When looking at a bike rack, it stands to reason it could transport many things, including a wheelchair. Of course, could and should are two different things. Even if the wheelchair just needs to go a few blocks down the road.
Can You Put A Wheelchair On A Bike Rack?
The easy answer is: yes, you can put a wheelchair on a bike rack. The more difficult answer is that most bike rack manufacturers don’t recommend it. Many bike racks are designed in such a way that mounting a wheelchair is an option, however.
Transporting a wheelchair—whether for you or someone else—takes some consideration. Trunk space, vehicle type, wheelchair racks, and other options are worth thinking about before forcing a square peg into a round hole.
There are always exceptions to the rules, and while mounting a wheelchair to a bike rack is not recommended. A few bike rack models will accommodate wheelchairs if they’re loaded safely and securely.
That said, you likely won’t be able to put one on a rental vehicle, as many rental companies do not offer bike racks with their vehicles.
What Bike Racks Would Accommodate A Wheelchair?
Not surprisingly, some bike racks are manufactured similarly to wheelchair racks. This is especially true of hitch-mounted and trunk racks:
- Thule: These bike racks will generally hold lightweight wheelchairs, so long as you check the wheelchair’s dimensions.
- Saris: Saris makes a line of bike racks similar to Thule’s trunk racks. The wheelchair mounts by placing its chassis in the same position as a bike’s frame would go, followed by strapping down the arm extensions.
- Stromberg Carlson: These bike racks are hitch-mounted and load like a hitch-mounted wheelchair ramp. The tire brackets will accommodate the width of a wheelchair tire and lock it in place.
The critical thing to remember is that these are bike racks. While they can carry wheelchairs, the manufacturers will not recommend using them as wheelchair racks.
Are Bike Racks Safe?
The same question could be asked about wheelchair racks. Both racks feature similar designs and installation types. When mounted correctly, bike racks are considered safe.
In general, bike racks can hold up to 50lbs in weight. There are heavy-duty options that can hold multiple bikes up to a load of 80lbs. Wheelchairs—specifically lightweight, standard, and heavy-duty—weigh between 15 and 60lbs.
Mounting a 60lbs wheelchair to a bike rack that maxes out at 50lbs, there’s going to be a safety issue. The most secure bike racks are hitch-mounted and (for the purposes of transporting a wheelchair) best suited for security and weight distribution.
Most bike racks are also not designed for excessive speeds, whether carrying a wheelchair or not, and don’t play nicely with speed bumps.
Roof racks, hitch racks, and trunk racks will all have a suggested speed limit under the manufacturer’s guides or warranty, as well as recommended speeds when dealing with speed bumps or offroading.
What Cars Can Fit A Wheelchair?
Any mid-size sedan is more than enough to accommodate a wheelchair. In fact, many mid-size cars have enough trunk space to fit a collapsible wheelchair, such as a Nissan Altima or Honda Accord.
Lightweight wheelchairs are usually collapsible and come with their own carrying case. So if you’re looking at trunk space alone, most four-door cars will have adequate space.
Mid-size sedans, especially with fold-down seats, will be enough to carry heavier and larger wheelchairs without a wheelchair rack. This is also true with both smaller and mid-size vans.
Trucks with plenty of bed space are an obvious choice, but tie-downs are essential to keep the wheelchair from sliding back and forth, causing scratches on the frame or worse.
What Should You Do If A Wheelchair Can’t Fit In Your Car?
Depending on the wheelchair, there are a few options:
- Hitch-mount wheelchair racks: These are designed to attach to a vehicle’s chassis, distributing the weight of the wheelchair and the rack to the vehicle’s strongest points.
- Rooftop carriers: These wheelchair racks are attached to existing transport rails on the roof of a vehicle. The wheelchair is loaded physically or with an automated lift.
- Trunk-mounted wheelchair racks: These racks mount to your trunk and won’t handle heavy wheelchair models.
The hitch-mounted wheelchair racks are most predominant. There aren’t many trunk-mount options for wheelchairs due mainly to the size and weight of a lot of wheelchair models.
Rooftop carriers are great but require physically lifting the wheelchair up and over the roof or purchasing—usually costly—an automated lift.
Motorized Wheelchairs And Bike Racks Don’t Mix
It would be highly inadvisable to mount a motorized wheelchair on a bike rack of any kind, even one that has the extra space. Most motorized wheelchairs are going to exceed the weight limitations of any bike rack.
Bike racks aside, a car’s hitch can handle the weight of a wheelchair rack designed solely for heavier, motorized wheelchairs, most of which are designed as ramps and lifts.
The reverse is certainly an option. Any motorized wheelchair rack will be more than enough to handle even the biggest of mountain bikes.
Due to similar accommodations built into both bike and wheelchair racks, it’s also worth considering that a wheelchair rack would be the more versatile option for obliging bikes and wheelchairs needs.
Is It Illegal To Drive With A Bike Rack?
Of course not, but the question has to be asked and answered simply because how you mount a wheelchair—on any kind of rack—can make it illegal.
Predominantly, state laws require a complete and unobstructed view of the license plate on a registered, legally owned vehicle. However, if you’re mounting a wheelchair on a rack designed for bikes, that could be problematic, depending on how it mounts.
Some states require that caution flags be placed on anything extending out more than a certain length from the back of a vehicle. Therefore, it’s a good idea to check local and state laws to determine if mounting a wheelchair exceeds the limit.
If you live in a state where bike racks are not allowed to obscure even a portion of a vehicle’s license plate, there are a few alternatives:
- Relocate the license plate: Of course, state laws are different, and most likely, the license plate should be completely visible, illuminated at night, and located on the back of the vehicle.
- Temp plates: Useful for short-term transportation, not for permanent placement.
- Try out different bike racks: While not the most cost-friendly approach, mounting a wheelchair to a bike rack may necessitate a new bike rack that doesn’t allow the wheelchair to obscure the tags.
It may be that a wheelchair can fit safely and securely on a bike rack. But due to the size and shape differences of the two, issues of legality are worth exploring before heading out.
While bike racks aren’t designed for wheelchairs, many people use them effectively and safely, despite the obligatory warnings from bike rack manufacturers.
However, if the bike rack design accommodates a wheelchair, ensuring that it is safely mounted and secured is paramount. In addition, pay attention to local laws and ordinances concerning bike racks and obscured license plates.
Consider add-ons, such as a hitch-tightener, if a wheelchair creates more sway in a hitch-mounted bike rack. In other words, don’t just mount a wheelchair on a bike hitch because it may be convenient.
A bike rack is undoubtedly useful as a mount for a wheelchair, but if the shoe doesn’t fit, don’t wear it.