This article is about setting things up to RV with bicycles on board. There may be more involved than you would at first think.
We’ve all seen cars, trucks and RVs traveling down the road with bicycles on the back. The bikes are generally either hanging from or resting upon a bicycle carrier. It should be easy enough to set things up in order to bring our bikes along with your RV, right? Umm… maybe not! RVers may have more things to consider than somebody throwing their bikes on the back of their car for an afternoon outing.
Summary of Considerations (more details follow the list)
- Weight is often a consideration for RVers. Too heavy = bad.
- Physics: the forces applied to a bike carrier on the back of an RV can be much greater when the same carrier is used on a car or truck so the strength and capacity of a carrier may become more important considerations for RVers.
- There may be legal issues that arise if using a bike carrier that isn’t RV Approved and there aren’t so many choices of RV Approved carriers.
- In some cases RVers want a carrier they can leave on all the time instead of one that is removed after the weekend outing.
- There may be more options in terms of the method of carrying bikes on RVs which may complicate deciding on which one to choose.
- RVers may be more likely to leave their bikes unattended and for longer periods of time and therefore may have additional security concerns.
- Bikes may spend days, weeks, months or even years stowed outside an RV making protection from the elements more important.
- Hitch mounted bike carriers may be more likely to drag on the ground with some RVs than with cars or trucks so trying to avoid that likelihood may be an important consideration.
- The length of some RVs makes maneuvering and finding campsites problematic and extending the length of your rig with a bike carrier can exacerbate this problem.
- In some, if not many, if not most, if not all states laws prohibit obscuring the view of license plates so picking a rack that doesn’t block its view or relocating the license plate and its light are considerations.
- Hmm… what else?
There are many things that may need consideration when planning how to take bikes RVing. No one article can address every possible circumstance. I am writing this article to illustrate the considerations we faced and how we dealt with them when figuring out how to take our bikes along with our 5th wheel. Other types of RVs may allow for other solutions yet some considerations may be the same as those we faced. My hope is that the information presented will help others find the solutions they need for their respective situations.
Types of Bicycle Carriers
When we ordered our 5th wheel we had the factory install a receiver hitch on the back (much less costly than aftermarket in our case) so we could later attach a receiver hitch mounted bike carrier to it should we decide to do so. Our receiver hitch is welded to the underside of the RV frame which is a common method of attachment. Sometimes bolts are used. There are at least a few other ways to attach bikes to an RV but these methods didn’t seem so practical to me, for us.
- Ladder Racks
There are some bike carriers designed to attach to the RV OEM roof ladder which is usually on the back of the RV but I don’t favor those because you can no longer use the roof ladder without first removing the bikes and I’m on the roof often enough that this would quickly become tiresome; if the ladder is near the side of the RV the bikes may stick out past it which would be unsafe and may be unlawful; the bikes may swing and damage the RV or the bikes; although some may suffice RV ladders were never intended for this purpose. Having said all this about ladder racks they may be a viable option for some people.
- Pin Box Receivers
Some people have had custom welding done or used bolts to attach receiver hitches to the pin box at the front of their 5th wheels. This may work for some people but getting your bikes up and back down from there may require the use of a step ladder, the truck bed of your pickup or that you be a super strong, 7’ tall giant. Plus, the insects, road grime, wind and rain at the front of a fifth wheel would be pretty hard on the bikes.
- Tow Vehicle Roof Rack
What about putting the bikes on the roof of the tow vehicle? That might be OK for a small vehicle towing a small trailer but our truck is nearly 7′ high. It stuck me as being too hard to get bikes up there and back down, plus it might create overhead clearance issues when driving just the truck, for example we’d be too high to fit into many parking garages. Still, for other people this may seem a viable option.
- Receiver Hitch Mounted Carriers
This is the route we went because it seemed the most practical and flexible for us. With a hitch mounted carrier we could move it to our truck (our truck was fitted with a receiver hitch at the factory as standard equipment) for an outing then return it to the RV for traveling; we wouldn’t have to move the bikes up high as we would with a roof rack on our truck or a receiver on the pin box; the bikes wouldn’t get as much of a pounding from wind, rain, and bugs as they might if on the roof of the truck or pin box.
- Other Carriers
There are probably other types of bicycle carriers with which I am unfamiliar. For example, with bumper-pull trailers there may be ways to secure bikes between the trailer and tow vehicle. Dunno.
- RV Approved Carriers
Another consideration has to do with selecting an “RV Approved” bicycle carrier, or not. Many, probably most bicycle carriers are not RV Approved and the warranty excludes them from coverage if used on an RV. RV Approval, as far as I know, is not a legal term but rather a decision on the part of the manufacturer. If they don’t want to warranty a carrier for RV use they won’t approve it for RV use or may just exclude RV use in the fine print of their warranties. This could possibly turn out to be a larger matter than whether or not you can get a replacement under warranty if the carrier fails. What if, for example, your bike carrier breaks, falls off and a vehicle behind you is damaged or someone is injured? Would your insurance cover you if your bike carrier was not approved for RV use?
The solution we preferred was to use our receiver hitch on the back of the RV with an RV Approved bicycle carrier, raising it higher for ground clearance with a riser, and to move our license plate so it would not be obscured by the bikes or carrier. This wasn’t a perfect solution because our roof ladder folds and with the bikes in position it can’t fold down–the lower section rests on the seat of my bike in a horizontal orientation. I can still use the upper half of the ladder, but I have to get there by stepping on a ledge of the rear cap and sometimes I need our little step stool to reach that.
If you think you might prefer a ladder mounted bicycle rack, Swagman makes an RV Approved Ladder model.
When shopping for a bike carrier we thought it would be prudent to stick with an RV Approved bicycle carrier so we ruled out all others. We also shopped for a bicycle carrier that was light weight so as to make it easier to move back and forth from the RV to the truck. Of course we wanted one that had a weight carrying capacity sufficient to hold the weight of our bikes. So many things to consider… I know! Whooda thunkit? After trying out several carriers we chose a Swagman Traveler XC2. Unlike carriers from which bicycles are hung allowing them to swing back and forth during travel, this carrier has cradles for the bicycle wheels and holds bikes firmly in place. It can either fit into a 2″ Class 3 hitch receiver or mount to a 4.5″ continuous steel welded RV bumper. It can carry either one or two bikes up to 35 pounds each. At 41 pounds it was lighter than some other carriers making it easier to move between the RV and our truck for those occasions when we want travel by truck with our bikes to a location some distance from our campsite. We also liked this rack because it uses a special, threaded hitch pin which makes for a very snug and wobble free fit with receivers. We ordered a locking model of this threaded hitch pin to provide more security. (See Security, below.)
One problem with receiver hitches on the tail end of RVs can be that under certain circumstances, driving over a drainage ditch or negotiating a steep driveway, for example, receivers and bike carriers can drag on the ground. This may result in damage to the receiver, the bike carrier, the bikes or all three. Whether or not this might happen depends on the RV, the carrier, road and driving conditions. We knew from experience that our RV was something of an ass-dragger and that the OEM skids (self-sacrificial metal pieces welded to the underside of the receiver hitch designed to keep the receiver from dragging on the ground) were already mostly worn through. We were afraid that when they eventually ground all the way through and broke, which they certainly would have, that they would act like hooks and dig into the pavement creating real problems. Before that could happen I opted to cut them off which I did with a hand held electric grinder. I then replaced the skids with an Ultra-Fab Receiver Mount Protector, an easily installed, removable and replaceable heavy duty steel roller intended to roll on the ground when contact is made rather than scrape along the road surface like the OEM skids. A roller may be less likely to grind away than stationary skids when dragging on the pavement, and because it is anchored in place by a hitch pin and easily removable it would be much easier to replace (if necessary) than skids which are welded to the receiver.
That should take care of keeping the receiver from dragging on the ground, but because our bike carrier protrudes from the receiver something like 18” – 20” it too would be subject to dragging on the ground. In order to mitigate the likelihood of this we purchased this Curt Raised Receiver Adapter (riser) that increases ground clearance for any hitch-mounted accessory.
The rise provided by this adapter is a little over 4”. This seems to be a very solid, well made product, IMHO. With this adapter installed, so far, although it’s gotten close, our bicycle carrier has not scraped on the ground.
Once we figured how to carry our bikes we decided to take steps to keep somebody else from carrying them off. We didn’t need to worry about the receiver hitch because that’s welded to the frame of our RV, but the riser, bike carrier, and the bikes all needed to be secured. We are using this Reese locking hitch pin to keep the riser secured to the receiver hitch.
Our Swagman bike carrier is then secured to the riser with a this special threaded, locking hitch pin which makes for a very snug fit that adds a measure of security over the hitch pin supplied with the carrier. (The Swagman carrier came with a threaded pin but not one that locks.)
In order to secure our bikes with this heavy cable lock I had previously used with my motorcycles I had a local metal fabrication shop make a U from 1/2″ round steel stock, turn it upside down and weld it to the top of the raised receiver adapter. (See photo, below.)
The photo above shows our Ultra-Fab Receiver Mount Protector and Curt riser attached to the hitch receiver with our Reese locking hitch pin. You can see the metal piece (upside down U) I had welded to the top of the riser. This setup protects both our receiver hitch and bike carrier from contact with the ground while providing methods of locking all components to the RV for security. Our cable lock passes through the U allowing us to lock our bikes to the riser.
Another security measure we undertook was to install Pinhead locking skewers on our bikes. This was a no brainer for us and we like them whether or not we are RVing. Locking skewers replace quick release levers that make stealing wheels and seats, or axles and seats that can be removed by simply loosening a nut so easy. With locking skewers and seat retainers special keys are needed to remove the wheels and seats. This slows things down a bit on those occasions when you need to remove a wheel or seat, but at the same time there is no need to make sure you lock your wheels and seat or remove them every time you leave your bike unattended and that is major hassle relief. The Pinhead locking skewer sets we purchased included a lock for the bike seat which removes the worry and hassle involved in securing the seat when away from the bike. Heads-up: there are different Pinhead solutions depending on the kind of axles your bike has so make sure you pick the right one.
Welding burns off some paint which necessitated a little touch up to the riser after we had the steel loop welded onto it. I used some gloss black paint from Rust-Oleum. It’s handy for all kinds of touch-ups on the RV and a little-bitty can like this is easy enough to store.
We feel better about leaving the bikes unattended with the added security provided by our set-up. It’s also easy enough to take the riser along when we move the bike carrier to our truck for outings with our bikes. In other words, by moving the riser to the truck we have a way to lock our bikes when we head for a bike outing without the RV in tow.
Protection From the Elements
It can be nasty outside especially at the front or rear of an RV where the wind and rain batter the front and the wind swirls around in eddies and currents at the back carrying lots of road crud kicked up by all those truck and RV tires as we rocket down the road. Here we are talking about some sort of cover for the bikes in order to minimize damage from the elements. Traveling with a cover on the bikes requires one that is heavy duty because it will inevitably be subjected to high winds. Any cover used while driving may require extra measures to secure it in order to keep it where it belongs and protect it from wind damage. I don’t have a particular recommendation on covers but you can start your search for a heavy duty cover here.
License Plate Visibility
One problem with hitch mounted bicycle carriers is that they can obscure the view of license plates. This is especially true if the bikes have been covered. It’s my understanding that this is, technically, a violation of law in places, probably in most states, and maybe in all of them. A quick Google reveals that people have been cited for having their plates partially or completely obscured by bikes and their carriers. One story I read mentioned that automated license plate readers used by some toll authorities can be impeded by bike carriers and that local law enforcement had been encouraged to ticket people with bike carriers blocking plates. Indeed, the California Vehicle Code § 5201 reads, in part “A casing, shield, frame, border, product, or other device that obstructs or impairs the reading or recognition of a license plate by an electronic device operated by state or local law enforcement, an electronic device operated in connection with a toll road, high-occupancy toll lane, toll bridge, or other toll facility…shall not be installed on, or affixed to, a vehicle.” Another example of government creating a problem then penalizing the citizenry for the problem they created. Government run amock. This problem argues for a ladder or pin box mounted rack, or relocating the license plate which is what we chose to do.
As you can see there are many things that may need to be considered if one is to bring their bicycles along with the RV. It took a long time and a lot of doing to arrive at the solutions we did and putting together this article was no small effort either. With the exception of the ladder mount bike rack we actually purchased and use all of the specific items I wrote about above. If you think any of them might also work for and if you appreciate all the work that’s gone into creating this article (as well as the rest of this blog) please use the links provided should you decide to purchase any of the items from Amazon. I may earn a small commission if you use my links and it won’t cost you any more at all. Thanks.
Here is a product list for easy reference:
Swagman RV Approved Traveler XC2 Bicycle Carrier (35 lbs. per bike)
Swagman RV Approved Dispatch Hitch Bike Carrier (45 lbs. per bike)
Swagman RV Approved Escapee Hitch Bike Carrier (60 lbs. per bike)
Swagman RV Approved Ladder Carrier (35 lbs. per bike)
Swagman RV Approved Around the Spare Deluxe Bike Carrier
Swagman RV Approved Original 4 Hitch Bike Rack
Swagman RV Approved 4-Bike Bumper Rack
Swagman RV Approved Bumper Adapter (attaches a 2″ receiver hitch to an RV bumper)
Ultra-Fab Receiver Mount Protector
Skid Wheels ( I once had rubberized wheels that broke–couldn’t take the weight)
Curt Raised Receiver Adapter
Reese locking hitch pin
Swagman threaded, locking hitch pin
Heavy duty Kryptonite Cable Lock
Pinhead locking skewers
Rust-Oleum Gloss Black Paint, 8 oz.