Planning to take your bike on a vacation or a cycling event? You are going to need a bike rack to safely carry your two-wheeled pride and joy. Invest in a good bike rack and you won’t have to worry about how to bring your bike on long trips ever again. Let’s cover the different style bike racks, discuss their pros and cons, and determine which bike rack style is best for you.
How to Choose the Best Bike Racks
When purchasing a bike rack, the first thing you need to determine is where on your car you want to mount it. Car bike racks can typically be mounted in one of three locations: on the roof, on the trunk, or behind the trunk via a tow hitch. Choosing the right one depends on what type of car you own, how many and what types of bikes you want to carry, the weight of those bikes, and how much your budget is.
Let’s take a look at each style and the best examples.
Trunk Bike Racks
This type of bike rack attaches to a car’s trunk or hatch via a series of straps and pegs. This type is almost always the cheapest option and usually doesn’t require any additional hardware. Although, if the bike rack and bikes obscure your license plate, you may need a separate license plate frame.
Loading heavy bikes on trunk racks is relatively easy as you don’t need to lift the bikes very high. Additionally, trunk racks have less of an impact on your fuel economy than a roof rack because the rack and the bikes are behind the car and out of the wind.
On the flip side, you need to make sure the rack is compatible with your trunk or hatch design and most trunk racks are limited to a maximum of two or three bikes. Also, with bikes loaded, your trunk will be inaccessible and you also need to careful not to load the trunk rack beyond the weight your trunk can handle.
The Saris Bones Ex is our choice for trunk-mounted racks.
Saris Bones EX Bike Rack – A tried and true, versatile trunk rack
Saris released Bones in 1996 and since then it became an absolute classic. Its updated version, the Bones Ex is the latest design from the American firm.
According to Saris, the Bones Ex has an updated design that prevents interaction with the vehicle spoilers and can be installed on 90 percent of the vehicles.
The increased compatibility of the Bones Ex has raised the price a bit to around $250, but the standard Saris Bones version is still available for just over $200 in 2-Bike and 3-Bike variations.
Reasons to buy
- Compatible with 90% of vehicles
- Can hold up to 4 bikes
- Tried and tested design
- Cheaper than other options
- Easy to load & unload
- Less impact on fuel consumption
Reasons to avoid
- It can restrict rear window visibility
- Restricts trunk access
- May require separate license plate mount
- Can scuff paint if trunk rack moves around
- Could dent trunk if bike rack is overloaded or you hit a big bump
Roof Bike Racks
Roof racks are great for keeping your bike(s) on top of your car while providing unrestricted access to the trunk. Depending on the rack design, you can carry up to four bikes at a time. To use a roof mounted bike rack, your vehicle will need to have roof bars, which can also be used to carry other things like rooftop cargo carriers and ski racks.
However, it can be difficult to load bikes on a roof rack, especially on taller vehicles. This might even be more problematic if you are short and/or your bikes are particularly heavy. Roof racks are also the least aerodynamic option and can reduce fuel economy by up to 30%. If you are thinking about using a roof rack, you should watch out for the height-limited parking entrances and overhangs!
If a roof rack seems like the best option for you, we recommend the Thule ProRide.
Thule ProRide Roof Bike Rack – The perfect roof rack that won’t break the bank
Thule is one of the best names in the world when it comes to carrier racks for vehicles. They are usually expensive but the ProRide is a cheaper roof-mount option from the manufacturer.
It’s easy to use with a frame holder and wheel trays where you can place your bike. The rack has a load capacity of 20 kg and is compatible with most bikes. Thule even offers a thick bike adapter for super-thick tires.
The Thule ProRide can only carry a single bike, but this helps keep the price down to just under $300. However, you can mount multiple ProRides to carry as many bikes as you need.
Reasons to buy
- Affordable roof-mounted shelf
- Does not restrict visibility or access to the trunk
- Easy to use
- Heavy load capacity
Reasons to avoid
- Only carries one bike
- Carbon frame protector not included
- Low parking entrances/bridges might become a problem
- Requires roof bars
- Not easy to load & unload
- Higher impact on fuel consumption
Tow Hitch Bike Racks
Finally, let’s take a look at the tow hitch-mounted bike racks. They usually come in two styles, either as a platform that holds your bike from its wheels or a suspension rack that carries the bike from its frame. They are usually very easy to load, have the least impact on fuel consumption, and should not damage your car’s paintwork or body, because all the weight is supported by the tow hitch.
Tow-mount bike racks have many advantages over the roof or trunk-mounted alternatives, including ease of use (no messing around with ratchet straps or carrying your bike to the ceiling).
However, there is no escape from the fact that they are expensive, especially if a tow ball needs to be fitted. Some models may restrict access to the trunk and may also need a separate license plate holder.
The Thule T2 Pro XT is our favorite tow hitch mounted bike carrier.
Thule T2 Pro XT – A reliable and convenient folding hitch bike rack
The Thule T2 Pro XT is a great all-rounder with a reasonable price tag. This particular model has a capacity for two bikes and it’s easy to load your bikes thanks to the adjustable wheel trays and ratcheting arms.
The folding design allows you to tilt your bikes out of the way to access your trunk and tilt the bike rack up when you’re not using it. Additionally, the Thule T2 Pro XT includes a 24″ integrated cable that you can use to lock your bikes up. Need to carry more than 2 bikes? Just add the Thule Pro XT Add-On and you’ll be good to carry up to 4 bikes.
While the Thule T2 Pro XT comes in at around $450 and is more expensive than trunk and roof mounted bike racks, it is well worth the investment if you are serious about biking.
Reasons to buy
- Easy to install and operate due to tool-free design
- Available in both 2″ and 1.25″ receiver options
- Carries two bikes and is compatible with 20″-29″ wheels
- Very easy to load and unload
- No risk of scratching the bike’s frame
- Easily tilts to allow trunk access and storage when not in use
- Lockable so your bikes will be secure
- Least impact on fuel consumption
Reasons to avoid
- Requires tow hitch
- Only holds two bikes
- May require a separate license plate holder
- Most expensive option
Best Alternative Bike Rack: SeaSucker Talon
Not all cars are compatible with trunk, roof, or tow hitch mounted bike racks. This is where the SeaSucker Talon comes it. It is an innovative (albeit expensive at nearly $300) alternative that doesn’t require roof bars.
SeaSucker’s innovative design uses rubber suction cups to secure your bike to the roof or rear window. If the thought of driving down the highway without a single nut, bolt, or ratchet strap makes you nervous, don’t worry. The. SeaSucker Talon features a pump on each suction that creates an extremely strong vacuum and indicates when you have a rock-solid seal. SeaSucker claims that each cup has a draw ratio of 210lb, so it’s not going anywhere.
The Talon is SeaSucker’s single-bike design and is very quick to set up and very compact to store. However, if you need to carry more bikes, the SeaSucker Mini Bomber and Bomber can respectively carry two and three bikes.
Reasons to buy
- The best option if your vehicle is incompatible with tow, roof, and trunk bike racks
- Quick installation and removal
- Compact design
- Super strong suction cups
Reasons to avoid
- Expensive price tag
- Holds one bike only
- It can restrict visibility if you use it on the back window
Bike Racks FAQ’s
Q: Will bike racks damage my vehicle?
A: When installed correctly, bike racks should not damage your car or your bike. Always use the instructions given by the manufacturer to install/remove and you should be safe.
Q: Which style of bike rack is the most common?
A: Trunk-mounted racks are more common than roof or tow hitch mounted racks, which usually require a roof bar or a tow hitch. If your car does not already have them, you will have to take a trip to the garage for them. Without even buying the rack itself, you will significantly increase the damage to your wallet.
Q: Why can’t I carry my bike in my trunk?
A: Depending on your car and your bike’s sizes, you might be able to. However, you will risk damaging both the interior of your car and your bike.
Q: Will bike racks affect my car’s handling?
A: Roof racks can have negative aerodynamic effects, but the trunk or tow hitch mounted bike racks have less of an impact. However, with any bike rack, the added weight of the rack and the bikes will have some effect on your vehicle’s handling and you should factor this into your driving style.