Best Trunk-Mounted Bike Racks: Keep Your Bike Safe on the Back of Your Vehicle
Convenient trunk racks that can carry your bikes and save space on your vehicle at the same time
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BY Austin Fracchia / LAST UPDATED ON September 11, 2019
Finding the right way to transport your bike on a vehicle can be difficult. With so many options, it can be easy to get overwhelmed, particularly if your vehicle lacks the necessary components like a hitch receiver or adequate roof space. That is why a trunk-mounted bike rack can be a good option. Instead of taking up dedicated roof space or requiring a hitch receiver, all you need is a rear-end on your car. Regardless of whether you have a hatchback, minivan, SUV or anything in between, a trunk-mounted rack could work for you. To learn more about this often-forgotten bike rack option, read on for our guide.
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- Safely transport your bikes. The most important thing any bike rack can do is to keep your bike safe during transport. The common knocks and bumps a vehicle experiences can damage a bike frame if not properly secured. Trunk-mounted racks often include enough weight supports, padding, straps, anti-sway measures, and other features to keep the bike immobilized and protected.
- Easily remove the bike from the rack. One of the biggest inconveniences of roof-mounted bike racks is the effort they can take to remove the bike from the cradle. Not only do you have to reach the roof, but you also sometimes have to hyperextend yourself while lifting the weight of the frame. Hitch- and trunk-mounted racks provide more convenience by lowering the bike frames within easy reach near the ground. Trunk-mounted racks offer even more convenience since they are more compatible with a greater variety of vehicles that may lack the proper hitch receiver to work.
- Find a bike rack for smaller vehicles. For hitch- and roof-mounted bike racks, you either need a lot of roof space or the right hitch receiver to make the setup work. Smaller, compact cars, on the other hand, often lack the necessary setup, leaving the vehicle owner high and dry. Trunk-mounted bike racks only require enough flat space on the end of the vehicle, making them perfect for smaller cars.
This is the most basic type of trunk-mounted bike rack. The frame is a fixed design that uses several pieces of metal either welded or bolted together. The design typically comes in several bike capacities (usually from two to four bikes) and is relatively easy to set up since there aren't too many adjustments you can make. At the same time, the simple design also leaves some limitations if you want to increase the bike capacity or make it work for awkward vehicle designs.
Opposite to fixed bike racks are adjustable frames that include arms you can extend or add on to increase the bike capacity or alter the position of the best support. An adjustable bike rack is perfect if you need a more custom fit for your particular vehicle and can't find the right fixed design on the market. Some adjustable frames, however, can be trickier to set up and may sacrifice some weight capacity.
A few, often higher-end, bike racks feature folding arms you can maneuver out of the way when you don't have bikes loaded onto the rack. This can help save some space on the rear end, make it easier to park the vehicle, and reduce the amount of air-induced noise when driving on the road at highway speeds. The design tends to be the weakest of the three types because of the pivot points involved to allow the arms to fold. Bike capacity also tends to be smaller than fixed and adjustable trunk-mounted bike racks so the arms don't take up too much room when folded.
- $100 and under: The budget range of trunk-mounted bike racks is full of simple, fixed designs that do a good job of taking the weight of the average bike on long trips or daily drives. Don't expect too many fancy features like folding frames or large bike capacities. Instead, these options are all about simplicity to save money.
- $100-$300: This range is where most trunk-mounted bike racks comfortably sit. Capacities range from two to four bikes, and some frame designs include different adjustment points to position the bikes or the rack itself into the best alignment for the setup.
- $300 and above: If you want the best in terms of design and quality, this is the range to consider. Many trunk-mounted bike racks in this range tend to be over-engineered, sometimes to the point of being too bulky or heavy for convenient use, all to protect the bikes they carry. Advanced features like folding arms and heavy-duty straps are also common here.
If there is one company that has really made its mark on trunk-mounted bike racks, it is Saris. Sporting a unique, curvy look that is instantly recognizable, the rack options in its lineup aren’t like any others around. Thankfully, the overall quality and durability of the racks tend to match the unique design as well. If you want a taste of what to expect in terms of looks and performance from one of its trunk racks, consider the Bones 801 rack.
Started in 2008, Kuat has a tendency to over-engineer many of its designs for the benefit of you and your bike when it comes to racks. Despite the rather beefy look many of its racks have, the company manages to produce a lot of lightweight designs as well. As a result, options like the Highline Trunk Carrier offer a happy marriage between convenience and security within the frame.
This company got its start making trunk-mounted bike racks back in 1973. Since that time, Hollywood Racks has expanded into other frame designs but maintains a healthy selection of straightforward and competitively priced trunk racks. Nearly all of the racks, except for maybe the Over-The-Top trunk rack, maintain a simple and easy-to-install set up for anyone looking for a good way to carry and protect their bikes on a small vehicle.
The one part of a trunk-mounted bike rack that takes the brunt of the weight of the bikes is the pair of support arms that stick out from the vehicle. As a result, the support arms need to be durable enough to take the weight in addition to any extra forces the vehicle produces while traveling. Adjustable and folding arms are also added perks if you are looking for something that can fit different bike sizes and numbers or that can be made smaller when not in use.
Trunk-mounted bike racks work by creating tension against the surface of the vehicle. To hold itself in place, it needs a number of support straps anchored down on different points of the vehicle. Most straps are made of flexible materials; some may even stretch or ratchet down, to create the necessary tension. Typically, you will find bike racks with four to six straps. The more straps you have, the more secure the hold will be, but fewer straps make installation quicker and easier.
The point of contact between the bike rack and the bike frame is important since it influences how much potential damage the rack can do to the frame. In other words, if you don't have the right cradle supporting the bike frame, you may find more scratches or cracks in the frame then you initially wanted. Good cradles are padded and large enough to support the bike along the tube. Higher-end cradles also include anti-sway designs that keep the bike frame from swinging back and forth on the rack when the car is in motion, accelerating, or de-accelerating. Most connect to either the rear or front wheel.
- Vehicle Compatibility: Ideally, a trunk-mounted bike rack should work with a number of different vehicle designs and types. Anything short of a truck bed should be up for grabs, but realistically, some bike racks are more universally compatible than others. The size and shape of the rack, in addition to the flexibility of the frame, will ultimately dictate if the rack will fit onto the rear end of your vehicle, what kind of support it will need from the straps, and what the best positioning of everything will be.
- Bike Compatibility: Trunk-mounted bike racks are inherently weaker incompatibility than roof-and hitch-mounted rack designs since they are strapped on to a vehicle instead of bolted on. As a result, it's important to think about the types of bikes you actually want to carry on the rack. Most road bikes tend to be compatible with trunk-mounted racks right off the bat. Tricky designs, however, include larger mountain bikes, recumbents, fat bikes, cargo bikes, and e-bikes. The weight of the bike, in particular, is especially important to consider since weight limits tend to be smaller on trunk bike racks. Alternative frames, often found on specialty bikes, can also be difficult to support on the mounting arms and cradles.
Best Trunk-Mounted Bike Rack Reviews & Recommendations 2021
- Whenever you're looking at a particular trunk-mounted bike rack, look for a vehicle compatibility list. Some manufacturers include a list of compatible vehicles to make it easier for potential buyers to see if the rack will work for them.
- Once you've mounted a bike rack onto the end of your vehicle, give it a test ride around the neighborhood before you mount any bikes to it. This will give you a good opportunity to see if anything is loose or improperly mounted before placing extra weight onto the arms.
- Whenever you're driving with a trunk-mounted bike rack, whether a bike is on it or not, listen for any abnormal sounds coming from the back. Cracks, pops, scraping noises, and anything else that seems out of the ordinary (other than some wind) may be a sign that something has gotten loose or is on the verge of failing.
- Keep in mind that you will not be able to access the rear of your vehicle without unmounting the bike rack. Unlike folding hitch-mounted bike racks that move out of the way when you need to get into the trunk, trunk-mounted bike racks block the door or lid.
Q. Are trunk-mounted bike racks difficult to install?
A. This depends on the design of a particular rack, but in general, they can be easier to mount than some roof-mounted designs. Fewer straps make it quicker and easier to get the rack positioned at the potential cost of some stability.
Q. Can I carry mountain bikes or e-bikes on a trunk rack?
A. This all depends on the weight capacity of the bike rack. Since mountain bikes can weigh as much as 50 pounds, the weight of the frame can quickly push the limit of the rack or limit the number of bikes you can carry at once. E-bikes, on the other hand, tend to be ill-suited for trunk-mounted bike racks because of the weight. A hitch rack is the best way to go for this type of bike.
Q. How do I prevent my trunk rack from being stolen?
A. Cables and straps are your friends when it comes to protecting both the rack itself and the bikes on it. Simple bike locks and cables can offer some resistance to would-be thieves if they tried to steal a bike off of your rack. Similarly, heavy-duty straps that lock into place make it more difficult to get the rack off of the vehicle.
We chose the Saris Bones 801 3-Bike Trunk Mount Rack as the best trunk bike rack because of its unique, beefy frame design and larger bike capacity it can offer for nearly any vehicle.
If you fancy a more affordable option, consider the Allen Sports Deluxe Trunk Mounted Bike Rack instead.