Features May 2019 Issue

Stowing Bicycles on Boats

For the coastal cat sailor who wants their bike always ready, a deck-mounted rack works fine.

One of the blessings of a multihull is its wide expanse of deck space that opens up possibilities that you might not consider on a monohull—like a bike rack. No, you don’t want to cross the Atlantic with a ye ol’ Raleigh strapped to the pulpit, but for bay cruising, a rack will work—especially on a multihull.

Folding bikes are great (see adjacent story), but conventional bikes are cheaper, and since we’re staying close to home, do we really want to buy another bike? Finally, kids and guests don’t have folding bikes. With a rack they can bring what they have and are accustomed to. Folding bikes have their place, but a bike rack can provide alternatives.

We’ve seen racks on the stern quarter, just barely out of the way of the spinnaker sheets. The bikes must come off and the rack arms lowered for docking. However, the users stayed on the hook most of the time. Even heeled hard over, the wheels stayed dry, since spray and water don’t often come over that quarter.

Are the bikes safe in a storm? While breaking waves in a serious storm might pose a risk to both the bikes and the railing they are attached to (take the wheels off and store the bikes below for the duration), ordinary brisk weather and squalls are no concern. Bike racks are made to withstand highways speeds and potholes. Just secure the bikes as you would on your car.

Curiously, there are few marine bike rack products to choose from, and few targeted at sailboats. But as avid cyclists, we didn’t let that stop us.

The conversion of a conventional bicycle rack for cars into one for boats didn’t take too much tinkering.

DIY Rack

We didn’t start from scratch. Although we had a shed full of racks we didn’t use anymore, they weren’t quite what we wanted. We liked the original Rhode Gear Shuttle, because it folded flat and because we could easily modify it. Although it is no longer in production, it may have been the most popular model ever, and as a result, they are common on the overstock and secondhand market. We paid $12, but we see many listed for $25-40.

The arms, upper, and lower braces all meet in a notched swivel joint. Remove the upper arm, which would normally brace against the rear window of the car, and replace it with a pair of hooks to fit over the stern rail. We cut ours from 3/4-inch exterior plywood and kept them painted, but they could be bent from tubing or cut from fiberglass sheet. The lower leg brace rests against a stanchion. Straps anchor to the stanchion base. The resulting rack is very light, compact, secure, and quite stiff.

Bikes are lashed on in the customary manner. Initially, we added some extra straps in the most violent weather, but we soon realized that the motion of a boat is less violent that a car and the extra straps weren’t needed.

Oregon-based Bike Friday
Photo by Drew Frye (top, Darrell Nicholson (bottom)

Oregon-based Bike Friday specializes in folding bikes for travelers. Several models cater to sailors, and the company also makes folding tandems, electric-assist bikes and a range of touring accessories.


Featuring a notched pivot similar to the old Rhode Gear Shuttle line, it is easy to adjust and sturdy. If you have a swim platform it may be a drop-in solution.

Bottom line: We’ve seen them on power boats, but not on sailboats. $400.

Boater’s Bike Rack.

We saw these on a number of trawlers, with wide side decks and bulwarks, and the owners liked them. They could simply unfasten the bike and roll it off. But the side deck location, with handlebars and seats to snag sheets, seemed like a non-starter for most sailors.

Perhaps a cover over the bike would solve the snagging problems on some boats. However, between early research and final editing, the company has gone silent and the web page vanished. Only this video remains: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wC6FuAT38sk.

Bottom Line: You can accomplish the same thing with lifeline padding (either DIY stitched or from any chandlery) and some ties.

DIY Rack.

We used our rack through many cruises, and it was still going strong when we passed it along to the new boat owners. See “DIY Rack” sidebar for details. We like the compactness customizing affords, but it does require some fiddling. $10-$40.

Bottom Line: Our Best Buy and Best Choice, depending on your DIY skills.


If you have a swim platform and sail protected waters, the Cyclegrip rack may be a drop-in solution. If space permits, the rear deck or side deck may work for you.

Otherwise, and if a suitable rail location can be identified, it’s time to dig out your tinkering hat and modify a commercial rack. We like the Rhode Gear Shuttle because it folds flat and is easy to modify. For offshore voyaging, or long-term liveaboard, a folding or full-size bike stowed below would be our first pick.

Comments (1)

While I race sailboats, rather than cruise, I also used to race bicycles. When I retired from that I converted my old racing bike for ease of transport. A standard road bike with S & S Couplings can be reassembled in a couple of minutes but the frame can be broken down so that things can be stored and transported easily. If you have a hatch big enough for full size bicycle wheels, you can fit the whole frame in there. If I were on the ocean I might have the inside of the frame tubes painted. It's best to have the couplings installed on an old bike by a frame builder. Look up S and S Machine dot com and Bicycle Torque Couplings.

Posted by: DaveChicago | May 4, 2019 10:09 AM    Report this comment

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