Recently, I ended my longstanding relationship with Subaru Foresters. I have been driving Foresters for several decades. They are reliable, strong, and can drive through just about anything.
For bicycle transport, I have always used hitch mounted racks. The above rack is a Yakima wheel tray rack – an ideal way to transport bikes. There is no contact with the frame, no disassembly is required, and you can see the bikes at all times in your rear view mirror. However, this method subjects the bikes to the elements and to potential theft. Also, the Yakima rack would frequently need tightening at the hitch mount to keep it from wobbling. The main reason for my hitch on the Subaru was an often expressed birthday wish – a Teardrop Trailer – which has not yet materialized despite years of hints and pleas.
I recently purchased a Toyota Highlander to replace the Forester. It is quite a bit larger than the Forester, so before I ordered my Teardrop Trailer hitch mount (hope springs eternal), I decided to investigate whether I could use an internal rack to transport my bikes. There are many products available, including carriers made by well known manufacturers such as Saris and Thule. There are also interesting innovations from CycleRest – which uses the rear vehicle seat headrest as a mounting point, and Bikeinside, which uses a telescopic rail to secure the rack to the interior sides of the vehicle. And, if you are a decent woodworker (which I am decidedly NOT), you can make your own custom interior rack to fit the vehicle in question.
The first thing to consider when deciding on using an internal bike rack is the height of the vehicle’s cargo area. The Highlander’s cargo height isn’t all that tall, so before I ordered the rack I measured the height, and then measured a bike on hand with its front wheel removed – measuring its tallest point, that being the saddle. I realized then that it would be necessary to either remove the saddle, or shove it all the way down. In fact, for the Guerciotti which I enlisted for my first transport trial, I shoved the saddle all the way down, and then reversed it, so that it would follow the sloped contours of the Highlander’s interior. Once done, it was very easy to get the bike in position, with one of the rear seats was folded down, and lock the fork into the Minoura’s fork mount. The fork mount rotates fully and can be locked in any position, in case you want to turn the bars sideways, which might be necessary if you are transporting more than one bike. Then, I went for a 3 hour drive. The rack worked perfectly despite the fact that nothing is really holding it in place. The bike never wobbled, and there was no annoying rattling, despite some hairpin turns and sudden stops.
These end pieces have a “no-slip” base, which does actually seem to work. The ends are not weighted at all. However, since my initial test was with the 22 lb Guerciotti, a small bike with a low bottom bracket, I thought it would be wise to also try out my heaviest and tallest bike. The Panasonic MC 7500 that I use as a winter/errand bike weighs 28 lbs and because it is a mountain bike, has a high bottom bracket relative to my other bikes. Fortunately, it also has a quick release seat post which would help to make it easier to transport using the Minoura rack.
Because this bike is so much taller and has upright handlebars, it was more challenging to get the bike in place and mounted. I once again shoved the saddle down and reversed it, but it might have been wise to remove it altogether. Once I had the fork blades mounted to the rack’s QR system, I then placed the wheel in the optional wheel holder which I had also purchased, and which is probably not really necessary. However, the wheel holder does clean up the look of the interior. As I was attempting to position the bike in order to close the rear hatch on the Highlander I also realized that the bars needed to be dropped down so they could clear the hatch door.
One way to make sure that your bike gets reassembled to your desired seat and handlebar position is to mark the frame and seat tube with a water soluble marker, as shown above, before altering the position for transport.
Once I had the Panasonic locked into position and seemingly secure, I ventured out on another road trip. The bike seemed stable, but the rack rattled occasionally over bumps. However, it did not shift position under hard braking or fast cornering. Conclusion: this is a decent, inexpensive internal bike rack which will work best for lightweight bikes with plastic fenders, or with no fenders. You may have to remove your seat post, depending on the height of your cargo area. Bikes with steel or aluminum fenders cannot be transported with this rack, as the front fender will interfere with the wheel lock. You can see from the photo above that the flexible portion of the Planet Bike fenders on the Pansonic allowed the front wheel to connect to the rack mount. Long front fenders will present a problem, and would have to be removed in order to use this rack.
I hope your tear drop dreams come true I have always thought they were cool, I also like the T&B trailers. I too am a Forester (’01) with hitch mount veteran, I currently have a Thule trunk mounted (straps) rack on my ’04 Sentra and I miss the hitch mount.
My birthday is coming up so… you never know. My new vehicle is a hybrid, so I feel better about transporting my bicycles on road trips. But, Subaru Foresters are legendary, and there are aspects of my old Foresters that I miss. Hitch mounts are really nice for bike transport, and I may end up going that route on my new Highlander as well.
I used a hitch mount on my CR-V and found it to be an excellent solution, even for long distance portage. Having moved over to a Subaru Outback, I’ll be adding a hitch soon to follow suit. Being of the long legged variety, my frames are too tall to fit inside any way except lying down – and even that can still be a squeeze. I drove a Chrysler Town and Country minivan for ten years, and an interior rack was perfect – I could easily stand three bikes side by side. The system I used, by the way, consisted of three quick release brackets mounted to a piece of 1 x 4 lumber, cut to fit the interior width of the van. On the underside of the board I stapled five or six patches of Velcro. That snugged up to the carpet and in a decade and 480,000 miles I never once had an issue with stability. I really wish I could use that same system in my Outback, but a hitch is a good second choice for my purposes.
It would be hard to fit a tall bike upright in my new Highlander, but it is nice to have the bike inside the vehicle. Probably a hitch mount is in my future, though.