Is the best bike rack for your car or SUV a trunk rack (rear rack), roof rack, or a hitch rack? Here are some tips to help you choose the best bike rack for your biking fun and outdoor adventures!
Whether it’s driving to your local park to ride the trails, embarking on a road trip with your bikes in tow for your next vacation, meeting up for a group ride, or getting your bike to your next triathlon, a bike rack can help you get your bike to your destination!
So, which type is the best bike rack for you and your car? Let’s discuss!
- Getting started: Things to keep in mind when looking for a bike rack
- Rear-mounted bike racks / Trunk racks: The good and the bad
- Roof-mounted bike racks: The good and the bad
- Hitch-mounted bike racks: The good and the bad
- Final checklist of questions before you make the purchase
First, the quick list of some bike racks with reviews to take a look at:
- This one is a trunk mount-rack that holds 3 bikes – can work on most cars, vans, SUVs – 5-year update with pictures
- This one is a hitch-mount rack that holds 4 bikes with rack arms – for class III or IV 2″ hitch – pictures here
- This one is a more platform-style hitch-mount rack for 1 1/4″ and 2″ hitch that holds 2 bikes – pictures here for what it looks like, and pictures here for better idea of how to set up
Getting started: Things to keep in mind when looking for the best bike rack for you and your car or SUV
As you are reading through the advantages and disadvantages of each of the different types of bike racks, here are a few things to keep in mind to determine if it’s the best bike rack for your car. Some may be relevant for you, and some may not be, depending on the purpose of transporting your bike, the type of vehicle you have, and your preference. First we’ll lay out the questions, and then we’ll tackle each question regarding why it’s important to consider.
- How many bikes do you want to transport?
- What types of bikes will you be transporting?
- How often will you use the bike rack?
- Do you want to be able to lock up the bikes?
- How stable do you want your bikes on the rack?
- What kind of car do you have?
- What is your car’s maximum weight capacity?
- How do you want the bike rack to attach to your car?
- How much are you willing to spend on a bike rack?
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How many bikes do you want to transport?
Most bike racks will carry at least 2 bikes, but there are some that only carry a single bike. And if you’re looking for a family adventure with your bikes, you’ll want to make sure you buy a bike rack that is designed for the number of bikes you’re bringing along. You don’t want to force extra bikes on a rack than it was designed for to ensure the safety of you, your bikes, and others on the road.
What type of bikes are you going to be transporting?
Bikes aren’t all created equal which means bike racks aren’t created for all bike designs. Most road bikes, hybrid bikes, and mountain bikes do tend to be compatible with most bike racks. Generally it’s the tandem bikes, kids bikes, and maybe even some fat bikes with the larger tires, that are the types of bikes that you need to be more careful about in selecting your bike rack. But even if you do have a bike in the first mentioned categories, some bikes have frames that may not be as easily compatible with being placed on the arms of some racks, so look out for this too.
How often will you be using the bike rack?
If you plan on using the bike rack frequently, the quicker the bike rack will encounter wear and tear so you probably want to prioritize longer lasting durability. Things like straps and clips may wear out more quickly. Another reason to consider how often you’ll be using the bike rack is you may want to consider the ease of placing and displacing the bike rack and bikes if you will be using it frequently.
Do you want to be able to lock up the bikes?
There are bike racks that come with locks to be able to lock the bikes to the rack. You may think differently about prioritizing the locking capability of a bike rack if you are buying the bike rack to meet up for a local group ride compared to taking your bike on a road trip. The locking feature probably becomes more important if you are taking your bikes on an extended multi-day trip. If your bike is always going to be in your sight, whether it be while you’re driving or while biking on the trail, you probably don’t need to worry much about being able to lock the bike up.
But if you are going to be away on an extended trip for a few days with the possibility of your bikes being left unattended while you are sleeping in a hotel or off on a hike, you may want to think more carefully about being able to secure your bikes. You don’t want them to be stolen when you aren’t driving or biking. So be on the lookout for the bike rack’s locking features if you’ll be out of town with your bikes for a few days to decrease your chances of going through the heartache of your bikes being stolen.
Even if you buy a rack that doesn’t come with a lock, you may have other options to be able to lock the bikes up. If you are looking for added security and want to take even greater precautions, also consider how secure the rack itself will be when attached to the car, and how easy it may be for a determined would-be thief to dismantle the rack.
How stable do you want the bikes on the rack?
Generally speaking, there are 2 ways the bikes are secured to the rack: 1) With the bike frame resting on the arms of the bike racks which leave the wheels hanging, and 2) On a tray platform with the bottom of the bike secured and grounded. The latter way tends to provide a more secure and stable situation for the bikes.
For what arms vs platform-style look like:
What kind of car do you have?
Different bike racks are compatible with different models of vehicles. Some types of racks can accommodate a wider range of vehicles, while some are more limited. So be sure to check that the bike rack you are looking to buy is compatible with your specific vehicle. Most companies that sell bike racks have a guide indicating which vehicles are compatible with each of their bike racks.
What is your vehicle’s weight capacity?
If you’re buying the bike rack just for local rides for yourself, this probably isn’t much of a concern. But it may be more important to keep in mind if you’re setting out on a road trip with the whole family. You want to make sure you’re under the maximum capacity that your car is designed to handle safely.
How do you want the bike rack to attach to your car?
The most common types of bike racks include the rear-mounted bike racks (trunk racks) and the roof-mounted bike racks. These are all discussed in further detail below in the next sections. There is really no single type of bike rack that you can say is definitively the best bike rack for all cars or vehicles, as no bike rack is one size fits all. Not all vehicles will be compatible with any given type of bike rack. But generally speaking, you will find:
- Trunk racks: May be less expensive but may provide less stability for your bikes
- Roof racks: May provide more stability for your bikes but can be harder to use
There are also other types of bike racks that are more limited to specific vehicles, and this includes bike racks for vehicles with a hitch, bike racks for vehicles with a rear spare tire, bike racks for trucks, and bike racks for an RV or camper van.
How much are you willing to spend on a bike rack?
As you continue your search for the best bike rack for your car and your adventures, you will undoubtedly see a wide range of prices for different types of bike racks. There are a number of factors that can influence the price, so the bike rack you ultimately end up choosing will be dependent on the importance of many of these factors. Here are some features of bike racks that influence the price of a bike rack:
- Simplicity in using the bike rack and placing the bikes onto the rack
- Level of stability and security of the bikes while in transit
- Ability to lock up the bikes
- Adaptability for a variety of vehicles or to a specific type of vehicle
- Type of materials used for the bike rack
- Convenience of storage of the bike rack when not in use
Rear-mounted bike racks, trunk racks
A rear-mounted bike rack, also commonly considered a trunk-mounted bike rack, is a less expensive option to transport your bikes around by car. This kind of bike rack is a strap-on rack and it fits a variety of cars. The straps are attached onto the trunk or the back doors of the car. The bikes are placed on the arms of the bike rack and are further secured on the rack with straps. The rack makes for easy storage when not in use, as it can fold up and collapse in a convenient way.
When strapping up the bike rack and bikes for the first few times, you may encounter difficulty in securing everything. It may sometimes feel a bit challenging to tighten up the straps to the point where you feel confident that the rack and bikes are secure. You may get a bit stressed while driving when you hear an odd noise from the back, prompting you to pull over the car to do a check, or many checks. If you have multiple bikes on the rack, they may sway into each other.
Using a trunk rack may limit your access to the back storage of your car. It may also obstruct your rear view while driving. Another thing to be sure to keep in mind if you do get this type of bike rack is to make sure your bikes do not obstruct the view of your license plate. On the upside of using a trunk rack in regards to the impact that the rack will have on your driving experience: it won’t decrease the efficiency of your gas mileage as other bike rack options might.
This type of rear-mounted bike rack can be a convenient and more affordable option than other types of bike racks. It may be a good option if it will be used on multiple cars in the household since it can fit onto a wider variety of cars compared to other bike rack options. It’s also good if you are only looking to use it occasionally, as over time and high frequency of use can lead to wear and tear of the straps. If you do get a rear-mounted bike rack and intend to use it frequently, just be sure to do regular inspection of the durability of the bike rack’s arms and straps.
Roof-mounted bike racks
The roof-mounted bike rack attaches to the roof rack that’s already on your car. It’s one of the easier types of bike racks to install and remove. Even so, there are many people who opt to keep the bike rack on their cars. That makes for one less step to take the next time they want to take their bikes out which can make it a convenient option as well. These roof racks are tray racks in which you place the bike onto the tray in a straight upwards position. The bike gets secured onto the tray to keep your bike stable while it’s on the move. Like other tray racks, you want to make sure your bike tire size is compatible. This may be more of an issue if you are in need of a bike rack for a fat bike.
Because of the bike’s position on top of the roof, it is also worth considering the height that is added to your car. For this reason, roof racks may work better for lower height cars like small cars and station wagons. The bike position also adds wind resistance while you are driving which reduces the efficiency of your gas mileage. Also consider the height of your car and your own height and strength. This can make a difference in the level of difficulty for getting a bike on and off the roof of the car.
Many roof bike racks hold a single bike, but you can have more than one bike rack on the roof rack. Be sure to check for your vehicle’s allowed roof weight limit so you aren’t carrying too heavy of a load. If you have an SUV, it is recommended to be extra careful about choosing roof-mounted bike racks, if at all. This is because of the weight distribution that may create an increased risk for safety. This type may not be the best bike rack for an SUV to avoid putting too much weight on top of the car.
There are also stories about people forgetting that they have their bikes on the top of their car. They drive right into the garage with the bikes on top. (Ouch!) If you get a roof rack, maybe tape a note to your garage door opener to make sure you don’t forget about your bikes when it matters! Or maybe put the garage door opener in a different location. This way it won’t be as habitual as going for it in its normal spot and then driving straight into the garage. Better yet, if driving into the garage with your bikes on top of your car is a true concern, maybe leave the garage door opener at home? Better safe than sorry!
Hitch-mounted bike racks
If your vehicle is compatible with a hitch rack, this type of rack can be a convenient way to load and transport your bikes. This type of bike rack is also typically the most expensive option.
One of the useful aspects of a hitch rack is that some hitch racks have a way to tilt or swing the rack out of the way so that you can easily access the back door of your car. This can be a convenient feature to have if you’re taking your bikes on a road trip and have some items packed in the back of your car that you want to get to. You won’t have to dismantle the bike rack in order to get to the back. Look for this feature if this sort of convenience is of interest to you.
With hitch racks, you have options as to which way you want to attach the bikes to the rack. There are hitch racks with the platform style in which the bikes sit on a tray and the bike wheels are secured to the tray platform. There is also the hanging arm style in which the bike frame sits on the arms of the rack and is strapped to be secured. The platform style tends to be a more secure way to transport bikes.
In considering a hitch rack, you’ll want to think about what type of driving you’ll be doing, and specifically on what kind of terrain. If your platform-style hitch rack sits too low and you drive on variable grounding, the rack might hit the ground, which of course is not a good thing. In this type of situation, if you still like the idea of a hitch-mounted rack, you may want to consider the hanging arm-style rack instead.
Once again, take care to check that the hitch-mounted rack you’re looking at is compatible with the hitch of your car and that you are not exceeding maximum weight capacity.
This is a Thule T2 Classic bike rack. Read the reviews for this bike rack!
Final checklist of questions before buying your bike rack
To review, here are some questions you want to make sure you can answer definitively YES. You want to make sure you won’t have to go through the frustration of making a return of your newly purchased bike rack!
- Have you confirmed that the bike rack is compatible with your vehicle?
- Have you confirmed that the bike rack is compatible with your bikes?
- Do you understand the level of difficulty that the bike rack will require in order to use? This includes both getting the bike rack attached to your car, as well as securing the bikes onto the bike rack.
- Have you checked your vehicle’s load capacity to make sure you won’t be exceeding the maximum allowable weight?
- Have you taken into consideration the locking capability?
- Have you taken into consideration how often you will be using the bike rack?
- Have you taken into consideration the storage requirements of the bike rack when not in use?
Have you answered YES to all of the questions?! If so, you just might be ready to buy!
And after you do get your bike rack, be sure to test it out! Don’t wait until biking day or vacation day arrives to use it for the first time!
Here’s that list from the top again:
- Trunk mount-rack that holds 3 bikes – can work on most cars, vans, SUVs – 5-year update with pictures
- Hitch-mount rack that holds 4 bikes with rack arms – for class III or IV 2″ hitch – pictures here
- Platform-style hitch-mount rack for 1 1/4″ and 2″ hitch that holds 2 bikes – picture here for what it looks like, and pictures here for better idea of how to set up
HAPPY BIKE RACK HUNTING!
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