Whether you’re carrying bikes to a local race or on a riding road trip, being able to carry your bike outside the car not only leaves space for passengers but also means you don’t have to put a greasy, road-grime-covered bike back in your car after a ride.
There are a wide variety of racks designed to carry your bike, some being semi-permanent installations such as roof- and hitch racks while others like trunk/boot racks and tailgate pads can be easily removed and stored when not in use.
The best bike racks for you will depend on your car, bikes, how many you’d like to carry, and how much you have to spend.
Most roof racks attach to crossbars, these can be anything from the square factory rails that some cars come with, to sleek aerodynamic bars from aftermarket brands; other racks use suction cups to vacuum seal a rack to your roof.
Bikes are then secured to the roof using the frame, front wheel or front axle. Each of which has advantages and disadvantages; however, the key thing to consider is will you be able to lift your bike onto the roof in the first place. If you’re driving a tall SUV, consider a hitch or towbar rack, as getting heavy bikes onto the roof can be precarious. Wheel-off racks will lighten the load a bit and take away some of the height you’d otherwise have to conquer, however, if you will be carrying bikes that have various axles standards and hub spacing they can be fiddly. There are quite a few roof racks which grab onto the downtube; however, we would tend to steer away from this style as they can scratch your paintwork and, in the worst case, crush the frame.
Wheel-on roof racks are great if you’re transporting bikes with various hub and axle standards. They don't touch the frame but they are a bit less stable, more expensive and require you to lift the bike higher.
Bikes on the roof are generally safer from other drivers should you get into a fender bender, just don’t forget they are up there when you get home and drive into your garage or a multi-storey car park.
Hitch and towball racks
Towbar or hitch racks take advantage of the 1 1/4in or 2in receiver tube or the tow ball on the back of your car and are the easiest to load of the bunch. Some hitch-mount racks will fold up and out of the way when not in use and many feature locks, not only for your bikes but also for securing the rack to the vehicle. They often fold for storage and feature a tilt or swing release so you can get into the back of your car without having to remove the bikes.
Unfortunately, hitch and towbar racks start out at the higher end of the price spectrum and as you add in features like built-in locks, lightweight materials, integrated repair stands, and tail lights, the price continues to climb.
Keep in mind that hitch racks also extend the length of your car considerably, so when you stop for a post-ride burrito take extra care backing up.
Before you buy a hitch rack, make sure to double-check your local laws and regulations. In Australia for example, if the rack obscures your license plate, you’ll need an official accessory plate from the RTA and your rack will also need to illuminate the plate so it can be seen from at least 20m away in poor light conditions.
In the eyes of the law, the classic photocopy or piece of cardboard with your plate number scribbled in sharpie will earn you a hefty fine and a stern talking-to from the boys and girls in blue. That’s not all; you may also cop a fine for driving around with an empty hitch rack on the back of your car — the moral of the story is do your due diligence before you buy a hitch or towbar rack so you don't have a run-in with the 5-0.
Trunk and boot racks
These racks attach the back of your car using straps, with feet stabilising the whole thing against the car. They are the lightest and least expensive options and also the least secure.
With trunk/boot racks, installing the rack correctly is paramount as if you don’t have something in the right place or pulled tautly, it can damage your paintwork. These work best with bikes that have more traditional double triangle construction and can be an awkward fit for sloping top-tube-style full-suspension mountain bikes.
Type: Roof | Style: Fork mount
Axle-mounted racks make attaching bikes on the roof a bit easier because you don’t have to lift the bike quite as high, and without the front wheel they are a bit lighter too. The trouble is, various axle- and hub-spacing standards can mean lots of adaptors to change or lose.
The ThruRide uses an adjustable clamp that can hold an axle regardless of length and diameter and doesn't need any adaptors. It takes a bit of practice to get the process down but once you do, it's a breeze and mounting the rack itself to the car is a tool-free affair.
The rack itself is aerodynamic and low profile; once it's on your car you're likely to forget it's there.
Saris Bones 2-Bike
Type: Trunk/Boot | Style: Top tube
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. That is the mantra Saris has used with its Bones 2-Bike trunk/boot rack. The design was first introduced in 1996 and hasn't changed all that much since.
It's available in two- and three-bike versions and is made from 100 per cent recyclable materials and everything from the articulating feet to the arms are adjustable to make the rack fit onto just about any car — including those with small spoilers.
The arm that supports the bikes is curved which provides extra clearance, and the seatpost strap prevents the bikes from wobbling around too much when everything is mounted. Unfortunately, the front wheel is still free to move around, something which no rack of this style efficiently addresses.
Type: Roof | Style: Wheel on
The Yakima Frontloader is currently on the roof of this writer's car and is one of our favourite racks because it doesn’t touch the frame at any point, and is compatible with 20- to 29-inch wheels regardless of axle standard. It’s one of the easiest and intuitive roof racks to use, provided your car isn’t too tall.
There is no faffing with adaptors and you don’t even need to adjust the front wheel loop to suit different wheel sizes. The rack holds bikes securely even if your trip to the trailhead involves some Overlanding and it's not an eyesore either come to think of it
The Frontloader is nearly perfect but could do with a set of locking barrels and be more accommodating when it comes to mudguards.
Thule Helium Platform
Type: Hitch | Style: wheel Mount
The Thule Helium Platform is so well designed a few other brands have borrowed - read copied - some of its design features like the remote tilt release handle and tool-free mounting system.
Bikes are secured with an extendable half-wheel hook design and a simple ratchet strap at the rear; it will work with just about any wheel size and tyres up to 5in in width.
For the latest version, Thule has increased the spacing of the wheel trays and increased lateral adjustment to help fit a wider variety of bikes.
Kuat NV 2.0
Type: Hitch | Style: Wheel mount
Kuat makes some of the best-looking racks on the market. It uses a half-wheel loop design similar to the Thule Pro XT as well as a ratchet strap meaning it can accommodate a range of wheel sizes and tyres of up to 4.8in in width. The wheel cradles are adjustable to avoid bikes bumping into each other on the rack and there are removable cable locks.
The installation process is tool-free and an expanding adaptor takes up space in your car's hitch receiver to eliminate wobbles. The tilt switch can be engaged hands-free and there is even an integrated work stand for adjustments and repairs.
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