We often receive queries on how to hire a bike carrier or car rack for bikes while cycling in France. Here is our advice.
Car racks can save you on hire car costs. It's definitely worth weighing up how much a bike carrier for the car costs to hire or buy v the cost of hiring a larger car or van to carry bikes inside.
Some French bike rental firms offer car rack hire, but it's still the exception rather than the norm. If you find car rack rental separate from your bike rental, you'll need to make sure the rack is suitable for your hire car (does it need a tow car? Does it fit to a sedan or to the rear window securely?)
Buying car racks for bikes
I usually advise that it's often as cheap and as easy to just buy a car rack (or porte-vélo) in France, rather than to chase around after rack hire. New rack prices start at €40 or €50 depending on the type of rack and how many bikes you need to carry.
The easiest place to look for a car rack to buy is Norauto, a chain of French auto/car accessories shops that has an outlet in most larger towns (and many smaller ones). They will usually have a directory/booklet/sign hanging up near their car racks so you can check that the rack is suitable for your car model/make. You can also usually do this online by researching the car rack model/type and matching it against your car model/make.
Most hire cars will not have a tow bar, so you usually need to look at rear-mounted options or roof-mounted options if the hire car has roof racks.
Where to buy a car bike rack in France
We have a Thule HangOn 9708 towbar-mounted car rack (see photo at the top of the page) and we bought from Norauto, a chain auto shop, for €149.95. Norauto has a reliable selection of affordable options for all types of car. They stock their own brand as well as Thule racks and other brands. You can order online ahead of your visit to make sure they have the one you want in stock at the shop of your choice. They are open Monday-Saturday, but just be careful of lunch time closures, some branches will close between midday and 2pm. They also deliver, so you could order online and have it sent to your hotel, gite or direct to the car or bike hire firm for when you arrive.
Another option is to check the Decathlon website. Again, they deliver within France so you could have a car rack sent to your first hotel or gite, or pick it up on arrival. Their options aren't as extensive (e.g. they may not have as many options for four-bike carriers, nor a variety of brands selection), but for holiday use they may suit your purposes. They have stores in most large towns and cities (usually on the outskirts in industrial zones and often near airports, such as in Bordeaux).
If you prefer to order in English, Wiggle has a selection online and delivers free to France – again, you could order online and have the rack delivered to your first hotel or to the bike hire outlet so it is waiting for you when you arrive.
At the end of your trip, you could simply leave the car rack with the car hire company or bike hire outlet for someone else to use (assuming you have had your money's worth), donate it to a local cycling club, or sell it online (they usually sell quite quickly on French buy and sell site leboncoin.fr – you would just need to advertise it in advance and make it available at your last stop).
One thing to be careful of is number plates. If your rack covers the car's number plate, you will also need to purchase a plate to attach to the bikes or rack so that it's visible to other cars (and the police!)
Norauto (and many other garages/car shops) can do this – they simply make a duplicate of the car's number plate while you wait. These are called “plaques d’immaticulation”. We just made a couple of holes in the plate and attach it via a bungee cord to our rack, but you can also buy dedicated mount plates that may also have built-in lights (which may be necessary if the car's lights are obscured).