Whether this year's vacation includes cycling as a short side venture, or the bike's the reason for the trip, your car needs as much time and thought invested in preparation as you and your bike. A vehicle emergency costs time and money, and will shorten or end a much-anticipated trip. Where you go and when you're going dictate pre-trip car care, but there are steps to follow regardless of your destination to ensure a safe, smooth ride to the races, resorts, trails, or scenic routes you choose for your two-wheeled rides.
Bicycle tourism is a fast-growing aspect of American outdoor vacation: more than 60 million Americans cycle for recreation every year, spending over $70 billion in trip-related spending when they take their bikes on vacation. Their contribution to local, more rural economies and state and national parks has encouraged more communities to open their roads to riders.
Your auto repair skills may be lacking, but you need a basic roadside car care/safety kit in your trunk. Create the kit yourself or buy an all-in-one version, including jumper cables, cross wrench, pliers, two-in-one screwdriver, air compressor, tire pressure gauge, insulation tape, warning sign or triangle, emergency lamp with a strobe setting, fuses, insulated gloves, water, motor oil, coolant and fire extinguisher. These materials and tools, packaged in a hard plastic case and sealed in leak proof bags, will save your trip when a small situation arises, or save your life during a major emergency.
A well-stocked first aid kit can save a day's ride; a car without one means time away from your destination in favor of time and money spent in a medical clinic. The plastic case keeps everything you need neat: adhesive tape, gauze pads, antiseptic wipes, scissors, tweezers, elastic and small bandages, small plastic bags (fill with ice for bruises), anti-diarrhea pills, antibacterial and antihistamine creams, eye drops and cotton swabs.
Sitting on the side of the road is not the time to find out your spare tire's out of air or punctured. Check the inflation before you leave home, and know its mileage, weight and speed limit usage. Remember, your bike, gear and luggage add stress to the spare, which decreases its standard functionality.
When was the last time you had a mechanic perform a wheel alignment and balance? If it's been more than 6,000 miles or six months, it's time to get this done. Get the tire pressures checked, and know how to read them; the proper pressure is listed in the owner's manual, the tire sidewall or on a sticker on the driver's side door jam. Riding on low tires with the added weight of bike, gear and luggage can result in a blowout.
Do you know where your oil dipstick is? Do you know why coolant level matters, even in cold weather? When you're scraping bugs and grime off your windshield in the hundred-plus degree desert heat, will you hate yourself because you forgot to check the windshield washer fluid? Know your car's proper fluid levels, how to replace them and when it's time to get a mechanic's assistance.
Before you spend big bucks on a car bike rack, ask your fellow cyclists about racks they've used for their rides. Check with your vehicle manufacturer if there is an aftermarket rack available for your car's make and model; it's probably pricier than what you find online or in a sporting goods store, but it's designed to fit your car correctly. You won't spend hours forcing it to "fit" or paying a bike shop to modify it, possibly damaging your vehicle in the process. If you're traveling as a family, with multiple bikes on a large rack, check with your vehicle manufacturer for which type of rack (roof vs. trunk vs. hitch) provides the most efficient option in terms of price, capacity and automotive performance. Practice proper bike placement on the rack and drive around town, ensuring you can see what's behind you, the bike's secure and you won't lose your bike or bumper during the trip.
Many cyclists enjoy riding in new places and on roads less traveled. The attraction is less traffic, more time to meet the locals and the opportunity to contribute to local businesses. Do some homework before the trip, so you know the location and hours of full-service gas stations, tire centers and body shops. Confirm your information upon arrival in town, and when you need emergency service, you're confident, not confused.
Whether by conscious decision or sudden lack of choice, you, your bike and your car may park in a desolate location for a night or more. Depending on the destination and travelers, customize a "bug-out" bag for survival in your vehicle until help or daylight arrives.