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Bike Racks – 5 Fails Owners Make When Fitting Them.

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Bike racks are a popular addition to campers and caravans for travelling families but fitting them after market is not as simple as it may seem. There are pitfalls to be aware of. Here’s five to get you started.

With so many families hitting the road in their caravans and campers for the first time, attention will turn to keeping the kids entertained and that will usually mean bringing their bicycles along. Similarly, couples may want to bring their bikes along in order to keep fit and use the car less when sightseeing. The problem is, if the van or camper has not been fitted with bike racks from new, you will likely need to have them fitted. Unfortunately, this is not as simple as it may seem. You see bicycles weigh quite a lot and this in itself presents quite a few issues. This table gives you some idea of how much the average bicycle weighs:

Type and size of bicycleTypical Weigh Range
Road Bikes8 to 9 kg
Mountain Bikes9 to 13 kg
Beach Cruisers15 to 18 kg
Kids’ Bikes10 to 12 kg
Electric Bikes17 to 31 kg
Rvd049 Ed Guide Ebikes And Rvs 2a 800px 18 Step Through Frame Scene Vlt Blacksilver
E-Bikes are great but they are quite heavy. Some weigh as much as 31kg.

Remember, these weights are for individual bikes. It is more than likely you will want to carry more than one bike. For a typical family of four, if everyone was to have their own bike, you could be looking at adding around 50kg to your load.

Next, you will need to have a bike rack that is capable of holding the bikes steady while travelling over Australia’s less than fantastic roads. Again, depending on how many bikes you need to carry, the racks will have their own weight. You could be adding another 10 to 20 kg or more. It all adds up rather quickly.

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All this aside, let’s assume you’ve got all these issues sorted out and you’re ready to fit your bike rack. It is not as simple as just bolting it to any part of the van or camper. There are a lot of things to consider. These are five common mistakes people make when fitting bike racks:

Too much tow ball weight

Most vans and campers will be designed in such a way as to make it easy for owners to get their weight distribution right, particularly when it comes to tow-ball weight. The general rule of thumb is to have between 8% and 10% of the loaded weight of the trailer over the tow ball. So a caravan that weighs 2,500kg fully loaded should have a tow ball weight of around 250kg. Now, let’s assume you want to add a bike rack on top of the toolbox on the A-frame. We’ll just look at adding two adult mountain bikes for now. You could expect the bikes and the rack to hold them to weigh around 30kg all up. That may not sound like much but that weight over the toolbox will likely add around 20 to 25 kg to the tow ball weight. If the maximum tow ball weight of your tow vehicle is only 250kg, adding the bikes and rack will put you over this limit. This could have a detrimental effect on the handling of your rig, not to mention the legal implications.

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Putting this many bikes on the drawbar will add close to 40kg to the tow ball weight. Apart from not exceeding the tow ball limit, you may want to check with the manufacturer to ensure the A-frame is strong enough to carry this much weight.

If putting a bike rack on the front of your van is the only solution available to you, we strongly suggest you invest in a set of tow ball scales and rearrange some of your gear in order to compensate using the scales to get the tow ball weight right.

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Too much weight at the rear

Just as adding weight to the front of your caravan can affect its handling, putting weight on the back will as well. In fact, when it comes to caravan stability, this is probably the worst place to add weight where the manufacturer didn’t take into consideration when building your van. We’ve all seen those videos on social media demonstrating the effect adding weight to the rear of a trailer has on its stability. The reason for this is the extra weight on the rear of the trailer will lessen the tow ball weight. Anything less than 8% of the overall weight of the van as tow ball weight will likely make the van extremely unstable, resulting in the van getting the wobbles. You can counteract this effect to some degree by rearranging the gear in your trailer to transfer weight back to the front but this is rarely successful.

bike rack fails rear
There is probably 60kg of additional weight placed in the very worst position at the back of the van. This will have a diabolical effect on the rig’s handling.

Insufficient structural strength

When caravan manufacturers build a van with the intention to fit a bike rack, they will usually incorporate additional bracing or structure to the frame or rear bumper of the van in order to ensure it is capable of taking this additional weight. If you’re thinking about adding a bike rack to an existing caravan, you will be living in hope that the existing structure will be capable of supporting this load. Remember, you could be looking at adding at least 30 kg and most caravan timber frames would be unlikely to have been designed to carry this additional weight.

If this is your only choice, we strongly recommend you contact the manufacturer of your caravan and ask them about the suitability to fit a bike rake in the position you intend. We would also consider limiting the number of bikes you carry to perhaps just one.

Position blocks lights and number plates

All trailers on Australian roads must be built to conform to the Australian Design Rules or ADRs, specifically the technical requirements of VSB1. These requirements state that all lamps and reflectors on a trailer must be installed in such a way as to ensure “no part of the trailer or its equipment obstructs the lamp output”. In other words, you can’t just go and put a huge bike rack on the back of your caravan or camper without ensuring it, or the bikes on it, don’t obstruct the trailer’s lights in any way. This requirement also extends to the visibility of the registration plate on the trailer. Doing so could land you with a hefty fine.

If you must fit a bike carrier to the rear of your trailer, you may also have to fit a secondary set of lights as well as another registration plate.

bike rack fails number plate
Most state and territory road authorities will be able to sell you a special number plate for your bike rack if it obstructs the standard number plate on your caravan or camper.

Inconvenient to use

Let’s say for the sake of the argument, you’re able to install a bike rack on your caravan or camper and you’ve ensured you have got around all the issues previously discussed. There’s one last issue you may be faced with.

Inevitably, bike racks will have to be mounted either on the front toolbox on the drawbar, on the rear wall of the caravan, or on the rear bumper. All of these positions will necessarily be high off the ground. Lifting bikes on and off these racks will require a degree of fitness and, possibly, a step ladder of some sort. It can be physically difficult and, if you’re not too steady on your feet, quite dangerous.

We quite often see bikes that have been mounted onto a caravan or camper that have never been removed and used because it is simply too much trouble to take the bikes off and put them back on again after use. You really do need to be certain that you will use the bikes enough to justify the effort.

bike rack fails too high
I can only imagine the effort the owner would have to go through to get these bikes down and put them back up again.

A final word

It may seem like we are trying to discourage you from fitting bike racks to your caravan or camper but that is simply not the case. All we want to do is to point out some of the issues you will face so you can decide whether or not the need to take bikes with you is worth all the effort required.

If we could offer you one last piece of advice, it would be to thoroughly research the options available to suit your situation. Talk to as many bike rack manufacturers as you can to get a good idea of what is available and how much effort is required to use each option. Remember to factor in the weight of the bikes and their racks and how this weight will affect the overall handling of your rig.

Safe travels.

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