When I walked into my local bike shop last summer and asked the salesperson what would be the absolute cheapest option for hauling a bike on top of my minivan—which already had a luggage rack on it—he told me I could expect to spend around $350. Now, being a wage-earner with a wife and two kids at home, “absolute cheapest” and $350 don’t exactly go together in my vernacular. So I decided to take a look at the available car-top racks, thinking I might be able to fashion something similar on my own—maybe out of box tubing or angle iron. I knew it wouldn’t be pretty, but I was fairly sure I could come up with something that would at least work.

I saw there were two basic types of racks: ones that hold the bike in place with the front wheel still attached, and others that clamp onto the dropouts with the front wheel removed. Looking a little further, I discovered the shop sold quick-release clamps mounted on a base with holes to bolt it down. I figured that would be a good place to start, so I bought one of the clamps and headed out. Before I even made it back to the car, it hit me: Why couldn’t I just bolt the quick-release clamp directly to one of the cross-members of my luggage rack? I stopped at a hardware store on the way home and bought a couple bolts, a handful of washers, and two self-locking nuts. Within the hour my Dodge Caravan had a mountain bike securely fastened to its roof! The total cost (minus the straps to hold the bike down, which I already had) was less than twenty bucks. That’s a far cry from $350 to be sure.

Since then, I have hauled my bike across countless miles of highway, and up and down many a mile of bumpy dirt road without a bit of trouble. Washboard, potholes, ruts and all—the bike stays put. Although I have to admit, I did whack a couple low-slung branches before I got used to the fact that my van was now three feet taller than it was before. No serious damage was done, though—thank goodness.

The modified trunk rack

Apart from that “rack,” I also own a store-bought, rear mounted bike rack I purchased years ago when my wife and I acquired our first two mountain bikes. It worked fine for a long time, holding two standard frames on the back of our little GLC. Normal-shaped bikes with normal-shaped tubes fit just fine into the design of the hold-downs. But twenty years later, when my wife and our teenage daughter got themselves a couple of comfort bikes, that rack proved virtually useless—plus I still had to find a way to haul my mountain bike. So I made another trip down to the hardware store.

I bought a set of four 1in nylon straps with cinch buckles, a small package of self-tapping metal screws, and a swimming pool “noodle.” I stripped the hold-down hardware off the rack, slid one half of the foam rubber noodle over each of the bars, and screwed the straps on—two in back, and two in front. For less than $10 I converted a functionally-limited, two-bike rack into one that comfortably accommodates three full-size bikes of virtually any shape.

Now, I realize not everyone has to be so concerned with penny pinching, and that many folks wouldn’t be caught dead with a full-on “ghetto rack” strapped to the back of their car or SUV. But for a guy like me who’s obliged to work within a strictly limited budget, the only thing that really matters is that I can get my bikes out of the garage and up to the trailhead. I figure every dollar I save is a dollar I can spend on gas to get there, a component upgrade, or the purchase of a better bike some day.

For those who are truly biking on a budget, I hope this inspires you to find a DIY solution to hauling your rig to the trail in your pursuit of MTB joy!

# Comments

  • jeff

    I really like the use of the “noodle” on the rear rack–nice touch! Those rear racks tend to scratch bikes and cars and they definitely need something like a noodle for added protection.

    • MarcS

      I also put sections of noodle cut lenthwise on the frame tubes that would otherwise rub against each other when hauling more than one bike. They basically snap right on, and keep my wife and daughter’s paint jobs looking nice.

  • maddslacker

    I love the roof mount! I’m guessing it doesn’t even really need the extra strap over the frame. Check out the rear portion of a rack like the Yakima BOA. You may be able to get it cheap as a ‘spare parts’ purchase or even used on eBay.

    • MarcS

      The crossmembers are hollow, oval tubes. They are pretty rigid, but I don’t want to risk buckling them when the bike moves side-to-side on bumpy roads. It seems like that would apply a lot of torque.

    • maddslacker

      maddslacker points out that Thule and Yakima bars are also hollow. 😀

  • mtbgreg1

    So did you just drill holes in the roof rack for the bolts to hold the front skewer?

    I’d like to do something like this for my wife’s explorer… unfortunately, it has bars that run lengthwise instead of width wise, so I’d still need to setup some crossbars.

    • jeff

      Or just mount the bikes sideways. 🙂

      Dustin, my Yakima roof rack–including crossbars, trays, towers, and clips–was stolen off my car in a Home Depot parking lot in broad daylight. So that makes me wonder how many of those “used” bike racks are just “stolen” bike racks.

      Ok, most of the used racks for sale are probably legit–just let me know if you come across a Yakima system with clips for a Honda Civic in the Atlanta area–that one’s probably mine. Ha!

    • MarcS

      Yeah, I did. I put a piece of hardwood under the crossmember to keep from drilling right throught roof. You can see in the picture that I put a couple of fat, wide washers under the outboard side to level the skewer on the curved crossmember.

    • gar29

      Ha, good thinking! That would have been a bummer! You would have been running back to the hardware store to get some RTV to seal up the roof!

    • Stl_Greaser

      The SeaSucker mounts are pretty expensive though, if you are trying to stay with in a budget! Way cool idea thought! I want one because roof racks fit like crap on a Subaru WRX!

    • MarcS

      I don’t know, man. I’ve never met a suction cup I trust. If the one in my bathroom won’t hold the soap tray to the shower wall, I don’t think I’d try to drive down the freeway with a couple of them holding my bike to the car! Maybe they’re some sort of “mission Impossible” suction cup, but the whole idea seems a little sketchy to me.

  • Schell21

    I built a PVC rack for the back of my truck about two years back that is still holding up. Found the directions on the web. For 30 bucks and an hour or so of work it works very well!

  • bravesdave

    We do most of our commutes for our rides in our Toyota Tacoma. My preferred method for mounting our bikes is just placing the front tire and fork over the back of the tailgate and then strapping them down (with the bike standing up in the bed of the truck). Of course we put a rug over the gate first to prevent scratching. Total cost on this method = 0 US Dollars, just the way I like it. Works like a charm.

    • Slee_Stack

      Had two QR holders mounted to the c channel with a few spring nuts in the back of my Frontier at one point. For $15 total it was a lot cleaner than hanging bikes over the tailgate. Many people fashion a 2×4 with the QRs in the bottom of the bed. About $20 all in. Pick ups are pretty simple to ghetto rack rig though.

    • gar29

      I need to do that for my truck. I wonder what would work best, the C channel or 2×4? Already got the QRs.

  • jmr13dude

    I really like the fork mounted idea, I was think about doing the same, but I was worried about security, I never even thought of putting a tie-down over it. A doiy!

    How stable is it, does it wiggle to the point it may rub on the drop outs?

    • MarcS

      It doesn’t wiggle at all. It clamps down nice and tight. The only thing you have to watch for is losing the Q-R skewer and nut when the bike is not in the clamp (if you buy the Avenir brand I have). The threads on the skewer aren’t long enough to allow the Q-R to close tight. I just put an axle spacer (like the kind inside a sprocket cassette) on and tighten it down.

  • craigasaurus

    Pretty nifty and useful ideas there. definitely some full on macgruber ingenuity lol. Except it actually works

  • shawnskee22

    That’s an awesome life-hack for the Dodge Caravan. Really a great idea.

    I like that you went outside the norm and did this over car racks, personally I put together this little tutorial on DIY Bike Racks last year, but it only covers display and hanging racks for your home or garage.

    Check it out. http://texasmountainbiketrails.com/diy-bike-rack

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