If you consider the trip using a passenger car typically sedan, estate/kombi or hatchback there is a no problem for you – the total height will be lower than big trucks or tall lorries. All bridges, tunnels etc. should be labelled with proper roadsigns.
If you consider using MPV, SUV or van, then there might be a problem, because these are sligtly taller. You shall still be okay with that because the trucks are really tall – the small roads may have some risks but very little.
On the other hand, if we consider fuel costs and tolls of the round-Europe trip, it might be a good time to count costs and benefits of mounting options.
The calculations may, but may not, end up that the on-jack mounted rack will pay off its price only by reducing the drag. And the faster you go, the more significant the drag is.
In Sweden heights lower than 4.5m are marked with this sign, I couldn’t find any relevant regulations besides the car maker’s own limitations on weight
You’re right to be careful, I’ve had "encounters" with low overhead entries on at my local supermarket and a park and ride in Oxford.
The difficulty with the supermarket is that I go there all the time, and normally don’t have the bikes on top. When it was suggested at the last moment that we pick up an easy dinner after a tiring ride, I didn’t re-evaluate my planned stops.
With the park and ride, I’d already done the 50 mile ride and was being collected from a spot chosen for clearance. Then on the way out, we changed our minds and thought we’d go into town for dinner — but the parking lot we then needed to use had a barrier.
I’ve been lucky in the damage area, but perhaps a little model bicycle on the dashboard for when the bikes are overhead might be a good idea. 🙂
On minor roads, there may be occasional super-low bridges and such, but they should be clearly marked.
I have found a roof carrier very convenient when driving. No significant added noise, bike stays clean even in bad weather, fuel consumption slightly higher but nothing major. In fact, the biggest risk may be forgetting that the bike is there and driving into a parking hall. You will probably destroy the car and/or the bike.
Regarding Italy, this page has some links to the relevant legislation. Google translator does a good job converting the page to English.
The main points are:
Underpasses are clearly marked, in meters. In my experience (mainly driving in Northern Italy, mostly near cities – the countryside might be different) detours are readily available.
I’ve sometimes driven in the UK and France with bikes on top, more often with kayaks. It’s perfectly reasonable but you do need to take care. I assume you have a normal-height car to start with, with an SUV or a van it gets harder. Now I have a campervan which is a similar height (2.6m) to a car with bikes on top, so face similar issues.
Measure the total height, add a margin for error, and stick a note in the corner of the windscreen*
Bridges are almost all OK. Some old railway bridges on tiny country lanes or entrance roads aren’t. I’ve seen these in the UK and France.
Most tunnels are OK, though minor Alpine roads can have rather cramped ones and you may need to move towards the centre of the road.
If a car park has a height barrier, it will be a problem. Car park height barriers are almost invariably too low for cars with bikes on. Look for where the tall vans are parked and join them. At French supermarkets, for example, you can nearly always park, just not near the building. Note that barriers are occasionally hinged and closed only at night. You might have to drive out then put the bikes back on if you get caught out(I don’t have that option of course).
Note that height limits are supposed to have enough advance warning, but signs can be obscured or omitted, leaving you needing to back up to turn round. That’s just something to be prepared for, especially if you’re laden enough that seeing out of the back is a problem.
You might end up paying more for toll motorways in France (official site) as vehicles are categorised by height. While apparently roof loads don’t count for the vehicle height you’ll need to seek assistance if you’re detected as anything other than category 1. You may also be unable, both by rules and height barriers, to use the quicker lanes (though automatic height detection on all lanes seems nearly universal these days).
You will also pay more for large ferries as you have to park on a taller deck with the lorries.
If instead you went for a rear carrier, you need to make sure you were still legal regarding visibility of lights and numberplate. You also need to be aware of the extra width when it gets tight. Rear bike carriers also attract a surcharge on some ferries. Combined with the fuel economy and risk of theft when stopped I often accept the inconvenience of putting my bike inside for the long journeys (even with partial dismantling and protecting things), using the outside carrier for shorter more frequent trips once I’m at my destination.
* You might want to use both metric and Imperial units if you’re visiting the UK despite most height limit signs having metric on them
In UK, this page says
Bridges that have a clearance of less than 16 feet and 6 inches, or around 5 metres will usually have signs.
There are often advance warnings posted, with an alternative route suggestion.
Low bridges are notoriously easy to overlook. The Cambridge News has
Another van has smashed into the infamous Ely railway bridge
You also have to watch out for height restrictions at car park entrances. This page says
the actual height can be lower than the marked height
the exit barrier can be lower than the entrance barrier
One of the down-sides of having a bike on the roof is more susceptibility to side winds.
When driving on highways, cities, tunnels, bridges, under bridges etc. is there any case when an eventual high limit could restrict me in this case?
In France, some tunnels, bridges, toll lanes and parkings have a height limit that you may reach with your setup, but it’s typically clearly indicated beforehand.
What are the downsites of traveling with the bicycle like that? What should I be careful with?
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