear flap still cannot be closed, driving with the trunk open is only permitted if the protruding load does not cover the license plate, turn signals, rear and brake lights. Of course, the bicycle must then be secured in such a way that it does not slip out of the vehicle and fall onto the road during the journey or sudden evasive movements (see also § 22 para. 1 StVO).
When the tailgate is open, the load may generally protrude a maximum of one and a half meters from the rear of the vehicle. Of course, this also applies to the transport of bicycles. It is important to mark the protruding load: If it protrudes more than one meter beyond the vehicle's rear reflectors to the rear, motorists must either attach a 30 by 30 centimeter bright red flag, an equally large bright red sign, or a red cylindrical body with a diameter of at least 35 centimeters (see also § 22 para. 4 StVO). For shorter distances, a bicycle can also be transported with the tailgate open. If the distances are longer and the weather worse, roof and rear carrier systems for bicycles offer themselves for the transport. These systems work in a very similar way: they have a rail in which the tires of the bicycle are placed, and securing systems by which the bicycles are firmly connected to the carrier.
The transport of bikes on the roof is popular, not least because roof racks are relatively cheap to have. For approx. 50 Euro there are already usable offers on the market. In terms of road safety, transport on the roof of a car has a clear advantage, because the bike does not block the view out of the vehicle. If the vehicle has a roof railing, the roof rack is simply attached there. Some cars have retractable attachment points on the roof where the carrier clicks into place. Alternatives are roof rack systems that are clamped into the door frame and fixed there.
When transporting bicycles on the roof, however, caution is also required. Because the additional weight shifts the center of gravity upwards. The driving behavior in curves suffers from it. At higher speeds, the increased center of gravity can even lead to a serious risk of overturning. In addition, on longer journeys the fastenings should be checked regularly. The brackets are subjected to particular stresses due to the wind and the movement of the vehicle. This also applies when transporting significantly heavier pedelecs or e-bikes. Some models weigh up to 30 kilograms. This weight is a particular challenge for the fasteners, not least when loading, but also when driving.
Increased fuel consumption
Transporting bicycles on the roof of the vehicle increases air resistance. This can result in up to 40 percent higher fuel consumption.
Tailgate bike carrier
If transport on the roof is too cumbersome for you, you can attach your bicycles to the car using a so-called tailgate bicycle carrier. The systems are usually hooked into the joints between the car body and the trunk lid and fixed with tension straps. It should be noted that tailgate carriers must not cover the license plate or rear lights as a matter of principle. Compared with roof racks, they have the advantage that handling is only marginally affected and fuel consumption does not increase excessively due to the lower air resistance. A tangible and safety-relevant disadvantage is the obstructed rear view. Another negative point is that there is a risk of damage to the paintwork during installation and due to the constant friction between the fastening points and the bodywork. In the worst case, even the fastening straps can loosen. In addition, the wear of hinges and gas springs (dampers) increases, which are not designed for the additional weight of the bicycles.
A relatively expensive, but also safe method is the transport with a so-called coupling carrier. The prerequisite is a trailer hitch to which the system is attached. Here, too, the driving behavior in curves is only slightly affected. Consumption increases only moderately. When transporting the bicycle, the drawbar load of the vehicle must be taken into account. However, this is usually relatively high, so that the transport of heavy pedelecs and e-bikes is also possible. An important prerequisite is that the hitch carrier has an additional retroreflective license plate and lighting that complies with regulations and has an E-mark.
Pay attention to the side dimensions at the rear
When transporting on the rear of the vehicle, the bicycles may not protrude more than 40 cm laterally over the tail light. Otherwise, they must be marked with a white light to the front and a red light to the rear. Overall, with this variant it must also be ensured that the vehicle and load do not exceed a maximum width of 2.55 meters (see § 22 Para. 2 and 5).
With these tips, the rider, car and bike will arrive safely at their destination
– In the operating instructions, the manufacturers of the bike carriers recommend maximum speeds of mostly 130 km/h. It is essential to follow this advice. Because the higher the speed, the greater the load on the attachment points. You can also lose warranty claims.
– Attention is required when transporting bicycles on the roof. The center of gravity is shifted and the vehicle can become unstable, for example, when cornering, show an increased lateral inclination or, in the worst case, even tip over. The increased weight also increases the braking distance.
– The heavier the bicycle, the greater the change in handling characteristics. Particularly when transporting bicycles with heavy e-drive, increased attention is therefore required.
– The high weight also plays an important role for transport at the rear of the vehicle. Because the more weight on the rear, the more the vehicle is unloaded on the front axle. Among other things, this reduces grip on the guide wheels. The driving behavior deteriorates.
Remove attachments before driving off
In order not to endanger other road users on your own vacation trip with the bicycle, you must remove the detachable accessories before starting the journey. This includes, for example, bags and bicycle baskets, but also air pumps, child seats or sports accessories such as speedometers. Anything that is not part of the bike's construction can come loose in the wind and become dangerous projectiles on the road.
Tips for pedelecs
– If possible, remove the batteries of bicycles with electric auxiliary drives before starting to ride. Moisture can get inside the battery due to the airstream and damage the power storage unit.
– If the manufacturer of carriers indicates that up to four bikes can be transported, this does not necessarily apply to pedelecs. Due to their higher weight, the permissible total weight of the wheel carrier is reached more quickly. This also applies to the clutch carrier. Here the drawbar load is also decisive.
– The information on permissible total weight and drawbar loads is contained in the product information and the vehicle documents.
Testing organizations assess the quality of bike racks
There is a wide range of bike racks. Test results from reputable testing organizations provide the necessary orientation when making a purchase. Products that have the so-called "GS mark" generally meet a good quality standard. Those who are unsure at the time of initial purchase which transport option best suits their own vehicle and the trip or journey they are planning should seek advice from a specialist store. Those who find it too expensive to purchase a new vehicle can often rent a bike rack there at a reasonable price.
Caution is advised when buying used carriers. Bicycle racks and especially the attachment points are exposed to a high load. The material should therefore be carefully checked for damage. Wear and tear should be checked.
Tip for the vacation trip abroad
Before traveling, vacationers should inform themselves about the regulations abroad. For example, in Italy and Spain, loads that extend beyond the rear of the vehicle must be marked with warning signs. And this also applies in these cases to bicycle carriers at the rear of the vehicle.