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Most people will have been faced at one time or another with the problem of transporting a bicycle by car. At a pinch most cars will take a bicycle inside the car with the back seats folded, especially if you remove the front wheel. But what if you need to transport two or more bicycles or need to take more than one passenger? Then it is likely you will need a cycle carrier of some sort.
Cycle carriers can usually be divided into three categories. Firstly, the hang-on type that fit onto the tailgate of a hatchback or estate car. These are probably the cheapest and most popular but do have some drawbacks. If they are the low-mounted style then rear visibility can be badly compromised and your rear lights and number plate obstructed. This means you must fit a lighting board with number plate, as well have a 7-pin socket fitted. Suddenly it's not so cheap. If they are the high-mounted style then you may get away without the lighting board but will suffer a lot of extra aerodynamic drag. And if the car's high-mounted brake light is obstructed, which is almost certain, then you will need an auxiliary brake light as well. Furthermore with both styles your bikes are likely to get dirty because of dirt sucked up by turbulence and you won't be able to open the tailgate without risking serious damage to your car (unless you remove all the bikes first).
Next, there are the towball-mounted carriers. Only an option if you have a towball on your car of course, these are more secure than the hang-on type and support the bikes better since the wheels and the cross bar are attached to the carrier (only the crossbar for the hang-on type). Some can be tilted back to allow the tailgate to be opened too, provided there is enough clearance. Main disadvantage is their expense and your bikes will still tend to get dirty. Rear vision may be obstructed though normally less so than with the hang-on type.
Lastly, there are the roof carriers. These attach to roofbars, which must be fitted first, and normally support the bike by the wheels and downtube with the bike in line with the car, which minimises aerodynamic drag. Your bike stays out of the dirt though it can still get wet of course. This is the most popular style of carrier on the continent in my experience. Further advantages are that your rear visibility is unimpeded, you can open the tailgate normally and no length is added to the car. They can also be used on saloon cars. Disadvantages are that your car may not be able to support sufficient weight on its roof and they are difficult to use on tall vehicles. Naturally you must remember the extra height and not enter car parks with a low height restriction, for example. Depending on your car, you may be able to carry up to four bikes this way.
Enough of generalities, what about the Thule FreeRide 530 you may ask? Well you may deduce from the above that I am in favour of roof-mounted carriers, which this model is. When purchased some simple assembly is required, the lock barrel has to be fitted and one of the wheel supports clipped on. No tools are required here. Depending on your bike's downtube diameter, a different spacer needs to be fitted to the yoke that holds it (two lengths are supplied). And that is basically all. In the configuration supplied, the carrier is designed to fit on the right-hand side of your car. However, by reversing the wheel supports and locking yoke, the carrier can be set up for the left-hand side too. As usual, Thule's instructions are clear and easy to follow.
Once made up, the carrier is clamped to the roofbars by a pair of adjustable clamps on the front roofbar and a single lockable and adjustable clamp on the rear roof bar. It is advisable to check the spacing of the wheel supports before lifting your bike into place, but once there the bike is secured by swinging the yoke-piece up until it clips around the downtube and closing the clamp. The fit can be adjusted by rotating the clamp until the bike is held tightly enough when the clamp is closed. The clamp can then be locked (with the same key as before). The wheels are secured by flexible nylon straps similar to large cable clips. Once in place it is advisable to check the bike is secure by grasping it firmly and giving a shake. On the road the maximum recommended speed is 130 kph, or 81 mph. Enough for these sceptered isles!
I have now got three of these carriers and use them for three different kinds of bike: a BMX, a mountain bike and a hybrid. All three have fitted without any problem. With three carriers one has to be in the middle of course, and this is more difficult to reach; I use a folding stool that I keep in the boot of the car for this purpose. And with the bikes close together it is necessary to turn the handlebars on the middle one to give enough clearance, which is an easy job. Incidentally I do not recommend fitting the carriers back to front, although I have seen this done. Thule do not seem to prohibit this but their instructions and illustrations only show bikes fitted facing forwards. As I see it, when the carrier is reversed aerodynamic drag will tend to force the yoke-piece upwards pulling the wheels against the straps. With the bikes facing forwards the yoke-piece will tend to push the bikes down into the wheel carriers, which is preferable.
Each carrier can hold a 17 kg bike but consideration must be given to the weight limit for the car's roof, taking account of the weight of the carriers (4 kg each) and the roofbars, probably another 4 kg each. As a rule of thumb a 50 kg limit means you can fit two bikes and carriers, a 75 kg limit could take three and a 100 kg limit could take four. Probably this is the maximum you could fit anyway, even if the weight limit is higher. The roof weight limit should be in your car's handbook.
My car does have a 100 kg roof load limit, so with three bikes and carriers I am comfortably within it. Driving the car does not seem any different though I am careful not to corner too fast because of the raised centre of gravity. I have occasionally heard some creaking from the roof when driving on bumpy roads though not detected any damage or deformation afterwards. The roofrails seem to be slightly flexible and it is probably these that are responsible. The bikes have certainly never come loose or been damaged. I keep to speed limits but have driven up to 70 mph without any issues.
With the Thule system you can match the keys of all your carriers to each other and to any other Thule equipment fitted to your car. I have Thule roofbars too that are fixed to the car's roofrails by lockable feet, so having just the one key is much more convenient.
After a season's regular use I removed the carriers to clean and store them for the winter. None of them showed any corrosion and showed absolutely minimal wear. I expect them to last many years.
Facts and figures at a glance:
~ Weight: 4 kg
~ Maximum weight of bicycle: 17 kg
~ Size of bicycle downtube: 22 mm - 70 mm (round) or up to 65 x 80 mm (oval)
~ Maximum permitted speed: 81 mph (where legal of course)
Most aluminium frame bicycles will be well under 17 kg but many steel frame bikes are heavier, especially classic styles like the Pashley or Batavus. If in doubt it is advisable to weigh your bike - a hand-held luggage balance is ideal. Many manufactures like to exaggerate the lightness of their products and quote weights for the smallest frame size. Accessories will also increase the weight of your bike. If you have a Pashley or Batavus - and I envy you if you do - then the best type of carrier to go for is a towball mounted one.