Bike Racks

April 2006

I wrestled with a bicycle carrier. We have an old Yakima “Steel-Head” car-top carrier. It’s a nice, sturdy rack and we want the bikes on top of the car so we can take them places without necessarily hauling the camper with us. Unfortunately, Yakima doesn’t make a kit to mount their round crossbars to the built-in tracks on the top of Sandy’s Lexus RX-300. Thule does but my rack won’t mount on Thule’s square crossbars. No matter how I looked at it, a purchased solution was going to be expensive.

However, we do still have Yakima gutter-mount towers left over from back when cars had rain gutters. I measured the factory roof-rack tracks and fabricated short sections that the gutter-mount towers would clamp to. I used 1-1/4 x ⅛ inch aluminum flat stock & 1 x 1 x ⅛ inch angle. I got tired of sawing, drilling and filing but the whole thing came out pretty well and the result is really sturdy. I purchased wheel mounts to get the front wheels out of the car and bike bras to help keep the bikes clean and lubricants from blowing out of the bearings.

Finally, I purchased a 3-step ladder to carry on the roof rack to use when I set up the camper awning and to mount the bikes and wheels on the roof. (I used to be able to do that easily with the Subaru Outback but the Lexus is too tall to reach easily. I don’t know what folks with full-sized SUVs do to put things onto roof-top carriers!)

I loaded up the bikes and drove to Rock Hall for the weekend. While there, we picked up the camper, with the completed awning, and drove home. It was the first time to pull the camper while carrying the bikes on the roof. All went sell BUT …

On my drive from New Hampshire I got 18.4 mpg towing the camper. On the way home from Rock Hall I got only 13.6 mpg. Furthermore, the car tended to down shift while on cruise control for even slight grades. Granted, most of the drive from New Hampshire was interstate highways while the drive from Rock Hall is back roads. That’s still a huge difference! I could only conclude that the windage from the bikes on the roof racks was a big factor.

I decided to carry the bikes on a hitch mounted rack on the rear bumper of the camper, instead. This was an easy change. I bought hitch receiver designed to clamp onto the square, tubular bumper of the trailer. I then moved the spare tire mount off center, mounted the hitch receiver and then hung our two bicycles on the rack. The whole deal seemed fine. True, we’d have to move the rack to the car when we wanted to transport the bikes while leaving the camper in a camp ground … a small price to pay.

Problem was that the welds holding the bumper to the camper frame broke on our first 70 miles of driving. That did it. We left the bikes and went camping without them. Turns out we didn’t miss them because we did so much hiking. For shorter trips when we think we’ll use the bikes they will go on the car roof as originally planned.

Anyone looking for a bumper-hitch bike-rack set-up?