Tired of biking the same route every weekend? Ready to take on a new park that opened, but it is too far away to peddle over before even starting the trail?
We have the perfect solution – a cargo rack specifically for your bike. To avoid the overwhelming number of options online and bypass condescending looks from the local bike dealership, check out our perfect guide to everything you need to know about choosing the right rack.
In a hurry? The test winner after 16 hours of research:
Thule T2 Pro XT
Why is it better?
Last Updated: May 31, 2019
By Max Shumpert: This article has been updated to reflect the most accurate information regarding bike racks available for those who are interested in combining cycling and technology. The best 5 available have changed, and information has been added to assist individuals in finding the best bike computers currently available on the market. The FAQ has also been updated.
Now you can start planning a road trip that includes trails and experiences not accessible by a vehicle by taking the bike along to enhance the adventure.
Best In Class - Reviewed
We understand no bike carrier is universal. Factors such as your type of vehicle, the number of bikes to transport, and physical limitations on space and budget require consideration. If you have a secondhand bicycle that has seen better days, maybe spending $500 on a rack isn't worth it.
To keep you from spending hours digging through specialized cycling magazines or getting overwhelmed at the local bike shop (LBS), we have taken things a step beyond just a breakdown of the best racks out there. The hard work is done, and you can rest easy with the knowledge that our recommendations are research-based because we love cycling too.
Best Hitch Racks
If you want stability and not to worry about clearance or to reach above your head to get the bikes free, a hitch mount may be for you. Designed for frequent use, and installation and removal of a hitch mount is probably the easiest choice.
They work for trucks, SUVs, anything with a hitch. Make sure to know the hitch size on your vehicle before buying a kit, as you may need to include an adapter.
Hitch racks are higher priced, but patrons continuously tout that it is worth the extra money to feel secure.
Top Pick: Thule T2 Pro XT
- Premium platform hitch bike rack for 2-4 bikes
- Tool free Auto Attach system makes it easy to install and remove
- Quickly secure bikes without frame contact
The Thule bike rack utilizes a ratcheting arm and secures your bike without touching the frame. Adjust the side to side distance between bikes and avoid them crashing together while driving.
The one-key system lets you lock the bike into place, the rack to the hitch, and keep bikes safe and secure without fumbling with different keys.
Safe for bikes with carbon frames, powder coat or custom paint jobs because it won’t lead to scratches.
The HitchSwitch lever allows the entire assembly to tilt, with bikes loaded, so you still have access to hatchbacks, tailgates, and trunks without issue.
No need for tools during installation or removal thanks to the AutoAttach system.
This Thule bike rack can also handle fat tires, up to 5” inches, without an adapter.
The system folds up when not in use, so you don’t have to take it off just because a bike is not mounted.
This hitch rack is both pricey and heavy. It is a safe and solid piece of equipment but getting the hitch on and off may be difficult for smaller individuals to handle safely.
To carry four bikes instead of two, you must purchase an add-on and make sure you have a 2-inch receiver. If you have a hitch extender to compensate for a spare tire mounted on the rear of a vehicle, note that the security cable might be too short.
The kit includes both the bike lock to avoid theft and the receiver lock for safety.
The Thule T2 Pro XT can even handle e-bikes!
Make sure you know the vehicle's hitch size before making a purchase. Depending on the model, it may fit only the 1.25-inch or 2-inch hitch receiver but will not fit both.
Runner-Up: Kuat Racks NV 2.0
- Adjustable front tire cradle system
- Re-designed pivot with optional foot assist
- Fully integrated cable locks
The adjustable front-tire cradle system lets you hold up to 48-inch wheelbases.
The two-bike system has fully integrated cable locks, and the intuitive ratchet arms provide more stability and retention.
The Trail Doc work stand allows for easier roadside repairs too.
The Kuat NV 2.0 has a pivot feature, allowing access to your rear doors or hatch. The optional foot assist helps move the assembly with ease.
Being able to tighten the rack to the hitch receiver by hand keeps the rack from swaying while making turns on the road.
Depending on the type of bike, you may need some extra purchases. For larger tires, the Phat Bike Kit is required. While the system is designed to fit 20-29-inch tires, you need to purchase a Wheel Adapter for the 20-24-inch end of the spectrum.
This rack is also just as heavy as the Thule T2, coming in at 52 pounds.
The rack may partially block your license plate, depending on the make and model of your vehicle, so pay attention to long road trips as an obstructed plate may draw unwanted attention from local authorities.
You have color choices! Instead of just straight up black, go for a fun gray metallic and orange gloss powder coat or keep it more traditional with a black metallic with gray anodize.
This Kuat rack also has two locks for extra security, but you still only need one key to open both.
Make sure you know exactly what you need before making a purchase. If you run with a heavier bike, make sure the capacity is sufficient. Purchase any add-ons all at once to avoid rigging the assembly together and possibly cause damage.
Best Trunk Mount Bike Racks
When looking for the most cost-effective bike carriers on the market, a trunk mount rack or two is going to make your list. For occasional use and easy installation, trunk racks are the best option, and you can use them on different vehicles.
Top Pick: Allen Sports PREMIER TRUNK MOUNTED BIKE RACK
- Patent pending design fits sedans, hatchbacks, minivans and SUV's consult manufacturer web site for specific vehicle fit information
- Patented quick snap set up design allow for super quick set up right out of the box
- 12 inch Long Carry Arms easily accommodate up to 2 bicycles (70 LB Max capacity)
This Allen Sports bike rack folds down easily comes fully assembled right out of the box! The large contact pads distribute pressure while protecting your vehicle from scratches and dents.
Good for vans, sedans, hatchbacks, and SUVs, the Allen Sports rack has 21-inch long carry arms that keep the bikes away from your vehicle and secure at the same time.
You can secure each cycle independently with individual straps.
You really can’t beat the price in comparison to other mounts. Swap the Allen Sports deluxe or premier models to different vehicles with ease.
No need to take the front wheel off your bikes unless you want to do so!
This rack can handle different sized bikes, including children’s bicycles, without a problem.
Trunk mounted racks are not designed for constant use. If you are loading it up every weekend, you may want to invest in a roof or hitch mount.
You won’t be able to open the hatchback or trunk while the rack is in place.
Proper installation is key to avoid dinging or scratching the bike and your vehicle. While the straps may seem complicated at first glance, take the time to watch the installation video.
Some buyers have complained about damage to paint from the bikes or rack itself, finding the padding insufficient for their vehicle.
Patented side straps give the assembly extra lateral stability to keep your stuff safe while driving and taking quick turns or heading over bumpy trails.
Take the time to check the vehicle fit list to ensure you purchase the correct model.
While the rack is rated for up to four bikes, watch the weight and also the size of your vehicle as too many bikes on a low car may lead to damage.
If you are concerned about damage to your vehicle or bikes, take an extra five minutes during installation and maybe wrap extra tape around contact areas. Just because this rack fits most vehicles doesn’t mean it fits them all perfectly.
Runner-Up: Saris Bones 801 3-Bike Trunk Mount Rack
- 3-bike trunk-mounted rack conceived by famed designer Fabio Pedrini
- Made of heavy-duty, 100-percent recyclable plastic for durability
- Ratcheting anti-sway straps secure and stabilize bikes to rack arms
The Saris Bones rack’s curved features allow it to hold up to three bikes at slightly different heights, making it easier to mount or remove them without interference.
Coated straps and rubberized feet of the rack ensure your vehicle isn't marred or damaged.
Ratcheting straps provide a secure hold with the sway.
The arched design should allow the rack to fit over most spoilers.
The injection molded plastic makes this rack a strong but lightweight option at only eleven pounds.
A portion of each product sold is donated to a non-profit organization. Donations are determined by colors, such as pink for breast cancer research or orange for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Know that purchasing a Saris rack also means you are supporting a company proudly bearing the Made in the U.S.A. stamp.
Customers with newer model minivans or very contoured mid-size SUVs have struggled with the rack sitting flush on the rear of the vehicle. This makes securing the rack a bit trickier which also means it may not work as well and you may find the rack shimmies on the highway.
Don't expect to open your trunk or hatchback when sporting the Bones rack.
The rack is designed for standard bike frames only.
You must have a bumper on the vehicle for the rack to be secure. (But honestly, if you don’t have a bumper maybe check that out before going out on the trails in the first place.)
Saris claims the materials are all recyclable and resistant to corrosion.
Yay for color! The Saris Bones products come in the widest variety of colors so that you can match it to your vehicle or your personality with ease!
Visit the manufacturer’s website and take a look at the fit guide before making a final purchase.
Best Roof Mount Bike Racks
If the price is the most important factor for you, the roof mount rack is a middle of the road option for hauling your bike. While roof mounts are considered both secure and safe, they also leave the interior of your vehicle free and don't block the rear view or access to the trunk.
Top Pick: Yakima Frontloader Bike Mount
- CARRY ANY BIKE: Fits virtually any type of bike, including disc brakes, thru axles, and full suspension bikes; Fits 20" to 29" wheels and tires...
- EASY LOADING: Load your bike fully assembled on this wheel-on mount; FrontLoader holds your bike upright as you secure it
- ROOF RACK REQUIRED: Crossbar spread must be between 16" and 48"; Fits Yakima round, square, factory or aerodynamic crossbars; Fully assembled out...
This Yakima bike rack features a zero-frame contact assembly, so your custom paint job won’t suffer a scratch.
It fits all sorts of crossbars from factory builds to aerodynamic ones.
Tool-free installation takes about five minutes, and the rack itself is fully assembled the moment you pull it out of the box.
Bike features including full suspension, disc brakes, and full axles are no problem with the Frontloader.
Don’t even bother taking off the front wheel. The curved front bracket allows you to put a fully assembled bicycle right on top of the car, ready to go when you are.
No tools needed for installation! Okay, we already mentioned that, but it's worth noting twice.
While good for road or mountain bikes, the Yakima bike rack can only secure tire widths up to three inches, so your fat boy will need a different mount.
The kit does not include anti-theft measures, so be prepared to purchase separate locking straps before leaving your bike up top.
Extensive research on reviews brought up two potential issues – life expectancy and difficulty getting replacement parts as needed.
If you opt out of the professional installation, use the free installation video provided by Yakima.
Add the cost of locks into the expected cost for this rack. Surprise expenses can lead to negative experience even when it has nothing to do with the product, so let yourself enjoy the purchase.
Runner-Up: Kuat Trio Rack
- 3 Way Mount-Fits 9, 15, & 20 mm forks out of the box
- Mounts to most factory & all aftermarket cross bars
- Integrated Cable Lock (locks both frame and rear wheel)
The Kuat Trio is a great single bike rack. With a 3-Way fork mount system, it can handle 9mm, 15mm or 20mm forks with no adapters.
It comes in gunmetal gray or black and chrome for a rugged look that compliments your vehicle instead of sticking out like an awkward add-on.
The Trio works with most factory crossbars and any aftermarket crossbar.
An integrated cable lock system on both tires is secure, and the sliding rear wheel strap gives you the flexibility need to secure frames of a different length.
One of the lighter rooftop racks at a mere seven pounds, you don’t have to worry about too much extra weight up top.
The slim-line design keeps a low profile and maintains your vehicle’s aerodynamic silhouette.
A partial bike mounted on the roof of your car or SUV is less appealing to thieves.
Roof racks often require the front wheel be removed to stow the bike. The Trio is no different. (Guess we are just spoiled by the Frontloader.)
When mounting the bike, be careful to set the fork in the cradle properly, lest you accidentally end up dinging the roof or denting the fork.
Optional adapter kits can make the rack a perfect fit for your bike. Additional fork sizes, fat bike adapters for wider tires and a variety of thru-axle options are available.
Be sure you feel comfortable loading and unloading a bike with no front wheel above your head. Loading on top of a sedan is probably easier than atop an SUV so factor in your physical comfort zone when choosing a roof rack. It may be no problem mounting before biking, but how exhausted are you afterward? Don't ruin a great ride by damaging your car right before heading back home.
Best Suction Cup Bike Rack
Found yourself in a borrowed vehicle or rental car and still want to hit the trails? Then you might want to check out a single-bike option that won’t leave a mark.
Top Pick: SeaSucker Talon Bike Rack
- ANY CAR. ANY PLACE. ANY TIME. The SeaSucker Talon Bike Rack is MANUFACTURED in the USA so you don't have to worry about durability or safety. The...
- THE ONLY AMERICAN-MADE RACK AT THE TOUR DE FRANCE. The SeaSucker rack has been TESTED at the toughest races and most physically gruelling...
- YOUR NEXT ADVENTURE IS READY - Our racks are the only TRAVEL-FRIENDLY bike racks for cars because THEY FIT in a backpack, carry-on, or bike bag....
SeaSucker’s bike rack stands alone in this category.
A suction cup bike rack works for everything from vans to sedans.
The single, heavy-duty front mount secures the bike’s fork while the rear suction cup straps down the rear wheel.
It works for any bike that has a quick release on the front wheel and installs securely on the roof, hatchback, or truck bed.
The SeaSucker bike rack is the lightest option out there, weighing in at only six pounds. The compact size gives you the chance to pack it in a suitcase or keep in the trunk for quick access.
The suction cups don’t leave a mark or require any tools for installation.
Since the units include rubber parts, some care and maintenance are required. They are not meant to stay on when not in use and the suction cups and spot on the vehicle must be clean and dry before installation.
We don’t recommend storing the unit long-term in spaces that lack temperature control. If you plan on transporting more than one bike, check out a two-bike system like the Mini Bomber instead.
Also, this system does not include anti-theft measures so consider investing in a trunk-lock combo.
Introduction to Bike Cargo Racks
A bike carrier can make your life easier with proper installation and planning.
How Can You Transport Your Bike?
Deciding how to transport your bike depends on a few questions. What type of vehicle do you drive or plan to use for transportation? Do you need to keep the interior space free or clean? Are you hauling more than one bike? Do you have physical limitations, like a shoulder injury, that may alter how you can load and unload the bicycle?
While racks are commonly used for safe transportation, you may decide to put it inside the trunk or vehicle's interior are best for you.
Disassembling the Bike
Hauling your machine usually involved disassembling it to some extent. Since many racks require front tire removal, higher quality bikes – no offense to beach cruisers – have a quick release lever or skewer. This is helpful for more than mounting it on a rack or stowing it in the trunk; it also is helpful when fixing a flat or to avoid theft (provided you have a way to store the wheel or decide to carry it around).
To remove wheels with a quick release, follow these easy steps:
Whether breaking down a bicycle to go in a box for shipping or moving, or partially disassembling it for short-term travel, knowing how to put it back together properly is crucial. If you choose to do it yourself, keep track of your steps.
Carrying Your Bike in a Truck
Transporting a bike in a truck bed is more than just tossing it in and letting the bike bang around. To avoid damaging the cycle and the truck bed, you need a way to secure the bike and the best option is still a rack.
Sometimes people choose to custom build racks for their truck, and as long as the rack is secured to the truck then the bike can be secured to the rack. Different methods involve everything from tailgate pads or crossbars to bolted fork mounts on the rails or in the truck bed.
You don't want to slam on the brakes to avoid an animal or accident just to launch your bike out of the truck bed or worse – into the back window.
If you don’t have a solid locking mechanism, the bike could walk away with the assistance of a stranger.
While some racks can bolt into the existing holes meant for a mounted toolbox, many require new holes drilled into the bed or rails. Also, when hauling other cargo, you may want to remove the rack to avoid damage to rack or items in the payload.
Bike Racks 101
By definition: what is a bicycle cargo rack? Some interchangeable terms for a device that mounts to a vehicle for transporting a bicycle are:
Benefits of a Bike Rack
A good rack includes locking mechanisms that secure the bike to a vehicle safely without damaging either the cycle or the automobile. You also want to keep your bike, as in, avoid theft, so make sure to add a measure of personal security if the rack did not come with one.
Types of Bike Racks
Let’s give a quick synopsis of the major types of bike carriers available. If you have used a certain brand in the past with success, like the Yakima hitch mount bike rack, for instance, it is worth it to explore the other rack options with Yakima too.
The Roof Mount
Mounting your bike to the roof of a vehicle most definitely brands you as an outdoor enthusiast, but it also keeps your bike stable without compromising convenience or safety. If you plan to haul multiple items, such as a surfboard and a bike, then a roof rack is the way to go.
This is the most stable method of transportation while leaving space inside your vehicle available for passengers or gear. Not having to remove the front wheel is nice (but not always an option), and you retain access to the trunk, and all doors can open easily.
Best for Use On:
Shorter cars, like sedans are best. If you are short, or your vehicle particularly tall, bringing the bike down could lead to scratches or dings and or cause a back injury if not removed properly.
Which Bikes Work Best?
You probably want to have a quick release front wheel, as many roof racks require removal of the front tire before mounting the bike.
The Hitch Mount
There are a variety of styles available for hitch mount bicycle carriers including:
A receiver hitch is a welded steel structure bolted to the vehicle's frame. The ratings for a receiver hitch range from Class 1 – 4, depending on the planned weight of the load. Receivers are generally 2-inch or 1 ¼-inch, with the former being larger and able to handle more weight.
For an abbreviated lesson, the classes break down as follows:
For example, when hauling two bikes, for a total of 120 pounds, use a receiver hitch of Class 2 or higher.
Tow hitch mounts don’t require wheel removal and can usually be adapted to carry more than one bike. Since the carrier mounts directly on the hitch, installation of the rack is straightforward and quick; loading cycles is also fast.
Additional features that provide conveniences such as tilting, so you can open the hatchback or trunk, or platform stabilization keeps the bikes from swaying and knocking into each other.
Hitch racks are ideal for frequent use and can handle the strain of long-distance trips.
Best for Use On:
You’ve got to have a hitch mount, and this may require getting one installed so factor that into your budget for the rack.
Which Bikes Work Best?
If the attach points for the bike are wide, its intended use if for larger bikes only. A hanging hitch mount with a narrow space between the arms is good for all cycles, even kid’s bikes. A platform hitch mount is usually adjustable and works for any bike.
For a lightweight, economical bike rack, trunk mounts are quite popular. Trunk mounts strap on to the rear deck of your car, and installation is quick. Stability of the mount does rely upon the care and skill of the person mounting the rack, so pay attention during installation until you can go through the process like clockwork.
The trunk mount rack allows you to use the carrier on a different vehicle when desired. Bikes are easier to load, particularly for short individuals or those with back problems, and you can watch the bike during travel. Plus, you don’t have to worry about driving into a parking garage because there is no added height.
Best for Use On:
The trunk mount is ideal for sedans, hatchbacks, and standard sport utility vehicles.
Which Bikes Work Best?
Any bike can go on a trunk mount, but some mounts are only designed for standard frames.
Truck Bed Solutions
Whether you stick with bungee cords and straps or want to go more stable with a commercial bed rack, a “truck bed solution” refers to a system that secures a bicycle in place without the risk of damage to it or the truck.
Easy to load and unload, placing your bike in the truck bed also allows you to watch the bike during transport. For those who like camping, trucks are ideal for hauling additional gear, and you can still do so with a bike in the back.
The Vacuum Mount (Suction Bike Rack)
For installation on a smooth or glass surface, large suction cups are a valid option. SeaSucker is the best game in town for a vacuum mounted bike carrier.
Because potential buyers may be apprehensive to trust a suction cup, the company dared to put it on a NASCAR race track to prove its stability.
Point blank, suction cups are universal and will work on any vehicle with a smooth surface from small coupes to SUVs.
Removing the rack is easy and storage much simpler since the kit is small compared to a trunk rack.
Things to Consider Before Mounting Your Bike to the Car
You probably don’t need to have a water bottle sitting in the holder on your bike when it is mounted to the rack. Taking the time to check over the rack and bike will help avoid problems later.
Shake it Up
For hitch and trunk racks, don't be afraid to check the rack's stability before mounting a bike by shaking the entire assembly. Think about the vibrations and basic stresses driving will put on the rack, like side to side inertia during turns or going over potholes and pull on the rack in those directions.
You should also check the assembly over for major rust or broken parts that may need to be covered or replaced. Do a hardware check for both presence and tightness before loading up.
No Strappy Flappy
After getting the bike(s) secure, take the extra time to make sure all straps and buckles won’t be flapping wildly during the drive.
Step by Step Guide for Installing a Bike Rack
Any rack you purchase will come with an instruction manual filled with pictures. If you have a history with rack installation, you may not need the instructions at all, but it never hurts to take a look.
Basic Hitch Rack Installation
After assembling the hitch rack separately,
Basic Trunk Mount Installation
Tips and Tricks
Be aware of a few accessories you may need to consider before installing the rack. For vehicles with a spare tire mounted on the back, you may need a hitch extender. The extender can reduce stability, leading to a rattle, which then requires a hitch stabilizer.
When bikes do not fit fell onto a hitch rack, use a crossbar converter. This accessory is especially useful to stabilize mountain bikes that do not have a traditional frame.
If your carrier is difficult to install, you might choose to leave it on all the time which could deteriorate the rack faster depending on elemental conditions. Sparing a platform or truck bed solution that extra time in extreme summer heat or northern winter cold will help it stay in better condition and increase the lifespan.
The Facts on Fuel Efficiency
based on a study by Consumer Reports, mounting a bike on the roof of your car can decrease fuel efficiency by up to fifteen mpg.
But aerodynamics is not the only factor – added weight can also negatively impact your mpg. Heavy hitch racks can add fifty or sixty pounds, not including the bikes, to the vehicle and keep them mounted when not needed forces your engine to do extra work for no reason.
Since trunk racks are lightweight and mounted at the rear of your vehicle, they are considered the best rack to use in regards to fuel efficiency.
On a side note, one misconception about bike racks and fuel efficiency is how a wind deflector may help offset the loss of mpg. Wind deflectors do not help gas mileage improve, but they do reduce noise inside the cabin.
Aerodynamics and Efficiency
Roof racks are the most secure but affect gas mileage the most as they break up the natural silhouette of a vehicle when the bike is up top.
Mounting the bike on the rear in a way that does not interrupt the flow of air off the back of the car is ideal. You may choose to remove the wheel when driving long distances to improve aerodynamics.
How Do I Secure My Bike Onto My Rack?
Securing your bike to the rack should be outlined in the instructions provided, but if you don’t have those on hand, we’ve got some tips for you.
Open the rack carefully. Don’t force it open as you don’t want to bend any parts and end up reducing stability.
Strap it to the car or SUV. Be sure to use all the provided straps, including the lateral ones (this provides tension that keeps the bike from sliding off sideways when driving through turns).
Place the bike on the rack, making sure it doesn’t cover your license plate or touch the exhaust pipe.
For long trips, be sure to pad the bike appropriately. Sensitive pieces such as the fork or tusk (if the wheel was removed) and pedals should not come into contact with your vehicle, especially metal.
Tighten the top straps around the bike first, then the lower straps. Make sure there are no long strap ends flapping in the wind, as these can scratch the paint and be a dangerous distraction in your rearview mirror.
The DIY Bike Rack
You've have stuck with us this far, so we wanted to shout out to those Do-It-Yourself aficionados with some great DIY bike rack ideas! Bick racks are not just for vehicles and storing your machines safely when not in route to the trailhead should not be ignored.
Some easy materials for creating bike racks that work both in the garage or in the truck bed are made of PVC or wood. Designs vary, and your skill set determines how complex a rack to build. Pallets make a great framework for storing bikes upright without removing tires or putting down kickstands that can get tangled when bikes are stored side by side.
If you prefer to hang your bike, try using an old curved handlebar to hook under the frame. Just mount the handlebar onto a piece of wood with a hose ring, and then place the wooden plaque at the appropriate height for a unique and fun wall rack.
To hand your bikes from the garage ceiling or a sturdy shelving unit, just grab some large hooks from the local hardware store along with a few large carabiners. Put a strip of webbing through the hook and tie a loop for the carabiner to slide through. Quick release clips on a carabiner make hanging your bike vertically by the front tire a snap.
If you are dying to make a rack for the bed of your truck, we suggest keeping cost and weight low with a PVC frame and a few securing straps.
Instructions for a 3-bike rack
And you are all set with a personal truck bed rack for about $50.
Our Pick: Thule T2 Pro XT
Why is it better?
Last update on 2020-01-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
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