So You Just Racked Your Gear - Now What? 

If you’re reading this it may already be too late. The inevitable happened. You drove your roof-mounted gear into something – it’s most often your home garage, but sometimes a parking garage, or maybe the overhang at a drive-through. You can take some comfort in knowing:  there are those who have done it and those who haven’t done it…yet. I’ve done it twice and I know one leader in the cycling community who has done it five (5) times.

Now what? Stop swearing and beating the steering wheel. If you’re blocking the drive-through, carefully move out of the flow of traffic. It’s time to access the damage.

Did you crush your bike, luggage case or your kayak?  Perhaps damage the rack or vehicle too?

Bike Damage

The extent of the damage depends on the speed you were going, what part of the bike hit the overhang, and what material comprises the frame and components.

Look over the bike. Some damage is obvious, like a bent top tube, a ruptured down tube or a splintered fork. Then again structural damage may not be so obvious, like a misaligned frame, hairline cracks in the head tube, fork or handlebar. Then there’s the damage to the bike mount. At minimum the bike tray will be bent.

You should probably have the bike looked over. It can’t hurt to have a second pair of eyes check it out. If you take your bike to a reputable shop, they’ve have the experience of seeing damage from this kind of accident and they’ll be in tune with where to find hidden damage. They can also advise how best to remedy the situation.  

Road bikes and mountain bikes seem to display different types of damage. Mountain bikes are generally a little more “rugged” and seem to take a hit better. It may have something to do with how the bike is carried:  complete bike carrier vs. front fork mount.

With a complete bike carrier, like the Yakima Highroller or Thule’s Sidearm, the front wheel is installed in the fork and the bike stands complete and upright.  When you run into an overhead obstacle you most likely to snag the saddle or handle bar and if the overhang is low enough you’ll slam into the handle bar.

With a fork mount, like the Thule Echelon or Yakima’s Forklift, the front wheel isn’t installed and the bike’s front fork is secured to the rack using a quick release mechanism. Again you’re likely to snag the saddle or handle bar.  Both incidents can cause significant structural damage to the bike and cosmetic damage to the vehicle.  In both of my experiences racking my bike, the bike was in a fork mount rack tray. The first incident I drove into my parent’s home garage and snagged the saddle, bending the frame and ripping the rack from roof. In my second experience, I was luckily going slowly, but I drove into a different home garage. My mountain bike had no frame damage, but I did split the housing to the hydraulic brake – causing it to shoot fluid through the air when I pulled on the brake lever.

Maybe you damaged your luggage case

Hopefully this is happening at the end of a trip. Whatever the situation, give the manufacturer a call.  If the damage is minor, there are companies that make a repair patch.  In many instances the case needs to be replaced.

Kayak Damage: Sea Kayak vs Whitewater Kayak

Whitewater kayaks are built to take repeated hits against hard surfaces and they generally have little damage when atop a car.

Sea Kayaks are a different beast and damage to the shell is very possible. It’s best to have the boat examined by your kayak dealer for minor cracking and shell damage.


We’ve heard stories of racks that slide completely off the vehicle and land on the ground behind it with gear still securely mounted to the rack. But most times, the rack stays on the roof and the bike tray bends to absorb most of the blow. Fortunately replacement bike trays are likely available where you purchased your rack in the first place, and you may be able to bend it back if the damage isn’t too bad.


The most common vehicle damage is to the roof. Sometimes the rack will slide backwards along the rails, scraping the paint off. Other times, bikes will come partly or completely out of the rack and dent or scrape the center part of the roof – or be knocked backwards and through the rear window of the vehicle. If you’re really unlucky, the back tire will remain fixed in the bike tray and the bike will swing around to the side and dent the side panels of the car. It should be fairly obvious what is damaged on the vehicle – but do look on the roof to make sure there aren’t any scraped metal spots must be repainted to avoid rust.

Insurance coverage

Don’t assume you’re fully covered for damage to your gear. Many insurance policies require a special rider for bikes or other gear over a nominal value.

When I ran my roof mounted mountain bike into the home garage in 1996, I was fresh out of college and living with my parents. They had never (in 30+ yrs) had a claim against their homeowner policy and they had a low deductible ($100). With the promise of not having their rates go up, it was a no brainer to get everything fixed – bike, car roof, and garage.

In the 15+ yrs since my accident, insurance rates have increased exponentially and the cost of bike parts and labor can add up quickly. And most people have experienced if your car goes into the body shop for even minor repairs, it’s a big bill. It’s good to know what your homeowner’s policy deductible is, what the policy covers and if you need a rider for expensive equipment, like a $10K bike.

Note that if you damage the bike and your car in a roof rack accident, you will typically claim the bike damage on your home insurance, and the vehicle repair on your car insurance. Unfortunately, that’s 2 separate deductibles.

Hopefully you won’t have to take too much time off from pursuing your passion while the repairs are made. Know you aren’t alone in crunching your gear, and get it fixed and get back out there!

- Tom Rieber, HeadsUp Systems Co-Founder

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