This cycle carrier does a great job for a reasonable price, but it's not the easiest thing to set up and operate. It's intended to attach to your car to enable you to transport up to 3 bikes around. My car is a hatchback but I believe this also works on saloon or estate cars. Looking on the website, the only exceptions listed are: cars with modifications (eg spoilers), sports cars, cabriolets, cars with side opening or split tailgates.
It's a frame arrangement in three sections, the sections are sturdy metal tubes, now silver in colour, not black as in this picture. You need to arrange the three sections dependent on your car design, to achieve stability when mounted onto your car. The bottom section rests between the boot and bumper, the upper section rests against the back window, whilst the top rail is the bit which sticks out horizontally to hang the bikes over. The tricky bit is getting the actual shape to fit your car. You set the angles of the shape using adjusting wheels at each of the junctions. You turn the wheels to open the fixings, set the angles where you want them then tighten them back up to secure them. It's not as tricky to do as it is to describe! The wheels are chunky and easy to grip and turn, and are locked tight in place with a lever.
The two bars which are in contact with the car - at boot/bumper and at the back window - are guarded with large, soft sponge protection, so there's no hard contact with the car.
Fixing to the car is achieved with three sets of straps. The straps are made of really strong materials, very tough and reassuring. One set goes over the top bar (the one on the back window) and are secured where the boot meets the roof of the car. These are secured by opening the boot and passing the straps from the inside, they are held in place inside the vehicle by plastic dumb-bells. Once passed through to the outside they are secured onto the frame by threading through two metal grips which are pre-attached to the frame. The second set is fixed with a type of grip which goes around/grips the underside/edge of the boot, and again secured/pulled tight through metal grips fixed to the sides of the frame. The hooks which grip to the boot are protected by soft plastic/rubber to ensure no rubbing against the paintwork. Finally the frame is secured at the bottom by hooking the remaining two straps to the underside of the car body. This is obviously awkward and involves lying on the floor to locate suitable fixing points for the hooks. When all three sets of straps have been fixed they are tightened by pulling them through their grips and tying securely back on themselves.
Now the frame is in position, the bikes are placed onto the frame. Attached to the top rails are 3 sets of removable rubber grips for the frame to sit on, and once ledged onto one of the sets of grips, there are Velcro straps to loop over the bike frames. The last touch is additional securing of the bikes with two smaller red straps which can be threaded through the bike frames to further secure all the bikes during driving.
The frame is intended for 3 bikes. We use ours for two adult bikes and would struggle (or would be impossible?) to get another on there. Once you have the frame arrangement set up particular to your car and bikes it would be best if you can keep it assembled because otherwise you need to work out and get the shape right each time. If space doesn't allow you to store it like that (as is the case for us) it's a good idea to mark on the adjusting wheels where the best position is, it really speeds the operation up when you need to use it. I marked the wheels with tip-ex, so now it's just a case of aligning the marks and I know I have the right shape.
In terms of fitting it to the car each time, it's tricky, and it's a nuisance having to get under the car to fix it, but it's really not difficult and it's quick. I can comfortably put the frame on on my own, it's very lightweight and as soon as you have secured the first set of straps from the boot, the frame is safe on your car whilst you do the rest of the securing and fixing. It takes between 5 and 10 minutes.
In transit I've never had a problem with driving. Obviously your view through the rear window is obscured somewhat, but you can still see through it. There is no feeling of the bikes moving and generally you have great all-round vision. Having said that, whenever we've stopped or reached our destination, the grips have worn less tight - but nowhere near loose, and never to the point where I've been worried about the bikes' security on there. The arrangement of the "high mount" means that your number plate is not obscured so no need for electrics or tying a number plate on or anything like that.
~VALUE FOR MONEY~
The frame is on the Halfords Website at £59.99 - which is what we paid for it about 18 months ago. It represents good value, I feel, compared to the other options available and how costly they are. If you are going to be using it every week or weekend then I would probably recommend you considered something either simpler to set up, or more permanent (roof mounted for instance). For occasional use this is ideal and good value for money. Once you have assembled it the first time it does a great job for relatively little initial outlay and gives you access to many more cycling locations, so worth every penny.
Now that summer is fast approaching, a really useful accessory to have is a bike carrier; I like having one simply because it means I can ride somewhere more interesting than the occasional commute to work on a nice day allows. Choosing which carrier to get was not exactly a straightforward process, however, as there are so many on the market of different varieties and prices. The choice of which carrier to go for comes down to what sort of car you have (as not all carriers will fit every car), how much you are going to use it and the all important budget. There are basically three types of cycle carrier to choose from - roof mounted, tow bar mounted and rear mounted - and choosing between these options is the first thing to do.
Tow bar mounted carriers are generally considered the sturdiest of the three, but are somewhat redundant if your car (like ours) doesn't have a tow bar. Adding a tow bar just to take a cycle carrier that will have only casual usage was an expense that it just wasn't worth bearing. Likewise, we didn't have the roof bars that would allow fitting of the roof mounted carrier (and it would cost us at least £50 to buy them), but this style wouldn't be much use for us anyway, as one of our requirements was that we needed a carrier that I could use alone if necessary. Being short (I am only 5' 2"), lifting my bike on and off the car would prove almost impossible if there was no-one else to help me. This left the option of the rear mounted carrier, which are supposed to be easier to fit and able to be used by one person without assistance, so seemed the best option all round for us. As the name suggests, this sort of carrier fixes to the rear door of your car, and you carry the bikes over your rear window; for safety reasons, we opted for a high-mounted variety to minimise the obstruction to our view when driving, and to avoid the bikes covering the lights and number plate of our car.
We bought our carrier from Halfords for the simple reason that they had a summer sale on that included special offers on a range of cycle carriers; we also wanted to buy offline as we found many websites didn't provide advice about the models each carrier would fit, whereas out local Halfords had a fitting guide that reassured us we were buying something suitable for out car (a Renault Clio). The High Rear Mount 3 Cycle carrier we choose was reduced from £90 to £60, and you can view it here: http://tinyurl.com/38yde6b
**Fitting the Carrier**
The carrier is supplied in one large box and comes partially assembled (despite the "fully assembled" description give on their website, I might add). You are supplied with a folded metal frame (which makes storing the carrier when not in use easier) and a selection of straps and fittings that have to be added to the frame before the first use. All the straps are made from very tough material, but you can buy replacements from Halfords should you ever need to. As you are required to attach and adjust the straps the first time you use the frame, this makes the first use a slow process, but it becomes much quicker afterwards, as you have everything in place already. It is for this reason that I suggest assembling and fitting the frame to your car once before you plan to take your bike out on it. You also get an instruction book in the box, which is clearly written but could benefit from better illustrations to help you work out which way the straps go on and which straps go into which fitting - we did have to backtrack half way through the process when we found we had attached the bottom straps to the top of the frame, an easy mistake to make. I think a system of colour-coding the straps rather than referring to them by length would have made the process a lot more straightforward.
In a recent test by Auto Express, this model came out the "best buy" winner for price, ease of fitting and sturdiness. The guys who conducted the test are clearly not amateurs, as they have the fit time down as 4 minutes. In the perhaps more realistic situation of two people who have never used a cycle carrier before trying to fit one, what happened? Well, at first use it took around 40 minutes for the carrier to go from in the box to on the car with one bike strapped into it. Subsequent uses require no assembly and less adjustment, and we found that later on the fit time got down to 8 to 10 minutes with two of us working on it, starting from the carrier being folded away in the boot of the ca, and finishing with one bike strapped on.
To fit the carrier, you need to open your boot and pass the first two straps through the top of it; they are held in place by plastic "dumbbells" when you close the door. With these in place, you fold out your frame if you have been keeping it in the compact storage shape, lock the frame in its folded-out shape with the strong clasps on either side, and then lift it onto the back of your car. The contact points between frame and car are padded with rubber, so your paintwork won't be damaged when you use the carrier correctly. The straps from the top of the boot are then secured onto the top of the frame, and two other sets of straps are used to hold the frame firstly to the sides of the back door and then to the underside of the car. All the straps are fairly easily to adjust to get a tight, secure hold to the car, although the last bit of tightening is quite stiff and on colder days I did find I struggled quite a bit with tightening the straps sufficiently. Finally, you lift your bike onto the two rails sticking out from the carrier so that it hangs from its crossbar, and secure it in place with your last two sets of straps, one with velcro around the contact point with the rails, and one to tie the lower part of the frame in place. All in all a not too difficult process, and it is possible to do it with just one person using the carrier, although it does take me about 15 minutes if I am doing it alone.
**Other Things to Consider**
As a point, I should add that this carrier is designed to carry bikes with a horizontal crossbar; the crossbar rests on the rails and takes the weight of the bike. This doesn't mean that the carrier can't be used for bikes without this feature, but you will need to buy a false crossbar to adapt your bike to the carrier. A false crossbar is simply a rod with secure fastenings at either end that clips onto your bike beneath the handlebars and under the saddle to provide a horizontal beam for hanging. The Halfords own-brand one that I use cost £18 and is very easy to use.
But how does it affect driving? Well, we haven't noticed any problems with the general handling of the car while the rack and cycles have been fitted, but you do need to allow a little extra braking distance to accommodate the extra weight your car is carrying. Having a single cycle mounted doesn't restrict vision to the rear a huge amount, but there was a noticeable difference with two bikes on board; this is to be expected with any rear-mounted carrier, however, and although we find we tend to drive more slowly and cautiously when we carry both our bikes, we have never felt our safety is compromised by doing so. Sharp braking has never dislodged the bikes, although you can reasonably expect a bit of movement if they are hanging from a false crossbar rather than using the bike's crossbar for suspension. This isn't a major issue and again has never caused any damage to car, bike or carrier, but on longer journeys you may want to stop and check the straps are still secure for this reason.
In terms of security, if you think you are going to be in a position where your bike is on the car but you are not with it, and then take your bike lock with you to secure the bike to the carrier. Halfords did try to flog us special carrier locks for this purpose, but they are a pointless expense if you have your own lock anyway.
Another possible expense is a light board, but whether you will need one will depend on the shape of your car. Should you take to the road with your bikes or carrier covering either your number plate or lights you will need one, as it will result in a fine if you get caught obscuring either of them (and hiding your brake lights from the car behind you never seems a very sensible option anyway). Light boards do increase fitting time and cost around £30, so do consider this if you are going to buy a rear-mounted carrier. On our Clio, a light board is not necessary.
On the whole we are very happy with this purchase; it is a sturdy cycle carrier that carries two adult bikes comfortably and we have yet to experience any problem worse than it being a bit fiddly on the first use. Although on early uses we were tempted to stop and check the straps mid-journey, we have not experienced any loosening and no damage or scratching has ever occurred to either bikes or car from using this product. We have not tried it with three cycles on it, but given the maximum load of the carrier is given as 45kg, I would not recommend mounting three adult bikes on it, even for a short journey. At the full price of £90 I might have felt a bit more negative about it, but at the offer price of £60 I think this carrier represents good value for money and would be an appropriate buy for anyone looking to take one or two bikes out on a casual basis. This is not an item for anyone wanting long-term, regular or long-distance use from a carrier, but for a family just wanting a few summer weekends out, then it's ideal.