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Guide to Travelling with a Mountain Bike

October 21, 2022
Guide to Travelling with a Mountain Bike

With the booming popularity and resurgence of mountain biking, it comes as little surprise that more riders are seeking out trails to ride both near and far. While bikes are made to be ridden, sometimes it's simply not feasible to simply ride to the bike park, trail network or trailhead.

When it comes to travelling with your mountain bike, a number of logical options come to mind straight away. Before we get stuck into each transportation method, the overarching theme with this guide is that the priority should always be ensuring your ride is both safe and secure, as such we’d recommend always carrying a lock with your bike to ensure it's not an easy target for opportunistic thieves. Right, without further ado, regardless of whether you’re travelling near or far, in this article, we’ll take you through our top methods on travelling with or transporting your mountain bike.

Travelling by Car

When it comes to travelling with or transporting your bike, a car or personal vehicle is by far the most common and popular option for riders. We’ll go through a few popular options for mountain bikers below, whether within, attached to, or on top of your vehicle.

Inside your car/Tray


Arguably the most secure option on this list, simply carrying your bike in your car not only keeps your ride safe from the elements but also doesn’t come with negative effects on fuel consumption or height restrictions that other options can introduce. It must be mentioned, however, that travelling with your bike in the car is best suited to solo travellers, as most riders will be restricted by their vehicle's dimensions and interior carrying capacity.

To ensure enough room for your bike/s, riding gear and any other luggage, we recommend removing at least one, if not both, wheels. This not only allows the handlebars to lay flat but also allows for multiple bikes to be carried. When loading your bike into your car, the drive-side of your bike should always be facing up. Try to limit placing other luggage on your bike so as not to damage the components themselves or cause avoidable damage to your bike, such as a bent derailleur hanger.

If you opt to travel with your bike in your car, it's wise to either invest in or upcycle some blankets or similar to protect your bike and your car from damage. Other considerations include using a brake pad spacer to avoid having to reset your brake pistons if/when your brake levers cop a knock. To protect your drivetrain, we’d also recommend investing in a chain keeper to keep your chain from marking your riding kit or the interior of your car. To further protect your belongings, it's also worth considering a boot liner or similar, which will go a long way to limiting tracking dirt through your vehicle too.

For those with a utility vehicle or truck, using a tailgate pad and simply placing your ride in the bed of your truck and securing it with the velcro strap is probably the easiest option listed here. Designed to protect both the tailgate of your ute and the bike from swaying back and forth over the paintwork, a tailgate pad is an affordable option to consider when transporting your mountain bike.

Vertical Bike Rack


The vertical bike rack has quickly become one of the most popular options for travelling with a mountain bike, and for good reason. Boasting increased carrying capacity, security, ease of use and a durable design that stands up to the elements, it's one of the most efficient ways to get a bunch of bikes to the trail.

While they’re amongst the more expensive options for travelling, this cost is well justified especially considering the freeways, gravel roads and fire trails riders are likely to use to access their trail networks.

A couple of things to consider when prior to buying a rack include checking out what your local lawmakers state about number plate and rear light visibility. Most options will have provisions for an accessory plate to be fitted, if in doubt, we’d strongly recommend picking one up to be on the right side of the law.

On the subject of local laws, it's worth checking your restrictions on overhang. Some jurisdictions state a maximum or limit on the amount of overhang that a vehicle can have past the rear axle. While most rack providers will provide a number of different tilting or mounting options to conform to legal requirements, the onus is still on you, the buyer, to make sure your set-up is in spec.

Legalities out of the way, vertical bike racks will typically come with different carrying capacities and options ranging from single bike carriers to racks capable of carrying up to 5-7 bikes at a time. Features to look for include tilting mechanisms to make loading and unloading the bikes on rough terrain a breeze. Anti-rattle plates or devices at the tow ball/hitch receiver to cut down on noise reverberating throughout the car when you’re on the way to the trails is also a nice touch. The retention system of the bikes is also a key consideration. While some racks feature rubber straps, it's worth noting that operating these with gloves on or with cold and wet hands can be a bit of a faff. Newer racks such as the Rola VBR feature a hook, cambuckle and strap bike securing system, which makes for easier loading and unloading. Sturdy construction featuring weather-resistant materials is also a must, as are stability mechanisms such as anchor points to prevent the rack from swaying about on uneven terrain or in high wind conditions on the freeway.

Htich/TowBall Mount Bike Rack


Arguably the most popular option on the market, tow ball and hitch mount car bike racks are immensely popular thanks to their easy installation and low loading height. The main difference between tow ball and hitch mount car bike racks is how they attach to your vehicle. As their name would suggest, tow ball mount car bike racks are mounted to the tow ball of your vehicle and are usually as simple as locking the rack in place, connecting the plug to make the turn signals and lights on the rack function, attaching your bikes and away you go.

Hitch mount receivers work in the same way and are often the same design, albeit attached to the hitch receiver directly rather than sitting on the tow ball. It could be argued that hitch-mount receivers are more sturdy than tow ball racks due to the fact that the tow hitch receiver is connected directly to the frame of your vehicle, therefore, has a higher theoretical load-carrying weighting. Not super imperative for most riders, considering that it’s bikes we’re lugging around, not heavy loads, but worth considering, especially if you’re looking for a heavy-duty bike rack rated to carry e-bikes and heavier mountain bikes.

Much like vertical bike racks, tow ball and hitch mount racks are available in single bike options through to racks capable of carrying up to four or five bikes at a time. The two most common types are platform and hanging-style bike racks. Platform bike racks are the most stable option, albeit they come with a higher cost as a result. Platform racks are where your bike will sit on a platform and are secured for stability by the wheels and/or top tube. Hanging-style bike racks are typically more affordable and are where the bike is typically hung by the top tube off protruding arms. These styles of bike racks accommodate a wide style of bikes, however, can prove troublesome with a mountain bike with a sloping top tube design or mountain bikes with rear shock placement that sits closer to the top tube of the bike.

Features to look for in tow ball or hitch mount bike racks include either tilting or swing away mechanisms which make for easier loading and unloading of the bikes as well as easy access to the vehicle. Anti-rattle bolts and plates are also a must to save from annoying rattles and creaks as you drive. Carrying capacity is also worth considering, especially if you're looking to shuttle E-Mountain Bikes to the trail. A lot of car bike racks will be offered in standard or heavy-duty / e-bike-rated capacities. Standard bike racks will typically have their load rating limited to 25 or 30kg, whereas heavy-duty options will bump that up to 50-60kg. Considering an e-mountain bike can weigh anywhere from 15-25kg, this is definitely worth keeping in mind when shopping around.

Rooftop Bike Rack


Another popular option is the humble rooftop bike rack. Attached to the roof rack bars, or in some cases, the rack bars attached to a hard tonneau cover, a roof bike rack is capable of carrying a single bike per rack. However, multiple carriers can be fitted to a set of roof racks and are largely governed by the total rated carrying capacity of your roof rack system.

Whilst rooftop bike racks are easy to fit, they’re quite limited in terms of both the weight of bikes they’re capable of carrying and how many bikes you can fit on the top of your vehicle. Most rooftop bike racks are rated at 20kg, meaning that e-mountain bikes are largely unable to be mounted. Another consideration is the strength required to lift a 20-kilogram bike above your head to fix it to the rack in the first place! Another consideration for a rooftop bike rack is its effect on your fuel consumption. Fully loaded, a rooftop bike rack can show anywhere from 7.5% to a whopping 30% drop in fuel efficiency as a result of the added aerodynamic drag introduced.

Rooftop racks typically stabilise the bike using both wheel straps and another arm that holds the downtube to ensure the bike doesn't wobble around at speed.

Suction Bike Rack


For those looking for less permanent options than permanently affixing roof racks to your vehicle, or if your vehicle lacks the provisions for roof racks to be added, suction bike racks are a great alternative. While they still suffer from the same downfalls mentioned above regarding rooftop bike racks, the fact that the suction cups and the mounting board can be easily removed when not in use and stored either in the vehicle itself or in the garage.

Typically offered to suit a single bike or two bikes, suction bike racks will typically have a higher carrying capacity than a rooftop bike rack as they’re not limited by the rack itself but rather attach via suction to the roof of the vehicle, which is each rated to withstand over 100kg of force. Such convenience does come at a cost, however, with suction bike racks typically commanding a price similar to that of a tow ball or hitch mount bike rack.

Shipping / Air Travel with an MTB

If you’re looking to travel a little bit further to access some bucket list trails interstate or overseas, you’ll likely be putting your steed in oversized luggage on an aeroplane or shipping the bike to your destination ahead of time. Regardless of the most suitable option, you’ll have two options: a pre-made or recycled bike box or a mountain bike-specific bike bag.

Travel Bags


A travel bag is a great option for those flying with their bike or simply looking to maximise the amount of space in their car when travelling to their mountain bike mecca. Bike bags are a worthwhile investment in ensuring your ride gets to its destination safely; however, they do require a little bit of DIY knowledge to pack and unpack. Bike bags are specially designed to keep your ride's frame, components and wheels safe and together. Most bags will feature a firm platform of base for the bike to attach to, typically at the axles with the wheels removed. When considering a bike bag, consider options with dedicated storage compartments so you can keep all of your bike-related kit in one place, such as spare derailleur hangers and batteries, or house delicate components such as the derailleurs themselves. All bags will require different amounts of disassembly, ranging from simply removing the front wheel to stripping most of the components off the bike, including the derailleurs, rotors, wheels and handlebars, for an extremely small footprint. Most reputable bag manufacturers will have guides to assembly and disassembly to utilise the bag to its full potential, but it's always wise to add some extra padding to fill air gaps and ensure your ride gets to its destination in one piece.

When it comes to price, there is quite a wide range, but as the saying goes, you get what you pay for. Budget-orientated options will typically be a bike-shaped bag for you to put your frame and wheels into and will offer little in the way of padding or security from external forces, whereas more expensive options will feature more padding or a hard outer shell to protect your ride from being damaged by accidental or careless drops, dings and stacking.

Other things to consider are their portability. While most bike bags will come with wheels attached, the quality of those wheels and other handles on the bag itself can differ greatly and as with the overall price of the bag, you get what you pay for. The weight is also worth considering, especially if you’re looking to fly with your ride. While a case with a hard outer shell will offer a great amount of protection, it may add a significant amount of weight to the fully loaded bag, making travelling with said bag an expensive exercise.

Bike Box


Much like the bike-specific bags details above, a bike box, either specifically for travel or recycled from when you purchased your ride, is another great option for those looking to pack and travel with their bike on a budget. The main trade-off with a bike box vs a bike bag is that there will be a significant amount of additional padding required to fill any air gaps in and around the bike and its components to ensure they don’t move around, rub, or are susceptible to damage during transit. Another consideration is that while cardboard boxes or recycled boxes will be the cheapest option, they will typically offer poor moisture and puncture resistance, so they are best avoided if you want to ensure your bike is as protected as possible.

We hope this guide has been useful. If you’re looking to travel with your mountain bike, check out our comprehensive range of Car Bike Racks.