Since I got my wagon I've been looking for a good bike hauling solution that doesn't strap to the car (I'm personally not in to having my paint scratched up!) I have used a hitch mount rack in the past (I have something similar to the Swagman G10 which I really liked) but on this particular car installing a hitch requires quite a bit of cutting and drilling, something I'm not too excited to do. That pretty much only leaves roof mount options.
Roof mounted bike carriers certainly have their disadvantages. You need to lift your bike up to the roof of your vehicle for one - I'm fairly tall and my car is fairly low so this particular hurdle was one I felt I could deal with. There's a fair amount of wind drag when you're driving which will negatively affect your fuel economy - this is a marginal concern in town but will be somewhat noticeable on the freeway. It's not unusual to see a 10-15% increase in fuel consumption with bikes strapped on your car no matter where they are. Your bike WILL be covered in bugs when you get where you're going - if your windshield is getting plastered with flies then your bike is too. And then there's the big one, overhead clearance:
However there's also quite a few advantages:
In my particular case I wanted to solve two different problems:
I decided I wanted to get a rooftop cargo basket that somehow could also haul bikes. This proved to be a bit of a bigger challenge than I thought - I spent quite a lot of time searching! I found several options to mount crossbars to a cargo basket and then put a bike rack on top of that - the cost would have been prohibitive and I'm not made of money. A decent set of crossbars is $400-800 and then a roof mount rack is another $300-600 on top of that. Yikes! There's also the overhead clearance issue; the more "stuff" you have stacked on top of the car the taller it is increasing the chances of tagging something overhead. I saw a few narrow baskets that would maybe leave a little room for a bike rack on my existing crossbars but I'd be mounting the bikes pretty far outboard with that setup - pedals and handlebars would be extending past the car.
I eventually stumbled upon the Küat Vagabond X - this innovative rack includes a pair of bike fork mounts welded to the rack itself and includes some straps to secure the rear wheel of the bike to the rack. When you're not hauling bikes it's a typical cargo basket (and not a bad looking one either). The only problem was the price! MSRP of $489 USD comes out to about $650 in our money. That's pretty dear! The Vagabond does seem to be a very well made rack with great reviews but I just couldn't stomach that price.
That's when I had the light bulb moment - if all the Küat was really providing me was a pair of fork mounts, surely there must be another option. I instead decided to roll my own solution.
I already had a set of Votex (VW "official") roof rack bars. They are an extruded aluminium roof bar similar to a Thule Aeroblade though not as aerodynamic. If I was buying everything new the Thule Aeroblade crossbars would be a good choice. They are lower profile than my Votex bars too which would have helped improve clearance by another 2" or so.
The key feature here though is that my crossbars have a slot in the top that accepts Thule T-bolts. This allows me to bolt virtually anything to them. This opens up all sorts of options - the bike mounts no longer need to be attached to the roof basket and can be attached to the crossbar instead. Rather than limiting myself to the one roof basket with bike mounts I could get the best fit for my car instead, much easier.
I settled on the Rola Vortex 2 roof basket. It has a flat floor unlike the Vagabond and was a better fit for the size and shape of my vehicle. The Rola basket is also quite a bit cheaper (as low as $99 US on Amazon.com). The quality is pretty good - I'll give it weak marks for the factory decals as they came off the first time I hit the car with the pressure washer. The fit and finish isn't quite "premium" - there's subtle differences between the two halves of the rack. The alignment on the connection between the two halves isn't perfect either. However let's look at this for what it is - a cargo basket. It is going to be exposed to the elements on the outside of a car. It is meant to haul cargo, it WILL get bashed around.
The Rola attaches to my crossbars easily and the mounting hardware does not project in to the cargo area, something that apparently is somewhat difficult to find. Once mounted to the car the rack is extremely rigid - it really feels like part of the car. I'm quite happy with the look too!
So, on to the bike mounts themselves...
After looking around a bit I found the (get ready for a product name that's almost as big as the product) Delta Cycle BH1005N Bike Hitch Pro 2 Locking Fork Mount. These are a simple aluminium mount with two bolt holes in the bottom which you can attach to virtually anything. Have a pickup truck or open trailer? Toss a sheet of plywood in the bed and bolt a couple of these to it. Anything you can bolt these to becomes a fork mount bike carrier lickety split.
The Delta mount has a large oversized quick release lever allowing you to put far more clamping force on the fork than you'd get with a typical bike QR. The lever is quite large, you don't really realise just how big it is until you have it in front of you. The second metal tab provides a securing point for a padlock to ensure that the quick release cannot be opened either accidentally or by someone trying to steal your bike while you're grabbing a quick bite to eat.
There's a red fabric loop attached to the quick release lever. At first I wasn't sure why I'd need this but it quickly became clear the first time I used the mount - when the mount is in the latched position you can't really get a finger around it to pull it out again. The fabric loop gives you something to yank on so you can pop the quick release open. I'm not sure how well this is going to weather being outside 24/7 but it could easily and attractively be replaced with some paracord without too much trouble.
I mounted a pair of these to my crossbars - at $30 CDN it's a no brainer. They match my cargo basket perfectly and barely intrude in to the cargo area at all meaning I still have the full use of my basket. Just what I wanted!
So far I've hauled 4 different bikes of various ages and weights. The fork mounts are very secure, there's virtually no movement of the bikes when they are clamped in. I don't recommend this solution if you plan to haul mainly vintage bikes (or really anything with fender or rack stays that attach to the axle) as dealing with stays is a complete pain in the you-know-what though it works ok for short trips.
Typical bike installation - I use a velcro strap on the rear wheel to secure it to my cargo basket.
I'm quite happy with this solution. It gives me a bike hauling setup that I can use any time without having to attach anything to the car meaning spur-of-the-moment trips are easily accommodated. I can easily pick up friends with bikes or go on road trips. Knowing that everything is always ready to go is a big plus.
When there's no bike on the car everything looks great - there's not really any sign of the bike mounts though they're there, silently awaiting their next journey.