Introduction: Truck Tailgate Bike Rack

My partner and I like to take the kids mountain biking, but loading up the truck with 5 bikes and the corresponding gear can be a pain. I've admired the pads that other mtn bikers have over their tailgates, securing the bikes in place and leaving room for more gear stowage. However, like many outdoor enthusiasts, there is always more gear to get than money in my wallet. So, I decided to make one myself!

The nice thing about this project, unlike most sewing projects, is that the measurements are general estimates. No need to calculate 1/4 inch for seams or anything like that. I got most of my supplies from a big box sewing and crafting store. I ended up upcycling the canvas straps and the 3 bottom buckles from an old broken bike rack I've been meaning to repair, but I could also have bought them at the store. I spent a total of about $50 US, and it took me about 5 hours of work. I am a fairly novice sewer, and I have the bottom of the line sewing machine from Walmart. That being said, I am really pleased with how this turned out and am celebrating with a tasty cider. I hope this inspires you to make something similar!


Fabric - I used 2 yds of 54 inch wide upholstery fabric in a dark color. I considered a vinyl fabric for better water proofing and easier cleaning, but it felt a little flimsy. (183 cm of 137 cm wide fabric)

Thread - Black upholstery thread

Needle - 100/16 (denim) In general, higher numbers for tougher materials. 100/16 was the best I had, and worked surprisingly well.

about 2 yds of 1 in wide canvas strapping (183 cm, 2.5 cm wide)*

15 x 17 in foam pad, 1 in thick (38 x 43, 2.5 cm thick)

5 strap adjusters for 1 inch strap *

3 strap buckles for 1 inch strap*

Your favorite music playlist or a good audio book. I am currently listening to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

* I happened to choose 1 inch strap. I think 3/4 inch would also work ok, but 1/2 inch might be a little flimsy. The only important thing is that the strapping, the strap adjusters and the buckles are all the same width.

Step 1: Measure, Make a Little Sketch, Measure Again

If you buy these products online, they seem to come in 54 inches or 62 inches wide (137 or 157 cm wide), for 5 or 7 bikes, respectively. I measured the width of the tailgate, the height, and the depth of the section the bikes will sit on. I measured where the handle will be, with the intent to make a little cut out, but totally forgot. I might go back and add it, but we'll see.

I made a side view diagram for where I want the fabric to lie, and where I want the straps to be. I planned for 20 inches of fabric over the front but only 11 in the back, since the fabric's main job is to protect the paint of the truck. (By front I mean the face of the tailgate, and by back I mean the side that is inside the bed of the truck.) One mistake I made here is that the bottom of the tailgate is not 4 inches. Only the top has that. So, my straps were a bit longer than necessary.

Step 2: Setting Up the Fabric

Since our truck tailgate is conveniently about 54 inches wide, I just folded the fabric over along that length, pinned/sewed the sides, and then turned it right side out. Be sure to put the "good" side of the fabric facing inward when sewing the seam, so it faces outward afterwards.

* One thing I wish I had done differently here: It would have been easier in the long run to have marked and then sewed the loop straps in place before even doing the side seams. Since they were sewn to only one side of the fabric (because they sit on top of the padding), I had to hand sew them at the end.

Step 3: Placing the Foam

I cut the foam into 4 equal pieces of 15 inches long by 4 inches wide, with 1 inch of discard. With the fabric inside out, I measured 20 inches up from where the bottom seam will be and made marks across the fabric at that level. I glued the foam pieces in place in a line with super glue, mostly to keep them in place while I handled everything. I ended up cutting about 6 inches off the end piece, since it was longer than the fabric. Then I turned the fabric right side out and sewed a straight line on either side of the foam through both layers of fabric, locking the foam in place.

One thing I would have done differently is to mark on the OUTSIDE part of the fabric, and not bothered gluing the foam pieces at all. Sew a straight line where the far side (the side facing the inside of the truck) will sit, then stick the foam in place and sew the other side. Same result, no gluing necessary.

Step 4: Finish the Bottom Edge, and Sew the Straps in Place

I folded the bottom edge in, and pinned it in place. As I went across the bottom of the fabric, I placed 3 straps equally spaced. When I sewed the seam, I sewed the straps into place. I also then sewed up and down the straps a couple times to further strengthen the attachment.

Step 5: Attach the Buckles

On the shorter/inside width of the pad, attach 3 shorter pieces of strap about lined up with the 3 pieces in front. 4 inches (10cm) is enough. Mine were 6 inches or so, and they ended up a bit too long. Sew them securely.

I attached the buckles as shown, with the only step not in the photo is sewing the strap with the buckle on. This step will vary for you, depending on what type of buckle you use.

Step 6: Attach the Bike Loops

(Not pictured: I sewed the strap adjusters to one end of the straps with the sewing machine, similarly to how I did the buckles. Each of these straps should be about 10 inches long (25 cm).

I measured/marked 5 equally spaced 1 inch lines along the padded portion, and sewed the loops onto the top layer of fabric by hand. I used a quilting needle because I had one and had never used it before. I'm not sure it was easier than a regular needle, and certainly not necessary.

Like I mentioned, it would have saved me about an hour's worth of work to have done this at the very beginning, using the machine. However, as I was doing this step, Mr. Weasley was in terrible danger and I was just the right amount of distracted to not mind the task.

Step 7: Take Your Family or a Truck Load of Friends Biking!

Or, take your kitten!

This will work for road or mountain bikes of almost any size, keep your bikes securely fastened, and leave you room in the bed for a cooler full of tasty treats. :)

Sew Tough Challenge

Second Prize in the
Sew Tough Challenge