Airstream travel with bicycles

Got a bike or two to carry on your Airstream travels? Then you've encountered one of the most common conundrums for Airstream trailer owners: where to put the bikes. Just this week, Wendy T asked:

“We purchased our first Airstream in June this year.  We are avid cyclists and are wondering if you sell a bike rack you can attached to the Airstream?  And if not, how do most people transport their bikes?”

If you've got a motorhome the answer is pretty easy: get a rear hitch-mounted bike rack. It will block access to the rear door on an Interstate or Atlas, but some racks are designed to swing away so that's less of an issue.

If you've got an Airstream trailer, the problem is a little trickier. You've got several possible ways to consider, and all of them come with compromises. Let's run through the options:

1. Rooftop bike carrier on the truck

Roof racks are numerous and easy to find for just about any vehicle, but the height of most tow vehicles means you'll need a step stool to be able to get them on and off. This is a hassle for anyone who's vertically-challenged.

2. Rear receiver on the Airstream.

You can have a receiver fitted to your Airstream for the purposes of carrying a bike rack, and use any hitch-mounted bike rack you like.

This is my personal favorite approach, but it comes with a cost. You can't just slap a receiver tube on the Airstream and expect it to hold up. The weight of a rack plus two bicycles can easily be 100 pounds and that weight hanging off the back of the trailer's frame can eventually cause serious damage as it bounces down the road, if you cut corners on the installation.

To do this right requires some engineering. The load needs to be spread out across two or more ribs of the Airstream's steel frame, and some of the frame will need to be reinforced. This means the rear belly pan has to come off and custom metal work will need to be done.

Also, trailers with power stabilizer jacks will present a complication, as the jack mechanism runs directly across the path of the receiver tube. For my trailer, the installer designed a bridge under the stabilizer jack mechanism to allow the receiver to be bolted to multiple points on the frame.

Still, if you're willing to spend a few bucks on a good custom installation, this is a very versatile arrangement. With a standard receiver-mounted bike rack you can carry bikes on the truck when not towing, or on the Airstream when towing.

3.  Front receiver hitch on the truck.

Some trucks can be fitted with receiver hitches on the front, which means you can mount a bike rack up front, too. The main downside of this strategy are that your bikes may block the lights or even impede visibility, which can be dangerous. Also, your precious bikes will be very exposed to road debris, etc., during towing and that will probably "age" the bikes prematurely.

4.  In the truck bed

It's pretty easy to dump your bikes in the truck bed and just call it good, if you have plenty of space and don't mind the bikes shifting around. But most people have other things to carry on a trip, and serious cyclists don't want to risk scuffing and other damage to the bikes. A truck bed-mounted rack is a good option to consider if you've got space to spare.

5. Above the truck bed

If you've got a hard tonneau cover on the truck bed, you can sometimes add a bike rack above it. Usually these racks attach to the rails (sides) of the truck bed. This is a popular option. As with the rooftop carrier, you may need a stepstool to easily get the bikes on and off.

6. Inside the trailer

In some Airstreams (those with rear hatches like the Basecamp and the now-discontinued Eddie Bauer, Pendleton, Pan America, Tommy Bahama 27FB, and others) you'll find D-rings for securing gear. In those trailers it's easy to carry bikes indoors. But in many cases you'll have to remove the bikes upon arrival in order to have any interior space to move around. That means you still need a secure storage spot at your campsite.

I wouldn't recommend just tossing the bikes inside for travel. They'll undoubtedly shift around and it's quite likely that they'll get grease on something, or the upholstery could get torn by the gears. In a pinch, you can get an old blanket to completely wrap the bikes and put them on the bed—they're a little less likely to move around when they're lying on their side on the bed.

7. Rear of the trailer (Fiamma "Carry Bike" mount)

Some years ago Airstream teamed up with Fiamma to co-develop a unique bike carrier designed to fit 1969-to-current Airstream trailers with aluminum bumpers. This is a "permanent" installation because it requires some drilling, but it's also a very convenient way to carry bikes on a trailer.

The other downsides of the Fiamma rack are that it's fairly expensive at $545 plus installation, it will definitely block access to the bumper storage, and it may block access to a rear compartment (if your trailer has one) or the rear emergency exit window.

Mary L. also added some complexity with this question:

“How can we transport electric bikes with our Airstream? We have a Fiamma rack on our 2014 25-foot Flying Cloud that works perfectly with our "regular" bikes, but two ebikes riding on it would exceed the stated weight limit for Fiamma, and I wouldn't want to test that limit, given others' experiences. Is there a known other solution?”

Mary is right: the rear-mounted Fiamma rack has a carrying capacity of 75 pounds. Depending on the brand, e-bikes generally range between about 38 and 70 pounds—so a Fiamma rack is suited for a single bike weighing in at about 50 pounds and an additional “regular” bike. You'd need to stow your second e-bike in the truck bed or inside the trailer when you tow.

So carrying bikes isn't always simple, but there are good options. The "best" option is the one that suits your particular style, bikes, and Airstream.

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