I want to pick up my bike riding spouse once in a while and also would like to take our bikes down to Palm Springs for the winter. What kind of rack should I get for my car?
Since this is a column about bikes not spouses, we will assume you mean bike rack, not spouse rack. Basically there are three kinds of racks: the roof rack, the back post rack and the trunk-mounted rack. All of them have their flaws and benefits.
Roof racks can be left on the car and, without bikes, you won't even know it's there. You can also use the roof rack as a ski or board rack in the winter.
Disadvantages include increased wind resistance with your bike on top (less if your spouse is on the rack and you can keep him or her lying down).
If you are fuel-conscious or care about wind noise, this is not the best rack for you. The height-disadvantaged may find it challenging to lift the bikes up onto the rack. A small plastic stool stored in the trunk can help.
Owning a car with a low roof is an excellent idea, too, and could be one of your car-buying criteria (get a Ferrari). But the worst problem is that bikes on a roof rack are severely parking-unfriendly. You will not fit under the parkade signs at Park Royal, or into your apartment building parking lot.
From bitter experience we know the sign will be OK but all three items - bike, rack and car - will suffer, (perhaps another reason for carrying the spouse on the roof). Say good bye to your ICBC deductible.
Trunk-mounted carriers are fine if you don't really want to get into the trunk when the bikes are on the rack (note that the trunk sheet metal is too light to safely carry the spouse). Some trunk-mounted racks are tied down such that the trunk cannot be opened even if the bikes are off, so plan to keep anything you need to access during the journey in the back seat. The straps can be labyrinthine, but you can use them in the off season to truss a turkey (or your spouse). The windage is better for a trunk rack than for a roof rack.
Rear-post racks are popular because you can carry many bikes on the same rack, you can still go to Park Royal and the wind resistance is less. But you need a trailer hitch to mount them on. Some SUV drivers may not be able to open their tailgate with the rack and bikes installed, so check before you buy.
We caution you not to load hitches with too much weight causing a stress fracture - no spouses here either.
One time, the hitch mounting sheet metal on a friend's car failed and the next thing that happened was the rack folded down until the bikes were dragging on the road.
The sparks were impressive as were the sounds of other drivers honking and passing as they pointed to the rear.
One final piece of advice: If the bikes hang anywhere near the exhaust pipe, use a bungee cord on the wheels to keep the tires away from it, or you'll have a meltdown on your hands and a really bad smell. Phew.
Good luck on your trip, and encourage your spouse to fly.
The Pedal Pushers are Dan Campbell, Antje Wahl, Anita Leonhard and Heather Drugge, four North Shore residents who use their bikes for transportation. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.