Riding a mountain bike, or MTB as I like to call it, is a priority in my life. It wasn’t on my mind when I bought my car, though, because it isn’t the best suited for transporting a bike. My car is a Honda Civic Coupe, not precisely the most oversized vehicle. The car has a tiny trunk.

Mountain Bike in Trunk
Mountain Bike in Trunk

As luck would have it, I’ve had some fantastic results compacting my bike to fit in the car with the rear seats down. It would be great to have one of those rear bike racks, so my bike can stay in one piece. However, I’ve found the few moments it takes me to disassemble and reassemble my bike allows for proper component inspection. That way, I can ensure everything is properly working before I go out on the trail.

Here are a few tips the helped me when struggling with packing an MTB into a small vehicle:

  • A nice-sized rag and bag to keep it in. I use the rag to wipe down my bike after a ride, removing mud and the like. Also, before putting the bike in the car, you can use the rag to wipe off excess grease from your chain and drive components. Use the bag to keep the rag, so if it gets grease on it, the grease won’t get on your vehicle upholstery.
  • Packing foam or pad. Using something like a yoga mat or a carpet also works excellent. Use these to line your car to prevent two things:
    • Damage to your vehicle’s upholstery from your bike’s components
    • Damage to your bike from lying sideways in a moving vehicle (bouncing around)
  • Travel blanket(s). Keeping a couple of furniture moving or travel blankets in the car is a great idea. I like to keep two. One for under the bike to protect my car. The second I use to cover the bike is to set the wheel or wheels I removed from the frame on top without fear of scratching the frame or rims. Travel blankets used for moving furniture work the best in my experience. They are thick enough to protect the bike and vehicle and stop oil or grease from getting on your car upholstery.

Rim Tip: Remember that pressure on the spokes of a wheel can warp the wheel true. Ensure that there is nothing causing pressure on your bike wheel’s spokes when you move your bike in your car.

For a walkthrough of putting a geared bike in a small vehicle, watch this video: https://youtu.be/HWORUabugKs

You Can Make A Normal Bike Fit In A Small Car – Here’s How

I’m going to run you through the process I use and add a few tips here and there to help you break down your bike so it will fit in a small car.

I’ve broken down the experience into some handy steps you can follow along. Let’s start with making some room in the car.

1.   Maximize Car Space

The first task is to clean out your back seat. Assuming you need to drop down the rear seat, that is. In my car, I had no choice but to lower the rear seats. If your trunk is big enough, you may not have to do this, but we’ll assume you have a small car like me.

Clean off the seats and fold them down.

Next, clean out the trunk. You’re going to want to move anything that was in your trunk to give you clear space to work. Be especially wary of anything hard or heavy that could move around and possibly cause damage.

2.   Protect Your Vehicles

You love your bike. You probably also love your vehicle. Or at least like it, right? Either way, we want to ensure that both vehicles, cars, and bikes are protected.

I like to keep a pair of moving blankets in my car. I use one to lie down like a tarp. That way, if I go on a muddy trail and my MTB gets caked in mud, I can still get my bike home where I can hose it off. That is, get it home without covering my car in mud! Why give yourself a car to clean out when you can just lay down a moving blanket and set your bike on it?

The second blanket I use to lay on top of the bike frame once it is in the car. There are a couple of reasons for this:

  1. If I stop somewhere for gas, a meal, or whatever, my expensive bike is covered, so potential thieves don’t feel as tempted to break into my car for it.
  2. I set my wheels on top of my bike frame when in transport and don’t want the wheels to get warped or the wheels or frame to get scratched.

3.   Prepare The Bike

You can’t just put the bike, fully assembled, into a vehicle. If you have a vehicle big enough, you wouldn’t be here reading this, right? So, we have to prepare the bike. Here is where I like to incorporate having that bag with some rags in it. Or, you can use an old car mat, as I do in my Honda.

Whether you use a mat or rags, you’re going to want to lay them on the ground so you can flip your bike over and set it upside down, resting on the seat and handlebars. I make sure I have both areas covered by a mat or rags, so my bike handlebars and seat aren’t scratched on the ground.

a.     Shifting Gears

Right before you flip the bike over, shift the gears, so the rear wheel gear is on the smallest cog. This gear allows for the most accessible removal of the rear wheel. It does this by allowing the chain to have the most slack from only wrapping around the smallest gear.

b.     Removing Wheels

Almost all cars will require you to remove at least the front wheel. With the bike upside down, you can easily do this.

Most new bikes use quick-release hubs and axles that use a threaded rod with a handle on one end and a threaded nut on the other. These wheel mounting assemblies are simple to use, as you can see if you take a look at the video, I recommended earlier.

If your bike is a bit older, you may need to use a wrench to remove the wheels if they use a nut and threaded axle assembly. If this is the case, and you don’t have disc breaks, you are likely running with cantilever brakes.

Cantilever brakes utilize a cable pull system that you can see at the breaks by the two brake arms that pull together via a cable mounting to one and passing through a cable routing elbow that locks into a pivot on the other brake arm.

Cantilever Brakes on MTB
Cantilever Brakes on MTB

To disengage a cantilever brake to remove the wheel, merely squeeze the two brake arms together tight against the rim without pulling the handlebar brake lever control. This process provides slack in the brake cable. Once you have enough slack, you can merely unhook the brake cable routing elbow out of the cantilever brake arm pivoting assembly.

Don’t try to undo the cable itself where it tightens to the other brake arm as the cable can fray and become very challenging to get back into place. But, removing the cable routing elbow from its lock-in point on the cantilever arm is easy, and that’s how the professional bike mechanics do the job.

If your bike has disc brakes, you don’t have to make much effort as you do with cantilever brakes. With disc brakes, just keep some old business cards in the car, fold them in half and insert them into the brake routers where the brake pads would compress on the brake disc.

The business cards help to keep the pads from pushing together, making it much easier to reinsert the brake disc wheel when you reinstall the wheel to the bike.

Grab Cable on Brakes
Grab Cable on Brakes
Disengage Cantilever Brakes
Disengage Cantilever Brakes

If removing the rear wheel, you will want to ensure that the chain is on the smallest gear. Then, after undoing the wheel axle, you lift the wheel out of the frame with one hand while folding, pushing the rear derailleur back and away from the bike frame. Moving the derailleur like this will free the chain from the wheel gear hub allowing you to remove the wheel easily.

c.      Pre-Cleaning

Remember that bag of rags? Well, take one and wipe down your bike chain, frame gears, and derailleurs before you put the bike frame in the car. Doing this will remove excess grease to help prevent getting grease on the inside of your car.

Ensure you’ve got the blanket or mat down in your car now if you haven’t already.

4.   Into The Cargo Hold

You’ve prepped your bike, removed the wheels, prepped the car, and now you need to start packing it in the vehicle.

Ensuring that you have your blanket or other covering to stop getting grease on your car upholstery, place the bike frame in the car in the following way.

Holding the frame sideways with the chain upward, slide the frame into the car trunk. I like to start with the rear of the frame entering the vehicle first.

Next, hold the handlebars, so they are parallel to the ground and enter the vehicle easily. Placing the frame in the car in this way allows you to use the handlebars and fork to maneuver the bike frame into its resting position in your vehicle.

Lastly, wrap the blanket over the bike frame so you can place the wheels in without scratching any components.

Remember that pressure on the spokes will cause the wheels to warp, so be cautious how you place them in the car.

Tips for Transporting a Mountain Bike in Cars, SUVs, and Trucks

  • Try sliding the bike in until you can’t slide it any further. As long as you have it wrapped in a blanket, you won’t hurt your vehicle. And that way, you’ll know exactly how far it can fit inside your vehicle. Another good reason to do this is so when you are driving, if you need to hit the brakes, your bike is already against the back of the front seats, so it won’t go flying.
  • Keep some rags in your vehicle so you can clean the frame and wheels before disassembling after your ride. The bike may be dirty, after all, and the last thing you likely want is to have to wash your bike blankets every single time you take your bike out.
  • If you keep your bike wheel axles with the frame, you won’t lose them. When you take the bike apart, if you always keep the axles with the frame, the chances of misplacing them will be slim. Make sure if they have springs or other components that you keep them in the correct orientation on the axles so you can reassemble them the way they were.

Different Styles of Bike Racks

Disassembling the bike each time you want to go for a ride is a bit of a pain. Enter the bike rack, our solution for annoying disassembly. After all, it’s a lot easier if you can leave the bike fully intact. Easier on your car upholstery too.

Hitch Style Racks

Hitch-style racks are bike racks that require your vehicle have a trailer hitch. They are low hitches sticking out from the hitch at the bottom bumper of your vehicle.

Hitch Style MTB Rack
Hitch Style MTB Rack

Hitch Style Bike Rack Sizes

Bike racks that mount to the hitch are typically designed for two bicycles. These bike racks usually range around 40-50 pounds, making them relatively easy to maneuver in or out of your hitch. They also typically have a load capacity of 40 to 100 pounds, depending on the model.

Hitch Style Bike Rack Costs

Purchasing a hitch-mounted bike rack will usually cost you between $350 and $900, depending on the make and model. Some of the more popular name-brand bike racks are on, the more expensive side of things, but the assembly isn’t much different from the cheaper ones.

Hitch Style Bike Rack Pros & Cons

ProsCons
Semi-hidden mounting to under-bumper hitchNot as stable as a roof rack
Doesn’t scratch car paintRequires a hitch installed
The cost-effective bike carrier solutionMust install/reinstall each time you use

Take a look at this hitch-mounted bike rack I found on Amazon: KAC Overdrive Sports K2 2” Hitch Mounted Rack 2-Bike

Bike Roof Racks

Roof racks are one of the most stable bike carrier types there are. However, they are also quite irritating to deal with because you need to lift the bike onto the roof. Most of these racks also require you to remove the front wheel to set the bike properly on the rack.

Bike carriers that mount to the roof require the vehicle to have existing roof rack rails. The roof-mounted bike racks will vary depending on the type of vehicle and are typically purchased from the same manufacturer who made the roof rack rails. Most dealerships carry bike racks to suit their manufacture of vehicles, and they are typically quite expensive, but we’ll get to that.

Bike Roof Rack Sizes

Bike roof racks usually hold between 2 and four bikes. The racks that hold four bikes are considerably more expensive than the two bike holder racks.

Bike Roof Rack Costs

Assuming that you already have a roof rack and only now require the bike portion of a roof rack. Per bike, your costs will typically run between $150 and $400 per bike holder. These holders will mount directly onto the roof rack rail system installed on your vehicle. You’ll have to confirm the brand you get is compatible with your existing roof rails, though.

Bike Roof Rack Pros & Cons

ProsCons
Purchasable per bikeMust remove front wheel many models
Cost-effectiveMust lift the bike onto vehicle roof, risking scratching vehicle
Easily removableMust have an existing roof rack

Trunk Rack

The trunk-mounted bike rack is the cheapest type of vehicle-mounted bike carrier on the market. You can find versions that work with sedans or hatchbacks, and the latter typically works with SUVs and vans as well.

The trunk-mounted bike carrier mounts via straps and hooks and rests against your truck and sometimes the window in the case of hatchbacks and SUV-style bike carriers.

Trunk Bike Rack Sizes

Bike racks that mount to the trunk are typically designed for two to three bicycles.

Trunk Bike Rack Costs

Being the cheapest of bike carriers, these models can range from $40 to $400. Keep in mind the old saying: “You get what you pay for.” When it comes to trunk-mounted bike carriers, it is usually the case.

Trunk Bike Rack Pros & Cons

ProsCons
Cheapest bike rackCan dent or scratch trunk
Some can hold up to 3 bicyclesNot overly secure relative to other types of carriers
Removable carrierCannot access trunk while installed

Recommended Mountain Bike Rack for a Car

For most cars, I recommend the hitch-mounted bike rack. The KAC Overdrive Sports K2 is my choice for a bike rack for a car, SUV, or any other kind of vehicle that has a hitch. There are some solid reasons why I choose this particular type and model.

  • The hitch-mounted style of bike carrier doesn’t rest on your vehicle body panels or windows like many other types of bike carriers.
  • You don’t have to lift your bike onto the vehicle roof.
  • You can typically leave your bike fully intact.

Here’s the model I like, that you can find readily available on Amazon: KAC Overdrive Sports K2 2” Hitch Mounted Rack 2-Bike


Looking for more Mountain Biking “How To” articles?


David DIY MTB

David Humphries is the creator of DIY Mountain Bike. For me a relaxing day involve riding my mountain bike to decompress after a long day. When not on my bike I can be found wrenching on it or casting a fly on a small mountain stream. Read more about David HERE.