Whether you’re riding solo or bringing along the whole crew, these are the best hitch bike racks to haul your bike to the trailhead.
Besides taking a header over your handlebars, wrestling your bike onto a rack (and compulsively checking your rearview mirror to make sure your bike isn’t cartwheeling down the highway) is probably your least favorite part of cycling.
Luckily, there are a host of options for conveniently and safely getting your bike to where you want to go, especially if you have a tow hitch. With features like ratcheting arms, integrated cable locks, and swing-away arms, it’s easy to find the perfect way to load and unload your bike, securely hold it, and hit the trail without worry.
We looked around for the best hitch bike rack of 2021, and we found some very solid contenders in a wide range of price points.
Scroll through to see all of our recommended buys, or jump to the category you’re looking for:
- Best Overall
- Runner-Up 2-Bike Hitch Rack
- Best Swing-Away Rack
- Best E-Bike Rack
- Best 4-Bike Hitch Rack
- Best Budget 2-Bike Rack
- Best Budget 4-Bike Rack
- Best of the Rest
- Buyer’s Guide
The Best Hitch Bike Racks of 2021
Best Overall: Thule T2 Pro
Every piece of gear I’ve tested from Sweden-based Thule always elicits the same thought: “Man, they really thought this through!” It’s obvious that gear from Thule is designed by people who use it, from the pleasing aesthetic to the little details that make it easier and more convenient to use.
And the Thule T2 Pro 2 bike hitch rack ($620) is no exception. The generous spacing and wide range of tire widths it accommodates make this rack the best we’ve seen (for two bikes).
This bike rack tilts away from the vehicle so you can open the rear. The AutoAttach system installs quickly and easily without tools (I had my rack on and secured in minutes), the carrier folds away when not in use, and it doesn’t restrict access to the back of your vehicle.
It fits tires from 20 to 29 inches, accommodating fat tire bikes as well. And it holds up to 60 pounds per bike, which is handy for gear-laden or electric bikes.
The wide spacing and side-to-side adjustments make sure your bikes don’t bang against each other while you drive. Plus, the ratcheting arm secures the bike without contacting the frame at all, so it’s great for carbon fiber bikes.
Bringing some friends along? Thule’s got you covered with an optional attachment that lets you carry two more bikes. And the integrated cable lock keeps them safe if you need to make a stop to pick up some trail food on the way.
- Weight: 52 lbs.
- Number of bikes: 2 (4 with add-on)
- Easy to use
- Secures bikes with no frame contact
Runner Up: 1UP Equip-D Single
Introduced in Fall 2020, the 1Up-USA Equip D is already proving to be one of our favorite racks on the market. One of our testers used the previous model of the Equip-D for over 10 years and 100k+ miles without replacing a single part. After this great experience with the old model, we were excited to try out the new version. And so far, it has fully lived up to our high expectations.
Durability is the name of the game with this rack from 1Up. It features all stainless hardware and almost no plastic. There are simply very few breakable parts and the entire rack is built to last forever. Literally. Loading a bike onto the rack is a breeze and it’s also plenty adjustable. This rack is compatible with tiny kids’ bikes and 5” fat bikes alike.
Once mounted into a hitch receiver, this rack does not wobble at all. Installation takes less than 30 seconds thanks to a simple single-bolt system. When you need to access your trunk, the new Equip D is easier to drop out of the way than the old model, even when a bike is loaded on.
In super cold weather, the release lever can freeze, but we found that this isn’t a major issue unless the temperature is below 0 degrees F. Also, we’d be glad if this rack included an integrated lock. Overall though, this is a stellar bike rack that will likely be the only one you ever need.
- Weight: 1″25: 27 lb. | 2″: 28 lb.
- Number of Bikes: 1
- It’s very durable and with no plastic and all stainless hardware
- Loading bike is easy
- Highly adjustable
- Stays very secure in the hitch receiver and doesn’t wobble
- Quick to install
- Easy to access truck bed or trunk, even with a bike loaded on
- No integrated lock
- The release lever can freeze in super cold weather, usually below 0 degrees F
Best Swing-Away: RockyMounts BackStage 2
Many of the best racks will tilt or swing away a bit to allow you access to the back of your vehicle. But almost all of them only swing away enough for you to grab a few things. The BackStage series from RockyMounts is the only one we’ve found that will swing away a full 180 degrees to provide you with unrestricted access to the back of your ride.
It’s perfect for hauling bigger pieces of gear out, tailgating after a great ride, or spending the night in your Outback before the long drive home the next morning.
In addition to this breakthrough feature, the BackStage ($699) sports everything you’d expect from a high-end rack. It has wheel-mounted security to keep your frame pristine, tire arms that will accommodate a wide range of bikes from roadies to fat bikes, a hitch lock, and a cable lock to keep your bikes safe.
It will carry bikes up to 60 pounds per tray, holding bikes with wheelbases from 34 inches to 49 inches, and it folds flat against the vehicle when not in use. And if you don’t need full access to the back of your ride, it also has a handy tilt-away feature to let you grab your pack and helmet before you ride.
- Weight: 59 lbs.
- Number of bikes: 2
- 180-degree arm swing for full use of the vehicle
- Complicated assembly takes some trial and error to get right
Best E-Bike Rack: Yakima OnRamp
Electric bikes are great for taking up some of the load when a ride gets tough, or if you just want to get outside but don’t necessarily want a workout that day. Unfortunately, the added weight makes a mini-weightlifting session out of putting it on a hitch rack. As one of the most well-respected rack companies on the market, Yakima had this in mind when designing the OnRamp ($549).
Not only does it have the heaviest carry rating that we’ve seen at 66 pounds per bike, but it also sports a handy roll-on feature. The cradle tilts down to the floor, letting you roll your bike up onto it and into position. As anyone who’s ever had to muscle a heavy bike onto a rack will attest that this is one of those features you’ll wonder how you ever lived without.
It’s not just for e-bikes, either. The wide cradles can handle everything up to and including fat bike tires and wheelbases up to 50 inches. And the expanding and height-adjusting frame attachments allow you to carry everything from e-bikes to BMX bikes to kids’ bikes with equal security. Speaking of security, it sports a hitch lock and integrated cable lock to keep your bikes safe.
- Bonus: The hitch and cable locks use the same key, so you won’t have that annoying trial-and-error process every time you lock and unlock your bikes
- Weight: 43 lbs.
- Number of bikes: 2
- Convenient loading system
- Most versatile rack on this list
- While low for on-ramping systems
- The $500-plus price may be out of range for some riders
Best 4-Bike Hitch Rack: Yakima RidgeBack 4
We’ve often felt that the best features are the ones you don’t notice, and Yakima’s RidgeBack 4 ($349) is an excellent example of this. It strikes a perfect blend of features and simplicity. It comes assembled right out of the box, and the locking, tool-free SpeedKnob lets you mount it in minutes.
The two arms sport a set of eight anti-sway cradles that prevent your bikes from banging into each other during transport, and the zip strip ratcheting straps are fast, easy to use, and removable.
The rack tilts away from your car via an easy-to-use UpperHand lever, and the whole rack folds flat for easy storage when not in use. All the adjustments on the main joints are via button or lever, which makes adjusting it a breeze.
We also appreciate the add-ons that give the rack a little more versatility and security. You can add a bike frame adapter that will allow it to accommodate kids’ bikes, BMX bikes, and other unconventional bikes (like step-throughs).
Then there’s the Handcuff lock, a proprietary cable lock designed to work specifically with the RidgeBack (as well as Yakima’s SwingDaddy rack).
- Bonus: Yakima’s signature bottle opener on the end of the swing arm is always handy for post-ride celebrations
- Weight: 35 lbs.
- Number of bikes: 4
- Security features
- Ease of use
- Bottle opener
- Cable lock and frame adapter are separate purchases
Best Budget 2-Bike Rack: Retrospec Bike Hitch Mount Rack
For those biking on a budget, it’d be hard to do better than Retrospec’s hitch mount bike rack. At less than a quarter of what you’ll pay for the higher-end racks, this sacrifices a few amenities, but it’ll get your bikes to wherever you go.
The alloy-steel frame sports an adapter to fit different hitch sizes with minimal bike wobble during transport. The carry arm spacing accommodates a wide range of bikes (up to 35 pounds per bike) — and keeps them separated.
The tie-down cradles and straps work with a wide range of frame sizes and lock them in, while the cradle pads and soft rubber straps work to keep your frame scratch-free. The rack allows rear access with its tip-down feature, but you’ll want to take the bikes off first.
Some assembly with tools is required to put it together, but all the tools are included, and it assembles in minutes. As far as security goes, the hitch mount doesn’t have a lock to prevent someone from taking the mount off and taking the whole thing, bikes included. But there are predrilled holes so you can buy a lock separately and lock that rack in.
Also of note: There’s no wheel security, so you’ll have to strap or bungee your tires to keep them from rotating and bumping against your ride or the other bike in the rack.
While it may lack the features of $500-600 racks, this $70 gem packs a ton of utility into a very budget-friendly package.
- Weight: 21 lbs.
- Number of bikes: 2
- Front tires swing freely
- No security features
Note: The Retrospec 2-Bike Rack is currently sold out, but we’ve linked to the similar Retrospec 4-Bike Rack at Amazon below.
Best Budget 4-Bike Rack: Allen Sports 4-Bike Hitch Racks for 2 in Hitch
For people riding with groups, Allen Sports’ 4-Bike Hitch Rack ($119) is the best bike security you can get without breaking the bank. Four bolts make up the entirety of the assembly, and the light weight (23 pounds) makes it easy to lift and fit into your hitch, so you’ll be ready to roll in minutes.
Two arms sport four sets of padded cradles, while Allen’s individual tie-down system locks the bikes in place. And you can space out or rotate the cradles to fit a wide array of bikes, from your carbon fiber roadie to your kid’s mountain bike.
The pin-locking tilt function swings the rack down, so you can reach your gear in the back without removing the whole system — as long as you take your bikes off first. (Four bikes crashing to the ground is a horrifying thought). And the folding carry arms give the rack a low profile when it’s not in use.
There are no security features or locks, and the front tires don’t secure. So a pair of bungee cords or straps and a good cable lock are ideal add-ons. But combine the cost of the rack, straps, and a cable lock, and this setup still costs less than half of the higher-end four-bike carriers on the market. Overall, this is an excellent rack for the price, even with the recommended added purchases.
- Weight: 23 lbs.
- Number of bikes: 4
- Easy installation
- No security system
- Frame contact carry
Best of the Rest
A close runner-up for the best two-bike rack is the Kuat Sherpa 2.0 ($549), with its tool-free installation (just hand-tighten the hitch cam, and you’re set) and tilt-away feature to let you get at your gear in the back, even when it’s loaded with bikes.
It holds wheelbases up to 47 inches and can handle tires up to 3 inches, with a load capacity of up to 40 pounds per bike. The lighter weight makes it easy to install or remove, but thanks to the low-profile foldaway design, you won’t be taking it off. You’ll hardly know it’s there until you need it.
The folding arms lock down on the front tires without any frame contact, and the rear tire cradle sports a molded strap to keep your bikes safe while you drive. The folding front cradle adds space between your bikes and your car, so you won’t have to worry about scratching or damaging either of your investments.
As always, it’s the little things that make a piece of gear great, and we love the little things on this rack. The integrated cable lock, its light weight and the cam system for easy install put this rack near the top of our list of the best bike racks.
- Weight: 40 lbs.
- Number of bikes: 2 (4 with add-on)
- Easy install
- Low profile
- Less weight capacity than the Thule 2-bike rack
Of all the bike racks we’ve seen under $200, the XC2 from Swagman ($147) is easily the best. Instead of the hanging mount you usually see with racks at this price point, the XC2 combines a cradle system with arms that clamp down on the frame. This not only keeps bikes more secure but also stops the front tires from swinging around and banging against your car or other bikes while you drive.
The cradle hoops are adjustable, so they can fit a variety of wheelbases as well as 20- to 29-inch wheels. The push-button ratchet arms adjust easily, and the upright bar folds down to let you get to gear in the back of your car (but only when the bikes are off the mount).
It will hold bikes up to 35 pounds, so e-bikes and some cruisers may not work. But most mountain and road bikes will hold just fine.
Lightweight and compact, the XC2 only weighs 25 pounds. You can take it off when you won’t be riding for a while, and it folds down flat for easy storage when you’re not using it. This is perfect for occasional or weekend riders.
- Weight: 25 lbs.
- Number of bikes: 2
- Secure cradle system
- Great price point
- No access to the rear of your vehicle when bikes are on the rack
Hanging bike racks are the simplest to use. But they have some limitations — most notably the potential to damage your bike frames and the risk of swinging tires hitting your car or other bikes.
The innovators at Thule clearly considered the direst of these issues when they designed the Apex XT 4 ($429). The well-padded frame cradles keep friction to a minimum.
And each set of cradles has an extra attachment that secures the down tube (most racks like this only attach at the top tube), which helps prevent side-to-side swing while driving. Additionally, the cradles can be adjusted to allow for up to 7 inches between the bikes.
The rack can hold bikes up to 37.5 pounds, and the arms fold down to minimize the rack’s profile when not in use. The HitchSwitch level makes it easy to tilt the rack level down when you need to access the rear of your vehicle — but you’ll want to take your bikes off first.
As always with Thule racks, it’s the little details that we appreciate. The SnugTite stinger cable lock retracts into the rack when not in use, the adjustable hitch easily accommodates both 1.25- and 2-inch hitches, and the integrated grab handle makes it easy to carry and handle when you attach and remove it from your vehicle (although at 38 pounds, you may not do that very often).
- Weight: 38 lbs.
- Number of bikes: 4
- Locking hitch
- Well-padded cradles
- Still need an extra strap to secure front tires
One of the biggest pains of racking multiple bikes is trying to wrestle the handlebars out of the way. Trying to weave them in and out of the other bikes has made us start an otherwise great riding day with a foul taste in our mouths.
The folks at RockyMounts feel our pain, apparently. The brand’s WestSlope rack ($400) has a “why didn’t I think of that” feature: a tiered system of cradles that keeps the handlebars at different levels between bikes, keeping them out of the way of the other bikes. Brilliant.
The bike closest to the car starts at the lowest tier, with each following bike elevating just a little bit higher than the last. The strap-down tire cradles work in tandem with wheel hooks on ratcheting swing arms, making for a solid, secure hold that keeps your frames free from any contact.
The WestSlope 3 can hold bikes up to 40 pounds each, is compatible with wheelbases from 34 to 48 inches, and works with road and mountain bike tires up to 3 inches wide.
- Bonus: The rack tilts away from the car so you can get into the back, even when it’s loaded with bikes
- Weight: 43 lbs.
- Number of bikes: 4
- Innovative design
- Good price point
- Bike and hitch locking kits come separately
- Only works with 2-inch hitches
INNO’s low-profile Tire Hold Bike Hitch 4 ($900) can carry up to four bikes up to 60 pounds each, but this monster looks like you could strap an ATV to it (you can’t). The aluminum construction is strong but keeps the weight of the rack itself low. And the pull handle at the end of the rack makes it a breeze to fold up the rack against the vehicle when not in use.
Besides its intimidating presence, the most notable aspect of the Tire Hold is its completely frameless securing system. Combining a full-length cradle with locking arm mounts on both tires, the rack locks in bikes and keeps them from banging against each other during transport. It prevents any contact with the frames or forks, which is ideal for users who own carbon frames or bikes with large forks.
One feature we absolutely love is the ability to tilt down for rear access when fully loaded thanks to the handle on the end, which makes it easier to lift the rack, even with four bikes on it. And the included locks for the hitch and bikes are a huge plus.
- Note: It fits tires up to 27.5 inches, so fat bike owners are out of luck, but the 60-lb.-per-bike capacity makes it a good option for e-bike owners
- Weight: 43 lbs.
- Number of bikes: 4
- Frameless contact
- Rock-solid stability
- Very pricey
- Doesn’t fit fat bikes
- Only works with 2-inch hitches
If you roll deep, the Yakima HangOver 6 ($800) is the best way to haul your crew’s bikes around. Great for big families, group rides, or tour guides, Yakima’s beastly bike rack loads up to six bikes at up to 37.5 pounds each in a very cool vertical carry system. It’s a great SUV bike rack for hauling your bikes, gear, and buddies.
The bikes are secured by the rear tire and fork base, with the front tire pointing toward the sky. The HangOver manages to carry half a dozen bikes while taking up minimal space.
The vertical tower has two adjustable tilt angles that are operated via a pedal at the base. This allows you to adjust the bikes’ distance from your car (the tires may bump the rear windows of Sprinter vans at the vertical setting) and to access the rear of your vehicle without taking the bikes off the rack.
Soft padding in the cups protects the forks’ finish, keeping them clean until you and your buddies thrash them on the trails, and they’re adjustable enough to accommodate fat bike suspension forks. The hitch lock is included, an integrated lock loop lets you secure your bikes, and, of course, the built-in bottle openers are a plus.
- Weight: 73 lbs.
- Number of bikes: 6
- Huge carrying capacity
- Innovative design
- Only works with suspension forks
Combining strength with a small footprint, the SuperClamp from Saris ($900) is a solid platform hitch rack that sports a weight of 63 pounds, roughly half of other platform bike racks on the market.
Dual wheel hooks lock the bikes into the cradles without any frame contact, supporting bikes up to 35 pounds, wheelbases of up to 50 inches, and tires up to 4 inches (adapters for fat tire bikes are available as add-ons).
The hooks and cradle are adjustable to accommodate almost any kind of bike as well — from road bikes and mountain bikes to bikes with fenders and lighter-weight e-bikes. And thanks to a design that allows for two bikes on a single bar, the platform’s footprint is notably small, with a tilt feature that allows you to tilt the fully loaded rack away from the vehicle.
This rack doesn’t just rest on its small profile and innovative design, however; the thoughtful design extends to the details. Little things like reflective logo stickers, an integrated bike locking system, and the built-in bottle openers show that Saris has both the big picture and small touches dialed.
- Weight: 63 lbs.
- Number of bikes: 4
- Small footprint
- Zero frame contact
This lightweight entry from Yakima ($399) is the easiest way to load bikes (that doesn’t involve a ramp). A huge front-wheel cradle pairs with a ratcheting security hook, while a smaller cradle for the rear tire locks down the other end. The result is a rack that punches above its weight, providing the security you would expect from a much bigger, more overbuilt rack.
When not in use, the rack is small and unassuming, folding flat against the vehicle. It fits a wide range of bikes, accommodating wheels from 20 to 27.5 inches with tires up to 3 inches wide, and 29ers with tires up to 2.5 inches wide. The hook-and-cradle design also allows you to rack bikes with disc brakes, thru-axles, and full-suspension bikes with no issue.
Side-to-side adjustability ensures a safe distance between bikes so they don’t bump against each other during transit, and the rack can tilt down to allow access to your vehicle’s rear compartment, even fully loaded.
In addition to the model-specific features, the HoldUp also sports the welcome details we’ve come to expect from Yakima — locks included for the hitch and bikes, and an integrated bottle opener, which comes in handy when you need to replace some calories post-ride.
- Weight: 49 lbs.
- Number of bikes: 2
- No frame contact
- Very secure hold
- Slight wobbles during highway travel
Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Hitch Bike Rack
Types of Hitch Bike Racks
2 Main Types Explained
There are two main types of hitch-mounted bike racks. The first is platform-style racks, which use a platform to secure bikes generally via the tires. The second is hanging-style racks, which suspend the bike from the frame.
Platform racks have the benefit of not touching the bike frame at all; they only touch the tires. This makes them ideal for people who don’t want to risk damaging their bike frames.
Plus, the trays can be adjusted to allow for more space between bikes, minimizing bike-to-bike contact. This also allows platform racks to fit all kinds of bikes regardless of overall size, suspension style, or wheel size.
This combination of versatility and easy install makes the platform-style racks very popular among serious cyclists. The only downside is that they’re generally more expensive than hanging-style racks.
Hanging racks, meanwhile, support bikes by the frames, letting the bikes hang down. The advantage here is that many of these racks can hold up to five bikes without added hardware. The main disadvantage is that contact with the frame can lead to abrasion and, in some cases, damage. This is a huge consideration when carrying a bike with a carbon fiber frame.
Hanging racks also may not accommodate bikes with unusual frames (like step-through bikes) or full-suspension mountain bikes. And you may also want to secure the front tires to the frame with a bungee cord or a strap. This helps to prevent the wheels from rotating and bumping into other bikes.
On the plus side, hanging racks are easier to mount and unmount. And they’re generally less expensive than platform racks.
Platform vs. Hanging: Which Is Best?
If keeping your bike pristine is the most important benefit and cost is less of a consideration, platform racks are ideal. Most platform racks secure the bike via the tires, avoiding frame contact entirely.
They’re also easy to use, especially platform racks with a roll-up feature. This is ideal for people transporting heavier bikes like cruisers or e-bikes.
Platform racks also win out if you transport bikes with unique frames (like a step-through bike) or full-suspension mountain bikes. You won’t have to find a way to weave any hanging arms through the frames.
That said, platform racks as a whole come with bigger price tags than hanging racks. Most riders’ main concern with a hanging rack is that it could potentially damage carbon fiber frames. However, a crack is more likely to come from crashing into a tree or accidentally stepping on the chainstay.
Realistically, the bigger issue with frame contact is that it can damage the bike’s finish over time. We’ve heard horror stories about hanging racks wearing the paint down to the metal on long road trips.
While that’s an extreme case, slower wear over years of use isn’t. Because of this, hanging racks tend to feature padded cradles to minimize frame damage, but the best way to guarantee your frame is safe is to eliminate frame contact.
If the price is no object and keeping your bike looking new is your priority, choose a platform rack. If you want to save money and aren’t concerned about wear, a hanging rack is a great choice.
Number of Bikes
One of the first things to consider after choosing a bike rack type is how many bikes you typically take with you. Racks generally carry anywhere from two to six bikes, so you have some options.
Remember, you can always carry fewer bikes than a rack’s capacity, but never more than a rack’s capacity. And you never know when you’re going to pick up a few more buddies to ride with.
Note: Some platform racks have optional add-ons that will add more bike capacity to the rack.
Tilting vs. Swing-Away
The “tilt” and “swing-away” features refer to how the rack adjusts to allow access to your vehicle. Tilting angles the rack to allow you to open a hatchback or drop down a tailgate. This makes it possible to lean in and grab a backpack or let your dog hop out.
One thing to consider is whether you can tilt the rack with the bikes still on it. It can be a pain to take the bikes off when you need to get into your car. Also, consider how far it tilts away. This will make a huge difference if you’re pulling out something unwieldy, like a cooler.
Generally a feature of hanging racks, swing-away operation tends to move the rack farther away from your ride. This allows more access to the rear of the vehicle. It also moves the rack out of the way, so you can pull out heavy and unwieldy items more easily.
Our favorite swing-away rack is the BackStage 2 from RockyMounts. It swings a full 180 degrees away from your vehicle, giving you unobstructed access to whatever’s back there.
Mounting systems tend to feature two different ways to lock your bike to the rack. The first and most common is the strap system. It’s usually made up of a ratcheting or elastic strap that wraps over a part of your bike. In hanging racks it’s the frame, while in platform racks it’s the wheels.
The second is the shepherd’s hook, most often utilized in platform racks. This entails an arm that swings up from the platform and ratchets down onto your bike’s tires. These lock it down to the platform. Often, they’re reinforced by straps that wrap around the bottom of the wheels to bolster the security.
Every hanging rack we’ve seen uses the strap system. While it’s a solid and secure system (user error is the most common issue), straps can degrade and break. Because of this, many strap systems secure the bike with two straps at each attachment point as a contingency. However, if a shepherd’s hook breaks (which only happens rarely), your bike is at significant risk of falling off.
Wheel Size & Tire Width Compatibility
A bike rack is useless if it can’t hold your bike, so make sure your bike will fit. Hanging racks win this category. Because bikes are secured by the frame, tire width, wheel size, and wheelbase are not an issue.
The bigger concern with hanging racks is unique frame types like BMX bikes, step-through frames, and full-suspension mountain bikes. These can prove a pain (or impossible) to hang on a hanging rack.
Because platform racks secure the bike via the tires, it’s important to make sure that your bike’s tire width, wheel size, and wheelbase all fall within the rack’s parameters. When shopping for a platform rack, check the technical specs listed on the rack brand’s website. Most companies will list a range of wheelbases, tire widths, and wheel sizes that fit that rack’s specs.
This won’t be an issue for most bikes, but some outliers may cause problems. Fat bike tires, extra-wide wheelbases, and 29-inch wheels won’t fit some platform racks.
Fortunately, several of the racks we mention will work with fat tires and wide wheelbases. Peruse our list and make sure that the one you’re considering will work with your bike.
Bike Frame Compatibility
For hanging bike racks, you’ll need to consider the shape of the top tube. You’ll need a bike with a classic triangular framed in order to easily hang your bike. Most traditional road bikes and hardtail mountain bikes fit this bill.
But if you’re planning to haul a full-suspension mountain bike, step-through bike, or smaller kids’ bike, then a hanging rack may not be the best option.
Hitch Receiver Size
Hitches generally come in 1.25-inch and 2-inch sizing. It’s important that you verify which size your vehicle has prior to purchasing a bike rack.
The larger, 2-inch hitch can carry heavier loads, which is great if you plan to carry several heavy e-bikes. It’s also worth noting that some racks come with an adapter to fit either size.
Bike racks have two main points of vulnerability when it comes to theft: the bikes can be stolen off the rack, and the rack itself can be removed. This isn’t just an issue if bikes are on it; the racks themselves can be coveted items for potential thieves.
Remember, if you have to head into a store or you’re spending the night away from home, it only takes a few seconds for a thief to pull your bike off the rack and pedal off with it.
If they’re prepared with tools (or not, for mounts with hand-tightening hitch mounts), someone can take your entire rack. This can be a huge issue if you don’t have a garage to park in, particularly if you don’t want to put on or take off your rack every time you ride.
Fortunately, many racks come with a locking hitch mount, which makes it impossible to unscrew when engaged. If your rack doesn’t come with one, many companies sell mount locks separately. There are also plenty of aftermarket hitch locks available for purchase.
As for your bikes, a standard cable lock can secure them to the rack itself. Make sure that your rack has some predrilled holes for you to thread the cable lock through. But a much more convenient option is an integrated lock. This is a feature found on higher-end racks. Companies like Thule and Yakima usually offer this.
The lock is integrated into the rack itself, retracting into the rack when not in use. When you need it, simply pull it out and thread it through the bikes. It then locks to another part of the rack, so you can lock and unlock your bikes in seconds.
Ease of Use
If you’ve ever had to wrestle a full-suspension mountain bike onto a hanging rack or find a way to Tetris four bikes onto a poorly designed rack, you know that ease of use is a huge factor in choosing the right bike rack.
For a diamond-frame bike (the most common bike), hanging racks provide a simple option. Lift the bike, slide it onto the rack, strap it down, bungee the front wheel, and you’re good to go. (Plus, it gives you a chance to get some bicep curls in before your ride).
However, if you’ve got a heavier bike or one with a unique frame style, a platform rack may be the better option for mounting bikes. Because it has a lower frame, you don’t have to lift the bike as far. And once you have it on, you don’t have to lift it much to adjust. Hanging racks can take a bit of fiddling to get the bike into the cradle.
But the easiest option (and often the most expensive) is the ramp. This feature, found on some platform rack models, allows you to simply roll your bike onto the rack. This is a great option for cyclists with heavier bikes like e-bikes or cruisers.
Durability is a huge consideration when it comes to hitch racks. The single attachment point puts a lot of pressure on racks as they carry loads over rough roads. Because they’re usually made from sturdy material like steel, breaks very rarely occur at the hitch’s attachment point.
Issues usually occur at the attachment point of the bike — the shepherd’s hook or the straps. Fortunately, the most common failure is the least disastrous and easiest to fix: the straps. Elastic straps tend to dry out, especially if exposed to the sun, which leads to cracking and eventually snapping.
However, most hanging racks (where you most often find elastic straps) have two straps at each attachment point. This not only acts as an anti-sway measure but also functions as a backup when a strap breaks. And they tend to be inexpensive and easy to replace. Because they’re small and unobtrusive, it’s easy to keep spares in your car.
The same goes for the hard plastic straps on ratcheting systems. Though they tend to be more sun-resistant than elastic ones, hard plastic straps can also dry out and crack. Again, it’s not usually a huge issue, as they’re inexpensive and easy to replace.
Shepherd’s hook breaks, meanwhile, are much rarer. These systems use one hook per wheel, so if one breaks, you’ll be dragging your bike to your destination. Replacement shepherd’s hooks are much more expensive and more complicated to replace. They’re also much bigger than a strap, so it’s not likely you’ll have a spare sitting in your car.
When shopping for a bike rack, do your research. Check out the user reviews or talk to your local shop pro to see what experiences others have had.
The price of bike racks varies from less than $100 to more than $1,000 depending on the model and features. The trend we’ve seen is that the more expensive the rack, the safer it’ll keep your bikes.
Pricier racks also tend to offer features that make them easier to use. Generally, hanging racks are less expensive than platform racks.
Lower-end racks often offer minimal protection and features. Higher-end racks usually offer more padding and protection. They also offer more features that make your bikes secure and easy to access.
How much you spend depends on your needs (as well as your bank account). If you just want a way to get your bike to a trailhead without disassembling it and stuffing it in your trunk, a good $100 hanging rack is the way to go. If you’ve spent a couple of grand on a killer road bike and want to keep it in mint condition as long as you can, go for a higher-end platform rack (assuming you can afford it after spending all that cheddar on a carbon fiber rocket).
Generally, we’ve found that the sweet spot in racks is somewhere around the $400-600 range. For that money, you can find a rack that is easy to use and will keep your bike safe. Plus, you’ll have some money left over for a decent pit stop on the way to the trail.
Which Car Bike Rack Is Best?
The best car bike rack varies from person to person. With so many variables between each rider, it’s nearly impossible to choose one bike rack for every situation. The best option is to decide what your needs are and pick a rack that works best for you. If your priority is finding a good, cost-effective rack, and you can pick up your bike and move it around without struggle, you can get a good hanging rack for $100-200.
If keeping your bike safe and scratch-free is your main concern, a platform rack is a good choice. Platforms also sit lower to the ground, so it’s good for people who struggle to pick up their bikes. The higher you go on price range, the more features you get. High-end racks add security features, levers, and buttons that make them easier to use. They usually also offer ways to let you access your trunk without removing the bikes.
When choosing a rack, consider the features you’re willing to do without and which ones you need. Balance those needs with how much you’re willing to spend, and you’ll find the perfect rack for you.
What Is the Best Bike Rack for Four Bikes?
Both hanging and platform racks have versions that can hold four bikes. Hanging racks require a little bit more finesse to keep your bikes safe, as they secure your bikes from the top. This makes it possible for the bikes to swing and hit each other during travel.
Fewer bikes can be spaced out, which minimizes the risk. But space is limited with four bikes, so make sure the cradles are spaced out enough that the bikes won’t hit each other, even with minimal swing.
This is less of an issue with platform racks, as the bikes are locked into place via both wheels, adding a good amount of stability. It’s also easier to put the bikes on platform racks because the cradles are set so much lower.
Do Bike Racks Damage Your Car?
One of the reasons that so many people choose a hitch-mounted rack over a trunk-mounted rack is that the hitch doesn’t have any contact with the body of the car. This decreases any rubbing against the paint. It also generally keeps the rack away from anything on the body that it can dent or shatter.
However, no matter what precautions a company can make when designing a rack, there’s always the issue of user error. Opening your hatchback while the rack is on and upright can drive the hatch right into the rack. This can cause denting and scratching to the rack or the car. Make sure the rack is out of the way when you access the rear of your vehicle.
Bikes can also contact your vehicle if you’re not careful. Platform racks sometimes carry the bike close to a vehicle’s back window. This can increase the odds of the handlebar going through that window on an especially bumpy road.
You can solve this by adjusting the cradles to make the bike sit farther away from the window. Hanging racks let the front tire hang free, which can lead to bumping and grinding up against your car. It’s not as dire an issue as breaking a window, but it can damage the finish over time. It’s an easy fix, though. Secure the wheel with a strap or bungee cord to solve the problem.
What Is the Easiest Bike Rack to Use?
Both types of racks have their advantages. If picking up your bike isn’t a problem for you, hanging racks are simple to use. Put the bike on the arms, tie down the straps, bungee the front wheel, and your bike is secure.
Platform racks don’t require as much muscle, as the cradles are lower. However, they do take a few more steps to lock the bike in. Racks with swing-away features make it easier to access the back of your ride. Consider one of these if you carry a lot of gear (camping trips, etc.).
Overall, we’ve found that brands like Thule, Yakima, and 1UP tend to include little tweaks like lever-adjustable tilting and integrated locks. Details like these go a long way in making a rack easier to use.
Are Hitch Bike Racks Better?
If your vehicle has the capability, hitch racks are a great option. Having the mount attach to your hitch receiver versus trunk racks or roof racks not only protects your car’s finish from damage, but it’s also extremely secure, as the mounts are made of heavy-duty steel.
They’re also much easier to install than other options, which is a huge perk for people who don’t want a rack on their car every day. Because it’s secured with a steel pin, it only takes one step to put it on a trailer hitch when you out for a ride, and one step to remove it when you’re done.
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