How to Choose the Best Bike Rack
Updated: Jul 7, 2022
What better way is there to enjoy nature than riding through beautiful countryside backwoods and up to steep mountain summits?
As nice as it would be to bike the entire way from your home to the start of the next trail you're set on conquering, it's not always possible. If you enjoy taking on a new trail every week, you'll need to invest in a bike rack for your car.
But with so many different types, how do you choose the best bike rack for your needs? As a rider, there are a lot of factors to consider.
In this post, we'll discuss all the different types of bike racks and help you decide which one will work best for you!
Types of Bike Racks
Before you buy a bike rack, the first step is to determine the type of rack you need to use. The four broad types of bike racks available are:
Out of the four types, the most popular car racks for biking trips are roof-mounted racks.
As the name suggests, roof-mounted racks attach to your car's roof using straps or clamps. The rack can be mounted upright or as a fork, giving you maximum flexibility by leaving your trunk area free for other items you need to bring along.
Depending on the type, some roof racks may require you to remove your bike's front wheel before loading, while others are designed to lock in both wheels seamlessly.
Often, bike racks that require you to remove the front wheel make the process of loading your bike much easier, while the other model requires a bit more work.
Additionally, roof racks that allow you to lock in both wheels tend to be less stable and more expensive than the other type. However, it does come with the convenience of not having to remove and re-install wheels on every biking trip.
Fortunately, both roof rack models include locks to secure your bike and have the advantage of lifting your bikes away from the ground, so they're much less likely to get damaged.
Roof Rack Pros:
Secure and stable bike rack
Unobstructed access to your trunk and doors
Versatility and easy hauling
Roof Rack Cons:
Reduced fuel efficiency
Interrupts the car's aerodynamics
Requires higher clearance
Height may present a challenge when unloading
Overall, roof racks are excellent options if you plan on going on a long biking trip and require space and access to your trunk and car doors.
If you have a pickup, you'll be happy to hear that you have several truck bike rack mounting options.
The first is an adjustable or wheel-mounted bike rack. These operate by securing one of your bike tires to the truck and have the advantage of not requiring any tire removal. Depending on your truck size, you can find wheel-mounted racks that can hold up to four bikes at a time.
When made with sturdy material like carbon steel, truck owners will find these bike racks to be some of the most stable and sturdy available.
The second option is a fixed or fork-mounted rack, which requires a little more elbow grease to work with. That's because you must remove your bike's front wheel before mounting to secure it.
The last option is a tailgate bike pad. These pads are strapped to your truck's tailgate, and you mount your bike by simply draping the front fork and tire over the top. A majority of bike pads can hold up to six bikes at once, and the cushions help prevent your bike from rubbing and damaging the tailgate material.
Truck Mount Pros:
Simple installation process
Extremely stable and sturdy
Works with a locking system to secure your bikes
Easy to load and unload bikes
It can carry up to four bikes depending on the model
Bikes remain clean throughout transit
Bikes remain safe and out of harm's way in the event of a fender bender
Leaves room to store other items in the truck bed
Some models can
Frees your hitch for towing
Truck Mount Cons:
Some models may require drilling into the floor of the truck bed
Bikes may obstruct the rearview mirror or camera, depending on your truck's make and model
At the end of the day, the best truck bed bike racks aren't cheap. However, being willing to pay more means you're getting a bike rack that's secure and can provide you with long-term reliability.
Hitch carriers are ideal for bike owners who want a bike rack that's quick and convenient to load and unload. This bike rack is available in mast and tray mounts and is designed to attach to your car's tow hitch with a receiver.
Most hitch carriers can hold up to four bikes and come with premium features such as repair stands, lightweight material, and built-in locks. Out of the three options, hitch carriers are gaining in popularity due to being extremely versatile.
Additionally, these carriers come with a secure attachment or locking mechanism that makes it extremely challenging to steal.
Contrary to how it looks, hitch carriers also feature a hinged load section, so you can access your trunk without having to actually unload your bike.
However, the premium features that come with hitch carriers mean it's also the most expensive option. They're not only much more intricately designed, but they also require you to install a hitch to your car, which is typically an additional cost.
Hitch Carrier Pros:
Easy installation process
Trunk access without having to unload bikes
Bikes are exposed and prone to getting dirty from grime, oil, water, and road dust
Hitch Carrier Cons:
Requires a separate hitch or towbar purchase
Most expensive bike rack option
Basic models may hinder trunk access
Overall, hitch carriers come with a lot of premium features and are best for those who prioritize easier loading and unloading and don't mind paying extra for it.
Not to be confused with truck mounts, trunk mounts are also a popular type if you want to purchase a bike rack. These bike racks are designed to hook to your trunk's lips using straps or clamps.
Like truck mounts, these are much less expensive than roof mounts and are a budget-friendly option. However, they're not the most secure type and can require some patience when installing.
If you do go with a trunk mount, it helps to have a friend or family member help to have it correctly installed. That's because if you're not paying attention, it can leave extremely noticeable scratches on your car.
It helps to clean the area of dirt before attaching to help reduce the risk of leaving a noticeable scratch.
Additionally, most trunk mounts don't come with a secure locking mechanism like roof mounts, so it's easier for thieves to steal your bike.
Trunk Mount Pros:
Great for the recreational bike rider
Can be used on multiple vehicles
Trunk Mount Cons:
May be challenging to lock bikes to the vehicle
Interfere with trunk access
Relies on secure straps to be effective
If poorly secured, bikes may sway or shift
Likely to leave scratches on your car's paint
Overall, trunk mounts are best if you're on a budget with limited space and plan on biking on nearby trails.
In addition to selecting your bike rack type, you must also consider the capacity. How many bikes do you need to transport? This is an important question to ask yourself because you don't want to risk cramming more bikes than the rack can carry and one falls off in the middle of the highway.
Regardless of the model, every bike rack available is built to carry one bike per cradle. If you only need to transport one or two bikes, any type will work. However, if you require three or more bikes, you may want to consider a hitch mount.
In addition to bike capacity, you must also consider the rack's maximum weight. If the rack can carry two or more bikes, the manufacturer will generally indicate the maximum weight of each individual bike.
Understanding the type of car you have will have a profound effect on your bike rack option.
Check the outfitting of your car and always follow the manufacturer's vehicle fit guides to find the perfect size rack for your car's make and model.
Budget and Security
At the end of the day, bike rack prices will vary depending on the type and premium features. Determine how much you're willing to spend and balance that number with how much you can afford.
Bike theft is a common issue, but with some cities seeing spikes in thefts, it may be worth paying extra for a more secure bike rack. Consider getting a rack ready with a locking mechanism or other anti-theft features.
If you prefer a more secure bike rack, you want to cross off trunk racks from your list because they lack locking mechanisms.
Fuel Economy and Ease of Use
Lastly, with average gas prices over $5 a gallon, it pays to consider and be cautious of fuel consumption. Most cyclists will agree that roof racks are the most expensive, not only due to their premium features but also because they can increase your cost of fuel significantly.
That's because roof racks can interrupt the aerodynamics of your car.
If you want to save on fuel because you enjoy biking on remote trails, then roof racks aren't an ideal choice. The most fuel-efficient bike rack are rear racks because they're positioned out of the way of airflow.
You also want to consider the bike rack's ease of use. How easy is it to load and unload your bikes? If you only need to transport one or two bikes, any of the three types of bike racks will work.
Taking on the World
With the appropriate car rack for your bike customized and installed, you'll feel like you're ready to take on the world! No matter which type of bike rack you choose, always read the manufacturer's instructions before assembly and use.
And if you have a truck and don't want to deal with swaying bikes, get in contact for a unique rack designed with truck beds in mind!