What Car For Mountain Biking?

by 57

Hannah wrangles with the question ‘What car for mountain biking?’… and camping trips, and family holidays, and #mumtaxi…

I do not like cars, or driving. I would happily live without a car, but the reality for me is that it makes life very difficult – I have tried. Admittedly, I’ve been forced to try as my car broke down and no one has quite worked out how to fix it yet. I’ve had an electric cargo bike to hand for the duration, but there are some things it can’t do – like transport both my kids at the same time, or take us all to Scotland, or into the Yorkshire Dales for a camping weekend.

As it turns out, it is possible to transport a bike on a cargo bike, but that’s not a practical solution to me getting to test trails and photoshoots that are 40miles or so away. Yes, I could hire something each time I need to get somewhere, but then there’s the booking, and the journey to collect it from the rental place, and the general time consumption that goes with not having a car to hand in a semi-rural setting. My life is logistically complicated enough without filling it with bus, train and car hire schedules. And so, I’ve reluctantly admitted I need to be a car owner.

What car for mountain biking
Wide load tassles

If I’m going to have a car for convenience, it may as well be convenient. That means something that comfortably sits four adults, ideally five, plus luggage. Tall adults need to be able to sit in the back because my travel sick kids need to sit in the front. In an ideal world, tall adults need to be able to sleep in the back (it saves a fortune on hotels and takes the risk out of wet British camping). Putting bikes inside it is a huge plus – with all the different test bikes I ride, plus e-bikes, lifting a bike onto a roof rack is a bit tricky. There’s all the adjusting of the rack to make it fit the length of the bike, or the tyre size, and figuring out where on the frame to clamp it, and then you can’t get into car parks. A tow bar rack would be better, but then bikes tend to stick out the sides of the car, which freaks me out. It’s probably all irrational bad logic, but I am rack-averse. For the big family trip with everyone and a tent in the car a rack would be OK, but for my daily life I’d rather not have the hassle.

These days my miles are almost exclusively semi urban sub 40mph, so I want a petrol (or hybrid) engine. I don’t do that many miles, so fuel efficiency isn’t too critical, but it would be nice if it was reasonably efficient. I don’t give a hoot about how it corners, or accelerates. I’d like it not to be cream fabric on the inside because I’m not even grown up enough to wear white t-shirts. I’d like it not to break down, and I need spare parts to cost less than body parts, so I’m (on the basis of fairly spurious thinking) I’m looking at less than 80,000 miles and newer than 2004.

Must Have

  • Less than 80,000 miles
  • Space for 4 adults with leg room

Really Want

  • Room for a bike inside (easily, without lots of dismantling)
  • Room to sleep
  • Petrol or hybrid engine

Nice To Have

  • Room to roll a whole bike or two inside, maybe removing front wheel
  • Dark interior
  • Fold away seats
  • Chain driven engine
  • Tow bar mount/roof bars/bike rack ready
  • Lift up boot (for rain cover and picnics!)
  • Cruise control for long journeys

I’ve agonised, I’ve googled, I’ve browsed the forums and Gumtree and Autotrader and Facebook and a bunch of small car dealers’ websites. I’ve made a decision, gone to bed, and woken up to revisit my choice all over again. Maybe this round of up deliberations, dismissals and indecision will help you make a choice while sleeping more soundly.

In terms of budget, I’m looking to spend less than £8k. There are definitely some options up at the £20k mark that would suit me nicely if I was going for a camper van style affair, but between those two price points I don’t feel like there’s very much to be gained from spending £14k instead of £7.5k. Sure, there’s more choice, it would be a bit newer, it might have heated leather seats, but these are things I can happily live without. So, budget corner, here we come.

Big Options, with camper potential

I did entertain the idea of going big – getting something I could fit a proper bed into and kitting it out with a few home comforts for weekends away. Maybe I’ll do that in a few years’ time, but right now they’re a bit costly for the amount of days a year I’d use a bed etc.

Volkswagen T5/T4

What car for mountain biking
Spot the T5

No, this is not the answer. Not on my income anyway. Go for your life if you can afford it, they’re popular for a reason, although I do hear you can expect to do plenty of repairs to keep them going.

Ford Transit

What car for mountain biking
Less rusty than many actual Transits

There are petrol options, but they’re rarer than unicorns and out of my price range. In diesel, a double cab transit custom, or even one of the mini bus style vans might well do me, but finding something in budget that isn’t thrashed and made of rust is a challenge. Invariably when looking at ads I’d find something that looked promising, check the MOT history, and discover an ever increasing line up of corrosion warnings.

Vauxhall Vivaro

What car for mountain biking
Popular as camper conversions

The double cab version would do, but it’s about £12k for a diesel one at the upper end of my 80,000 miles target. If you’ve got the money to spend and you really need the bigger van, the Vivaro squeaks in a little cheaper than the Transit equivalent.

If you’re dead set on a camper conversion, then you should check out the Van Grrls feature in Singletrack Magazine Issue 131 – if you’re going to live in your van, you’d best get the choice of motor right!

The Buy What You’ve Got Option

Citreon Berlingo

This is what I’ve got. If it hadn’t broken, I’d have carried on driving it until the government offered me a scrap your diesel deal. Now that I have to look around, a tiny bit more comfort for adults in the back would be welcome, and I’d like to leave diesel behind – I don’t do as many motorway trips as I did when I first got this.

What car for mountain biking
Micro camping, or something.

Plus:

  • You can fit bikes in it, whole
  • You can sleep in it
  • You can put bikes and a rocket box on top for big trips
  • 3 individual back seats for flexible permutations

Minus:

  • Mostly available in diesel
  • For easiest bike fitting, you need to take a seat out – and store it somewhere
  • Basic interiors, very van like
  • Good luck finding one that’s petrol and isn’t a wheelchair conversion!
  • Rear rack options are poor. Invest in a stool to reach the roof.

Apart from the fact that I’ve got one sitting on my drive making me a little bit depressed every time I look at it, there’s not a lot not to like here. I’ve got the XTR trim, which is definitely a bit more comfortable and less rattly than the more basic Berlingo options. I’ve had it for nearly 10 years, I think I’m ready for a change rather than a duplicate. Unless I spot a petrol powered bargain!

See also: Peugot Partner, Fiat Doblo, Ford Tourneo

These are much of a muchness, although some come with a rear double bench seat instead of 3 single ones. If you do need to take out the seats to store them, the larger bench seat might prove tricker to stash at home, and some options will need tools to remove the seats.

What car for mountain biking? My Shortlist

Honda Stepwagon

Plus:

  • You can fit bikes in it, whole
  • You can sleep in it (the seats folds flat-ish)
  • A zillion seat permutations, and no cramped seats
  • Rear side fold seats mean you get bike space without having to remove seats completely and store them
  • Lots of luxuries inside on some models (some are pretty basic too!)

Minus:

  • You might have to pay extra to get in undersealed (as rust protection), to have the display changed from kms to miles, or to have the radio and sat nav switched to UK compatible options (or buy a km to miles display converter off ebay and live without music!).
  • Lots of cream interiors if you buy through a dealer
  • Some seat style options don’t fit a bike so easily
  • Still quite pricey for the age of car you’re getting
  • You’ll need to use a specialist broker to get insurance or the quotes will be silly

Finding the right price/age/interior/milage combination is really about the only thing stopping me going out and getting one of these, and Andi already has one. Some have suggested they can be difficult to get servicing and spares for, but Andi hasn’t struggled so far, and their growing popularity with people in ULEZ neighbourhoods means they’re increasingly popular. A little less thirsty than the also-rans from other brands, and some of the Honda models have the chain driven engine instead of a cam belt. One less expensive job. The 7 seater options are easier for slotting a bike in whole, and unless you go for a higher end model you might feel that you’re not getting a lot for your money compared to the Berlingo type options. But find a 7 seater with comfy captain’s seats and these are an attractive prospect.

See also: Toyota Voxy, Toyota Alphard, Toyota Noah, Nissan Elgrand, Mazda Bongo, Nissan Serena

The bigger engines of the Alphard and Elgrand can be rather thirsty and fuel inefficient, although the space and comfort inside these models is impressive. Watch out for some of the middle seat permutations – if you want to put a bike in whole you want to be able to slot a bike between the middle row seats. The Mazda Bongo is so popular as a camper conversion that you’ll struggle to find one that isn’t already converted, but browsing should certainly illustrate that they can be coaxed into lasting around 30 years. The Nissan Serena doesn’t tick the Toyota/Honda reputation boxes, but has the space you’re looking for.

Toyota Estima

The joy of car shopping was getting to me.

Another import option, a little smaller than the minivan options above, but in a 7 seater version you’ll squeeze your bike in whole with some careful manoeuvring. The rear aperture isn’t as tall as the minivans, so you need a bit of a wiggle to get your bars in without dismantling your bike. It’s available in hybrid and petrol options, though you may need to travel back in time a bit to get a cheap one.

Plus:

  • You can fit bikes in it, whole
  • You can sleep in it (the seats folds flat-ish)
  • A zillion seat permutations, good leg room in middle row
  • Rear seats fold completely into the floor
  • Lots of luxuries inside

Minus:

  • You might have to pay extra to get in undersealed (as rust protection), to have the display changed from kms to miles, or to have the radio and sat nav switched to UK compatible options (or buy a km to miles display converter off ebay and live without music!).
  • Lots of cream interiors
  • There’s a lip on the opening of the boot, so you can’t sit there to change your shoes!
  • Still quite pricey for the age of car you’re getting
  • Difficult to get a bike rack or roof bars for, not all models take a tow bar
  • You’ll need to use a specialist broker to get insurance or the quotes will be silly

Peugot 5008

Image credit: Autotrader

Plus:

  • Proper seats for everyone, no benches
  • Split boot door for easy access
  • A car, with car comforts
  • Fold flat seats (no need to store out of the car to get a bike in)

Minus:

  • Fold flat seats eat up height – you’ll likely have to lower droppers and take off wheels.
  • Room to sleep is limited if you’re tall
  • Rear-most seats have very limited leg room.
  • Petrol is twice the price of diesel version
  • You’ll need to use a specialist broker to get insurance or the quotes will be silly

The petrol powered ones are pretty much the same price as the Stepwagons. If I spotted a bargain diesel option – maybe with roof bars and/or tow bar – I might be tempted to accept the slight faff of bike dismantling, and the diesel maintenance issues.

Ford S-Max and Galaxy

Credit: Autotrader

Plus:

  • Careful packing and you’ll get plenty in
  • Pretty cheap if you go diesel
  • Car, not van based, so more comforts

Minus:

  • A bit of a squeeze with adults and bikes
  • No one really wants to sit in the rear-most seats
  • A little short for sleeping

A bit easier to find than the 5008, there are plenty of these around in diesel guise. I should probably place these higher up my want list than I do, and like the 5008 if I saw a great deal on something with low miles and maybe a nice wipe clean interior, I could be tempted to be practical.

Honda CRV

Credit: Autotrader

Plus

  • Proper seats for everyone
  • A car, with car comforts
  • Fold flat seats (no need to store out of the car to get a bike in)
  • Great reputation for reliability
  • Chain driven, no cam belt
  • Available in petrol and hybrid options

Minus

  • Fits a bike bag easily, but not a bike with wheels on
  • A little short for sleeping, although some more recent models offer more space thanks to clever fold flat seats

My dad is on his second one of these, and since he’s a better class of taxi driver he’s looking for comfort and reliability combined with efficiency. It’s a really nice car to be in and feels roomy. There are some petrol options to be had at reasonable mileages and for £1-£1.5k less than an older Stepwagon you could pick one of these up, especially if it’s been through a few owners. Tow bar conversions are simple to get, as are roof bars, so a bike rack and/or roof box should be an easy option if you need the space for bigger trips.

How To Choose A Good Car

I know practically nothing about cars and this is the first time I’ve been responsible for choosing and buying one. You probably already know lots more than me, but in case you don’t, here are some useful things I’ve learnt.

Check the MOT history

It’s free and easy to go to this website and check out the MOT history of a car. You’ll be able to see if there were lots of advisories in the past, and discern a pattern of whether the owner fixes them, or just does the essentials to get past an MOT. You’ll also be able to see the mileage if it’s not listed in the advert.

Look at the engine

This sounds really silly, but I would have thought there’s no point in looking at an engine if you don’t know what it all does. However, if someone really looks after their car, the engine will be clean with no dust and oily bits. Sure, you can clean all that up as a one off, but it takes some doing. If it’s all mucky, it’s probably not been shown quite as much love as a shiny one.

Is it big enough?

If you’re wondering whether there’s room to sleep in a car, I found this handy site that sells mattress kits for cars – you can use the configurator to see whether you would need a 200cm or 180cm mattress according to their recommendations. Taller folks will likely want to eliminate the 180cm options from their search.

Test drive it and listen

When you’ve found something you think you like, test drive it at different speeds and listen out for weird noises or clonks. Think about how your neighbour’s nice high end lease car sounds compared to your bangernomics bargain.

None of that will guarantee that you don’t buy something that gives up or requires a pile of work, but it should increase your chances of getting to the trails and mountains without an unfortunate tow truck incident.

Slightly scary?

What have we got?

The Singletrack Staff have an eclectic collection of vehicles, and varied advice on the ‘What car for mountain biking’ front:

I ran a succession of £300 Mondeos for decades. You can get 3 bikes and 3 bikers in one of those. When a limited budget was removed from my buying decision (it’s a bike shop tax thing), I went straight to a new VW T6 4Motion van. It has an excellent £600 bed conversion from www.flatoutcamperbeds.co.uk.

A £600 VW 4 bike rear rack on the back and is four-wheel drive. The 4WD is great for escaping muddy campsites. The rear rack has only ever been used for drying tea towels and board shorts. The rack has never carried a bike, as there is so much room inside, which is handy, as it was my home for about 3 months when I started to “successfully complete my marriage”… aka get divorced. My advice is to go cheap and get a high mileage executive spec Mondeo type car or go full bore and get what you really want. The area between these two options is too confusing to bother with.

Charlie

I used to be a petrol head, back in the dark days before I had discovered bikes. Around the time I got my first mountain bike I had a sporty (impractically lowered) VW Polo with wheels that cost as much as a decent carbon trail bike. I put a roof rack on, and in my new-rider ignorance I advertised my bike to all of town with my very recognisable car. From there, I bought a VW Caddy and kept it looking generic. No biking stickers, blacked out rear windows with metal plates behind for safety. I then spent a year choosing to be car free, and I coped just fine thanks to my lack of dependants.

More time has passed, and I now own 50% of a LWB T5. It’s not a tidy looking van, we don’t clean it, we don’t plan to install windows, and we don’t intend to remove the previous owner’s construction sticker from the bonnet because it helps it blend in and not look like it contains bikes. My advice is not to be precious about your vehicle, don’t try to turn heads. If my budget was lower I’d be in an estate, making sure the back seats fold fully flat for the times I can’t be bothered putting a tent up. A car only needs to get you there and back safely, and store valuables. Tents are cosy.

Amanda

I once got three downhill bikes and three people in a red Ford KA. You don’t always need a big car, it’s what you do with it. Also, being good at Tetris helps. Saying that I now have a huge van with a ramp. I know which one I prefer!

Lauren

I had a succession of large estate cars in the noughties. Old Volvo estate, a Citroen BX estate, Sierra estate, Mondeo estate, Skoda estate. All of them, apart from the Volvo cost less than £1000. The BX I swapped for some forks, the Sierra was £800, the Mondeo I swapped for some tyres, the Skoda was £700… They came to me in various states of repair and interior (some pristine, some less so) but they all left me for the scrapyard full of mud, dog hairs and Ginsters wrappers. I was like some kind of car hospice where they all came to me at the end of their lives and were cared for and looked after, but weren’t getting out the other side.

My tip would be to ask around – relatives, co-workers and non-mountain bikers to see if anyone is getting shot of a car. What might be too big a car these days for old uncle Bob might be ideal for you. There are a lot of good, higher mileage estate cars out there that the owners don’t know what to do with, so they end up either scrapped or go off to webuyanycar. In many cases, you can get these for a song as they’re not cool, not SUVs, not 4×4, and probably have petrol engines. Shopping for a mountain bike car I’d pick a £1000 estate car with a roof rack every time… As long as you appreciate that you’re unlikely to be selling it to anyone else, you’re good.

Chipps

I’m an electric convert. I’m on my second electric car right now, mostly charged from home via a combination of solar panels and a 100% renewably sourced electricity supplier. High initial cost aside, I love how easy they are to drive and maintain and range anxiety is mostly a red herring. But they suck at carrying bikes, and that’s a problem. Currently they tend to be small and getting bikes inside is a faff. There are no estate electrics yet and very few van like versions. They aren’t designed for towing and so getting a tow bar fitted can be problematic, although not impossible (Chipps has a tow bar on his Tesla 3). Bikes on the roof do no favours for range and typically a journey with bikes will average out to be longer than the average daily use.

But there’s hope! There are vans coming! You can already get an eNV200 Nissan van and VW are bringing out an electric camper next year with 80kwh capacity that should be good for an easy 250 mile round trip. Mercedes has a hybrid van option now too. So electric options for bike fanatics? The answer is not quite yet… But soon.

Mark

What have you got?

If you think you have the perfect mountain biker’s car, let us know. Or maybe the perfect car has been discontinued, like the Nissan Prairie? Head to the comments, or head to the Forum and search back through the many ‘what car’ threads on there.

What did I get?

Erm… none of the above. After being quite settled on the import option, I discovered the insurance was going to crucify me (after years spent as a named driver my no claims bonus is non-existent). An impending family holiday and the high cost of renting meant I panicked, and just bought Amanda’s old Volvo V50 off her. It barely fits a bike in it, doesn’t have great leg room in the back, and it’s a diesel with nearly 130,000 miles on the clock. It does have black leather seats though. I could have saved a lot of lost sleep and internet time if I’d just ignored my wish list and bought it in the first place. Ah well. Hopefully it will roll along nicely until the rest of you get bored of van life and adventure wagons are cheap once more? In the mean time, I’ll try and work on that no claims bonus.

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Viewing 17 posts - 41 through 57 (of 57 total)
  • What Car For Mountain Biking?
  • grahamt1980
    Full Member

    Driving a zafira doesn’t mean you have given up on life.
    It means life has given up on you!
    Second only to qashquais in hatefulness

    TheBrick
    Free Member

    If most journeys are <40miles then EV really could be an option? Range is a bit crap relative to cars but things like the NV250 are 150miles+ which would do all bar long trips (at which point you can either hire something really big like a camper, or car share with someone else going).

    I don’t think the budget is up to EV money. The other issue with hiring for long journeys is it depends a lot on
    #1. How close a good hire center is to you.
    #2. How often you ned to hire.

    The more awkward #1 is the less frequently #2 needs to be.

    jimmy
    Full Member

    Up until I had to get rid, my MkIV Golf Estate was perfect – for me, as a shorter of stature kind with 26″ wheels. 3 bikes (with front wheels off), 3 people and luggage – no bother all in the car. Solo trips, sleeping in the back – no bother. But now, wheels are bigger and bikes are taller so I don’t quite think it would work.

    My closest to ideal would be a Transit Connect car / van thing. If they did a 3 upfront seater it would be perfect for family trips. Can’t remember if I found one or not, been a while since I looked.

    fossy
    Full Member

    Metro GTA was 8v rather than the 16v on the GTI. It was bloody fast (I had one) and was my bike transport.

    Now, both me and my mate have ‘saloon cars’ – not hatches. 4 blokes, 4 big bikes on top and all the kit in the big boot. Works.

    DickBarton
    Full Member

    Assuming you mean the Berlingo-sized Transit Courier then you want a Berlingo-van as that has 3 seats up front (but admittedly it is more like 2-and-just-over-a-half seats up front).

    tom.nash
    Full Member

    Awesome article – I am in exactly the same boat as our ageing diesel Rav4 is spending more and more time in the garage (but does have a tow bar bike rack). Bike theft is mental at the moment so ideally would like to put bike (minus front wheel) into the main vehicle but then fitting in partner, two kids and a dog pretty much makes it impossible without a full on van who’s prices are rocketing. Secondhand market may be good in a year or two once overseas holidays are a viable option again!

    I am looking at a EV estate… the MG5. Decent range in the long range version and and the (Scottish) Government are providing interest free loans for new EVs. Solo trips a bike will go in the back with a bit of faff but full family trip it will still need a bike rack and roof box (and then what will the real world range be…, yet to get a decent answer). If that is still unaffordable then a Octavia estate may be the order of the day.

    Will continue to hunt!

    MKII
    Free Member

    Volvo 240DL

    duncancallum
    Full Member

    Something dull and common

    Any grey import or non normal car can be a pain to find someone to fix it.

    Petrols easier to fix and service.

    teethgrinder
    Full Member

    V50. Kip in it, bike with wheels off in across front seats. Foil-backed bubble wrap in windows, job jobbed.

    chris100
    Full Member

    Subaru Outback all the way

    welshfarmer
    Full Member

    MKII wrote:

    Volvo 240DL

    A good mate of mine has one for sale on his forecourt. May be a little over budget though 🙂

    It really is a mint example though

    http://www.formulacars.co.uk/used-cars/336/volvo-240-glt-estate/

    rob13
    Free Member

    Looking for something at the moment which will satisfy pulling a caravan, put bikes in (all in the caravan at the moment) but still be decent to drive.

    Looking at the price of used vans at present puts me off. Looking for something decent and upto 5 years old so Vito’s are about £25k and T6s over £30k. Lot of cash for few creature comforts..

    I did fancy an A6 or Passat/Superb estate but they’re not useful for carrying children and bikes, it’s one or the other.

    Don’t want to look like I’ve given up on life so Picassos and Zafiras are out. S-Max? Anything else worth looking at?

    DickBarton
    Full Member

    When you say no good for carrying bikes and kids – is that everything inside? Estates are great for kids inside and bikes on (or behind)…

    sing1etrack
    Full Member

    Don’t want to look like I’ve given up on life so Picassos and Zafiras are out.

    I always think that ruling out vehicles that would be really good for chucking loads of stuff in up to allow you to do activities that are fundamentally the opposite of giving up on life, because someone might think you’ve given up on life is a bit daft. Who cares what other people think, embrace the practicality!

    (What you’re looking for is actually a Toyota proace verso or one of its cousins)

    rob13
    Free Member

    I actually like a nice car still, and as it would be the main family motor, then it has to have some appeal. That said, I want to chop my wife’s vehicle in once this one is sorted so I might get something a bit more interesting to replace that.

    When the caravan is on the back of the car, the only option is to carry inside or on top. I’m not a fan of putting them on the roof, the road bike not so much but definitely not lifting 25kg of ebike up there!

    Length of the eSommet is about 120cm with the wheels off. Takes moments to whip them on/off. Usually to carry it anywhere I take it inside with the seats down and one wheel off but that is with me riding solo.

    Pro-ace is still pretty new and with fairly strong prices but look like a decent van.

    eddd
    Free Member

    You don’t want to look like you’ve given up on life, but are happy to be seen with a caravan?!

    SUVs might be a good option, the tall boot means you can get bigger bikes in the right way up and still have 1 or 2 back seats in action. I have an old Outlander that’s good like this, I can fit 2 adult bikes, a trailer and stores in with the back seats split, so room for a child seat still. Something 4×4 based might be better still. Pickup with a solid covered load area?

    DickBarton
    Full Member

    If towing the caravan, keep the bikes in the caravan (as you already are) and job jobbed…

Viewing 17 posts - 41 through 57 (of 57 total)

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