The best ways to carry bicycles with your Airstream

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.

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 Rangeline, but some racks are designed to swing away so that's less of an issue. With Rangeline and Interstate 24X, mounting systems are available to tie down your bikes inside, if you want.

If you've got an Airstream trailer, the problem is trickier. You've got several possible methods to consider, and all of them come with compromises. Let's run through the best options, from our favorite to least-favorite.

1. Bike carrier in the truck bed, or on a tonneau cover

Roof racks are numerous and easy to find for just about any truck, but carrying bikes in the truck bed takes up useful space you may need for other things.

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. The height of most tow vehicles means you may need a step stool to be able to get them on and off. This is a hassle for anyone who's vertically-challenged, and really difficult for heavy e-bikes.

Advantage:

  • wide selection of bike racks to choose from

Disadvantages:

  • takes up space in the truck bed
  • you may need a step stool to easily get the bikes on and off
  • access to the truck bed will be restricted by a tonneau-cover bike rack

2. Inside the trailer

In some Airstream trailers (those with rear hatches like the Basecamp and the now-discontinued Eddie Bauer, Pendleton, Pan America, Tommy Bahama 27FB, and others) you'll find tie-down systems. They make it easy to carry bikes inside.

Advantages:

  • bikes are protected from weather and theft
  • low-cost option

Disadvantages:

  • bikes block access to other things and have to be removed while camping
  • makes short rest stops inconvenient

3.  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 better choice.

Advantage:

  • usually the cheapest option

Disadvantages:

  • front wheels may have to be removed from the bikes
  • takes up valuable truck bed space
  • risk of damage to bikes if a rack is not used, or if other cargo is in the bed

4. 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 receiver-mounted bike rack you like.

This has been my personal approach in the past, 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 several 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, including welding.

Still, if you're willing to spend the bucks on a good custom installation, this is a very versatile arrangement.

Advantages:

  • wide selection of receiver-mounted bike racks to choose from
  • easy loading / unloading of bikes
  • you can use the same bike rack on the truck, when not towing

Disadvantages:

  • custom installation required, which gets very expensive!
  • risk of damaging the Airstream if the hitch is not designed and installed well
  • excessive weight added to the back of the Airstream will impact your hitch weight, which can be hazardous

5.  Front receiver on the truck

Some trucks can be fitted with receivers on the front, which means you can mount a bike rack up front, too. 

Advantages:

  • wide selection of receiver-mounted bike racks to choose from
  • easy loading / unloading of bikes

Disadvantages:

  • your bikes may block the lights or even impede visibility, which can be dangerous
  • bikes will be very exposed to road debris, etc. during towing, which will probably "age" the bikes prematurely. A cover would be recommended.

6. 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.

Advantage:

  • convenient loading and unloading of bikes

Disadvantages:

  • permanent installation -- requires drilling holes in your Airstream
  • professional installation recommended
  • blocks access to bumper storage
  • may block access to rear storage hatch or rear emergency exit window
  • low (75 lb) weight rating -- may be overloaded by e-bikes
  • doesn't fit Basecamp trailers, or Airstreams without rear bumpers (Sport, Bambi)

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

8 comments

Mark Kleparek

Mark Kleparek

Check out the Futura GP RV Bike Rack on Amazon. Mounts to A frame and bikes ride above propane tanks. Pricey at $599, but could be a problem solver for many.

Mark Levin

Mark Levin

I was in the process of ordering a Hitch from Forklift custom designed for Airstream. All good until I tried to purchase a bike rack. Every company says they DO NOT recommend their product to be installed on a travel trailer. They say that the vibration and sway will weaken the metal and lead to eventual failure of the connection of the rack to the receiver. Very Disappointed. Dont know what to do, I guess I will be loading my ebikes in the airstream as we have no room in the TV.

Rich Luhr

Rich Luhr

Mark, don’t give up just yet! There are bike racks that are suitable for “RV use”. Some manufacturers explicitly state this, while others are just good quality products that hold up over time.

The Thule Helium Pro is an excellent choice, for example. It’s lightweight because it’s made of aluminum and well-built, from a manufacturer with a long reputation for bike racks. We have used this rack on our truck and Airstream for two years, with excellent results.

Jacqueline

Jacqueline

What about a bike carrier that slides over your hitch receiver such as the Surco ABR 200 Slide over

Rich Luhr

Rich Luhr

Jacqueline, I could not find any info on Surco model number ABR200. However, the Surco BRS300 might work for some folks who can make it fit. I think for most people the power hitch jack and/or hitch components will prevent using that “slide over” design.

Kevin Robinson

Kevin Robinson

What is your thoughts on the Torklift hitch for a shorter 22ft Caravel? Is front end separation an issue for shorter Airstreams?
Planning for regular mountain bike not E bike towing

Rich Luhr

Rich Luhr

Kevin: We have no experience with the Torklift hitch so I can’t offer a comment there.

Any Airstream can suffer front-end separation, but it’s less likely with short trailers. For your 22 footer the risk should be minimal. A pair of regular mountain bikes shouldn’t be too much weight at the rear of the trailer.

Bill Walls

Bill Walls

It seems as though the Torklift hitch is specifically designed for the Airstream. That being said, I don’t see why it would require any special welding. I am considering a Torklift hitch with the Hollywood rack to carry our two e-bikes on the rear of our 22’ Bambi. Thoughts?

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