Bike Rack Buyers Guide

More and more people are riding bikes these days. It's a great way to spend time in the outdoors whether youíre by yourself, on a group ride with friends, or out with the family. Now, sometimes you need to drive to ride! That means getting your bike safely to your starting point.

We are here to help you select the bike rack that fits your car the best and meets your needs. There are so many bike rack manufacturers in the market today and narrowing down your selection can be quite overwhelming. To make this simple, we have come up with a checklist. Simply answer the questions and use the filtering system on our bike racks page to choose the right bike rack for you.

Bike Rack Buying Guide Checklist

  • How many bikes will you be carrying?
  • How far do you plan to travel with the bikes?
  • Do you have a mixture of certain size bikes or are they all about the same size?
  • What vehicle or vehicles do you have?
  • Does your vehicle have a receiver hitch? If not, do you plan to get one?
  • How do you want to carry the bikes on your vehicle? On top or off the back?
  • Will your bike be getting dirty? (If so, maybe you donít want it on top of your car?)
  • Does the front wheel of bike come off easily? Either a quick release or thru-axle.
  • Do you need access to the trunk/hatch when the bikes are mount on the rack?
  • You may also want to consider if you are carrying any other outdoor gear such as a kayak, paddleboard, snowboard, etc.
Letís break this down into more detail...

The most important question to answer is how many bikes will you be transporting? Bike racks can carry a single bike up to 5 bikes. You can carry 1 to 4 bikes on top of your car with single racks or you could carry 1 to 5 bikes off the back of your car.

Next, think about how far do you plan to travel. What is the value of your bike(s)? If you are planning a few long trips with expensive bikes, then you want to be sure to get a sturdy, high-quality rack. If youíre just headed to the local trail with some lower end bikes, then something a little less expensive could work very well for you.

If you have a young family, where you might be mixing adult bikes and kids bikes, then a hanging bike rack might be your choice over a platform rack. If you have a bike with a carbon frame, then you might want to consider going with a platform rack where the bike is secured mostly at the wheels and slightly at the frame.

What vehicle do you have? Does it have a receiver hitch installed already or do you plan to get one? There are several types of mounts for bike racks.

Hitch Mounted

Connect to a 1 ľ inch or 2 inch receiver hitch. Hitched mounted racks are easy to install and they are very secure. They are typically more expensive and are available in 2 different styles; Hanging or Platform. You can lock your bikes to the rack easily! Some hitch racks tilt out or swing to the side for easy truck or hatch access.

Hanging Hitch Mounted Bike Rack - Sports Unlimited
Roof Mounted
Roof Mounted Bike Rack - Sports Unlimited

These racks hold a single bike and require a factory roof rack or an aftermarket base bar system to enable the rack to attach securely to the roof of your car. There are two options for roof mounted racks; One that requires you to remove the front wheel of your bike (fork-mounted) and one that enables both wheels to remain on the bike. With the front wheel removed the bike is a little more secure and doesnít shake as much. It also allows the bike to site lower which is great for SUVs that are larger. The downside is you need to find a place to store the front wheel. The roof racks with both wheels left on typically costs more. On both racks your bike can be locked to the rack and the rack locked to your roof.

Trunk Mounted
Trunk Mounted Bike Rack - Sports Unlimited

Trunk mounted racks are typically the least expensive and unfortunately the least secured. Trunk racks are connected to your car using a set of straps and hooks that connect to the lip of your trunk, bumper or hatch. They include foam or rubber feet that help protect your vehicle from any contact with the metal rack. The advantage of trunk bike racks is they can fit just about any vehicle. Please note that proper installation is very important as to not damage your vehicleís paint. The rack must be secured properly. Always double check that the rack is secured tightly before mounting your bikes. Another con is the bikes are easier to steal.

Trunk Bed Mounted

Truck bed mounts are an excellent choice that allow you to carry your bikes as well as tow your boat, trailer, camper, etc at the same time. These racks accommodate a variety of bikes and are available in many different install variations. You also do not lose access to the vehicle. You are still able to pack stuff around your bike(s) for a long trip or vacation.

Spare-tire Mounted
Spare-Tire Mounted Bike Rack - Sports Unlimited

A great option if you have a spare tire mounted on the back of your car. These racks are easy to assemble and hold up to 2 bikes. The downside is in most cases you need to remove the bikes and sometimes the bike rack itself to gain access to the trunk. In some cases the spare tire on your vehicle can swing out and therefore you would not have to remove the bikes or the rack to gain trunk access.

RV Mounted
RV Mounted Bike Rack - Sports Unlimited

For RV owners there are specific options that attached bike racks to the rear bumper or the ladder on the back.

Expert Tips
  • Before making a car bike rack purchase, make sure the the bike rack is able to carry the weight of your bike. Each bike rack has a maximum bike weight rating. Typically roads bikes and kids bikes are 35 lbs or less. Fat bikes, electric bikes, are 65 lbs or less.
  • Which brand is better? Thule and Yakima are very well known brands but they are not the best. There are other excellent brands that would say they are just as good if not better. Hollywood Racks, Swagman, Rockymounts and Kuat stand up to the top brands! Each brand is typically better in certain areas. Make sure you read up on the customer reviews to help make your purchasing decision.
  • Test your bikes on the rack when you get receive it. Please donít wait until the day of your trip to put your bikes on the rack for the first time. Some kidsí bikes are tough to get on and you need to work them on like putting a puzzle together. Once you figure how they fit, then youíre good to go.
  • Itís okay to purchase a 4-bike rack even though you might only have 2-3 bikes. The extra space on the rack is helpful and allows for a little more room in between bikes.
  • Use any extra straps or a bungee cord to attach bikes together while on the rack to prevent swaying. This is typically done by attaching at the wheels and is handy when using racks where the bikes are hung by the frame. Itís also a good idea to insert a towel into any areas that might allow the frame of the bike to rub against another bike or the rack itself.
  • Check everything twice before you drive! Ensure the rack is securely connected to the vehicle and ensure the bikes are securely fastened to the bike rack.
  • If you are going to leave your bikes on the rack for any amount of time when you are not watching them, invest in locks to lock the bike to the rack and the rack to the vehicle!

If you want to browse all these types of bike racks (and use our filtering system) or you figured out what you need and want to buy, head over to our Car Bike Racks page.