Best Car for Mountain Bikers
If you’re like me, mountain biking is more than a sport you play once a month, it’s something you live for. It makes sense then, that mountain bikers should have a car that suits the needs of their passion. Though it’s entirely possible to shoehorn a bike into just about any car, the best car for mountain bikers is usually one that allows you to get your bike in/on and out/off of the car as quickly as possible. If you take pride in your car, you probably also want a set-up that doesn’t trash your car every time you use it.
Mountain Bike in the Car or Out?
First up, it’s worth deciding on where you want the bikes. There are a lot of concerns at play here. Questions you can ask yourself include:
- Do I want to keep wheels on the bikes?
- Is my bike safer inside the car?
- Do I shuttle regularly, where time spent loading and unloading bikes from the car is time that could be spent having fun on the trail?
- Is the car I am considering compatible with a tow hitch (tow bar) rack?
- How many people will be in the car when driving to/from the trail head?
- Do I have a low garage or car port where it will be a pain to use roof racks?
- Am I carrying a bike such as a single speed where rear wheel removal can be more challenging than bikes with 3x, 2x, or 1x drivetrains?
- Do I use a dropper post or have a quick release clamp for my seatpost? If not, removing or lowering your seat to fit it inside the car may be a hassle.
- Is my roof rack going to affect my gas mileage (fuel consumption)?
- Am I willing to risk being rear ended and having my precious bikes crushed?
For example, I enjoy road trips. Because these use a mix of camping and hotels/motels, the best car for my need as a mountain biker is one that is big enough to fit the bikes inside while only taking the front wheel off, as they are safer this way. I don’t need to give any thought to someone stealing my drink bottle or seat post and saddle while I’m sleeping somewhere away from the car or grabbing lunch at a restaurant.
Off Road or On Road
Are you trying to get to far away, undiscovered trails, or can you drive on a paved or a smooth enough unpaved surface to get to the trail head? Obviously the “best car for mountain bikers” needs to be the best car for the rest of your life, so consider:
- Fuel economy
- Higher road tax or registration costs
- Higher insurance costs
- Tyre wear and cost
- Comfort when performing day to day tasks
- Holidays throughout the year
As much as I enjoy camping out in the wilderness, in reality it’s very rare to actually need an off road 4×4 to get to where I’m heading. Usually I’ll hike in from a smoother road. Nearly every MTB trail head I have been to in my life has a gravel road that is absolutely drivable in a regular front or rear wheel drive car.
Moving Your Mountain Bike in the Car
It’s not always easy, but it’s always possible. If you are looking to buy a new car, there’s a really simple solution to finding out if you can fit your mountain bike in the car – bring your bike and a blanket and see if it fits!
Small Cars and Hatches
Wanting to fit your mountain bike in the car doesn’t mean it has to come with the inconvenience of hard to find car parks and higher fuel economy. Here are some options that will be easy to park and allow you to fit the bikes inside your car with only the front wheel off. Just be aware that if you’re moving more than one bike, it’s probably only possible to (legally) move yourself and one other person.
Ford Focus Hatch
Seemingly popular in the road and triathlon community, the Ford Focus Hatch boot space gets good reviews from cyclists. Depending on the type, frame size and wheel size of your bike, so long as you are happy to take a front wheel off it looks as though there are no problems with fitting a bike inside.
A very popular small car for mountain bikers, the Honda Fit broke the mold with a small exterior and loads of cargo space. The supporting information is everywhere, so I’m confident in saying that; you can fit a mountain bike inside a Honda Fit! In case you are wondering, yes, you can fit a tandem in one too.
Hyundai i30cw/i30 Estate/Elantra Touring
The Hyundai i30cw really took off in my home country, Australia. For many, it ticked a lot of boxes given it was a compact, affordable car with loads of storage space and great fuel economy. I know what you are thinking, shouldn’t this be in the wagons section below? Not really, it’s still a hatch. Semantics aside, can you fit a bike inside a Hyundai i30cw? You sure can!
Hyundai i30cw with bike inside. Reflectors, frame pump, bar ends and all. Photo: MotherDriven
Mazda 3 Hatch/Mazdaspeed 3
With a 4.1/5 rating from CarBuyer, the Mazda 3 comes highly recommended, with the only real complaints being purchase price from new, being a bit slow and smaller cargo space from its competitors (uh oh!). It’s not bad news so long as you’re happy to Macgyver the bike in there. Honestly, it’s not that bad, probably just not the car to have the bikes standing up in because of the sleek downward sloping rear of the exterior.
Happy to take the wheel off and lay your bike down? The Mazda 3 hatch may be the car for you.
Full disclosure, I had a Nissan Cube and it was a fun little car. With the passenger seat all the way forwards, I could fit one mountain bike inside with the wheel on and another with the front wheel off. Depending on what model you get, the Nissan Cube can have an awkward floor to work with when the rear seats are folded forwards, so be prepared to use some bungee cords to keep things in place.
Our 2012 Transiton Bandits inside a BZ11 Nissan Cube.
Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe
Super popular with budget conscious mountain bikers in Whistler and presumably elsewhere around North America, the Matrix is a really solid option for mountain bikers in the compact car category. Available as an AWD, it can be perfect for mountain bikers who spend a lot of time on gravel roads or those who have to deal with ice in Winter. The flat, plastic cargo space makes the Toyota Matrix possibly one of the best car for mountain bikers in the compact car category. No grease or mud issues here.
In case you are wondering, the Toyota Matrix and Pontiac Vibe share the same chassis. From a bike cargo point of view they are on par.
Subaru Impreza Hatch
A well known brand to outdoors types, the Subaru Impreza brings AWD to a 5 door hatch. According to NASIOC member RaineMan, “A bike will fit in mine with the back seats folded down. Just have to lift it over the shock towers in the back. Pretty easy with a little practice.” Here’s a photo showing us just how easy it is to fit your commuter bicycle in a Subaru Impreza Hatch…
You know this is a 26″ commuter with a slick tire. It’s going to be tight with a 27.5 or larger with a fat tire.
Volkswagen GTI and Golf Hatchback
Most GTI and Golf owners tend to keep their bikes on the outside, which tends to make me think they aren’t as easy to fit a bike of any significant size on the inside. VWVortex member ZKK007 notes that it is possible; “29er in the back with front wheel off and a moving blanket. Front seat all the way forward.”
The VW Golf may not be the best car for mountain bikers. Depending on how tall you are and how large your frame is, it could be a deal breaker. Regardless, here’s a vintage road bike with both wheels on in the back of a Golf…
VW Golf Hatchback with a road bike inside.
Wagons and Estate Cars
I’ll be honest, I’m a bit of a wagon fanatic. In many cases they probably are the best car for mountain bikers given the additional room inside, along with how nice and easy they drive while getting to work or moving the family. Let’s check out some of your options.
Audi A6/S6/RS6 Avant
Now the fun begins. The Audi A6 is huge. Two mountain bikes in the boot with wheels off will stand up with ease, especially if you opt for the factory option interior bike rack (that appears to require spare wheel removal when moving the bikes).
Where we’re going, we don’t need spares.
BMW 5 Series Touring
Similar to the Audi A6, anything in the BMW 5 Series Touring range is going to have plenty of space for your bikes. To fit them standing up you’ll still need to remove the front wheel but there’s no tricky manoeuvres required thanks to all that room. Front wheel on with the bike laying down won’t be a problem unless you’re moving a downhill bike, but even still it’s a possibility.
The BMW 5 Series Touring takes bikes standing up.
Ford Mondeo Wagon
Regularly touted as the best value estate car to fit bikes in on the SingleTrack forum, the Mondeo is a perfect around town family car that doubles as a bike mover on weekends. I’m surprised that given how well liked they are in the UK mountain bike community, I can’t find one photo of one with a bike in the back!
Nissan Stagea Wagon
The Nissan Stagea was only made in right hand drive. As I understand it, Stageas weren’t sold locally in many countries, so most of them are grey imports from Japan. Especially popular in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, they can be an affordable option with plenty of performance that are cheap to maintain. If you like the look of Volvo V70 wagons, you’ll like the Nissan Stagea.
I’ve previously owned a C34 and M35 Nissan Stagea and bikes fit easily inside both. Laying down with the rear seats folded flat you can keep the wheels on, or if you want to only fold half of the rear seat row down, you can easily fit two bikes standing up with the front wheel off. Unfortunately, I never thought to take any photos and the internet isn’t turning much up, so here’s what they look like from the outside.
Nice Volvo you got there…
Subaru Outback/Legacy/Liberty Wagon
Alright this is the big one. You know the Subaru Outback (or variants) were borderline made for mountain bikers, hikers, SUP-ers and anyone else doing things outs >can fit bikes inside with wheels on laying down, or standing up with front wheels off.
The Volvo V70 is possibly as iconic as it gets for wagons. With it’s boxy rear end, bike storage is as good as it gets in this category. You’re never going to fit a mountain bike in the boot standing up with wheels on (a BMX maybe), but laying down with wheels on is a breeze, and with the front wheel off, standing the bike up is no problem. To mix things up a little, here’s a Volvo V70 T5 wagon with a a go kart in the boot.
Volvo V70 Wagon Cargo Space. Photo: Road and Track
4×4’s, Crossovers and SUVs
What seems like an ever growing category, there are loads of options here. Some of the larger 4×4’s are going to allow you to fit your bike inside with wheels on, so that is something to consider. I won’t list them all but hopefully this will be enough to give you some ideas.
The BMW X3 comes with a factory option interior bike rack. Standing up with the front wheel off is easy, while lying down with the front wheel on and rear seats folded flat is no problem at all. If you can’t find or justify the BMW interior bike rack, it’s fairly straightforward to DIY one.
The Ford Escape is probably the best SUV for mountain bikers I know due to it’s lower purchase price and affordable maintenance. Roomy enough to fit 3 people and 3 upright mountain bikes inside the car, it’s a great road trip SUV for you and your friends.
Ford Escape with 3 mountain bikes inside.
Honestly, I didn’t know what section to put the Honda Element in. It’s compact yet roomy and can hold it’s own off road. Some consider it a van. Either way, it’s highly likely that the Honda Element is actually the best car for mountain bikers. That is, assuming you can get over its looks.
With rear seats that fold up, or detach completely to expose a flat rubber floor, the Honda Element is built for versatility and to get a little muddy at times. You have endless options on configurations and most importantly, cross country and all-mountain bikes fit inside with the wheels on (most DH bikes are just a little bit too tall). For car campers, the Element does that too. With the right combo this can easily house you and your bike overnight.
Land Rover Discovery
The Land Rover Discovery family share an important trait with the Honda Element. It’s square. This is excellent for mountain bikers who like to leave the wheels on their bikes but still chuck them in the boot. If you need more height and better off road handling than the Honda Element, the Disco could be the best car for you. Depending on which model you buy however, reliability can be an issue.
Mountain Bike inside a Land Rover Discovery 2.
Clearly marketed towards the outdoors-person, the Nissan Xterra is a popular car for mountain bikers and adventure seekers. Despite being tall and boxy, the Nissan Xterra is more of a “high station wagon” than an off road van, so you will need to take the front wheel off of your bikes if you plan to stand them up.
With a hard plastic cargo area, the Xterra is ridiculously easy to clean and the car comes with Nissan reliability. If you need the extra clearance but don’t mind taking a wheel off, this is a solid option.
Nissan Xterra interior bike rack. Photo: Matsayz
Subaru’s Forester might be the perfect comparison to the Ford Escape as far as usability goes. Very popular in the mountain bike community, the Forester handles well, is reliable, well finished and functional. Front wheels will need to come off unless you’re laying the bikes down flat.
Subaru Forester with bikes inside lying flat. Photo: Popular Mechanics
Mountain Bike Vans
This is where it gets interesting. Many new vans actually double as small cars. The catch is that as many are made for commercial use, they only have two seats, though this is changing as more and more people are enjoying the functionality of the van.
If you don’t often travel with more than one other person, the van may well be the best car for mountain bikers who enjoy taking road trips without thinking about tents. Let’s check out the mountain bike vans!
Ford Transit Connect
No frills, but if functionality is your thing it doesn’t get much better than this. A poor man’s Volkswagen Caddy, these things are cheap to buy, cheap to fix, short and easy to find parks for in packed cities and best of all, fit bikes with ease. Chuck the bike in any way you want. It will fit.
Free candy anyone?
Van Life! If size is not a concern, why not bring the house with you to the trailhead? From factory you can probably fit a good 40 bikes inside, so build this thing out for whatever configuration you need. Here’s an Outside Van Cozy Town converted Sprinter with the bike storage underneath the sleeping area.
Outside Van Cozy Town.
Popular in Australia and New Zealand, the Toyota HiAce is a legitimate commercial vehicle. Cheap to buy, cheap to take care of and dangerously low safety ratings, the Toyota HiAce is an iconic vehicle for downhill shuttles and moto expeditions (just please, be safe on the roads).
Motocross bike in a Toyota HiAce van.
A current favorite of mine, the Volkswagen Caddy isn’t currently available in North America – I’m sure if it was, it would be an absolute hit. The Volkswagen Caddy is a compact van that comes in either commercial vehicle or people mover guise. Sharing a lot of components with the Volkswagen Golf and Touran, parts are fairly easy to come by. Point of reference, Aussie MTB legend Jared Graves owns a Volkwagen Caddy.
Mountain Bikes Outside the Car
Honestly, you have endless options for moving your bikes outside the car. From hitch racks to roof racks to trunk racks to truck bed racks and pads, you don’t need to be too creative here. If you don’t want something permanently on the car, you could even use a vacuum mount rack!
The best on road car for mountain bikers wanting to move their bikes outside the car is pretty straight forward – it’s the car that is suitable for the rest of your life. So long as you have purchased some sort of bike rack and can fit your helmet, shoes and other MTB gear inside, you’re done!
Porsche 911 roof rack. Photo: Rallyways
Is your truck (ute) bed that is big enough to fit your mountain bikes and a tailgate pad? Yes? You are good to go. If you are in an SUV or 4×4 wagon, chances are you will use a tow hitch rack to move your bikes.
Toyota Tacoma 4×4 truck with a tailgate pad moving 5 mountain bikes.
The Best Car for Mountain Bikers
As you can see, it’s not an open and shut decision. The best car for you, as a mountain biker, is the car that suits your specific needs, both while mountain biking and getting on with the rest of your life. Have fun with your search for a new car and let us know what you chose!
Obviously I couldn’t cover every possible option – this post is long enough. If you think we’ve missed the actual best car for mountain bikers, please let us know by leaving a comment below, or getting in touch on Facebook or Instagram.
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