Unless, like the inhabitants of Royston Vasey, you only ride local sportives (and if that's the case, you really should broaden your horizons) there's a good chance you'll need to transport your bike by car some day.
I've often resorted to the ghetto method: rear seats down, front wheel off, stuff bike into boot while trying not to get the handlebars snagged on seatbelts. Like hammering in nails with the sole of your shoe, it might get the job done but it's not entirely satisfactory.
Luckily there are plenty of dedicated solutions out there, and one of those is the Thule ProRide 598.
The ProRide 598 is a lightweight roof-mounted carrier that attaches to roof bars on your car. You'll have seen similar racks carrying spare bikes on the top of Tour de France team cars: the ProRide is a pared down version designed for a single bike.
Swedish brand Thule have built up a solid reputation over the years, and on first impressions the ProRide is a high-quality, lightweight piece of kit. The carrier comprises a hinged clamp arm attached to an alloy base, on which the bike wheels sit atop two adjustable trays.
The key advantage of this roof-mounted carrier is that absolutely no disassembly of the bike is needed: you can hop off at the end of a ride and have the bike loaded on your car literally within a minute.
First, of course, you need to fit the ProRide to your car. Using the IKEA-style illustrated manual, this is almost idiot-proof. The ProRide attaches to your roof bars by means of metal clamps, tightened by means of a chunky dial which you can then lock to foil would-be bandits.
The clamps slide along the base so you can align them with the spacing of your roof bars. Once everything's tightened up it feels completely solid and secure.
As for mounting a cycle on the carrier, once I got over my initial fear of dropping the bike on my face I discovered it's by some distance the easiest bike-portage method I've come across.
There are three attachment points: the bike's downtube, and the two wheels. The bike frame attaches to a hinged arm that rises at an angle from the base of the carrier and clamps onto the downtube below your bottle cage. The clamp is simply tightened by means of the aforementioned chunky dial, and has squishy rubber padding where it comes in contact with the bike to spread the pressure and ensure that no damage is done to the frame or paintwork.
Once the frame is attached, the wheels can be strapped to two grooved trays on the base of the carrier. You can slide the rear tray back and forward along the length of the carrier to suit the wheelbase of your bike.
Loop the affixed straps over the rim of your wheel, tighten using the ratchet lever, and you're all set.
The whole process is extremely quick and easy. The only potentially tricky bit is getting the bike onto the roof in the first place; this requires lifting it to around head height or above if you're vertically challenged/have a people carrier. I opened the rear car door and stood on the sill to make things easier.
The dial for adjusting the frame clamp is lockable (keys are provided), and once locked the clamp can't be sprung open so your bike is securely attached to the car. The wheels aren't locked though, so if you're travelling with expensive hoops and will be leaving the bike unattended, you may want to add an extra cable lock for peace of mind. As it happens, Thule sell one separately.
Getting the bike down off the carrier is even quicker; push down a catch to release the two wheel straps; press a button to spring open the main clamp (careful; it opens with some force) and then simply lift your bike off the car. It only takes one or two tries to get the knack; you'll soon be fitting the bike to the car in a minute and removing it in half that time.
You can fit the rack on either side of the car, but having tried it first on the left I'd recommend the right. This allows easier access to the lock as the keyhole is on the righthand side; and also the open side of the clamp arm faces right, which makes mounting and removing the bike that much quicker and easier.
Road testing the Thule ProRide
I tested the ProRide on a recent road trip to France with the family. I was able to mount the carrier alongside a Thule roof box, and that really sealed the deal: plenty of room for luggage, and an easy, reliable way of transporting a bike with rapid access for those small windows of cycling opportunity that arise when you've two young children.
In use it performed perfectly; we covered hundreds of miles on windswept Brittany roads with my steel-framed bike hoisted aloft, and no hint of any issues.
I've been left highly impressed with the ProRide. The ability to stow and unleash my bike at the drop of a hat while still having access to the boot space was a significant advantage over rear-mounted carriers.
My only minor quibble is that fitting the ProRide to square-profile roof bars requires a separate adaptor. It's called the Thule Square Bar Adapter kit and you can pick it up for about a fiver at Halfords. I shouldn't really complain; it's not Thule's fault I only realised I needed it on the morning of departure.
One final word of warning: don't forget you have a bike on the roof! Low bridges, multi-storey car parks and even ferries are suddenly potential enemies - one of the less relaxing moments of the trip involved an emergency retreat from a tunnel in the suburbs of Rennes.
It's a bit like carrying a baby on your shoulders: be aware of the extra height, and ideally measure up before you set off so you know your limits.
The ProRide is a perfect example of a considered, well-executed solution to a common problem. No more hammering in nails with your shoes: when it comes to transporting your bike, the ProRide is the perfect Thule for the job.