I got a new car, which is an odd way to open a column about cycling, but here we are. I got a new car, and that necessitates the acquisition of a new bicycle carrying system. On my previous car I had roof trays, mismatched naturally, and one of them not all the way functional. The new car is new, and suggestive of a hitch rack system. More on that anon.
I have friends, noble friends indeed, who eschew “driving to ride,” i.e. they will not drive a car with a bike on it, to some distant location, where the bike can be removed, ridden, and then replaced for the trip home. It’s an ethos that begets a lot of very long rides, and in my mind, really just guarantees long periods of relative boredom.
I’ve been at this game for a few decades now, and I’ve ridden all the roads in my immediate vicinity more times than I can count. I also live on top of a steep hill, which means every local ride ends in a grind. So while I appreciate the Spartan approach to route access, I’m sorta over it. I’ll drive to ride, if the route looks good.
And I suppose that’s where the sliding scale comes in, the relative stoke of whatever the ride is vs. the inconvenience and moral compromise of driving there. For example, if you live where I live (Boston) and have the opportunity to ride Mont Ventoux, then you take planes, trains and automobiles, and you go. If, on the other hand, your destination is the main retail drag in Brick, NJ, then maybe you should ride there (JK, you should not).
For mountain bikers, this is less of an issue. Few of us have enough trail access to be able to forgo driving to ride. I have a local trail system that I can roll to, but I don’t want to ride it EVERY SINGLE TIME. And so, oddly, the drive-to-ride calculus changes depending on what genre of pedaling I’m up to that day.
This week’s TCIF asks, what’s the farthest you would drive to ride? Is it different with a road bike vs. a dirt-based bike? What’s the farthest you’ve traveled overall to ride, with planes involved maybe? And finally, what hitch rack should I get?
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Ok, first off, I need to admit the built in bias. I’m a geochemist by training and have been watching with dread the Keeling Curve and wondering what will happen in fifty years when my brother’s grandkids are dealing with what we pass down to them.
One of my stipulations on where to live is “how easy is it to roll out of the house on a bike ride? Can I ride to work?”. If I have to drive to ride, the place is unacceptable. Lousy in part because it is a massive waste of fuel and contributes to that doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere. Lousy in part because having to load all that crap in or on a car is a time sink and then you have to park somewhere.
So when we decided to move to Santa Fe, we got a house on the north edge of the city, close to a lot of nice rural rides and one massive city mountain bike resource, La Tierra Trails. Los Alamos was easy. Virtually any house in the county comes with a nearby trail and the roads are fine. Same with Honolulu. Although it was a congested city, it was easy to get in and out of it and even the urban rides were cool (like climbing Tantalus near the University or Sierra Drive in Kaimuki). Heck, during the summer I’d leave work at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, ride over the Pali pass, and then down the windward side to our home in Hawaii Kai. Plus, my 12 mile one-way commute to work was great training base for weekend competitions and I was able to go to confession saying I had saved 75 car miles to pay for my weekend trips to a race venue.
Bottom line? It depends.
The occasional road trip to a century ride or competition is fine, as long as it is occasional. If virtually every ride demands the bike be put on a car, then the bike is a toy of affluence rather than something useful for the planet.
what’s the farthest you would drive to ride? Depends on how good the ride. I’d drive the 35 miles from Los Alamos to Santa Fe for the Century but pass on the Albuquerque century.
Is it different with a road bike vs. a dirt-based bike. Same answer. Has to be pretty good to beat rolling out of the house and doing endos in La Tierra or nearby Dale Ball Trails.
Hitch? No idea. My racks are on the roof.
It’s also not clear cut for me. Most of my riding is solo, so road/gravel I just ride out the door. If I’m meeting friends, I’ll drive if it’s more than maybe 10 miles away. For mountain biking, if the amount of time bike-commuting to and from the trailhead is greater than the amount of time I’d like to spend on the trails, I’ll drive. Back when I lived in Madison, WI, riding to the trails only took a little longer than driving (if you include the pack/unpack the car) so it was a toss up depending on how I felt.
For a day trip, I’d imagine I probably wouldn’t drive more than 1-2 hours for a big ride. I once went on a road trip with a buddy to Utah’s national parks. We took our mountain bikes so we could ride a little in the parks and some of the white rim trail. It wasn’t our main purpose for the trip so I wouldn’t really count that. 🙂
I haven’t done so yet, but I hope to travel more with my bike on planes and trains. I know renting is a thing, but my heart tells me it’d sure be nice to experience new cities and places on my own bike (nostalgia and all that stuff). I’ve also had this idea brewing in my head – what if I took a train out west and bike toured/bike-packed back along that train route? And take the train on segments if I didn’t feel like riding or weather was dangerous or I just felt like it? Something about combining trains and bikes gives me a laid-back, gaze out at the slowly passing landscape vibe.
As for hitch rack, I use the Saris Superclamp EX 2-bike. I like that the clamps only contact the tires (if you have a weird frame shape or don’t want to mess up the paint). It does rock side-to-side a little which apparently is normal. Other than that, it has been great. Biggest reason I chose them? Because they’re based in Madison and I wanted to support local.
I have traveled by air to ride numerous times, both state-side and in Europe. I generally rent bikes from local outfitters. Many times, the rental bikes are newer and fancier than my own bike, which is a great way to try out bikes. I drive to great places to ride. Living in Chicago, once has to ride quite far to get into challenging terrain, so riding to these locations is doable, but not enjoyable, as you point out.
In terms of hitch racks, I cannot say enough good things about Kuat racks. Impeccably designed, quality finishes, and simple to use. I have the Kuat Sherpa 2.0 and the rack weighs just over 30 pounds so it is quite easy to take on and off. In addition, it tips down and out of the way for tailgates or trunks, even with bikes on the rack. The Sherpa 2.0 only holds two bikes and is not expandable, but Kuat’s other racks are expandable for up to four bikes. The racks are made in Springfield, Missouri, and the customer service is top-notch. These racks are not cheap, but I think the Sherpa 2.0 may be the best piece of equipment/gear of any kind that I have every bought. Worth every penny.
Farthest: California to road ride Napa/Sonoma. And to MTB in Tahoe. Great stuff! (I’ve ridden in Europe too but, those were spontaneous occurrences.)
Hitch Rack: I’ve heard really good stuff about the Kuat racks. Pricey though.
Driving: I mostly go out my door for road rides and mix up the directions. I’ll drive to meet a group ride though. For MTB or gravel, I only have one place to ride out my door and I can do it without thinking any more. So, last summer, I put the trunk rack back on and started making short drives to do those. Short would be less than 30 minutes. What’s the farthest I would drive to ride, I don’t know that I have a limit, really except, I want there to be more riding than driving.
Kurat Transfer 1-bike rack. I love it. It was relatively cheap, and it’s small. It can be expanded to add a 2nd bike if you want to. I can roll with it on the back of my car all the time and it’s not in the way. But it’s quick and easy to pull off if I want it gone. It carries my gravel, my mountain, and my fat bike just fine. The fat is pushing its capabilities but it does it.
As a roadie I only put my bike on a hitch rack when traveling to another city or state. With the mtb, it’s every time.
Here’s what’s important. Buy a Kuat. Regardless of the model, their customer service is hands down the best in the industry, not just racks but all of cycling. I didn’t even have to show a receipt or serial number and I just mentioned having a bit of a wobble, next thing I knew I had 12 pounds and over $100 of parts shipping to me 2nd day air. Phenomenal. Kuat.
I have an Inno hitch mount rack that works very well with a wagon or SUV with lifting tailgate as it folds down easily with foot activated release. It does support bike by top tube so most FS MTB will require an accessory bar.