I’ve found out that there are no perfect car bicycle racks. Consequently, I have a
- Bike hitch rack- for my SUV.
- Roof bike rack- for my sedan.
- Trunk bike rack- (once again…for my sedan).
- Spare tire mount rack- left over from the old days when my previous SUV had a rear mounted spare tire.
- Cargo carrier bike rack- (only because I have a cargo carrier and couldn’t resist getting the bike rack accessory).
Guess which one I choose if I have the chance? I don’t know…guess it all comes down to the pros and cons of each style. Let’s go over those pros, those cons, and whatever else comes to mind about car bicycle racks.
Goods and Bads Of The Hitch Bike Rack
See my hitch bike rack review page for an in-depth review of this type.
Benefits of the hitch-mounted bike rack.
- Regarding the ease of getting the bikes onto and off of the vehicle, this style is at the top of the list. Try comparing it to getting a bike onto and off of the roof of a car and you’ll see what I mean.
- With gasoline costs at record prices, aerodynamics is something we’re all striving for. Well, because the bikes on a hitch-mounted bike rack are tucked in behind the vehicle rather than on top of the roof…or riding high on the top of the trunk, the hitch mounted rack is the most aerodynamic.
- There are more models of hitch-mounted roof racks than there are of any other styles. This can either lead to more indecisive consternation 😉 , or delight in finding the right model.
Disadvantages of a hitch bike rack.
- It goes without saying that if you don’t have a hitch receiver, you’re out of business. Hitch receivers are common on SUV’s, but not so frequently installed on sedans or coupes. While it’s always possible to have an after-market receiver mounted to the frame or bumper of many cars…the hassle and expense may not be worth it.
- Some bikes aren’t predisposed to being put onto some hitch-mounted bike racks. Right away I think about high priced carbon framed road bikes. It almost seems like a punishable crime to subject the top bar of a carbon frame to a ‘hanger-style’ hitch bike rack. Of course there are also hitch-mounted bike racks that carry the bike by supporting it by its wheels (wheel mount bike racks). This style is also appropriate for mountain bike with top bars that are anything but horizontal.
I see a lot of hitch-mounted bike racks on the highways and byways. Many SUV’s seem to be participating in the ‘how many kid’s bikes can I get on this bicycle rack’ contest.
The hitch racks that swing to the side for easy access to the rear SUV door are pretty slick. They cost more than racks purchased at swap meets. But considering the marginal quality of what I got at the swap meet, the ‘swinger style’ may be worth it.
Saris has done a good job of offering hitch mounted bicycle racks that grip the bike at the wheels, so the frame isn’t contacted. One model is called the CycleOn Pro and another is the Thelma. Sounds like one should be really speedy and the other should be baking cherry pies for the 4th of July.
Once again, if you’re interested in learning more than mortal mankind should ever know about a hitch-mounted bike rack, go over to my hitch bike rack review page.
If you want to see which hitch bike racks are rated the best by hundreds of users, check out these hitch bike racks on Amazon…
Roof Bicycle Racks
Benefits of a roof -mounted bike rack…
- Here’s one of the benefits of a roof bicycle rack…sometimes it’s the only viable option. If you don’t have a trailer hitch, you can’t very well use a hitch-mounted bike rack. If you don’t want to scar up the paint on your trunk, a trunk mount bicycle rack won’t work. And as for the spare-tire mounted rack…what’s a mother to do if there’s no spare tire in sight? The cargo carrier rack goes on a hitch, so if the hitch mount won’t work, this one won’t work either.
- I suppose there are a few other benefits to a roof-mounted bike rack. For starters, you can carry a whole lot of bikes on the thing; going down the road with the top of your car looking like the back of an agitated porcupine.
- And then there’s the benefit of keeping your roof-mounted on the vehicle at all times. It’s always there, waiting for you to put your bike on it. It’s also always there advertising that you’re a healthy cyclist…even when you’re driving your car to the nearest Carl’s Jr. restaurant for a greasy six-dollar burger.
- With a roof mounted bike rack you have some choice how you’ll attach your bike to the rack. This helps when you have an odd-shaped frame, a carbon frame, or several other out-of-the-ordinary bike issues.
Disadvantages of a roof bike rack…
- Talk about awkward…try balancing your bike on a bike rack in the center of your car while you stand off to the side struggling to keep the machine upright long enough to get the clamps on. It sounds daunting, but truth be told, it’s doable. When I was doing it on the top of my Toyota 4-runner I was struck with how high up in the air the bike was riding.
- And then there’s the very troubling issue of forgetting that the bikes are on the top of the car when you pull into the garage. Few people make this mistake twice.
- If you don’t have a factory installed luggage rack, mounting a roof bike rack can be a hassle. But by using a bit of Yankee ingenuity, most manufacturers have novel ways of getting that rack onto the top of your car.
These are pretty popular. I’ve got a factory installed luggage rack on my 4runner, so attaching a Thule system was pretty easy.
Now I don’t like my bicycle roof rack because there’s a padded clamp that grabs my precious carbon down tube. I can’t help but think it’s crushing carbon fibers.
I don’t think it is, but in the interest of full disclosure, I’m pouring out my heart, my bicycle racks fears, to you.
I think it’s important in the eyes of some bike snobs to have their very expensive carbon bikes up real high so that everyone can see them. I’ve never seen a Huffy on a cycling roof rack.
Somewhere in the list of deadly sins is the occasional instance of forgetting about the high flying bike on the bike roof rack when the car is pulled into the garage. I consider this to be a potential problem with roof racks.
You can see a good selection of roof racks at Amazon.
Bicycle Trunk Racks
Benefits of a trunk-mounted bike rack…
- this group doesn’t cost as much as the hitch mounted rack or the roof rack.
- you don’t have to have a hitch receiver, or a roof rack on your car.
- many of these racks are adjustable enough to accommodate most cars.
- easy to install.
- easier to get the bike onto rack than it is with a bike roof rack.
- appropriate for occasional bike transportation since these are easy to put onto and take off of the car.
Disadvantages of a trunk-mounted bike rack…
- these aren’t as stable as some other types.
- you can’t get into your trunk without unloading the bikes.
- if your car has something like a spoiler on it, there may be compatibility issues.
- this style contacts the frame of your bike, if that’s an issue for you.
- may need an adapter bar for odd shaped frames.
I have a trunk mount for my Acura RL. It’s a sturdy rascal and well made by Bell. I’ve been under that Acura rear bumper quite a few times. It doesn’t look to me that putting a hitch on that car is all that easy to do, so a trunk mounted bicycle rack seems like a good option.
But the trunk mount rack has made me nervous with my carbon road bike attached. The rack’s contact points on the trunk aren’t extremely wide and the nylon webbing doesn’t attach to the trunk very wide either. Stability is in question.
Bottom line- While I was driving down the highway, I kept looking back to make sure that there wasn’t any twisting of the bicycle rack going on. I tried it with two additional straps extending from the sides of the rack to the sides of the trunk, but ran into another problem… during a night-time drive I kept hearing a strong humming sound.
Well, the side straps were catching the wind just right and were attempting to hum out a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. All that vibration couldn’t have been good for either the trunk edges on the car or the rack. So I had to pull off at the nearest ramp for ‘stability strap’ removal.
When you get into the carbon frame world there is a reluctance to hang the hallowed carbon top bar from the arms of any rack. This precludes the use of the trunk mount or hitch mount bicycle racks.
I’d also have a hesitation to subject the edges of my trunk to the web straps if I had a new Mercedes or Jaguar.
But to be fair, there are some trunk mount bicycle racks on the market that are a lot more stable than my Bell model.
Spare Tire Mount Bike Rack
There’s no problem worrying about a bike rack mount damaging a spare tire and the spare tire mount bike rack I’ve got is reasonably stable. There is still the problem of hanging a carbon frame from this style, but it may be a good option for recreational bikes.
A problem may arise if you don’t have a spare tire on the back of your car. It’s hard for me to envision an after market spare tire on a Mercedes sedan, but with hose clamps and Duct Tape it could be done. That’s right, we’re talking spare tire bicycle racks for those afflicted with economic affluence.
And if you’ve got spare tire bicycle racks in the garage gathering dust, hose clamping a spare tire from the wrecking yard onto the rear bumper may be prudent. In an absurd kind of way.
There’s a surprising number of spare tire mount bike racks at Amazon…and for good prices.
Cargo Carrier Bicycle Racks
I’ve had a cargo carrier kicking around the place for a quite few years. In the olden days, before I was insane about cycling, I used it to carry two bikes to Whistler Mountain and back. I used the attachments that were like the slots you would pull your front wheel into at the schoolyard. It worked reasonably well.
We did get a little thrill at White Rock , BC when we returned to our car. Some people in the neighborhood called out to tell us that they’d run off some punks who were trying to steal the bikes off the rack. I had the bikes cable locked.
I don’t know if the thieves had a plan to cut the cable, or if they were merely acting on animal instinct and would have encountered the cable obstacle later in the bike snatching snafu.
My latest innovation is to have bought a front fork clamping device from Saris Group. I’ve mounted it to the cargo carrier, but I haven’t taken the whole contraption out on it’s maiden voyage yet.
The cargo carrier is still rather heavy and awkward to handle, even after all these years. It hasn’t aged gracefully.
There aren’t as many cargo carrier racks, but I found a few at Amazon.
And Another Option
More often than not I either take both tires off my racing bike and put it in the trunk of the Acura or keep them on and put it in the back of the 4 runner. That way it’s not hanging from the carbon frame… no hoodlums are tempted by its startling good looks… and I won’t scrape it off the top of the car while pulling into the garage, when I suffer from a brainfart.
Well, that’s a lot of ‘bicycle racks‘ talk…if you want to see just about every model known to humankind, you can see just about everything at prices as low as anywhere at Amazon (just about ‘all things bicycle racks‘).
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