Car-top bike racks

by Raymond Parker on January 31, 2013

in Cycling, Technical

vwgolf-bikeWhen I was looking for a bike rack to transport my Rocky Mountain Blizzard back to its old stomping grounds in the Yukon last summer, I weighed the alternatives: rooftop, trunk, hitch-mounted. I perused the offerings of Yakima, Thule, Swagman, and others.

The trunk rack option was eliminated quickly; I’d need access to the rear hatch often. There are swing-away hitch racks that allow easy access to the rear of the vehicle, but I finally settled on the roof-mount option—a Thule “Criterium.”

This rack holds one bike. A trademark C-Clamp is a cinch, so to speak, to operate with one hand, while the other steadies the bike in the aluminum tray. A twist of the grey knob (see photo) closes the clamp to grip the downtube.

The Criterium rack fits bike frames up to 3 3/8″ in diameter and tires up to 2.6″ wide. It happily accommodates both my road bikes and the Blizzard with 2.3″ tires.

The rack is mounted on standard square load bars on Crossroad railing feet. Choice would depend on car mount and rack system. Options are available for a variety of attachments, including rain gutter mount.

Keyed lock barrels are available for both feet and the rack itself. One key locks rack shoes, rack to rails and secures the bike by locking the C-Clamp.

Roof racks have a couple of downsides. Unless you are tall, which I am decidedly not, it’s a bit of a stretch to lift a bike onto the rack, even on a smaller vehicle. Then there’s the dreaded “Oh #$%&! I forgot the bike was on top of the car!” moment. Beware of driving under low overhangs and ceilings.

To address the former issue, I carry a small folding step-ladder. The latter danger can only be avoided by hard-wiring a caution alarm firmly into one’s brain circuitry.

If your circuitry is as frayed as mine, then a reminder may help avoid catastrophe.

Memory Jog

Memory Jog

{ 13 comments… read them below or add your spin! }

jim January 31, 2013 at 12:46 pm


What made you decide not to get one that locks the front fork with the front wheel removed? I always thought of them as as being the most secure?



Raymond Parker January 31, 2013 at 3:57 pm

First, you have to remove the wheel, second this c-clamp thing is pretty bombproof once locked. The bike goes on and off in seconds.


JIm February 5, 2013 at 11:44 am

That was what I wondering. the one time I used a that style. Admittedly about 10 years ago, I was not overly impressed with the mechanism. Will have to give it a look as I am in the market for a roof rack. As always, thanks Ray!


Tori Klassen February 1, 2013 at 1:11 pm

Are you in my brain? Every question I have about having a bike, you seem to address in your next blog post. Well done!


Raymond Parker February 1, 2013 at 1:56 pm

If I were someone else, I wouldn’t want me in my brain! 🙂

However, when it comes to things bicycling, there’s a good reason to never miss a VeloWeb update.


John P February 12, 2013 at 1:10 pm

I have a Thule it works wonderfully, and is very secure. So secure in fact that when I drove under a car park barrier it pushed the whole of the rack the full length of the roof rails on my Volvo! The bike needed a new frame. A senior moment led to disaster. When I spoke to my frame builder his comment was “it happens all the time, we used to have an evening Time Trial and at least one car a week would drive under the barrier of the car park we used!”


Raymond Parker February 12, 2013 at 1:43 pm

Oooops! Another cautionary tale. Are you staying with the car-top?


John February 13, 2013 at 12:49 pm

For now yes. When I swap the car I will be going for a tow bar mount. Easier to load lower drag so more fuel efficient.


Raymond Parker February 13, 2013 at 10:14 pm

I think the tow bar idea is good–I’m all for fuel efficiency. The swing-away models look like the way to go.


Laurie February 14, 2013 at 10:16 am

I know I’m a little late to this party but here’s my 2 pence…

I have the Thule that Jim describes – take off front wheel and insert dropouts into holder. It is 8 years old now and still works well – if one ignores the fiddly part of the front fork holder adjustment to hold the forks snugly ( maybe there’s a new design now). On one particular trip to Quadra Island, driving the Inland route we encountered massive cross winds that I thought would rip the bike from the rack as it was pushing our normally stable Mazda wagon all over the road. I dropped back to 100 kph, opened up the moon roof to keep an eye on it and carried on. That said, the thing that one must get used to is the wind noise. If this rack was on our old Protege one would not hear the shrieks over the tire howl but this Mazda 6 is much quieter and the whistle from the rack even when empty is annoying.

No close calls with car park barriers yet, knock on wood…


Raymond Parker February 14, 2013 at 1:28 pm

Ah, yes, I neglected to mention the whistle. On our northern trip, last summer, it almost drove me mad on occasion. If the wind is at a certain angle it really howls.

I found I could silence it by opening the sun roof, but that introduces its own noise issue at speed.

I tried duct taping “baffles” over certain leading edges, to no avail.


John P February 14, 2013 at 1:29 pm

I will probably opt for the Atera Strada (I am not sure if you can source these in Canada) it is lighter than Thule and has a better drop down mechanism. Despite being more costly it beat Thule in a recent UK test.


Raymond Parker February 15, 2013 at 9:35 am

Those look nice, John. I have not seen them in Canada. I’d be interested in a review for my readers across the pond.


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