I don’t normally write about outdoor gear here but we recently got a hitch put on one of our vehicles for the purpose of buying a car bike rack. Our kids are now biking (and so am I again). There have been many times I wished we could haul all our bikes somewhere.
When our kids had tiny bikes, we could toss them in the hatch. Now that they’re ripping around on pedal bikes, I had to buy a bike to keep up and so the hatch no longer accommodates all of our bikes.
The thing is, car bike racks are expensive so I want to get the best one for our needs which means plenty of research.
This article sets out all my findings about all the different types of bike racks.
Table of Contents
- Hitch sizes and classifications
- Car Bike Rack Options
- Considerations when choosing a bike rack
- Most important features for me:
- Which one am I buying?
Hitch sizes and classifications
Before you buy any bike rack, you need to know your hitch size. They do vary. Ours is a 2″ x 2″ hitch. The other common hitch size is 1.25″ x 1.25″.
While not relevant for buying a bike rack, hitches are classified as 1, II, III, III, IV or V, which dictates towing weight capacity. The higher the classification, the more it can tow.
- Class I: 2,000 lbs. / 1.25″ opening.
- Class II: 3,500 lbs. / 1.25″ opening.
- Class III: 6,000 lbs. / 2″ opening.
- Class IV: 10,000 lbs. / 2″ opening.
- Class V: Over 10,000 lbs. / 2.5″ opening.
If you have the 1.25″ x 1.25″ hitch but have a 2″ x 2″ trailer or bike rack, you can get a hitch adaptor which looks like the following:
Our hitch is a Class III. Our SUV vehicle can tow up to 5,000 lbs.
Car Bike Rack Options
There are many options. We list them out here.
Hitchless Trunk/Hatch Mounted Bike Racks
We actually currently have one of these. They strap onto the back of a vehicle. The problem with these is they’re a hassle to put on and off the car. Moreover, when we travel somewhere, it’s impossible to access the trunk/hatch while traveling unless you take it down. Therefore, it’s not great for road trips. That said, some hitch racks prevent access as well unless you get a tilting feature.
The plus side is these aren’t very expensive and you don’t need a hitch (it’s expensive putting a hitch on a vehicle).
Here’s an example.
The trunk/hatch-mounted rack sits on the trunk. Here’s a 2-bike example.
The above design comes in 2, 3 and 4 bike options and works on vehicles with a trunk or a hatch.
Here’s another design:
Platform racks are designed so that your bikes stand upright on a platform. They’re easy to load and unload bikes. They come in 2 and 4 bike options.
What’s really great about this design is you can keep the rack on your vehicle when not using it and still access your trunk/hatch.
Another feature is to get one that tilts so you can access the hatch or trunk.
Hanging racks are popular because they are less expensive (generally). Many designs fold up for easier storage as well. They also don’t extend as far out as platform bike racks. These can carry 2 to 4 bikes, depending on the model. They’re pretty easy to use.
Here’s an example:
This is a cool design where you can swivel the rack out to the side. What’s so great about this? It gives you access to the trunk or hatch. It’s an alternative to a tilting bike rack.
Vertical Bike Racks
Vertical bike racks are easy to use and can carry up to 6 bikes. Bikes are mounted under the fork and hang vertically. You strap the bottom wheel to the lower part of the rack. They’re best for mountain bikes. They aren’t great for kids bikes or road bikes (according to a buddy who has this bike rack design).
Here’s an example:
No hitch? No problem.
You can get roof-mounted bike racks. I’m not too keen about these because it’s a major hassle loading the bikes, but it’s a good option for cars. Here’s an example:
Truck bed (pick up trucks)
I have to admit that I’m tempted to buy a pickup truck because it’s easy to haul stuff such as bikes. You don’t need a rack.
Instead, you just need something to protect the truck bed and hang bikes off the back. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.
Another pickup bike carrying option is a rack that holds your bike upright in the bed. Here’s an example:
If you have a unique bike, you may need a specialty bike rack. Consider the following:
Fat tire bikes
Considerations when choosing a bike rack
Types of bikes
Some racks are designed for mountain bikes. Some aren’t great for kids bikes. You definitely want to assess whether the rack you get will accommodate the types of bikes you will haul around.
If you have an unusual bike like a recumbent bike, you’ll need a specialty rack.
Hitch size required
If you have a 2″ hitch, you’re good to go. If you have a 1.25″ hitch, unless you get an adapter, ensure your rack fits.
This is a key feature for me. I want to be able to access our SUV hatch when bikes are on the rack without having to remove the bikes. I think this is a must-have feature especially if you go on a longer trip.
Bike/Vehicle damage potential
I don’t know from personal experience, but the one recurring comment I read and heard from friends about hanging bike racks is that the bikes may swing/move and either damage the bike and/or the vehicle. Most people suggested to avoid this with bungee cords, which is fine, but the last thing I want to do is deal with bungee cords.
Ease of loading bikes
The higher up a bike has to be lifted, the harder it is to put on the rack. This is another benefit of platform racks vs. hanging racks.
Number of bikes
I know I need a rack that can carry 4 bikes, which means I have to ensure any rack I buy can do so. If you like a particular 2 bike capacity rack, some do offer add-ons so it can carry 4 bikes. There are racks that can carry up to 6 racks. The vertical racks are a viable option.
I have an electric bike which is very heavy (55 lbs. approximately). This means I need a rack that accommodates at least one bike that heavy.
There are two aspects to weight capacity to consider. The first is the max. weight capacity for each individual bike. The second is the max. weight capacity of all bikes (total load). I’m not worried about total load capacity since the other bikes are kids’ bikes, but I do need something that can handle an individual bike weighing more than 55 lbs.
Do you ski? If so, consider getting a bike rack that can accommodate a ski add-on. Sadly this is the one feature I’ll have to forego. The Thule Tram ski rack only works with hanging Thule bike racks. I’m okay with this because I’ll get a ski roof rack which is probably easier to use anyway.
You definitely want to consider getting a rack that can lock the bikes to avoid theft.
Most important features for me:
- Tilts or swings for rear-vehicle access.
- Carries up to 4 bikes.
- Easy to attach the rack as well as load bikes onto it.
- Accommodate 55-pound e-bike.
- Accommodates all types of bikes (including kids bikes).
Which one am I buying?
I’m going with the Thule T2 Pro XT with the 4-bike capacity add-on. Here it is: