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Which bike rack is best for me?

Choosing a Style for You, Your Bike, and Your Vehicle

If you're interested in learning about bicycling, or even if you've been an avid rider for years, one of the most common problems you'll run into is hauling your bike. If your vehicle doesn't have the room in the cabin or bed for a bike, or if you'd like a more secure way to haul your equipment, consider adding a bike rack to your vehicle. There are seven basic types of bike racks, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Learn more about them below.The types of bike racks we will cover here:

Hitch-Mounted Bike Racks

Hitch-mounted bike racks mount to a hitch that's installed on the back of your vehicle; and they are typically easy to install - just slide them into the opening of the hitch and secure them in place with a pin or a lock. You also don't have to lift bikes as high as some other types of racks to load your bikes, which can make loading/unloading a bit easier. It is worth noting that there are two different types of hitch-mounted bike racks, hanging and platform racks. Platform racks are heavier, support the weight of your bike from below, and don't require you to lift your bike as high to load it on. Hanging racks support the weight of your bike from the top, are lighter overall, and require you to lift your bike a bit higher to load it onto your vehicle. To use a hitch-mounted bike rack, you must have a hitch installed on your vehicle. If your vehicle doesn't have a hitch, you can install one, but that will be an additional expense. Also, hitch-mounted bike racks can make it difficult to open your vehicle's trunk or hatch because of their location, although many racks tilt or swing out to allow access.When you might want a hitch bike rack:
  • You have a hitch, or want to have one installed (Browse custom hitches here)
  • You have an e-bike (specifically a platform rack would work well for you)
  • You are riding with others (some hitch racks can carry up to 4-6 bikes)
When you might not:
  • If you are towing a trailer, or otherwise using your rear hitch
  • You do not want to install a hitch on your vehicle
hitch mounted hanging bike rack
hitch mounted platform bike rack

Roof-Mounted Bike Racks

Roof-mounted bike racks allow you to carry your bikes on the roof of your vehicle. One great advantage to carrying bikes on your vehicle's roof is that you can still open the trunk or hatch while your bikes are mounted. Your vehicle must have a roof rack system to mount a roof-mounted bike rack because these racks typically attach to crossbars. You can install a roof rack if your vehicle doesn't already have one, but similar to the hitch-mounted rack, this will lead to additional expenses.A downside to a roof rack is that you have to lift your bikes up to your vehicle's roof, which can be difficult, especially on a tall SUV or truck. A good way to tell how easily you could mount your bike would be to hold it up in the air at approximately the height of your bike rack for 10-15 seconds, because that's roughly how long it will take to secure. When you might want a roof-mounted bike rack:
  • When you want regular, easy access to a trunk or hatch
  • You already have a roof rack, or want one installed (Browse custom roof racks here)
  • When you want to use your hitch for another accessory
When you might not:
  • You have a particularly tall vehicle, like a truck or SUV
  • You have an e-bike or other particularly heavy bike that would be cumbersome to lift onto the roof
roof-mounted-bike-rack
roof-mounted-bike-rack

Trunk-Mounted Bike Racks

Trunk-mounted bike racks install on the trunk, hatch, or rear door of your car, SUV, or van. They're equipped with hooks, straps, and buckles that allow you to attach them to many different styles of vehicles.Trunk-mounted bike racks don't require a roof rack, or a hitch to function, so this may be your least expensive option. A drawback to a trunk-mounted rack: many of them can prevent you from opening your vehicle's trunk, hatch, or rear doors, even when no bikes are loaded, as they can add a significant amount of weight to the trunk itself (your trunk will have a difficult time holding itself open without help in some cases). There is also the possibility of scratching your vehicle's paint or finish as the bike will sit directly against the car.When you might want a trunk-mounted bike rack:
  • When you want to spend as little as possible
  • When your vehicle isn't compatible with other rack types
  • When you don't want to, or can't, install a roof rack or hitch on your vehicle
When you might not:
  • If you are concerned with potentially damaging the paint on your vehicle
  • If you need to access your trunk or hatch with any regularity
  • If you are hauling a more expensive bike, or an e-bike
trunk-mounted-bike-rack
trunk-mounted-bike-rack 2

Truck Bed Bike Racks

Truck bed bike racks bolt on or clamp into the bed or sides of your pickup truck. They allow you to carry 1 or more bikes in the back of your truck. Truck bed bike racks are a good choice if you don't have a camper shell or cap and you don't need much space for other cargo in the back of your truck while you're hauling your bikes. However, when you aren't using them, bolt-on truck bed bike racks are usually small, and won't take up much space by themselves. The clamp-in style truck bed bike racks can be removed so that they take up no space when you want to use your truck bed for something else.When you might want a truck bed bike rack:
  • When you want to haul your bikes with a pickup truck
  • When you need to transport multiple bikes
When you might not:
  • When you need to use your truck bed for other things while hauling bikes
  • When you don't own a pickup truck, or will be hauling bikes on another style of vehicle
truck-bed-bike-rack

Tailgate-Mounted Racks/Pads

Tailgate pads lay over your truck's tailgate and provide cushioning to prevent scratches and dents when you set bikes on them. They usually include straps that secure the pad to the tailgate and the bikes to the pad. They are significantly easier to install and use than other bike racks. One major downside, depending on your vehicle and your bike rack, is that the rack or bikes themselves might block your rear view camera. So it may be worth your time to mount the tailgate pad on your vehicle before purchasing to make sure you still maintain that functionality.When you might want a tailgate-mounted pad:
  • When you don't want to modify your truck
  • When you need to carry up to 8 bikes with a single bike rack
  • When you are using your hitch to haul other things while carrying your bikes
When you might not:
  • When your truck bed is used to haul other things while biking
  • When you don't own, or won't be hauling bikes with a pickup truck
  • When you plan on utilizing the rear view camera on your vehicle frequently
tailgate-pad

Spare Tire Bike Racks

If the spare tire on your SUV prevents you from using a hitch or trunk-mounted bike rack, consider a spare tire-mounted rack. These racks connect to your vehicle's spare tire. Like trunk-mounted racks, these racks do not require any extra equipment (a hitch or crossbars), which can make them an economical choice for transporting bikes. These racks are also a good choice if you want to tow a trailer while carrying your bikes. One downside is that you might have to remove bikes, and in some cases the rack, to open the hatch or back door of your vehicle. Some spare tire-mounted racks can carry up to 3 bikes.When you might want a spare tire bike rack:
  • When you have a spare tire mount on your vehicle already, or want to install one
  • When you want to mount your bike on the back of your vehicle, but want use of your trailer hitch
When you might not:
  • When you don't have a spare tire mount on your vehicle
  • When you want easy access to your spare tire
spare-tire-mounted-rack

Suction Cup-Mounted Bike Racks

These suction cup-mounted (or vacuum cup-mounted) bike racks can be attached to the roof, trunk, or glass surfaces of many different kinds of vehicles. Suction cup-mounted bike racks are easy to install and remove. They don't require your vehicle to have a hitch or crossbars. However, due to the vacuum connection, they require a bit of monitoring on long trips. A regular concern we see of suction cup-mounted bike racks is that they are less secure than standard bike racks. And while we understand that sentiment, many of these suction cup-mounted bike racks have a safe capacity well over the weight of your bike (this one is even rated at 840 lbs. of pulling force). When you might want a suction cup-mount bike rack:
  • When you don't want to install hardware onto your vehicle (especially nice if you're renting or leasing a vehicle)
  • When you want flexibility on the placement of your bike on your vehicle
  • When you may be using multiple vehicles to haul your bike, this rack is easy to transfer from vehicle to vehicle
When you might not:
  • When you have an available hitch, roof rack, or spare tire mount
  • If the idea of a suction cup mount may make you anxious, and you want a more "nuts and bolts" connection
vacuum-cup-mount
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About Jacob J To say that my path to etrailer was complicated would be an understatement. I have always had a passion for helping others, and throughout my education and career as a social worker or community liaison, I have loved writing as a hobby. When I found etrailer and was given the opportunity to turn something I enjoyed doing into a career that helped people access information and products they need to live the best life they possibly could, I was instantly interested. I am a lover of the outdoors, have been loading and unloading trailers since I before I was old enough to drive them, and have spent my recent years working in and around the automotive industry. And I am excited to share all of the things I have learned (more often than not the hard way). I consider myself a perpetual student, and etrailer gives me the opportunity to learn something new every day and share my findings with others. Which is something I am extremely grateful for. I look forward to continuing to help people find the answers they need to make memories for a lifetime.
Related ProductsAdditional ArticlesWritten by: Jacob JLast Updated: 8/10/22


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