Best Hitch Bike Racks: Bring Your Favorite Bikes Anywhere on the Road
Transport your bikes around with a top-quality hitch bike carrier
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PUBLISHED ON May 6, 2019
The ability to carry around bikes is often taken for granted. Unless you just ride your bike around town, your vehicle needs a rack to secure and transport bikes around. While roof racks are very common, hitch mounts are growing in popularity for a few reasons. To learn more and see some of the best hitch racks you should check out, read on for our handy guide on some of the best bike racks you can attach to a trailer hitch to hold up nearly any bike.
- Best OverallSwagman XC Cross-CountrySummarySummarySimple in design and installation, this hitch rack is about as light as it gets with bike carriers you can sling onto your car alone.ProsProsThe rack comes with a very simple design that is easy to use once everything is actually set up correctly.ConsConsInstallation can be difficult with some of the parts and fasteners. The instructions are limited in some specifications.
- Best ValueAllen Sports 4-Bike RackSummarySummaryThis is as simple as it gets when it comes to bike hitch carriers. In addition to a great price tag, this rack has room for up to four bikes while still protecting each frame from major damage.ProsProsComes with a simple design that makes it easy to mount a number of bikes in a quick, efficient, and safe manner.ConsConsThere is very little space between multiple bikes set up on the rack. Extra padding and bungee cords or straps may be required for a secure fit.
- Honorable MentionRetrospec Lenox Car Hitch RackSummarySummaryThis is the hitch bike rack to buy when you want the absolute bare minimum in features and design for an equally bare-minimum price tag.ProsProsComes with high-quality steel construction that can survive a few knocks and bumps on the average road trip.ConsConsThe quality of the included rubber straps is lacking. Cracks commonly start to form after the first few uses.
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Why Buy a Hitch Bike Rack
- Transport bikes safely. When you want to tour and ride unseen places, it helps to have a safe and secure way to get your bikes to the destination. Hitch racks tend to offer plenty of protection while driving with your bikes. Keeping them stable during transport means keeping the frame, tires, wheels, seat, and handlebars together so nothing goes flying off at highway speeds.
- Mount bikes easily. The main challenge with most bike racks is getting the bikes on and off. With roof racks, you have to lift the bike over your head to get it placed. Hitch racks, however, offer more convenience since you don't have to lift as far.
- Transport other accessories and toys. A few hitch racks make it easy to carry other accessories and toys in addition to bikes. Sometimes, these accessories are just small items to carry along with the bikes like cable locks. Other times, the list of possibilities may include other types of bikes like recumbent trikes.
Types of Hitch Bike Racks
Hanging-style racks support the bike from the top tube, allowing it to hang in space. This keeps the tires and wheels free from obstruction, reducing the change of damage while in transit. The hanging style can generally hold between two and five bikes and tends to way less than other racks. Unfortunately, the frame may get damaged depending on the driving conditions.
Platform-style racks support a bike from the wheels. While some attach to the frame or wheel, most hold the wheels in place with tire cradles, straps, or clamps. Frame clamps attach to the bike's crossbar, while wheel clamps go over the bike's front or rear wheel, both to minimize frame contact.
Top Brands of Hitch Bike Racks
Allen Sports knows a thing or two about outdoor exercise and technology. Based in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the company makes a line of strollers, trailers, and car racks that are sold throughout the world. The company has several popular hitch racks in its lineup, including the 4-Bike Hitch Rack.
What should you expect from a company that literally grew up in a rugged environment? A lot. That is the case with Thule. Established in Sweden in 1942, the company is one of the most recognized authorities in outdoor gear. When it comes to hitch racks, the company has a high-quality line with a steep price tag. Check out the Thule 9031XT Vertex Swing Away Rack for a good example of this high quality.
Specializing in different ways to transport outdoor adventure toys, Swagman offers a lot of good budget-friendly alternatives to mainstream (and expensive) accessory manufacturers. The company's line of hitch racks is most notable for offering almost every type and style imaginable, including the XC Cross-Country Rack.
Hitch Bike Rack Pricing
- $150 and under: It can be difficult to get a lot of value in the budget range of hitch racks. Here, single and double racks are common, For carrying a lot of bikes in this range, your best bet would be a hanging rack with the capacity of four or five bikes.
- $150-$300: Hitch racks tend to increase in quality with a rising price tag. As a result, the midrange of hitch racks is home to a number of durable options with bulky frames and tubing. Conveniences like a folding frame also tend to be more common here.
- $300 and above: The upper range is where the best hitch racks live. More convenient and innovative features like wheel clamps, folding frames, and extra straps are common here in addition to the higher price tag.
In order to keep a bike on the rack, some type of cradle is required to maintain contact with the frame or wheel. Quite often, the cradle is where the rear and front wheels rest on the bottom of the rack and provide resistance for the clamps so everything is tight and secure.
To prevent the bike from sliding or falling off of the rack, clamps are used to tension everything down to secure bikes. The clamps rest on some part of the bike, keeping it from tipping over or falling off at highway speeds. They are often shaped like a hook and have padding to minimize the chance of damage if the vehicle or rack hits a rough spot. Many are tool-free, heavy-duty, and come with different designs for different hitch-mounted bike racks. Anti-sway clamps are the most common. For some hitch mount bike racks, clamps can also be an add-on purchase to expand the carrying capacity.
Bike racks sometimes lack enough stability to hold a bike frame with just the cradles and clamps. This is where straps come in handy. By securing the wheels to the cradle or rack itself, the straps offer extra support. Most straps are simple strips of Velcro you can position in different spots depending on the size of the bike.
- Bike Type: Most hitch racks are somewhat universal when it comes to the type of bikes they can carry, especially for road bikes, but there are some limitations. Unique bikes like recumbents and trikes, for example, often require a special hitch rack to fit. Fat bikes, mountain bikes, or larger tires, in general, can also provide a challenge that requires additional accessories to mount onto an existing hitch rack.
- Bike Capacity: The number of bikes a rack can hold will determine how many bikes you can actually carry. Two to three bikes is a common range. Hanging hitch racks tend to hold more bikes but offer less separation between the frames. Platform bikes hold less on average but offer more support and protection.
- Hitch Size: True to the name, hitch racks fit into the hitch receiver of a vehicle. The size of the receiver will determine which models of racks can fit securely since any rack needs a tight fit to work. In short, the main tube of the rack needs to fit into the receiver. If it's too small, there might be an adapter you can use to make up the size difference. If it's too big, on the other hand, you might be out of luck with that particular model. The hitch size may also determine what type of hitch pin you need for the trailer hitch.
- Folding Frame: The one major drawback of a hitch rack is the space it takes up in the rear. For trunks, truck beds, or hatchbacks, this can also block access to the rear cargo compartment, decreasing the ease of use of the vehicle and rack. To avoid this issue, some racks have a folding frame that tilts outwards with the bikes anytime you need to access the rear. This type of frame also comes in handy when you don't have bikes on the rack since you can often fold it up vertically to reduce the vehicle's overall footprint.
Best Hitch Bike Racks Reviews & Recommendations 2019
Best Overall: Swagman XC Cross-Country
A simple frame and conventional clamp system are two of the highlights with the Swagman XC Cross-Country rack. Unlike more expensive options, this rack keeps the bulk down while still offering two secure mounting points for conventional, average bikes. Better still, it does a good job of folding up for storage or convenient driving when not carrying bikes around.
The design of the hitch rack is where this one shines the most. Although it's limited in carrying capacity, it does a great job of allowing you to secure most bikes down in several points without damaging the frame. Even smaller bike wheels, down to around 20 inches, can be secured with the included clamps and fasteners in just a short amount of time.
Installing the rack onto a vehicle's hitch presents a few problems, however. For one, the hitch set screen is somewhat difficult to move around. In part, the instructions don't offer good, specific details on how to set it up, so the "quick adjust" nature of the screw fails to really deliver on the same.
Best Value: Allen Sports 4-Bike Rack
How's it possible to carry four bikes with a budget-friendly price tag? Allen Sports has managed it with its hitch rack using a sturdy metal frame and simple straps to keep the bikes together with the vehicle. Despite the low price tag, the rack still manages to offer a lot in terms of basic security when driving a garage's worth of bikes along for a road trip.
As a platform carrier, this hitch rack is pretty straightforward in use. The height isn't too much of an issue when lifting bikes over the support platform, and the built-in cradles make placement a breeze. An included tension bolt (instead of the traditional locking pin for the hitch) reduces the number of vibrations and rattles the hitch experiences as well.
On the downside, space quickly gets crowded if you are loading up more than two bikes on the platform. The separation between the bikes is small, meaning you won't have much room for extra padding or protection for long road trips. Larger bikes and wheels complicate this even further.
Honorable Mention: Retrospec Lenox Car Hitch Rack
Retrospec's Lenox Hitch Carrier is a bike rack that is more than simple, it's bare-bones simple. Coming with two sets of bike straps in the most basic option, the rack is the one to choose when you want to save even more than most budget-friendly options can actually deliver.
As a value hitch rack, this one has the construction quality of a rack that's much more expensive. The steel construction and paint all survive the typical use and abuse that comes with transporting bikes large distances on the back of a car. Use is also fairly straightforward.
The included accessories, particularly the rubber straps, lack the same construction quality as the frame itself. The straps start to fatigue and crack after a few uses, so be prepared to replace them if you decide to go with this option.
- Always use a rack you know is compatible with your bike(s). Trying to get a bike to fit into a particular rack can be difficult so you can save yourself some headache by starting with the bike, then choosing the rack.
- You can use additional tie-downs and straps to keep your bike extra secure on the rack. This is handy for longer trips that will move the bike around more.
- Make sure you have a securing pin for the hitch receiver. This pin will keep the rack from sliding out as you drive forward. Some racks come with one, while others will require a separate purchase.
- On platform racks, you can often control the angle that the bike hangs at. If your rack has this adjustability, make sure the bike is balanced as much as possible. Neither tire should get too close to the ground.
- If possible, avoid parking in the garage with bikes on the hitch rack. While some garages are deep enough to hold a car and unfolded hitch, most will lack the same to clear the garage door.
Q. Is there a weight limit to using a hitch rack?
A. Yes. Most racks can accommodate bikes up to 50 pounds, but each one is different.
Q. Can any hitch rack fit onto my vehicle?
A. Compatible hitch racks will depend on the size of the hitch on your vehicle. A vehicle with a 2-inch hitch receiver, for example, will only be compatible with 2-inch hitch racks or smaller with an adapter.
Q. What if my vehicle doesn't have a hitch?
A. Hitches can usually be installed as an aftermarket purchase. The size of the hitch will depend on the size of your car since smaller vehicles will have weight limitations.
For a versatile and easy-to-use hitch rack, we recommend the Swagman XC Cross-Country as one of the best options to consider.
The Allen Sports 4-Bike Rack earns our pick as the best value pick when you want to save some money without sacrificing room.