One of the best things about having a bike is that it’s a portable method of transportation that also allows for a variety of fun activities. Whether you want to ride down the mountains or explore the outback, getting to the destination often requires transportation with a vehicle first. But in order to transport your bike, you’ll need a specialised bike rack. While you can technically transport your bike on a conventional roof rack, it’s not the safest way to do so. Specialised bike racks are specifically designed to secure your bicycle, or bicycles, to your vehicle, without posing a threat to your paint job and restricting your vision.
There’s a wide range of bike rack types, and there’s even a wider range of manufacturers such as Thule, Yakima, Pacific, UNIT, Rex, etc. Every type comes with its distinct advantages and disadvantages. And while there might not be much of a difference in quality between the different brands, they also have their own distinct features that can sway you towards one of them over the other. At the end of the day, it all comes down to personal preference and your available budget. You’ll probably find more affordable bike racks on eBay or Amazon, but would you trust a cheap Chinese knock-off to hold your thousands of dollars worth of bikes? I don’t think so. Without further ado, here are the different types of bike racks, and which manufacturers have the best versions of them.
Roof-Mounted Bike Racks
Roof-mounted racks are arguably the most popular type of bike rack, especially amongst cyclists who already have a base roof rack on top of their vehicle. If you don’t have one, you can buy an aftermarket roof rack that you can also use to carry other types of cargo. Roof-mounted bike racks are available in two styles – upright and fork mount. There are quite a few models available in both styles, and there are even accessories to complement them. Yakima roof racks and Yakima roof rack accessories are my number one choice in this category, but Thule and UNIT also have an extensive catalogue as well.
The Thule, UNIT and Yakima roof rack accessories on the market include items like locks, fitting kits, pads, wheel strap kits, as well as rooftop tents that you can use for overnight accommodation when you arrive at your destination. Basically, all of these accessories improve the versatility of your bike rack so you don’t limit your cargo space when installing one.
The main benefits of roof-mounted bike racks are the fact that they don’t obstruct your road visibility, the ability to swap them out easily with cargo, ski or watersport racks, the ability to carry multiple bikes, and the freedom to access your hatchback or trunk without compromise. On the downside, roof-mounted bike racks create extra drag and noise, require lifting the bike on top of your vehicle, and they can pose a problem when driving through garages, drive-throughs, etc.
Hitch-Mount Bike Racks
In order to install a hitch-mount bike rack on your vehicle, you need to have a 1.25-inch or 2-inch receiver hitch. These racks are a convenient option as long as your hitch can handle the weight. There are two styles of hitch racks – platform and hanging. Hanging racks hold the bikes by the frame and secure them with Velcro straps. Platform racks, on the other hand, have the bikes resting by the tyres in a tray that’s similar to upright roof racks. The bikes are secured with a hooked arm over the front tyre or frame.
The benefits of hitch-mount bike racks are that it’s easier to load and unload the bikes as compared to roof-mounted racks, the weight distribution hitch can also be used to tow a caravan or trailer, your vehicle can still go through low clearance areas, and your roof will be free so you can install a rooftop cargo carrier and carry other sports equipment. On the downside, they impede access to the back of your vehicle, require a hitch, your rearview may be obstructed, and your vehicle’s length will be increased.
Trunk-Mount Bike Racks
These bike racks are the most basic type, and they basically clamp onto your vehicle’s trunk with the help of rubber-dipped metal hooks. In order to protect your vehicle, they generally come with foam pads. Trunk-mount bike racks are the most affordable option, but they’re also the least “safe” for your vehicle.
The benefits of trunk-mount bike racks are their low price, their ease of storage, the ability to easily move them from one vehicle to another, which also makes them great for rental cars. On the downside, they have a lot of points of contact with your vehicle, aren’t as secure as other bike racks, and may not work if your vehicle features a spoiler on top of the hatchback.
Spare Tyre-Mount Bike Racks
Spare tyre-mount bike racks can only carry two bikes, since the load is placed on the spare tyre bracket. These bike racks come with locking systems that secure the bikes to the rack, and they feature a lock to secure the rack to the tyre. You can remove the rack by simply twisting the knob, and they’re quite compact, so you can store them almost anywhere.
The Right One For You
The right bike rack for you will depend on a few factors, the main one being whether you have a mountain, road or traditional bike. Mountain bikes feature unique dimensions and shapes, so you may not be able to fit them on some bike racks. For instance, they generally feature low standover height and sloping top tubes, so mounting mountain bikes on racks that hang them from the top tube will be problematic. Furthermore, bikes with wide tyres also need a rack to accommodate their width. Of course, you also have to consider how many bikes you’ll be carrying on your trips. As you can tell, some bike racks can only carry up to two bikes, whereas others can carry five, six or more.