How to Lock Bike on Car Bike Rack While Travelling

How to lock a bike on a car bike rack – this post covers how to keep your bike safe when on the rack

Cyclists or bike owners enjoy the privilege of being able to take their bikes along on their adventures if they intend to travel by car.

While a bike rack is very efficient for the bike owner for transport and holding purposes, leaving the bike on the rack aimlessly is not advisable. 

Investing in a lock is paramount because a rack alone and a few straps will not be enough.

If you want to know why it is important to lock your bike onto the bike rack and effective ways to do so, then this article is for you!

Why should I lock my bike when on a bike rack?

The most obvious reason why locking your bike is important is to avoid theft.

Travelling can be stressful and tiresome, so when making stops you may disregard the security of the bike and leave it unattended. 

Theft can happen in the few minutes you step out for some air or to buy something and not securing the bike certainly makes the robber’s job easier.

Locking your bike onto the rack will certainly eliminate the possibility of theft and put your mind at ease.

The extra security also prevents or minimizes damage the bikes may inflict on the body of the vehicle.

Now that we know why it is important to lock your bike, let’s get into the factors that you need to consider when it comes to locking your bike onto the rack.

Factors to consider when locking a bike on the bike rack

1. The type of bike rack you own. 

Some racks will come with the locks already supplied so you don’t have to worry about forgetting your locks when you travel. Furthermore, some bike racks are easier to install than others and have different efficient methods of locking the bikes.

The main types of bike racks are roof mounts, trunk mount racks, hitch mounts and spare tire mounts. 

2. The security of the rack itself.

Your rack has to be firmly mounted onto the car otherwise it beats the purpose of locking the bike. If not properly installed, you risk losing both the rack and the bike. 

3. Your budget.

Some lock types and methods of locking the bike will require you to part with more cash to purchase equipment than others. 

4. The accessories and add-ons your bike has.

Accessories such as bottles and mirrors will have to be detached before being locked onto the rack in order to make good use of space and avoid damage.

Types of bike locks.

This section of the article will outline the most common types of bike locks that can be used on car bike racks so that you can choose your preferred type. Each type has its advantages and disadvantages which we also explore.

1. D-locks or U-locks

D-locks look like your average padlock- only larger and with a very strong buckle. Some come with an additional cable for the wheels but this is not always the case.

To use this lock, you have to fit its crossbar tightly to the rack and pass the shackle through the bike’s frame. 

If your budget allows it, you can use two of them, one for the frame and another for a wheel for extra security. If not, you can use a D-lock with another lock or chain.

The advantages of the U-lock include:

  1. It is intimidating- therefore it will repel potential thieves.
  2. It is easier to carry around than a chain lock
  3. It is secure and relatively on the cheaper end.
  4. It is very secure.

However, the U-lock has some disadvantages such as:

  1. U-locks without the additional cable will not provide as much security.
  2. Depending on the size, it could be heavy to carry around or difficult to fit through a bike frame.

2. Chain Lock

Chain locks are widely used by cyclists because of their flexibility and extra security.

A chain lock consists of a very tough metal chain with an equally strong padlock at the end. This lock can be looped through any bike and its tough nature deters thieves. The chain is covered by protective plastic.

The pros of a chain lock are :

  1. It is tough to cut and is therefore safe from thieves especially if the padlock is also difficult to bypass.
  2.  It is also highly intimidating
  3. It is suitable for use on any bike.

The cons include:

  1. It is heavy to carry
  2. If the chain is exposed it can scratch the bike paint or damage the bike.
  3. If not securely looped, thieves can easily bypass it.
  4. For the cheaper alternatives, the chain is not as tough and can therefore be cut using power cutting tools.

3 Cable lock.

Cable locks consist of a flexible cable that can be wound easily onto any bike with a combination lock at the end.

They are commonly used as extra security in addition to another lock.

The advantages of a cable lock include:

  1. It is very flexible and easy to carry around
  2. It is a preferable addition to another type of lock
  3. It is convenient and budget-friendly compared to other alternatives

The disadvantages include:

  1. It can easily be cut by a thief because it is lightweight.
  2. It is not suitable to be used on its own thus it is not secure.
  3. A combination lock is not very dependable.

4. Folding lock

A folding lock as suggested by the name has a design of connected metal plates that can be folded around parts of the bike to secure it onto the rack. 

Their compact design makes them easy to store and carry around.

The pros of a folding lock include:

  1. Easy to store because they do not take up much space.
  2. Lightweight
  3. Easy to secure on a rack.

The cons of a folding lock are that they are not yet widely available on the market and if the joints between the plates are weak, thieves can easily break them and steal the bike.

The D-lock is the most preferred bike lock among cyclists because it is highly secure. 

How do I lock the bike on a bike rack?

Now that we know about locks, we can now outline the process of locking the bike.

There are two main ways to secure your bike

1. The Passive Strap Method

This is the simplest, quickest, and cheapest method. It is commonly used on roof mounts or hitch mounts.

It involves the use of lightweight cables to loop around the bike’s frame and closing the puck at the end firmly. The loops can also be wound around car doors or the trunk depending on the type of bike rack for extra security.

This method is simple but it is highly risky especially in areas with prevalent theft because the cables can easily be cut.

2. The Tow-loop or Tow- Hitch method 

This method is more complicated and suitable for hitch mount racks. 

It involves using a cord that will go through the bike’s frame and then be secured on a hitch underneath the vehicle or any other irremovable and firm part under the vehicle.


The steps you should follow when locking your bike onto the bike rack are briefly as follows 

  1. Check the security of the rack
  2. Detach the bike accessories.
  3. Place the bicycle onto your rack
  4. Use extra locking straps for extra security
  5. Lock the bike frame and tires with your preferred lock of use or a combination of locks.


Security should be a top priority for all bike owners therefore a lock should definitely be a priority.

Make sure you choose the best lock and method for your rack according to your needs and ensure to double check locks and straps before leaving your bike unattended.

It could be an added expense- but it is certainly better than buying another bike.

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