LAST UPDATED: April 5, 2019
Best Bike Racks For Cars: The Best Options to Take Your Bike on the Road
Take your bike anywhere you want with these handy bike racks
The Review Team
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PUBLISHED ON April 5, 2019
A bike can be a considerable investment, especially if you prefer high-end road or mountain bikes that cost several thousands of dollars. Unless you literally ride the bike everywhere, a good, lightweight bike rack can be a smart investment when it comes to transporting the bike safely. If you are looking for a way to get your bike from point A to point B, check out our handy guide on the best bike racks for cars.
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Why Buy a Bike Rack
- Take your bike anywhere. Granted, a bike is meant to get around on its own, but there are some destinations that are out of range. With the right bike rack, however, you can take your bike virtually anywhere you can reach by car.
- Protect your bike during transport. A road trip can be rough on some bikes. A good bike rack is one that will protect the frame and tires from the usual bumps and knocks on the road.
- Transport other toys and items. Many bike racks often work as part of a larger cargo system. Roof racks, for example, can accept cargo pods and other mounting accessories in addition to bike racks. Carry a bike or two in addition to anything else you'd like.
Types of Bike Racks For Cars
Roof-mounted bike racks are the most common solution for transporting bikes long distances. They tend to offer the most protection, but they can also be the most challenging to use. Heavier bikes are difficult to get up onto the roof alone. Still, these are the best solution if you want to have the most amount of protection possible while out on the road.
Hooking up to most 1.5- and 2-inch hitch receivers, a hitch-mounted rack offers more convenience and transport capacity in exchange for some protection. Since the rack sits in the back, the bikes are more exposed during an accident. Compared to roof racks, however, it's easier to load a bike onto a hitch rack that doesn't sit as high in the air.
For cars that lack roof crossbars or a hitch, bike trunk racks are a good alternative to roof and hitch racks. Trunk mounts don't require any vehicle modifications and can be placed on/taken off in just a few minutes. Since they stay on with straps, however, they aren't as secure as more permanent options.
Top Brands of Bike Racks For Cars
Yakima is a common household name in the automotive accessory industry. With a large line of bike racks, roof racks, cargo pods, and other carrier accessories, the company makes products for nearly any vehicle on the road today. Check out its FrontLoader Mounting System bike rack for a great roof-mounted option to carry a bike around.
A big player in automotive accessories, this Swedish company makes something for almost everyone wanting to carry exercise and weekend toys around on their car. Since 1942, Thule has specialized in making cargo racks and accessory mounts for bikes, skis, kayaks, and more. The heavy-duty Thule Apex Hitch Rack is a great example of the kind of carrying capacity you can buy for your vehicle.
Hollywood Racks is a small player in the bike carrier space compared to other competitors. While small, the company specializes in making bike racks with a lot of versatility. It is one of a few companies that make racks compatible with recumbent bikes/trikes, fat tire bikes, and more. The Hollywood Racks Express Trunk Rack is a good example of one of its versatile racks.
Allen Sports focuses on making convenient bike racks that are easy to install or store away when not in use. Its Deluxe Trunk Rack is a prime example of the company's design philosophy: small and portable without sacrificing carrying capacity.
Bike Racks For Cars Pricing
- $100 and below: The budget range commonly filled with inexpensive hitch and trunk racks, this is the best place to start if you are buying your first bike rack.
- $100-$250: Bike racks increase in build quality and bike capacity in this range. A few lower-end roof racks are here, but most options are still higher-end hitch-mounted racks.
- $250 and above: Larger and longer roof racks are common here. This is the best range to consider when you want the most amount of protection for longer hauls.
The way a bike mounts to the rack will determine how stable and protected that bike is during transport. Many roof and hitch racks use a combination of front/rear anti-sway loaders and tire trays to hold the rear or front wheels in place without touching the frame, reducing the chance of frame damage. More affordable options, however, often use clamps that attach directly to the frame. These are incredibly stable but can damage the frame on rough roads or in bad weather. Some mounts are also easier to connect to the bike than others. In addition to the bike mount itself, you can also stabilize and protect the bike with extra straps, bungees, or bike locks.
Beyond the basic rack types, each bike rack has a different way of attaching to a vehicle that can vary, even between two similar rack designs. For example, roof racks have different crossbar profiles they can possibly mount to: square tube, round tube, aerodynamic tube, etc. Hitch racks are more standardized, but there are still different hitch sizes, like 1.5- and 2-inch hitches, that require different adapters or rack frame sizes.
Hitch-mounted bike racks often present a challenge to vehicle owners. Since the rack sits behind the trunk or tailgate, access can become a problem. To avoid this issue, many hitch racks have a folding frame that bends outward to leave room for the tailgate. Some can even fold with the bikes attached, while others will need the bikes off of the frame beforehand.
- Ease of Use: Not all bike racks are equal in terms of how easy it is to mount or dismount a bicycle. Roof racks, for example, are difficult to mount heavy bikes onto without the help of multiple people or special loading systems. Hitch and trunk racks are more convenient in this area.
- Bike Type: The type of bike you want to carry will partially determine what kind of rack you need. Some racks have a near-universal design, but most other options have limits in frame and wheel size. Specialty bikes like recumbents will also limit the rack options you have to consider before making a purchase.
- Vehicle Type/Size: Nearly any rack will fit on any vehicle, but the type and size of the vehicle can play a small, influential role in your final choice. For hitch racks, the vehicle obviously needs an actual factory or aftermarket hitch. Smaller cars are typically limited to 1.5-inch hitches, which make it more difficult to stabilize hitch-mounted racks due to the smaller frame. Trucks, on the other hand, can handle any number of hitch, roof, and bed racks.
- Additional Accessories: Want to carry more than just bikes? While some racks are designed solely for bikes, others can accommodate different types of accessory mounts. Roof racks are the most common rack systems that are versatile enough to fit different accessories.
Best Bike Racks For Cars Reviews & Recommendations 2020
Coming with the ability to hold almost any type of bike without taking up roof or trunk space, the Swagman XC Hitch Rack is a top performer when it comes to keeping bikes safe during transport. Compatible with road, mountain, recumbent, and fat bikes (with additional trays), the rack is a flexible carrier that is quick to load/unload.
The adjustability and ease of use are two areas where the rack shines. The horizontal carrier bars slide in and out to accommodate different wheelbases and tire sizes. Mounting a bike simply requires getting the tires into the trays and lowering the central arm down onto the frame.
While the price ought to be attractive to budget users, some of the parts suffer from a lower level of construction quality. Small parts like the locking pins and areas of the frame are prone to rust in bad weather, causing the moving arm to seize up if not properly maintained.
Need to carry a lot of bikes at once without breaking the bank? This is the basic value the Allen Sports Deluxe Hitch Rack offers. Coming in two-, three-, four-, and five-bike designs, the mainframe of the rack is simple yet strong. Regular road and mountain bikes fit on top of the protruding tubes, so you can load and unload a bike just by lifting up.
The hitch comes in locking and free-carrying designs. Made of painted steel, the carrying arms and vertical post fold down so you can access the rear of the vehicle without removing the entire rack as well.
As a budget hitch rack, the hitch mount has some room for improvement, literally. The frame locks into most factory and OEM hitches, but there is some play up and down. Under heavy loads or on rough roads, the frame is likely to bounce up and down more than other hitch-mounted racks.
The Yakima FrontLoader Bike Rack is one of the few roof racks that's compatible with a wide variety of bikes and crossbars. The individual rack will fit on any Yakima crossbar in addition to a number of other third-party crossbars.
The design of the rack does a good job of balancing security and frame protection. The bike's front tire is locked into place by the frame's mount without having to touch the actual bike frame or remove the front tire. With a tire range of 20 to 29 inches under 3 inches wide, the rack can hold most road and mountain bikes.
The frame is designed for long-distance travel more than the daily commute. Getting the bike onto the rack can be difficult compared to hitch- and trunk-mounted racks, so carrying a bike for a short lunch ride each day may be a challenge. The length of the rack also requires a greater minimum distance between the crossbars, making it less-than-ideal for short, small cars.
- Pay attention to the weight capacity of the bike rack. Most racks can carry normal road and mountain bikes, but some will max out with recumbents and cargo bikes.
- Check the wheelbase of your bike(s) before purchasing a rack. Most racks can accommodate bikes up to 42 inches in length between the wheels.
- If you can avoid the hassle of taking wheels on and off to fit a bike onto a rack, choose a rack that attaches to the tires of the bike instead of the frame or fork.
- Taking off the bike seat, pedals, and other small parts will reduce the amount of wind noise the bike generates during transport.
Q. What is the difference between a bike rack and roof rack?
A. For the most part, these terms are interchangeable. Technically, a bike rack is anything that can be mounted to a car to carry a bike. Roof racks are often the crossbars that hold bike racks and other accessory mounts.
Q. How can I tell if a bike rack is compatible with my vehicle?
A. Most manufacturers have compatibility charts or calculators on their websites. Research any brand or model of rack you are considering and refer to other user reviews for more information.
Q. How long does it take to install a bike rack?
A. That depends on the rack type. Roof racks take some time to get assembled and attached to the crossbars. Hitch racks, on the other hand, slide on in one piece and can be fastened down in just a few minutes.
Q. Can someone steal a bike off of a rack?
A. It is possible for someone to take a bike off of a rack unless you secure it. A simple bike lock is all you really need to keep the bike secure. Turning on the car's security system can also help.
For the best all-around bike rack, check out the Swagman XC Cross-Country 2-Bike Hitch Mount Rack. Its simple design and easy use are top qualities that stand out among a crowded landscape of bike racks.
To save some money and expand your bike carrying capacity, check out the Allen Sports Deluxe Hitch Mounted Bike Rack instead.