One of the great joys of cycling is exploring new places or traveling to take part in group rides and other cycling events. Even for everyday rides, many cyclists load their bike on (or in) a vehicle to get out of the city and avoid busy roads. But if your car isn’t big enough to put one or more bikes inside and you’re a cyclist, then you’re probably going to need a bike rack.
Types of Car Bike Racks
There is an amazingly wide range of options to pick from and no single “best” solution that’s going to work for everyone. Here are the things you need to consider when choosing a car bike rack and our favorites in each category.
Car bike racks that use straps to mount them on the trunk or hang on the back door of an SUV work quite well, and they’re generally the least expensive option. They’re a great option if you don’t shuttle your bike on your vehicle often and don’t want to spend a lot. I wouldn’t recommend them for heavy or long-term use as they often mar vehicle paint jobs or do other damage if left strapped to a car for long periods. Today’s cars are built with thin sheet metal, sensitive clear coats over the paint, and a lot of plastic, which makes them vulnerable to rack damage. The problem gets exponentially worse if you’re carrying lots of bikes on a trunk-mounted rack.
I’ve used roof bike racks for decades, and they work very well—especially if you have a vehicle that already has roof rails installed. Roof racks get your bikes up and out of the way, and your ride won’t get crushed if you get rear-ended. It is, however, at risk if you forget it’s up there and drive into your garage or fast-food drive-through (yes, I admit it, I’ve done that). With so many new bikes now coming with thru-axle wheels instead of the old quick release systems, you’ll want to think about what you have when choosing a rack model because you may need to buy an adapter too.
Hitch-mounting car bike racks have exploded in popularity over the last 10-20 years. They’re more aerodynamic and, unlike strap-on racks, keep the rack away from your vehicle and prevent damage. Some hitch mount racks will swing down or entirely out of the way so you can get in the rear door of your SUV or station wagon.
I especially like the models that use wheel trays and arms that come up and grab the wheels. That type of system holds bikes rigidly in place, and because there’s no contact with the bike frame, there’s less chance of bicycle damage. Older hitch mount designs feature a vertical hanging setup that has more frame contact and often means bikes have more potential to swing into each other and get banged up.
I have to admit that the first time I saw suction-mount car bike racks advertised, I was wary. The idea of risking my multi-thousand-dollar bikes to the staying power of a suction cup freaked me out. However, brands like SeaSucker have proven their products work very well. They’re especially good for cars that don’t have built-in roof rail systems or are odd shapes.
If you have a pickup truck, you could just toss your bike in the back, but tailgate pads are a better option. They keep your bike from sliding around, which can damage your truck and your bike. Tailgate pads are great when you’re carrying multiple bikes because they keep them all separate and not getting tangled and banging into each other.
Think of it as a large thick, and soft blanket that wraps the tailgate front and back. It’s held to the tailgate with straps, and then you put bikes on top of it so that the front wheel hangs over the back of the truck. Regularly-spaced anchor straps that are sewn into the pad go around the bike’s downtube so you can put many bikes side-by-slide without them moving around when you go around corners or over bumps.
What to Consider When Choosing a Car Bike Rack
These are in no particular order, but each point needs to be factored in when selecting which type of rack to go with.
- Type of Vehicle: If you have a small car that’s fairly low to the ground, a roof rack might be a good option because you won’t struggle to put bikes on top. Smaller cars—particularly sportier models—also often don’t have trailer hitches meaning hitch mount racks aren’t an option. If you have an SUV, you may have a hitch, but will want to consider access to the rear door and if a rack will get in the way.
- How Many Bikes Do You Need to Carry?: As mentioned earlier, I don’t recommend using a strap-on rack if you’re carrying lots of bikes or heavy e-bikes. You must calculate the weight of what you’re going to be carrying and the capacity of the rack system you choose. For hitch mount racks, consider the width (or “class”) of the hitch on your vehicle. Smaller hitches can’t take as much and have the potential to twist more than large 2″ versions. You don’t want a bunch of bikes seesawing around on the back of your car. If you’re just carrying one or two bikes, most options will work for you, but if you’re carrying three or more, think about how much space they’ll take up. Most cars aren’t wide enough to accommodate more than three bikes on the roof, and even then, you’ll probably have to mount the middle one backwards to get the handlebars to clear each other.
- What Type of Bikes Are You Carrying?: Once upon a time, bikes were fairly standard, and most racks would work with most bicycles. That’s far from the case today. For example, carrying a fat tire mountain bike is impossible with some systems. Other things to consider are thru-axles vs. quick-release wheels and how full suspension mountain bikes engage with the arms of a strap-on rack when they have a shock in the middle of the frame.
Best Car Bike Racks
Again, there’s no “best overall” car bike rack that’s going to work for everyone, so we’ve broken down our picks by rack type and the options some models offer that are specific to certain kinds of bikes and uses.
Best Trunk Mount Car Bike Rack: Saris Bones
There are lots of cheaper options when it comes to trunk mount car bike racks, but the Saris Bones offers the best value for money. Built from recycled plastic, it’s quite strong and can carry two 35-pound bikes. It’s one of the most adjustable racks on the market and can be maneuvered around most spoilers, while the articulated rubber feet protect your car’s paint.
What I particularly like about it is it has ratcheting straps that not only hold the top tube of your bikes securely, it also has two more straps that go around the vertical seat tube. This prevents bikes from swinging back and forth into each other as you brake and accelerate.
Saris Bones 2 Bike Trunk Rack, Black
The Saris Bones Car Bike Rack system has a 6-point tie-down system. It weighs just nine pounds but can carry 70. In addition to top tube straps, it has two ratcheting straps that go around bike seat tubes to keep them from swinging back and forth into each other.
Best Roof Car Bike Rack: Yakima HighSpeed
If you’ve upgraded to a bike with thru-axles in the last few years, you’ve been coming to grips with the challenges of adapting the cycling accessories you use like indoor trainers and bike racks. Venerable car bike rack maker Yakima solves the problem with its new Yakima HighSpeed Fork Mount Bike Carrier roof rack that works with both thru-axles and traditional quick release setups. It has a minimalist design, so you’re not dragging around a bunch of extra kit on your roof when the rack’s not in use.
The HighSpeed also features a strap mounting system that plays well with a wide range of factory-installed car and SUV roof rail systems, or you can purchase a Yakima rail system designed to fit your specific vehicle (sold separately). Something else to keep in mind is if you want to secure your bike, you’ll also want to pick up the compatible lock cores.
YAKIMA - HighSpeed Fork Mount Bike Carrier for Roof Racks, 1 Bike Capacity
The HighSpeed Fork Mount Bike Carrier is one of Yakima's most versatile car roof rack systems. It can handle everything from road to fat-tire bikes, thru-axles, or quick release. The mounting system is compatible with most factory roof racks or Yakima's own rails.
Roof Car Bike Rack Honorable Mention: RockyMounts Tomahawk
Some folks hate the hassle of pulling off the front wheel to use bike roof racks, so I include the RockyMounts Tomahawk system as an honorable mention. Like the Yakima, it’ll handle just about any bike from road to fat. Instead of taking off a wheel, you put the entire bike in the wheel tray, and then there’s an arm that comes up to engage the front wheel and hold the bike vertical. It’s an easy system to use and is compatible with most factory roof rack systems. RockyMounts doesn’t sell aftermarket rails, so if you need those, consider Yakima or Thule. Like most manufactures, if you want to secure your bike, you’ll need to purchase the separately sold RockyMounts lock cores.
RockyMounts Tomahawk upright roof bike rack
The RockyMounts Tomahawk rack system is great for those who dislike the hassle of removing a front wheel to use roof racks. It features an arm that comes up to engage the front wheel and hold the bike in a vertical position. It's compatible with most factory and aftermarket rail systems.
Best Overall Hitch Mount Car Bike Rack: Kuat Sherpa 2.0
Long-known for beautifully made products, Kuat’s Sherpa 2.0 is our pick for best overall hitch mount rack. Not only is it good looking, but the Sherpa is also made from aluminum and weighs only 32 pounds (2-bike version) yet can carry bikes up to 40 pounds each. Available for 2″ and 1.25″ hitches, the rack will take bikes with a wheelbase up to 47″ and tires as wide as 3″.
What makes the Sherpa 2:0 stand out is its ease of use. You drop it down from the upright position with a tap of your foot, and an adjustable arm holds the bike easily in an upright position. Another nice feature is a cam that you tighten against the hitch receiver, so the rack doesn’t jiggle. Locks in the cam and a semi-integrated cable keep your ride secure.
Kuat Sherpa 2.0-1.25" - 2-Bike Rack - Gray Metallic, Gray Metallic/Orange Anodize
The Kuat Sherpa 2:0 works with both 2-inch and 1.25-inch hitches. Weighing only 32 pounds, it can carry bikes up to 40 pounds each and is very easy to install and use with a foot-actuated release mechanism. An integrated lock system provides extra security.
Most Versatile Hitch Mount Car Bike Rack: RockyMounts BackStage Swing Away
One of the challenges of hitch mount car bike racks is they can get in the way of you using your rear door or getting into your trunk—even with racks that tilt down. That’s why we like the RockyMounts Swing Away hitch-mount car bike rack. It has an arm that folds out so far that your bikes are entirely out of the way without you having to take them off of the rack.
Not only does it have the swing arm, but it also has the tilt-down feature as well for quick access to your hatchback. While very versatile, the BackStage Swing Away weighs in at 60 pounds just for the rack and has a maximum weight capacity of 60 pounds total. So, it’s heavy, yet not as strong as some other choices. It can handle tire widths from road to 5″ fat bike and features RockyMounts 3-axis anti wobble system. The rack includes a locking hitch pin and cable lock that use the same key. Note that it only works with 2″ hitches.
RockyMounts BackStage 2" Receiver Swing Away platform hitch 2 bicycle rack. Allows full access to the rear of the vehicle with bikes on or off the rack.
The RockyMounts BackStage features a swing arm system that folds out to get your bikes completely out of the way of your trunk or back door. The vertical arms connect with the front wheel, so there's no contact with the bike frame.
Best Budget Hitch Mount Car Bike Rack: Hollywood Racks HR1000 Sport Rider
If a $500 hitch-mount car rack is out of your budget, then take a look at the HR1000 Sport Rider from Hollywood Racks, which is about half as much. The vertical arms that hold bikes upright engage the frame and not the front wheel, but they’re well padded to help prevent damage. The arms can be locked, and there’s a locking hitch pin mechanism too to keep bike secure. The rack tilts down for cargo area access and can be folded up when not in use. The max-width for the wheel trays is 3″ and a 60″ wheelbase. It’ll carry two bikes with a maximum weight of 50 pounds each and fits both 1.25 and 2″ hitches.
Hollywood Racks HR1000 Sport Rider 2-Bike Platform Style Hitch Mount Rack (1.25 and 2-Inch Receiver)
If you're looking for a less expensive hitch-mount bike rack option, then the Hollywood Racks HR1000 Sport Rider is for you. While the arms that hold the bike upright engage the frame and not the front wheel, it has many of the features of more expensive racks at about half the price.
Best Car Bike Rack for E-Bikes: 1UP Heavy Duty
There’s something beautifully utilitarian about 1UP racks that appeal to the mechanic in me. The standard Heavy Duty model comes with two trays, but it can be expanded to four with a whopping weight capacity of 200 pounds, which makes this the best option if you’re traveling with heavy e-bikes. The rack is only compatible with 2″ hitches and includes an anti-wobble mechanism to keep it from moving around.
1UP claims the fastest installation and loading and that it can be done in 10 seconds. It’ll take wheels up to 3″ wide and a 54-inch wheelbase, but you can buy an adapter kit for wider tires. The rack installs with a hex key, making it a little harder for thieves to steal, but this rack does not have a true locking system, so you’ll want to secure your bikes to your hitch with a long cable if security is a concern.
Best Suction Mount Car Bike Rack: SeaSucker Talon
If your car doesn’t have a factory-installed rack or it’s an unusual shape, the SeaSucker Talon is an option worth considering. SeaSucker claims its suction mounts never damage a car’s finish, and their racks weigh about a third of traditional rail mount systems. They install in seconds, and the suction cups can take weights over 200 pounds.
SeaSucker loves to demonstrate that strength by posting pictures of people hanging onto the back of SUVs, but it is worth noting that their warranty only covers replacement of the rack, not any damage caused if it were to come loose. Still, the Talon has three suction cups at the front, and presumably, all would have to lose suction for that to happen.
SeaSucker Talon Single Bike Rack for Cars - USA Made Racks - SUV, Sedan, Hatchback, RV, BMW, Honda, Tesla, Mazda and Every Other Car – No Hitch Mount, 100% Safe, Zero Damage, Travel-Friendly Carrier
If you don't have a trailer hitch and want to skip having rails attached to the top of your car, then the SeaSucker Talon car bike rack is for you. It attaches in seconds with suction mounts that are rated at more than 200 pounds of pull force.
Best Tailgate Pad for Bicycles: Fox Racing
If you’re carrying more than one mountain bike in the back of your truck, you’re going to want a better system than just letting them slide around and bang into each other. The Fox Racing Tailgate Pad enables you to hook the front wheel over the back of your tailgate without damaging the paint. Built-in anchor straps keep bikes from sliding side-to-side and into each other. The small size (54 inches and five straps) fits mid-size trucks, and the large (62 inches and six straps) is for full-size.
Fox Racing Tailgate Cover Black, Large
A tailgate pad like this one from Fox Racing protects your truck bed and your bikes from sliding and banging around. The two models are for mid-size or full-size trucks and feature anchor straps that go around the frame of your bike to keep them from moving.