SB's Guide to Choosing the Right Bike Rack


We're just gonna say it: bikes are the absolute ultimate form of transportation. They don't use gas, they're an awesome workout, and they let you really appreciate mother nature. But they do have one drawback: they're just a little tiny itty bitty bit slower than cars, and there's a whole wide world of trails and roads and gravelly paths begging to be ridden that are just too far away from your front door. Enter: the bike rack. Because sometimes you have to strap your favorite form of transportation to your second favorite form of transportation in order to enjoy every last mile of joy that California has to offer. 
 
But what kind of rack do you need? We're here to help narrow down your options to the type of rack that works best for your bike, your vehicle, and your wallet. After you've figured out which style works for you, scroll down to the bottom of this article for links to each of our brand's fit guides, so you can grab the parts you need for your specific vehicle.
 
 

 

 
 

 

THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN CHOOSING A BIKE RACK FOR YOUR CAR:

 

WHAT TYPE OF VEHICLE DO YOU HAVE?

I have a large SUV or a van! You may want to consider a hitch-mounted rear rack, rather than a roof rack. Roof mounted racks usually require you to lift a bike overhead, so if the height of your vehicle (or yourself) or the weight of your bike prohibits that, we recommend leaning towards a rear mounted rack.
 
I have a pickup truck! Hitch racks are a great option for trucks, but an even more affordable option is the pickup pad! Pickup pads let you carry up to seven (7!) bikes at once, secured over your tailgate (which is protected by the pad). Truck bed bike carriers are another option.
 
I have a sedan/wagon/hatchback/generally shorter car! Congratulations! You can rock any kind of rack, including a roof rack, trunk-mounted rack or even a hitch rack, though it's less likely you'll have a hitch already installed. Which brings us to...

 

DO YOU HAVE A HITCH INSTALLED, OR DO YOU WANT ONE?

Yes! A hitch mounted rack requires - you guessed it - a hitch. The good news is that hitch-mounted racks are generally more stable compared to their trunk mounted cousins.
 
No, but I'd like one! Installing a hitch on your car, truck or SUV is a real expense and requires expert installation (unless you really, really know your way around your vehicle). Our recommendation? Just go to U-Haul. They sell and install hitches at many of their locations, and you'll sleep well knowing your bike won't fall off your car on the freeway. That said, we're proud of you for putting your vehicle to work!
 
No, and no. If you don’t like the idea of the extra cost or the work required, then look at roof-mounted or trunk-mounted options first. Luckily, there's a lot of 'em!

 

HOW MANY BIKES DO YOU PLAN ON TOWING?

Just 1 or 2. Start your search with roof-mounted options, if your vehicle lends itself to that style, but know that the whole world of bike racks is your oyster! 
 
Enough for the whole extended family! If you are planning on carrying more than two bikes, we recommend looking at hitch or trunk mounted options. These have more space and allow for easier loading.
 

 

WHAT TYPES OF BIKES WILL YOU CARRY?

Road bikes, gravel bikes, or hybrids with non-knobbly tires. If you're worried about nicking or denting your frame, look at roof or platform racks first. Your lightweight racer will be easy to load onto a roof rack, and the separation between the two platforms (whether that's on your roof or behind your car) will keep your bikes safe and sound.
 
Carbon frame bikes. Some frame warranties are voided by use with hanging racks. Yikes! Go for a platform rack, whether that's hitch mounted or roof mounted.
 
Mountain bikes or e-bikes, or something else that's monstrously heavy: Although roof racks can accommodate most tire widths, you might not wanna lift your 50 pound e-bike all the way up there on the regular. Hitch and trunk racks offer frame attachment points so tire width won’t limit your options. If you are carrying an e-bike, we recommend a hitch-mounted rack that's specifically designed for e-bikes, since they require a higher load capacity.
 
Kids bikes, hybrids, just a whole lotta bikes. Hanging rear-mount racks are the only way you'll get more than 3 bikes on your car and they're generally pretty easy on your wallet.

 

DO YOU DO OTHER THINGS BESIDES BIKE?

Skiing, camping, kayaking, surfing, competitive yodeling, the list goes on… Your car might appreciate you investing in a roof rack system, so you can switch out your bike rack for a cargo box or surf pads or even a tent! If roof racks just aren't your scene, check out the wildly customizable rear-mounted Yakima EXO rack setup. It has an optional wooden table so you can have a portable kitchen setup. If you're into loading up your whole car and need access to ALL of it, know that some hitch-mounted racks come with a tilting or swing-arm feature, so you can still access your trunk (and the precious snacks within).
 
All bike, all the time. You know what you like, and we respect that. Go with whatever scene works best for your car and your wallet, and know that there are roof rack options that don't require factory installed roof rails (like this) the crossbars just clamp right onto your car's frame.
 
  

 

 
 

 

TYPES OF VEHICLE-MOUNTED BIKE RACKS

 

ROOF MOUNTED RACKS

Roof mounted bike racks are a great option for carrying one or two bikes. They don’t inhibit your rear view while driving, and offer frame, fork, and wheel mounting options. Add-ons and extensions are available to accommodate fat tires and extra bikes. Roof racks accommodate only one bike per rack (max of two bikes per roof), and all roof-mounted racks require crossbars. Although there are crossbar options that don't require roof rails, it's definitely easier to install crossbars and your bike rack if your car has roof rails.
  
 
You might like a roof rack if:
  • You have roof rails, but do not have a hitch receiver and do not want to install one
  • Your vehicle is lower to the ground (or you are very tall) for easy loading
  • You need full access to the rear of your vehicle
  • You want to keep your bike from jostling with other bikes, and would prefer to secure your bike by it's fork or wheels (tire size isn't an issue here) 
  • You want to be able to parallel park without the extra length of a rear rack
 
Why it may not be for you:
  • You need to transport more than 2 bikes
  • You have an e-bike or other heavy frame model
  • You don’t have roof rails, crossbars, or the desire to add any (removable or otherwise)
  • You have a roof box and don't want competing space
  • Ceiling clearance is an issue, either with your garage or with parking garages you frequent (like our Sports Basement Bryant St. garage)

 

HITCH MOUNTED RACKS

This is the most popular and versatile style of bike rack. Hitch racks come in a variety of styles and sizes, with extension add-ons for more space or larger models. Hitch racks also offer swing-away and tilt options to grant full and easy access to your trunk. 
 
When shopping for a hitch-mounted rack, make sure you know your receiver size (1.25” or 2), and your receiver class (2, 3, 4 or 5). Receiver specs impact the total weight and number of bikes your hitch can transport.
 
Hitch racks come in platform and hanging styles - platform racks are very similar to the racks on the front of a bus, and are great at keeping your bikes physically separated and secure (much like a roof rack). Hanging racks can generally fit more bikes, but they'll be secured by their top tubes, and they're a bit more likely to move around during transport.
 
You might like a hitch-mounted rack if:
  • You don't want to deal with lifting your bike overhead
  • You want to carry multiple bikes
  • You need to carry different bike frame styles
  • You want to secure your bike by the tires, not the frame (get a platform style)
  • You have a hitch, and you're worried someone will attach truck nutz to it if it's not being used
 
Why it may not be for you:
  • You don't have or want a hitch
  • You’re a recreational cyclist and don’t plan on using it often
  • You’re towing other vehicles or otherwise using the hitch
  • Often want full access to rear of car during use

 

TRUNK MOUNTED RACKS

Trunk mounted racks are the easiest to use and most affordable option for car mounted bike racks. They’re lighter weight than the other options, and store easily. Trunk mounted racks offer a variety of carrying capacities and are all hanging style, meaning they attach via the frame. If you are more of a recreational cyclist and don’t plan on using a rack regularly, this might be the best option for you.
 
You might like a trunk-mounted rack if:
  • You don't have a hitch receiver and don't want to install one
  • You want to be able to easily remove and store the rack when not in use
  • You want to carry lots of bikes for not a lotta dough
  • Your bikes have all kinds of different tire widths
 
Why it may not be for you:
  • You are towing more than 3 bikes
  • You need full access to rear of car during use
  • One of your bikes is a carbon frame, or full-suspension MTB, or just has an oddly-shaped top tube

 

     

      

    YOU KNOW YOUR STYLE, NOW FIND YOUR RACK!

     
    Hopefully after aaaallllllll this reading and thinking and dreaming, you've narrowed it down to a style you like, so let's get you to the next step: picking out a specific model!
     
    KUAT
    For hitch-mounted platform racks, we love Kuat. Here's a helpful tool to compare a few of their most popular hitch racks: Kuat Hitch Rack Comparison Guide.
     
    THULE
    For roof racks (including rails, boxes and ski/board racks) as well as trunk rack and hanging hitch racks, we love Thule! In fact, all our rental bike racks are Thule models. Narrow down to your needs with their tool: Thule's Fit My Car tool.
     
    SARIS
    Saris tends to be our go-to for trunk-mounted racks - they're dependable but kind to your bank account. Here's their fit guide: Saris' Find My Fit tool.
     
    DAKINE
    Dakine makes the original pickup pad and we sell them in XL width, regular width and half-width. 
     
    YAKIMA
    And if you need more flexibility than any of those and you're in the market for hitch mounted systems, we also carry the Yakima EXO system, though inventory is tougher to come by.
     
    Remember, you can always reach out to us for special orders as well!
     
     

     

     

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