Carrying Bicycles with a Towbar Cycle Carrier
A towbar is not only useful for towing a caravan or a trailer. Installing a towbar makes carrying bicycles easy, with a range of carriers available for all tpes of towball.
Carrying cycles without a towbar can be a problematic affair, with rear door mounted carriers doing a good job - but these can't be used on tailgates which hinge directly to the glass, and involve placing and tensioning multiple straps around the rear doorframe, and adjusting the arms each time. When not in use, a boot mounted cycle carrier can be bulky and need folding up or disassembly to store, losing the setup that you previously had.
Roof mounted cycle carriers have a less fussy setup, but require roof bars to be fitted, and them involve lifting the bicycles high in the air to mount to the carrier, with risk of damage to bike and car if you slip or drop the bike. With taller van and MPV type vehicles, carrying bicycles on the roof is even more difficult. Another issue is the added height - search any cycling forum on the web and you will find tales of accidents under low bridges!
The safer and simpler solution is a towbar cycle carrier!
There are three main types of towbar cycle carrier, and which one you choose will depend on your style of towbar and the number of cycles you want to carry.
1) Upright cycle carrier mounted on a plate behind the towball
An economical way of carrying cycles with a towball, fitting this type of carrier requires the traditional flange type of towbar, with two M16 bolts securing the towball to the faceplate of the towbar. The plate only needs fitting once, and stays mounted on the car. The cycle carrier then, depending on the design, either clamps onto or slots into the mounting plate. These cannot be used with swan-neck types of towball, including the Towsure Eclipse system
This type of bike rack is simple to use, and versions are available to carry 2 to 4 bikes. With this type of carrier, the towball is not obstructed, so it is possible to tow whilst carrying cycles provided attention is paid to the total noseweight on the towbar (the noseweight of the trailer/caravan plus the weight of the bicycles and carrying rack) and the turning circle, to ensure that if making a tight turn, bicycle handlebars etc will not come into contact with the front of the caravan
Cycles are fitted to this type of rack usually by hanging by the top tube or by the triangle of the seat stays and seat tube, and secured in place with straps. It can sometimes be difficult to mount some suspension frames, step-through frames or junior frames to this type of carrier. A lighting board with number plate affixed must then be hung to the back of the rack and bicycles.
It is usually not possible to access the boot of the vehicle whilst the bicycles and rack are fitted, which can prove inconvenient on longer journeys.
2) Upright cycle carrier clamped to the towball
Similar in design to (1) above, but utilising a clamp system to clamp around the towball, this type of carrier is usually lightweight and suitable only for one or two bicycles at most due to the limitations of the clamp design. It is used in the same way as the plate-mounted type of carrier, with the bikes hanging on the arms of the carrier and securing with straps, plus an ancillary rear lighting board and number plate.
As the carrier clamps to the towball itself, this type of rack cannot be used whilst towing but is usually suitable for both bolt-on towballs and swan neck towballs.
It is important that when using either type of upright cycle carrier that a rear lighting board and number plate are used when carrying bicycles that obscure the lights and registration plate at the vehicle. Obscuring these is an offence and is dangerous. A lighting board is hung to the bikes or the rack by means of staps or bungees and plugged into the towing electrics, so that the vehicle has visible lights and registration number. The number plate used must be a properly manufactured plate to the same standards and regulations regarding lettering spacing and legibility as apply to the plates fitted to your vehicle.
3) Platform Carrier mounted to the towball
The ultimate system for cycle carrying, suitable for all types of towbar, whether a flanged towbar with a bolt-on towball or a swan neck / detatchable towball system, a platform type cycle carrier is mounted by means of a heavy duty clamp around the ball and neck. The clamp completely covers the towball and it is not possible to use these types of carrier whilst towing.
The clamp system is strong, with racks available for 2 to 4 bicycles, and easy to install - many versions lock to the towball for increased security. Bikes are fitted to the rack without high lifting, the wheels sitting in rails, a quick-release strap securing them in place, and the frame held upright by means of a support clamp.
Look for a fold-down version for easy access to the boot - many platform type carriers have a tilting system which allows a tailgate or boot lid to be opened without the need to remove the bicycles or the carrier from the vehicle, removing the inconvenience inherent in the upright type of carrier.
Platform racks usually come with a complete lighting system and number plate carrier built in - just plug it in to the car's towing electrics and drive away, safely and legally.