Friday, 15 March 2013

Bike Racks For Cars and Trucks - How to Choose the Right One For You

Tips for choosing the right one for you:

You want to go biking out in the backwoods but it's too far from home to consider cycling there and back. What do you do? Try to stuff your bike in the back of your car and risk damaging the upholstery or getting dirt and grease everywhere? No, the answer is simple, get a bike rack for your car or truck so you can transport your bike there and back.

That's the easy decision made, the hard part comes in deciding what type of rack to buy. There's a bewildering range on offer these days. This article is going to help you make an informed decision so you choose the right bike rack for your needs. So, what are your needs with regard to bike racks? Here are some starting points to consider:

  • How often will you need to use it?
  • How many bikes will you want to carry?
  • Will the rack need to fit different vehicles (say, for example you will need to switch one rack between two family cars)?
  • Is security of the bikes and rack paramount?
  • Are you able to reach a high rack to load a bike onto it?
  • Is your bike pretty standard in design or something unusual such as a tandem or recumbent?
  • Do you already have a towing hitch fitted to your vehicle?
  • Is your vehicle an off-road type with a spare wheel mounted on the rear?
  • How much money are you prepared to spend?
What categories of rack are there?

There are four basic types: Hitch-mount racks. Roof mounted racks. Strap on trunk racks and racks that mount in the bed of a pickup truck. The cheapest tends to be the strap-on. They are fine for light duties but are the worst when it comes to security. The roof rack is good as it uses wasted space and doesn't hinder access to doors or the trunk but it can be quite difficult to load up due to the working height. The hitch mount is my favorite as it is easy to load and can take a lot of weight. If you've a pickup and don't need all the space in the bed for other stuff then the bed-mounted racks are great.

A bit more on the most important pros and cons of these racks:

Strap-on trunk mounted racks usually cost between $50 and $150. The rack needs to be tightly strapped onto the vehicle and the vehicle's paintwork must be properly protected from damage if parts of the carrier rest on the body. These strap-on racks usually carry one or two bikes, sometimes three. More than that and you risk damaging the car or bikes.


  • They are good if you often change your vehicle as they are universal fitting.
  • They are usually a manageable height for loading bikes on to.
  • When not in use, they fold down for easy storage.
  • With prices starting at just $50 they are the most affordable of all bike racks.


  • The usual method of fitting means the weight of your bikes and the rack is all taken on the car's panels, risking damage (I speak from first-hand experience!).
  • The polyester webbing securing straps can snap or wear out in the fullness of time.
  • Theft is a high risk as the straps can be easily cut with a knife.
  • Care needs to be taken when reversing as the bikes project way out beyond the tailgate.
  • In many cases it's not possible to open the trunk once the bikes are loaded.
  • The rack position means that the driver's view to the rear is often blocked.

Roof-mounted bike racks can be attached to your vehicle's existing rack mounts if provided, or you can install a pair of crossbars that the rack attaches to. Prices start from around $50 per bike but if you need to buy crossbars, the total will end up closer to $200 for a two bike setup.


  • The bikes, once loaded, are up out of your way and don't restrict access to the trunk.
  • Once you have your crossbars you are able to fit other carriers for different items such as skis or canoes.
  • Most manufacturers offer lockable attachments so the rack stays on your car!
  • You can carry more bikes than a strap-on setup, typically up to five bikes at once.


  • This type of bike rack can be tricky to install
  • Headroom is limited with bikes loaded. Many car parks etc will be 'out of bounds'
  • Noisier when driving due to wind resistance. For the same reason, fuel economy can be badly affected.
  • Can be a strain to lift bikes onto these racks, especially for shorter people.
Hitch-mount racks [] have been getting more popular recently. They can hold lots of weight and are easy to load and unload. Simple one bike hitch-mounts start from around $100, but can go as high as $400 for a 'top of the range' branded model with a swing-away feature.


  • The easiest of all to install -just slide it onto the trailer hitch fitting.
  • Bike front wheels can usually stay in place, unlike some roof mount systems Ć¢EUR¢ Easiest to lift and fix the bikes in place


  • If your vehicle doesn't already have a trailer hitch you'll need to pay extra to get one fitted.
  • Only the swing-away models are guaranteed to allow access to the car's tailgate. These cost more though so check before buying if this might be an issue for you.
  • Like the strap-on racks, extra care needs to be taken when reversing. Rear vision might also be impaired depending on the height of the vehicle.

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