A bike rack is a vehicle accessory that can be attached to a car, truck, bus, or RV to transport a bicycle safely.
A car bike rack allows cyclists and enthusiasts to take their rides with them across distances for various uses including triathlons, biking competitions, mountain biking, or a leisurely afternoon in nature.
Bike racks are the best way to carry or transport your bycicle over long distances. They are designed to secure the bike to the car offering stability and a measure of protection both, for the car and the bike, when on the road, thereby reducing the chances of damage to parts of your bike or indeed your vehicle.
The Bike rack market is full of options and this can be overwhelming since each manufacturer swears that their product is the best in the market. In this guide, we shall look at types of bike racks, what you should consider before purchasing one, and a few options that meet our quality criteria. We shall provide a simple guide on installing a rack onto your car, and try to answer some of the common questions first-time rack buyers have. Let’s dive in.
There are different types of bike racks depending on the vehicle and where the rack is mounted. Understanding the variations of bike racks available in the market is a key factor when choosing the right one, especially when working with smaller vehicles like sedans. Larger vehicles like SUVs and RVs give you a wider variety to choose from and even let you carry multiple bikes more safely.
Currently, there are 4 main types of bike racks; roof mount, trunk mount, spare tire mount, and hitch mount. Let’s dive into each type of rack and some of the benefits that come with each.
This type of rack is installed on top of the vehicle, and the bikes are secured to rails, mount points, or crossbars. Rails and crossbars are available for most cars at purchase, although OEM equipment can also be purchased and installed safely. Roof mount racks are excellent for outdooring enthusiasts mainly because of their versatility since they can be used to carry other things like boats, skis, and small cargo (fuel cans, recovery tracks, etc). The main advantage of a roof rack is that all the cargo is away from trunk storage and hood access, and it does not affect visibility on the road. The main disadvantage is that you will do quite a bit of lifting, or get a travel buddy.
These are designed to be installed on the back of the vehicle, with straps securing the contraption to the trunk. The bike is secured in place by arms and supports to keep it from moving about. Trunk mount racks are best suited for recreational cyclists since they are adjustable and can be used on multiple vehicles. Being light and highly portable, they are also easy to store when not in use and the removal process is simple. The main advantage of a roof rack is that all the cargo is away from trunk storage and hood access, and it does not affect visibility on the road. The main disadvantage is that you will do quite a bit of lifting, or get a travel buddy.
This type of bike rack is designed to transport multiple units, with most racks capable of carrying between 2 and 5 bikes. They come in two distinct styles; hanging cradle and platform. Hanging-style hitch mounts are lighter and less expensive than platforms since the bicycles are left to hang on the rack. There might be minor damage to the bike’s paint because they bump into each other when in transit. Platform racks are safer since the bikes can be secured in place preventing movement and damage to the paint and body. Overall, hitch-mount racks are sturdy, easy to install, and better than truck-mount racks. Be sure to check your vehicle’s tongue load capacity at the hitch before making your purchase.
This type of rack is similar to the trunk-mounted type, with the difference being that this one is mounted on the rear spare tire, or screwed into the tire mount. It is an excellent option for SUVs and other off-road vehicles. Spare-mounted racks are easy to install and are not a permanent fixture on your car. This makes them less expensive than other options on the market. The downside is that spare-mounted bike racks add some length to the vehicle and this can be tricky for some drivers.
When making a purchase decision, there are other factors besides type that you need to consider. Chief among them will be answering the question “what bike rack fits my vehicle?”. You will also consider your motivations for biking and how regularly you do it. For instance, smaller cars will require you to choose between compromised storage access and convenience. If you are an occasional biker, you might do well to install a bike rack that can be easily removed once your trip is complete. Here are some of the other points of consideration:
Depending on the type of car you drive, convenience is something that should be at the forefront when buying a bike rack. Roof racks, for instance, are versatile and sturdy equipment, but they will require heavy lifting when securing your bicycle. This can be a hustle if your car roof is high, for instance on a crossover or an estate, or there is a lot of biking equipment to secure. These racks are more suited to people who participate in a lot of outdoor activities since they can carry more than just bikes.
Convenience when it comes to bike racks also extends to how much they affect your daily routine. Rear-mounted racks such as trunk and spare mounts are excellent at saving storage space inside the car, but also make it harder to access these areas. They are also easy to detach and store, making them ideal for “weekend bikers”.
How easy is it to install? Setting up your bike rack should weigh in on your decision. If you are not technically proficient, then a rear-mounted rack is perfect while a multi-purpose roof rack with all the bells and whistles may be complicated. A trunk-mounted bike rack is easy to set up and remove when not in use and can be put into storage making maintenance easy. A spare-mounted bike rack has all the benefits of a trunk rack, with the added benefits of being sturdier and carrying more bikes.
Typically, roof-mounted racks require more technical skill to put together in comparison, and some maintenance is required since they are permanent fixtures on the car. Hitch mounts will need some calculations on the tongue load capacity, to find out which is the best for your car. Too much weight can cause the hitch to bend or even break.
With the options available in the bike rack market, look at the design before making a decision. A good bike rack should have a sturdy frame that can withstand the rigors of being outdoors, such as weather changes and wind resistance during travel. Moving parts, such as any rotating hinges, should be easy to maintain or replace. Your ideal rack should also incorporate bike security for instances where you are away from your vehicle.
Check on the fuel efficiency drop caused by your bike rack. Although all bike racks will affect the aerodynamics of your vehicle and cause increased drag, a good rack should not cost you more than a 30% drop in efficiency.
Some bike racks will be more expensive than others. This could be down to the material used, having different types of mounting points, or even the kind of rack. On average, roof and hitch racks will be more expensive than the trunk and spare-mount variety.
If you only go on rides occasionally, that should also factor into your budget. Getting an expensive hitch set-up would be counterproductive while that money could have been spent financing your other outdoor passions.
This is both your safety as a driver and the safety of your bike in transit. Depending on your car, rear-mounted bike racks may obstruct your view of the road. In this instance, a roof-mounted rack is better. Rear-mounted and hitch mount bike racks also add inches to the back of your car which will need some practice to get used to when parking or reversing. When carrying more than one bike, you may experience some sway when driving due to the added weight.
PS: Your bike rack should not obstruct the view of your license plate when loaded!
Bike safety is another concern when choosing the right rack for you. Some bike racks allow for movement when the bike is in transit, which could cause a little damage to the paintwork or body, especially when transporting more than one bicycle. This is prevalent with hanging cradle-styled hitch-mount bike racks.
Price Range: $180 – $1000
Thule is a Swedish equipment manufacturer that specializes in designing aftermarket carriers for cars to transport outdoor gear and cargo. This includes bike racks for cars, rooftop boxes, and water sports carriers for boats and kayaks. Their diverse portfolio of outdoor equipment also extends into towing (trailers), snow chains, and RV accessories. They are also known for their bike clothing.
Thule bike racks are known for their dependability and quality workmanship. The frames come with all the corresponding accessories which means you do not spend extra buying additional pieces. They are easy to install and in most cases, you will not be required to use tools. They offer roof, trunk, and hitch racks. Thule products have a lifetime warranty that comes with the frame which indicates the manufacturer’s confidence in their products. They are also available in over 140 countries, meaning you can easily find replacement accessories in case yours are damaged in the rigors of outdooring.
Some of their most popular bike racks are:
Price Range: $200 – $1000
Saris is another bike rack manufacturer that makes excellent beginner gear. Their products are designed to be lightweight and are made using rust-free and recyclable materials such as plastics and aluminum. They specialize in trunk and hitch-mounted racks and have recently started a line of highly customizable modular hitch systems.
Saris bike racks for cars are easy to install and supported by an ecosystem of accessories that improve your user experience. The company is headquartered in Madison Wisconsin, with other large offices in Ontario Canada, and the Netherlands. Their products come with a limited lifetime warranty for the original buyer. Some of their better-known products include:
Price Range: $250- $600
Seasucker is a unique bike car rack manufacturer since its products do not use traditional mounts to stay in place when on your car. Instead, they use high-quality vacuum cups to stay attached to your car, making them an excellent option for those who want to avoid permanent roof accessories. The cups are incredibly strong and are designed to stay in place even during long drives or when faced with unfavorable weather. They have faired well in sleet, heavy rain, and moderate winds, and do not produce drag noise when the vehicle is in motion.
The vacuum cups on Saesucker products are made from UV-resistant rubber that is soft enough to mold into the contours of your vehicle. This technology is similar to what they use in glass factories to handle delicate items with care and is designed to cause no harm to your paint or bodywork. Seasucker bike racks should be stored on a flat surface to protect the cups, and the manufacturer’s advised speed limit is 75mph. One major drawback is that they do not provide a means of securing movable parts to the rack, and sometimes the crank or pedals can be pushed by the wind and chip away at your paint. This can be remedied with zip ties.
Some of the popular Seasucker racks are:
Price Range: $250 – $900
Founded by Jeanne and Otto Lavergall in Yakima in 1973, Washington, this company has been in the bike rack-making business for decades. They have a cycling pedigree with all of their products dedicated to keeping people biking. Yakima makes all types of bike racks but they excel at making the hitch-mounted type, which accounts for almost half of their catalog.
Yakima hitch platform racks are known for being light, sturdy, and durable. They incorporate anti-sway technology to protect the bike from accidental collisions when the car is in motion. This makes their platform hitch racks a great option for long travel. The platforms are raised to allow for better access on the trail or steep driveways and are designed for easy access to the back of your car.
All Yakima bike racks come with integrated locking cables for security, as well as space for you to add your own locks. Here are some of the popular racks by Yakima:
Price Range: $365 – $1400
This is a bike rack maker from Wisconsin with a cult following in the biking community. They are a proven institution with a history of being the first to venture into new bike carrier territory. 1UP was the first outfit to equip their racks with the capacity to carry heavier bikes including fat bikes and eBikes (which can weigh as much as 2 ½ times more than an ordinary road bike)
A cool feature of 1UP bike racks is that, in the event of a minor accident, the frame stays intact and you can order the broken parts to replace at home. Worn parts are also easy to replace and this makes 1UP one of the few rack makers that consider that bikers might want to own a product for a long time. Some of their products are:
Price Range: $49 – $650
Allen bike racks are one of the best available in the market for beginners both in terms of cost, and ease of use. The company was started in 1967 by Dick Allen who was an aerospace engineer (literally a rocket scientist) and operates out of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Allen makes trunk, hitch, and spare mount bike racks, and a specific kind of rack called the compact. The Allen compact bike rack is what you get if you take a trunk bike rack and make it smaller.
Car bike racks made by Allen have the consistent theme of being easy to install, easy to use, and affordable. They are mostly sturdy apart from a few plastic bits that may bend during long trips or very rough terrain when carrying multiple bikes. The price point also means a few components and luxuries will be absent or sold as extras. The Allen Sports 4 bike hitch rack does not come with a quick-release tilt mechanism, and the strap set-up can be frustrating. Some of their products are;
Trunk-mounted bike racks are the easiest to use and the most beginner friendly. Most typically carry between 1 and 3 bikes and are easier to set up and remove compared to roof racks for instance.
In most states, bike racks will not affect your ability to access auto insurance. You are however expected to report to your insurer once you have one installed on your car. In the event of an accident where your bike rack is damaged or lost, most insurers will cover the damage.
Yes. Most bike racks are not designed for consistent exposure to the elements and some components may become damaged after a long time outdoors. Searsucker bike racks are especially vulnerable to prolonged exposure. Bike racks also raise your fuel consumption and although this is by a small amount, it compounds over time. Putting your rack in storage when not in use is best.