Car bike racks come in a variety of sizes, types and equipped with numerous different features. The perfect rack for your car is hard to find because there are six main types of them, with each having sub-categories. Before picking the best bike rack for your car you need to decide how many bikes, what bike are those (and how much they weigh) that you need to haul and how frequently.
We have spent tens of hours researching types of bike racks, what features are worth paying for and what are just expensive gimmicks you likely won’t ever use.
This is the cream of the crop hitch bike rack. Kuat (or Küat to be specific) has been manufacturing bike racks for quite a while, but they are still not that popular compared to Thule or Yakima. And that’s a shame because their platform racks are so much better.
NV 2.0 is an exceptionally well-built rack that screams quality in every aspect and part. It’s a platform-type rack which means easy loading and unloading (even easier with a ramp). It tilts down even with bikes loaded to ensure easy access to the trunk, and folds back up without going under and pushing anything, just pull the rack up, and it snaps back in place.
With an extension (purchased extra), you can transport up to four bikes (even heavy mountain and electric bikes.)
Yakima was the first rack manufacturer to introduce this type of roof racks. Now, past several generations, they have truly perfected the offering with HighRoad.
Loading a bike is extremely easy – raise to forward bar, put the bike on (it’s standing well by now), secure the back bar on the front wheel, secure the rear wheel with a strap.
What we also like about Yakima, is that it comes completely assembled straight out of the box and works with any type of crossbar. If you have crossbars with T-slots and want a better look, Yakima offers a retrofit kit for that, too (sold separately).
Most of the hitch bike racks operate in the same fashion – they have six mounting points and take forever to install with tightening, aligning, etc. Raceway PRO from Thule is very different – it only has four points of contact but offers a more secure fit than most of its competitors. It has no straps (which is a plus) and the tightening mechanism (with two knobs, one on each side) is the easiest to use among all trunk racks we have tested.
The arms are made of thick aluminum and there is no wobble even three rather heavy mountain bikes loaded.
Truly the best trunk bike rack out there, but unfortunately, also the most expensive one.
Spare Me rack from Thule is easy and fast to install. We like that rack mount can be adjusted horizontally to fit your vehicle’s spare tire placement. This is needed to ensure more center-aligned fit of your bike and that way, your rear view won’t be obstructed.
Smaller details like rubber dampeners that are placed between rack’s side tubes and the spare tire itself show how well-though-out this piece of equipment really is.
The only thing we would improve is adding a place for at least one extra bike. It’s strange that Thule only decided to include three cradles on a bike rack that mount to one of the most secure places in a car for bike transportation.
In the category of inside-car bike racks, there is very little competition, since most of the people are fine using DIY options. However, a reputable manufacturer called Saris has quite an offer.
Their Traps Triple rack can hold up to four bikes, however, we found that two bikes plus two front tires is the optimal combination in this case.
After the front tires are removed, the bikes are securely attached via fork mounts and ready to go. The mount points can also be adjusted horizontally for optimal fit.
We were amazed by how easy and quick was the installation of this rack. It’s secured with a tailgate and Thule’s unique ratcheting mechanism. After that, just secure the bike’s front wheel and you’re ready to go (no need to remove the wheel).
Unfortunately, this rack is quite expensive compared to other truck bed models. However, they will most likely require more of a permanent installation, while this one can be thrown in where you need it.
Selecting racks by attachment type is fine, but what attachments work best for different body types? Read below:
Tested on Honda CRV, Nissan Rogue, Toyota Rav4, Jeep Wrangler, Subaru Outback
SUVs are extremely versatile cars in terms of bike racks that can be installed on them. They can take roof, hitch and trunk racks. If you have a spare tire attached to the rear door (like on Jeep Wrangler, for example) – a spare tire rack is your best bet.
Our favorite racks for SUVs are hitch-attached. Many of today’s SUVs, especially mid-size and up have a factory-installed hitch. If it’s not your case, all of them are factory-prepared to have that hitch installed. Either OEM or aftermarket, both are fine. There’s a good level of competition among aftermarket manufacturers, which helps to keep the cost low and quality high. Installation is usually very straightforward, and can be done the DIY-way, or at a local shop for a very reasonable price.
Don’t like the hitch rack? With SUV, again, you’re lucky again. Most of them have roof rails pre-installed. You only need to purchase crossbars and the bike rack itself.
And finally, less common options for SUVs – trunk racks. It’s usually the cheapest option that only makes sense to use when you have no hitch receiver installed or no storage space.
Tested on Honda Civic and Accord, Toyota Camry
The most common type of rack to use on sedans is trunk rack. Sedans don’t come equipped with roof rails, so to install crossbars (required for roof bike racks) you will first need to purchase and install a set of special posts. Only once that is done you can take care of the racks itself.
So, if for some reason you don’t like trunk racks (and there are some reasons not to), roof rack system is the one we recommend, because except for bike rack, it can be used for cargo and skis.
Hitches are even rarer on sedans. Technically, you can buy and install one as extra to use with a hitch-attached rack, but they never come pre-installed. Compared to roof racks, hitches on sedans can only be used to take bike racks, so not the most versatile solution.
Because of the reasons mentioned above bike racks for sedans that we recommend would only be for roof and trunk.
Tested on Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey
Minivans are very similar to SUVs in terms of bike rack types you can use on them, with the only exception that you will have to install a hitch yourself (if you decide to go with hitch-mounted rack), while many SUV’s are already equipped with it.
For minivans, we still recommend hitch bike racks, as they are the easiest to install and use. But, because you have easy access to the third row and storage area, you can save a bit by choosing a less expensive option without swing-away or tilting features that quickly add up the price.
Also, because it’s a minivan, it’s more likely that you want more capacity, so here we are recommending racks that can handle 3 or more bikes.
Tested on Subaru Crosstrek, Toyota Prius
Very rarely will you see any bike rack except for trunk-mounted and roof-mounted ones on a hatchback, with trunk racks being the most popular (no extra hardware is needed).
However, more and more hatchback owners understand the benefits of hitch racks. Any problems are easily solved by installing an aftermarket hitch receiver.
We still recommend trunk bike racks on hatchbacks, but if you want a roof or hitch-mounted one, both are absolutely viable options but be prepared to spend a little extra.
Tested on Ford F-Series, Chevy Silverado
Trucks are the most universal cars when it comes to bike transportation. Trucks owners have the flexibility to choose from numerous options to transport a bike:
Tested on Mercedes Sprinter, RAM ProMaster
When it comes to vans you basically have two options to transport your bike – hitch rack or a special van rack (manufactured by Thule). There’s also an extremely rare third option – a roof rack, but given the height of the vehicle, it’s not the optimal choice.
The option we recommend is a high-quality hitch rack with a swing-away extender. Technically, an extender is not required, but in the case with vans in most situations you need access to rear doors, and these swing-away arms are going to give you just that. It can be purchased separately at a later time, so you will have a chance to estimate if it’s something you will need.
Bike racks for specific van use are rarer and manufactured mainly by Thule and less-known Fiamma and Recon.
Tested on a variety of travel trailers, popup trailers, toy haulers and fifth wheels
Before jumping into specifics of RV trailer bike racks, remember that you can transport bikes in your towing vehicle, too. If you tow with a truck (most likely) you can choose a truck bed rack. If you tow with an SUV – you can still mount bikes on the roof.
But, when it comes to traditional trailers you can either place bikes on the tongue (not an option for fifth wheels) or back of the trailer.
Tongue-mounted racks – these are mounted directly on the tongue and allow to carry up to four bikes. These are not the easiest to load and unload bikes with but are a great option if you don’t want any bikes on the back of your trailer. The only thing to keep in mind is your remaining tongue weight – make sure you have some wiggle room before installing a rack like that.
Now, moving to a more traditional place to transport your bikes on a trailer – it’s back. Here you have three options:
For pop-up trailers with roof crossbars, there’s also an exception – regular roof racks. The latter option comes with a little bonus – because roof width on a pop-up trailer is much wider than that of a regular car – you can easily mount three bikes there, or even four if you’re lucky.
Tested on several Class-A, Class-B and Class-C motorhomes
With motorhomes, your choice of bike racks is similar to that of travel trailers.
If you don’t plan to tow a car behind your motorhome, we would recommend hitch racks. Just like in case with trailers, here you can save a bit on more expensive rack features and swing arms, as you’re most likely don’t need access to motorhome’s rear part.
If you’re towing a car behind a motorhome you can now use a tongue-mounted rack, or think about options of mounting the bikes on your smaller vehicle, depending on its body type.
If you’ve made it this far, you’re really determined to buy the best rack out there, congratulations!
Before choosing a specific model, first, you need to decide what type of bike rack you want. Sometimes you are limited by your vehicle body type (more on that above) or the type of bikes you will be transporting. In all other situations, the main factors are capacity and cost. To start with, we sorted all bike racks into six main categories, by type of attachment to your vehicle
Hitch bike racks can be platform-type (our favorite), swing arm or vertical. Yes, they are all installed in your hitch receiver, but the difference is pretty substantial.
The downsides of these racks are that oftentimes (especially cheaper models) they block your rear door. This can be solved by either buying a rack with a tilt function or a separate swing-away attachment.
Hitch racks are the easiest to install and have the highest capacities (up to six bikes in some vertical models!).
Roof racks work best on lighter bikes and low-profile cars like sedans and hatchbacks. With heavier bikes and high-profile cars like SUVs, these racks become less attractive as it's hard to place a bike in an upright position. In that case, you will need to carry a step stool.
You should also keep in mind that you can transport a maximum of two bikes on a regular car roof.
Trunk mounted bike racks can work on most cars (except vans and pickup trucks), but are more often seen on sedans. Trunk mount rack is the most budget way to haul your bikes, so you can sometimes see them on SUVs, minivans, and hatchbacks, too.
Usually, they can haul up to 3 bikes, and most popular models have either a 2-bike or 3-bike option.
The downsides are that they don't work well with heavier bikes and take quite some time to install.
If you have an SUV with a spare tire on your tailgate, a tire mounted bike rack might be the best option for you.
These are extremely easy to install, but that's not the only benefit. See, depending on the spare tire size itself some hitch bike racks (which we often recommend for SUVs) might either not fit properly, or make it hard to install the first bike (the closest to the tailgate).
With spare tire rack, there's no problem like that. They are now becoming increasingly popular and can hold up to three bikes. However, the most popular models from Thule or Yakima can only fit two.
For very clear reasons (most people need to utilize space inside their car) these bike racks are not very popular. However, if you have a larger car like a minivan or SUV, and don't use second and third rows these will provide a safer ride for your precious bikes with some extra ant-theft protection.
To use one you will need to remove the front wheel. After that - the process is straightforward - just push the bike inside and secure the now free hub in place.
These can hold up to four bikes, but you can also use two slots at a time when you need to use one side of seats.
As mentioned above, as a pickup truck owner you have the luxury of choosing almost any bike rack on the market - you're not limited by your car type.
Still, the optimal way for trucks to haul bikes is a designated bed rack. They come in 1-piece packs, so if you only have a single bike there's no need to occupy extra space.
Another great way for truck owners to transport bikes is with the front wheel hanging over a tailgate. A special tailgate pad can hold up to seven bikes if needed.
A $150 bike rack or a $650 bike rack – what’s the difference? That’s the question we get a lot. You may have noticed that most of our rack recommendations above are in the upper price range. It’s dictated by the way we use our racks and how often.
Now, if you plan to use your rack for 4-5 times a year and drive short distances – a good budget rack is the best choice. For heavy and frequent use it just won’t make any sense economically. In the long run, a premium rack will pay itself off more and provide pleasure to use.
Technically, a $150 rack will haul your bikes just the same way as $650 one – the difference is in features and how long will you be able to use one. For example, a Kuat hitch platform rack is four times more expensive than some of the swing-arm hitch racks. We use our racks for 8-9 months a year, 2-3 times a week, and ride quite long distances.
With that kind of heavy use, a $150 rack would fall apart within a year or less. So, instead of buying one $150 rack every year for 4 years, I’ve decided to go with a rack that four-times more expensive and have all those premium features like tilt and many others.
Very often the type of rack you need is determined by how many bikes you need to transport and what bikes are those (frames and weights). Some hitch bike racks can hold up to six bikes while your roof is only limited to two. Some trunk racks can hold four bikes, but we wouldn’t recommend hauling more than three.
The question that worries most of us, law-abiding citizens is: “With most bike racks, my license plate is covered – is this even legal?”. That’s still a bit of a grey area.
In the US, with very few exceptions like Utah and Texas, obstructing a license plate with anything (including a bike rack) is illegal. In reality, though, it’s very rarely enforced.
As long as you’re not speeding on red, with your rack on (either loaded with bikes or without), there’s a chance very close to zero that you ever will be bothered, even by a bored officer. They consider this a very secondary offense.