Cartop Carrier for LWB Recumbent Bikes

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My recumbents

I own two recumbents. One is a folding Linear LWB and the other is a Vision SWB.


my Linear LWB


my Vision SWB


both bikes on my car

The Vision goes on a conventional rooftop carrier just fine, but the Linear was a problem.

The Linear is a folding bike. It folds at the head tube and where the chain stays join the main frame beam. The seat folds forward. It uses quick release locks at each folding joint.


Linear LWB fully folded

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The problem

The first time I wanted to transport the Linear with my car, I tried putting it on my Yakima rooftop carrier. I couldn't get the bars far enough apart on my car's roof, so I tried folding it at the head tube. This was no good. I couldn't tighten the quick release on the front folding joint enough that the bike wouldn't sag on the carrier. I worried about what would happen when the car went over bumps.

So my only option was to fold the bike and put it in my trunk. I had to remove both wheels and fully fold the bike to get it into the car. When I got to my destination, unfolding and setting up the bike took me about 45 minutes. When I was done I was covered with grease. Besides, folding and unfolding my Linear seems to bring back all the squeaks and creaks that I spend hours eliminating.

I have heard people talk about putting Linears on rooftop carriers without problems, and I've met others who talk about folding and unfolding their Linears as though it's no big deal, so remember that YMMV.

Anyway, I determined never to do either of these things again, if I could help it. I decided I needed a cartop carrier that could hold an LWB without folding. Since my Linear is relatively heavy (my bathroom scale says 40lb / 18kg) and long, I figured that lifting it over my head would be really awkward.

Several manufacturers make systems to help lift tandems off the ground onto the rack. Some are complete rack systems (e.g. DraftMaster) and others add on to your existing rack (e.g. Bike Lift from NewSport, Tandem Topper from ATOC). I felt these were too expensive, so I designed and built my own adapter for the rooftop carrier I already own.

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Requirements

  1. Attach to standard cartop carrier.
  2. Still capable of carrying conventional and SWB bikes.
  3. Operable by one person with ordinary strength.
  4. Easy on, easy off.
  5. No lifting over head.
  6. Stable and strong enough for long distance driving.
  7. Ordinary (hardware store) materials and tools.

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Carrier construction

The carrier consists of a "rail" that stays attached to the car and a removable "sled" that holds the bike. The bike attaches to the sled with a Bike Tight quick release for the front fork and a channel to hold the rear wheel. I made the channel from two 2"x2"s with stop blocks at each end and cove molding inside.

The sled consists of a 1"x8"x6' board with two 1"x2"x6' runners underneath. The runners are separated by the width of a 2x4 to straddle the 2x4x6' rail. The rail attaches to the rooftop carrier with U-bolts.


sled, bike, car and rail


rear wheel channel

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Operating the carrier

I fold the seat forward and secure it with a luggage strap so the wind doesn't catch it. The rear end of the sled has wheels to make it easier to maneuver the sled when it's off the car.


bike on sled


rolling sled to car

Hooks on the front end of the sled engage pins made from lag screws on the rear end of the rail. The hooks guide the end of the sled so I can lift it up onto the rail by myself.


detail of hooks and pins


hooks hold one end


and guide sled onto rail

The sled runners straddle the rail to guide it as it slides along to rail.

I use tie-downs to keep the bike stable. I initially tried clamping the rear rim into the channel (as on commercial carriers), but because the bike is so long, I found that it shook from side to side.

1/4"x6" bolts with wing-nuts pass through the runners and the rail to prevent the sled from sliding off the car.


sliding sled along rail


tie-downs keep bike steady

The whole operation takes about 5 minutes. Getting the bike off the car is just as easy.

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Unsolved problems

  1. This carrier works fine on my VW Golf. If the car roof was higher, or if the car was a fastback or sedan instead of a hatchback, I probably would be unable to hook the sled onto the rail without lifting the wheels off the ground.
  2. I need a better method to attach the sled to the rail. Even though I used marine varnish on the sled and rail, the rail is warping from being out in the elements. It's getting harder and harder to line up the bolts.

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Bike carrier links

Please submit additional links by email to John Strait.

Complete systems

  • Yakima - Cartop, receiver hitch, spare tire and pickup truck bed racks. Their cartop tandem mount secures the bottom tube in a padded cradle, so it may or may not be usable for recumbents, depending on the frame construction. They also have a 78" wheel tray that works with their Steelhead mount to accommodate tandems and LWB recumbents. Neither approach addresses the "lift over head" problem.
  • DraftMaster - Receiver hitch, trunk mount and pickup truck bed racks. Their receiver-hitch tandem mount solves the "lift over head" problem and reportedly works well for recumbents.
  • Thule - Cartop, trunk and receiver hitch racks.
  • Saris - Cartop, trunk, receiver hitch and spare tire racks.

Add-ons to existing systems

  • NewSport - Hydraulic assist attaches to Yakima, Thule style, or Saris cartop racks to solve the "lift over head" problem. Their Bike Lift supports the bicycle by clamping to the handlebars and saddle, so it may or may not be usable for recumbents.
  • ATOC - Mechanized tandem mount that makes it very easy for one person to single handedly load a tandem or LWB recumbent. Their Tandem Topper solves the "lift over head" problem and reportedly works well for recumbents.

Parts to build your own system

  • Bike Tight - Quick release front fork mount, wheel mount, truck rack, etc.
  • Most manufacturers of complete systems also sell replacement and add-on parts.

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1998 John Strait

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Revised: July 26, 1999