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Bike Racks: How To Choose the Best One For Your Car

Need a bike rack for that fabulous summer road trip you have planned?

Well looking for a bike rack can be quite overwhelming with so many types, features, and styles to choose from. So what is going to be the best bike rack for your vehicle?

In selecting a rack, there are a few things you should consider:

  • How many bikes do you need to carry?
  • How secure do you need your bikes to be?
  • How often will you use the bike rack?
  • How heavy is your bike and how high you can lift it?
  • Do you want your rack to be able to carry other gear like skis or kayaks?

How many bikes you need to carry? Bike racks can carry anywhere from one to five bikes with racks typically going up in price with the more bikes it can carry. With a hitch or trunk rack it is a good idea get a rack with extra space (4-bike rack to carry 2-3 bikes) to avoid the bikes coming in contact with each other.

How secure do you need your bikes to be? It is important to consider the type of terrain and the distance you will be traveling. Quality and durability are more important for longer trips than it is for a short commute to the trailhead. If you will be traveling on rocky or dirt roads a roof rack will keep your bike safer.

How often will you use the bike rack? If you plan on using the bike rack often you are going to want to choose a high-quality, durable, easy-to-use (typically more expensive) rack. If you only think you will use the bike rack every so often you will probably be okay with a cheaper rack.

How heavy is your bike and how high can you lift it? In order to secure your bike on a roof rack you need to be able to lift your bike overhead, which can be quite difficult for some. Choose a trunk or hitch rack if you want easier access to your bikes.

Do you want your rack to be able to carry other gear like skis or kayaks? Some bike racks can be adapted to carry other gear like skis and snowboards or boats. Choose a roof rack if you want a versatile rack.

Based on your answers to the above questions you can find the rack that is going to work best for your travels below.

Trunk Racks

Trunk racks are by far the cheapest and easiest racks to install. Trunk bike racks fasten to the trunk or hatchback with a system of straps and fastens and then the bike rests on a support arm and secured with straps. Most trunk racks hold 2 bikes but some can accommodate up to 3. With practice, trunk racks can be installed or removed in just minutes.

Trunk racks are popular because the racks don’t permanently adhere to the vehicle and can be easily shared among cars. It is also way easier to attach the bike to a trunk rack than to an overhead roof rack.


  • Lower cost
  • Bike attaches to rack with minimal lifting
  • Able to share between cars (if both cars are compatible with rack)
  • Not permanently attached to vehicle
  • Perfect for occasional use


  • Blocks access to trunk/hatch
  • Bikes may rock during transport and bump into each other
  • Rack can scratch car’s paint job
  • Not easy to lock bikes to rack
  • Not ideal for longer trips

Looking to buy one? Here are some recommended racks:
Yakima KingJoe 3-Bike Carrier (Buy)
Thule Speedway 2 Bike Rack (Buy)

Hitch Racks

Hitch racks come in a variety of styles and typically carry from two to five bikes. Bikes are just as easy to mount as the trunk racks but are attached to the hitch rather than the trunk or hatch. Hitch racks need to match the hitch size of your vehicle and cars with a hitch size II will find plenty of compatible racks.

Bikes are secured into a tray on hitch racks, which minimizes any bike sway or damage caused by coming into contact with other bikes making hitch racks ideal for longer journeys. Plus some racks can fold down or swing open so you can still access your trunk.


  • Can carry from 2-5 bikes
  • Simple installation
  • Bikes are secured without having to lift bikes overhead
  • Rack is not permanently attached to vehicle
  • Some fold down or swing open to provide access to trunk
  • Ideal for long trips


  • Can block access to trunk or hatch
  • Full-feature models can be very expensive
  • Rack can be heavy
  • Women’s and kids’ bikes may require special adapters to fit into tray

Looking to buy one? Here are some recommended racks:
Thule Ridgeline 4-Bike Hitch Rack (Buy)
Thule Helium 3 Bike Hitch Rack (Buy)

Roof Racks

If you have no problem lifting your bike overhead roof racks are totally the way to go. They are versatile and offer your bike the most protection from road hazards and contact with other bikes. Only downsides are they can be expensive if you don’t already have a factory-installed rack and they can cause some wind drag and reduce gas mileage.

A bike roof rack attaches to your factory-installed crossbar or a roof rack system purchased separately and installed by you. Bikes are then placed in a tray and secured with a series of knobs and fasteners. The best part about choosing a roof rack system is that the crossbars can accommodate other types of gear such as skis, snowboards, kayaks, and gear boxes.


  • Versatile – can adapt to fit other gear
  • Bikes do not sway
  • Bikes are protected from most road hazards like rock and ice
  • Available in both fork mounts (front tire removed) and full-bike mounts
  • Lock systems are available for roof rack systems
  • Vehicle’s paint job is less susceptible to damage
  • Ideal for long trips and off-road conditions


  • Need to lift bike overhead to secure
  • Wind resistance can reduce gas mileage
  • Driver needs to be aware of reduced clearance in parking garages, carports, etc.
  • Permanently attaches to vehicle

Looking to buy one? Here are some recommended racks:
Thule Peloton Bike Fork Mount (Buy)
Yakima HighRoller Bike Mount (Buy)

[Photo Courtesy of Let Ideas Compete]