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Choosing a bike rack for your car can be very confusing and that’s why I’ve written this guide to picking the right rack for your car, your bikes and your wallet.
It should be so easy to pick a bicycle rack, shouldn’t it?
Trouble is that car shapes vary (sedans, hatchback, etc) and there are a range of different bike types (mountain bikes, kids bikes, electric bikes, and so on).
You also have to decide where to put the rack on your car – on the roof? On the trunk lid? Or, on the hitch?
And, then you might be concerned about whether the rack is going to damage your car.
Or, whether the rack (and your bikes) will be safe on your car and protected from opportunistic thieves.
Don’t worry! I’ve got the answers in this simple guide to car bike racks. Let’s take a look and I’ll help you decide which is the right rack for you.
What are the safest bike racks?
Whether you’re looking for the best bike rack for your hatchback or your Honda, your carbon road bike or your ladies’ step-through bike, the key is to choose the bicycle rack that will protect your bikes from being stolen.
There are many great rack brands to choose from that will keep your bikes safe, such as Thule, Kuat, Yakima and Saris.
There are also a range of options to consider from roof racks, to hitch and trunk-mounted racks.
Hitch mounted bike racks are the safest as they can usually be locked onto the hitch, with the bikes being locked onto the rack.
Are bikes safe on a bike rack?
Yes, a good quality rack from a reputable manufacturer is the safest way to transport your bike(s) on a car.
Roof racks, rear-mounted strap-on racks and hitch racks are all safe ways to transport your bikes on backcountry dirt tracks or highways.
Whilst transporting a bike without a rack (by putting it in the trunk) can seem like a cheaper or more secure option, it can lead to damage to the insides of your car.
Or be an invitation to thieves to smash your car windows in order to steal your bike.
Car racks are designed to protect your bikes, however it can be worthwhile adding extra protection to key ‘rub points’ on your bikes where they might touch and cause damage.
Pipe insulation foam wrap is the best way of protecting your bike – simply cut sections of foam insulation and wrap them over your bike’s frame to protect it from scratches and chips.
Are bike hitch racks safe?
If you have a hitch fitted to your car, then a hitch rack can be the best way to safely transport your bikes.
Hitch racks come in a wide variety of sizes from one bike to five bikes.
Look for racks which are lockable to the hitch receiver as these give the highest level of protection for your bikes.
There are a number of advantages of a hitch mount bike rack vs a roof mount, including lowering the effective vehicle height and making lifting the bikes on and off easier.
Hitch bike racks that tilt down or swing out are a great option as these allow you to open the trunk whilst the bikes are loaded on the rack.
Can bike racks be stolen?
Whilst it is easy to steal some bike racks, many have anti-theft security features that can prevent them from being stolen.
The best theft prevention method is to not leave your bike rack on your car when it’s not needed. Take it off and store it in a safe place until you need it next.
To make your bike rack more secure you can also secure it to your car with either a hitch lock (a feature on many Thule bike racks) or a bike rack security cable.
You should also secure your bikes onto the car rack with a suitable lock – this prevents your bikes from theft and also protects the bike rack by making the whole package too difficult to steal.
What is the easiest car bike rack to use?
The easiest bike rack for your car depends on a number of factors including the number of bicycles you have, the type of car you own, and where you want to fit the rack.
For a standard hatchback without a hitch, the best bike rack is one that hangs from the trunk lid and is secured with straps to the vehicle. Saris and Allen Sports produce some excellent trunk racks.
Bike racks for car roofs are useful in that they allow easy access to the trunk but can be difficult to lift bikes on and off. They also need you to have roof bars fitted to the car and these can be an additional expense.
If your car has a hitch mount, then a hitch rack is a great option. These can be expensive but offer the most security features, are easy to fit and bikes can be mounted without having to lift them above your head (vs a roof rack).
Are bike racks easy to install?
Yes! Most bike racks are easy to fit and not hard at all to install. You can install them by yourself although an extra pair of hands can often be useful to lift the rack or bikes into position.
Hitch racks are installed by sliding the bike rack arm into the hitch receiver on the car. Lock the arm in place with the supplied bolt and tighten according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
For cars without a hitch a trunk mounted rack can be the best option. These are fitted by placing the rack against the trunk lid, then securing it into position with the supplied straps.
Bike roof racks are positioned on top of the car roof bars and locked into place with either a key lock or wrench to secure.
What is better a hanging or platform bike rack?
When you’re comparing platform bike racks vs hanging you’ll see that both have advantages and disadvantages.
The best hanging bike racks can either be hitch-mounted (great if you have a hitch receiver fitted to your car) or they can be mounted to your trunk.
Hanging bike racks tend to be cheaper to buy, lighter to lift, and can carry more bikes (some will take up to 5 bikes). Bikes can wobble more though, so you’ll need to choose a bike rack with anti-sway.
Platform bike racks (such as from Thule) hold bikes more rigidly, so that they’re less likely to knock against each other or your car. However the maximum capacity of platform racks is 4 bikes, and the racks are heavier and more expensive.
It can be useful to protect your bikes on a hanging rack and the best way to do this is with plumbers’ foam pipe cladding wrap.
How do I know what bike rack to buy?
It’s important to know that not every type of bike rack will fit every type of car.
You should choose the best bike rack for your car based on the type of vehicle you have (such as a car or SUV), where you want to put the bike rack (hitch, trunk, or roof), and how many bikes you need to carry.
If you have a hitch fitted, are carrying up to four bikes, and want to be able to fit the bikes without lifting them over your head, then choose a hitch-mounted bike rack from a reputable manufacturer such as Thule, Yakima or Kuat.
You can go with either a platform or hanging hitch rack. Hanging racks tend to be more cost-effective and can sometimes carry more bikes. Platform racks are easier to use with ladies or step-through bikes that don’t have a horizontal crossbar.
If you don’t have a hitch, but still want to carry bikes on the rear of your car, then choose a trunk-mounted rack such as the Saris Bones. If you’re looking for a trunk rack for 4, 5, or even 6 bikes, then take a look at the Allen Sports range.
Where you have roof bars fitted on your car, then it’s worth considering a bike roof rack. These have the advantage of not extending the length of your vehicle (although will make it taller).
Can any bike rack fit any car?
No – it’s important to check whether the type of bike rack you’re considering is going to be compatible with your car.
Hitch mount racks (such as from Yakima) need a hitch receiver fitted to your car.
Roof racks need roof bars fitted to your car.
Trunk mount racks can fit most standard cars (such as compact or hatchback) but there may be issues if you have a spoiler fitted to your vehicle.
Are bike racks universal?
Bike racks are not universal but there are some which are compatible with more car types than others.
As a guide, rear bike racks (also known as trunk mount) are as nearly universal as it’s possible to get.
Rear bike racks will fit most common car types without adding any accessories to your car, such as roof bars or a hitch receiver.
For cars with a hitch receiver pre-fitted then a hitch rack is a compatible option.
Bikes that do not have a standard horizontal crossbar (such as full-suspension mountain bikes, women’s bikes, kids bikes, low-step and step-thru bikes) will need to have a crossbar adaptor fitted in order to load them onto a hanging bike rack.
Can you use a car bike rack on an SUV?
Yes, you can use many types of car bike rack on an SUV.
For a SUV with no hitch receiver a trunk-mount car bike rack is a great option. These can be used to carry up to 5 bikes.
The best bike rack for a SUV with a hitch fitted is a platform or hanging hitch-mount rack, such as one from Thule, Allen Sports or Kuat.
However, roof racks are not recommended for carrying bikes on an SUV due to the height of the vehicle.
Car bike racks are installed on a SUV in the same way as on a car and according to the manufacturer’s fitting instructions.
Are bike racks interchangeable?
A good bike rack is a safe and legal way to transport bikes on your vehicle, whether you have a sedan, hatchback or SUV.
Bike racks are easy to install and can be moved from one vehicle to another, so long as there are the correct fixing points on each car (such as a hitch receiver).
This can be useful where you have for example a compact car that you use to carry a single commuter bike during the week and an SUV that you use to carry four family bikes at the weekend.
Do bike racks damage your car?
A good quality bike rack that has been properly installed on the vehicle, with bikes correctly fitted will not damage your car.
Hanging bike racks, such as trunk- or hitch-mount bike carriers, can lead to a dented trunk but only when they have been fitted incorrectly or where the bikes are allowed to sway and knock into each other and the vehicle.
The best way to keep bikes from hitting each other on a car rack is to (1) fit them to the rack properly and (2) use protection pads.
Protection pads cushion the bikes from each other and the trunk lid, avoiding scratches and dents.
You can either buy protection pads specifically designed for this or alternatively use foam pipe cladding wrap.
Should I leave my bike rack on my car?
Bike racks are a significant investment so the best advice is to remove them and store safely when they’re not needed for transporting bikes.
Whilst you can certainly drive with an empty bike rack it is best practice not to do this as you may forget it’s there and damage it by driving under a low roof or through a car wash.
If you choose to keep your rack on your vehicle then it’s worth buying one that is lockable, securing it either to your hitch receiver or onto your car’s roof bars.
A good quality bike rack should be okay to leave on your car in the rain as most (such as from reputable manufacturers like Thule and Kuat) are waterproof.
Leaving a bike rack on your car will not cause damage to your car but it will cause the rack to deteriorate faster and it will not last as long before needing to be replaced.
Are bike racks safe for long drives?
A quality bike rack that is properly installed on your vehicle and has been well-maintained is safe to use for long drives and on the highway.
Problems with bike racks occur when they aren’t appropriate for the vehicle, or haven’t been fitted correctly, or the bikes haven’t been loaded onto the rack in the right way.
If you’re going on a road trip and looking for the best rack for long distance travel, then a great option is either a trunk- or hitch-mount rack.
A hitch or trunk rack won’t affect the aerodynamics of your car as it’s directly behind, so it will have less impact on your fuel bills – super important on a long journey!
If you’re concerned about protecting bikes on a bike rack through a long drive then wrap any parts of the frames that might knock together with foam pipe cladding.
Do roof bike racks damage your car?
A roof bike rack should not damage your car if it has been correctly fitted and maintained, the roof bars correctly fitted and maintained, and the bikes correctly fitted to the rack.
The best roof bike rack is one that holds your bikes securely, stops them from scratching the car and stops the bikes from hitting each other on the rack.
If you’re concerned about bikes scratching each other when you’re driving, then fit some protection pads to the bike frames – these are cheap to buy and easy to use.
Damage to your car may happen when you’re lifting the bikes on and off the rack as you’re lifting the bikes high over your head, which can be tough to do (even if you have a light-as-a-feather carbon bike!)
To make fitting bikes to a roof rack easier it’s worth getting another person to help with lifting the bikes into position.
At first glance, car bike racks can be very confusing and it can be difficult to work out which one is best for your bikes and your car.
Bicycle racks are the safest way to transport your bikes on your vehicle.
They’re also easy to install and use, so there’s no need call in the professionals every time you need to take your bike out for a car journey!
Whether you decide on a trunk rack, roof rack or hitch car, there’s a bicycle carrier that’s perfect for you.