Car Care: Prepare for pedal power
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Overloading your bike rack can have some bad consequences
With the opening of more cycle trails around the country, pedal power has become an increasingly popular activity for all ages and abilities.
As well as the health and family bonding benefits, the trails and tracks also provide a safe environment where cyclists and motorists are kept apart.
The challenge for many, however, is getting to the start line: loading up the bikes and sometimes driving considerable distances before throwing the leg over and starting the journey.
As more of the family and/or friends get involved, it often means more bikes have to be loaded into, or on to, the car. It's not unusual to see vehicles with at least three bikes strapped on to a bike rack.
Because of the ongoing demand and all the different vehicle body designs, NZ companies such as Best Bars which manufacture and market bike racks have come up with a range of options to suit most vehicles fitted with a tow bar.
So mounting the bikes has never been easier, but what about the tow bar? The bike rack is usually fitted around and tightened to the ball of the tow bar and from what
I have observed, some are secured better than others.
But it's the long overhang of bike racks that can hold multiple bikes that worries me most. The more bikes and the longer the mounting frame of the bike rack, the more tendency there is for the tow bar tongue to flex (especially when the tongue is reasonably long), which must add additional strain not only to the complete tow bar structure, but also to the mountings' points on the vehicle body.
There is no requirement for tow bars to be rated and certified on light vehicles in New Zealand; however, the NZ Transport Agency does say your tow coupling and tow bar must be strong enough to safely tow your fully laden trailer. But when it comes to mounting a bike rack only, then the rules around what constitutes a suitable tow bar can potentially become a little grey and therefore build standards may vary considerably.
Tow bars bought directly or supplied and fitted by a franchise dealer should always meet their respective manufacturer's braked and unbraked towing standards and be fitted so that towing forces are transferred to the body of the towing vehicle without any distortions of the tow bar and the bodywork.
Buying a manufacturer's approved tow bar, plus the extra costs of fitting, can be expensive, and often this is why some owners look for cheaper alternatives, especially if the sole purpose is to carry bikes.
This is where things can get scary. If a cheaper tow bar was designed and fitted specifically to transport push bikes, then there is a high chance it will be manufactured from alternative-sized metals and mounted to the vehicle differently than if the requirement was to tow to a vehicle's maximum braked load.
You should never assume all tow bars are built to the same standard, especially if you buy a vehicle with a bar already fitted. Always look for a label stipulating the braked and unbraked towing limits as well as the downward load capabilities of the tow bar tongue.
If you own a vehicle which has a tow bar fitted that was solely designed to carry a bike rack, do the right thing when selling and tell any potential new owner what the tow bar had been designed and used for.
If you're purchasing and are keen on a vehicle with a tow bar already fitted that has no label attached, then make sure you either ask the seller what it was used for or get the bar checked out to ensure it will be fit for purpose.
And don't forget, bikes carried in tow bar-mounted cycle racks can often cover up the number plate or essential lights on the back of the vehicle. In these circumstances the driver is legally obliged to fit additional lights and/or number plate on the back of the load.
Once again, seek professional advice if you need to wire your vehicle to accept a wiring loom for any additional lights. The industry can tell a number of tales about having to replace costly electronic control units damaged when correct procedures have not been followed. For those cycle lovers who do not have a tow bar fitted to their vehicles, there are other carrier options which are designed to mount on to a hatch tailgate or boot lid of a sedan and can carry up to three bikes.
For more information on tow bars, bike racks and related products, visit any leading cycle store nationwide, go online at www.ezigrip.co.nz or call 0800 BEST BARS.