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4 Different Types of Bike Racks for Vehicles

A roof bike rack on car with three bikes mounted.

There are more than a thousand different bike racks to choose from. So what must you look out for? Well, there are several points to consider before you purchase one.

For instance, how many bikes are you looking to transport, and do you want them to go on top of your vehicle or behind it?

Imagine just purchasing the first rack that you see on the internet, then realizing that it can only carry one bike. Well, that happened to me once, and the process of returning and getting the right one was a pain.

Apart from the number of bikes, you should also consider the size of the bike(s). The most common bike racks are trunk mounts. Here are some bike racks that you might need to consider before making your purchase.

1. Trunk-Mount Bike Racks

Allen Sports Deluxe 2-Bike Trunk Mount Rack, Model 102DN-R , Black

The trunk mount bike rack is the most inexpensive option that you can get. These racks are designed to sit on the back of your vehicle’s trunk. They are secured in place by a set of straps, while the bike itself is supported by arms and cradles. 

Advantages of Trunk-Mount Bike Racks

Trunk mount bike racks are perfect for recreational cyclists. They have an adjustable fit, making it possible to use them on multiple cars.

In addition, trunk-mount bike racks are quite light, portable, and are easy to store when not in use. After using the trunk-mount rack for a while, you will notice that it can be quite easy to install and take off. 

Disadvantages of Trunk-Mounted Racks

One of the most significant disadvantages of trunk-mount racks is their limited load capacity. You can only mount about two to three bicycles. Also, they tend to interfere with trunk access once you have mounted the bicycles.

This means you won’t be able to access the trunk/hatch while traveling unless you remove the bikes, which can be a hassle. Therefore, trunk-mounted bike racks might not be ideal for road trips.

a. Not Very Secure

You will also find that the effectiveness of the rack depends on how securely the straps are secured. If you don’t secure them properly, the bikes can shift or move about, especially when you are driving at faster speeds.

If you are concerned about security, then trunk-mount racks might not be the best option. This is because the design of the racks can make it a bit difficult to lock your bikes onto your car. 

b. You Can Scratch Your Car’s Paint

When using a trunk-mounted rack, it’s crucial to ensure that your car is clean. This is because the dirt under the rack can ruin your paint. The dirt can act like sandpaper and scratch the paint as the car moves.

You will also notice that some trunk-mount racks do not get the bicycles far enough from your vehicle. This can result in your bike rubbing on the car and scratching the paint.

You also need to ensure that you get a rack that separates the bikes well. That way, the bikes won’t rub on each other and ruin the paint.

You also need to be careful if you have an exhaust pipe that points upward. If the exhaust point directly at your bicycle’s tires, it can overheat your tires and ruin them. 

2. Hitch-Mount Racks

Hitch mount bike racks are a bit more expensive than trunk-mounted bike racks. However, they are a great option if you are really into cycling and do it frequently. They are also an ideal option if you carry more than three bikes.

The typical hitch-mounted bike rack supports about two to five bikes. Hitch mount bike racks come in several styles. They can either be platform style or hanging cradle style. These two have their advantages and disadvantages. 

Before you purchase a hitch-mount rack, you need to check the tongue capacity of your car’s hitch. Ideally, it should be 10% of the towing capacity. Excessive weight can cause the hitch to bend. In some instances, it can even break if you don’t load it properly. 

a. Platform Style

MaxxHaul 50027 Hitch Mount Bike Rack Platform - Style 2-Bike Rack for Cars Trucks SUVs Minivans with Hitch Tightener

The platform system hitch mount bike rack is where the bikes rest on a platform. This style offers the easiest and most secure way of loading your bicycles. It’s easy to keep the bikes in place, and they won’t rub against each other or the vehicle’s body.

This prevents damage to both the bikes and the vehicle. The only significant disadvantage is that these racks can be a bit expensive. Apart from that, they can be a bit heavy to carry. 

b. Hanging Cradle Style

Allen Sports Premier Locking Quick Release 4-Bike Carrier for 2 in. Hitch, Black

This is another style of the hitch mount rack where bikes hang from the rack. This style is a bit less expensive than platform-style hitch mount racks. Apart from that, the racks are also lighter, and they provide better ground clearance.

However, unlike platform-style racks, the hanging cradle-style rack doesn’t hold the bikes as securely. This can cause the bikes to sway, and they will often contact each other. As a result, your bikes may have some minor abrasions and paint damage. 

Advantages of Hitch Mount Racks

Hitch mount bike racks are quite easy to install. They are also quite sturdy compared to trunk-mounted racks. If you are a frequent user, then this is the type to go for.

Also, if you don’t need to use the rack for a while, you can simply remove it without too much hassle. The majority of hitch mount racks also come with locks. This allows you to easily secure the hitch for added security. 

Disadvantages of Hitch Mount Racks

Hitch mount racks also have their fair share of disadvantages. The first significant disadvantage is cost. The platform-style hitch-mount rack can be quite costly.

Most people prefer racks that allow the bikes to swing or drop out of the way so they can easily access the real door. The models that do not offer this functionality are a bit cheaper, but this means you won’t be able to access the rear doors.

The last disadvantage is that since the models are designed to carry about five bikes, you might experience some sway when the rack is fully loaded. 

3. Roof Mount Racks

Swagman STANDARD Fork Mount Rooftop Bike Carrier

If you are comfortable lifting bikes and placing them on the top of your car, this bike rack is a perfect choice. Roof mount racks are an option for serious cycling enthusiasts.

They can be quite versatile, and they are designed for frequent use. The racks come with the option of adding more than one cradle. However, the rack will start getting a bit more expensive with more cradles. 

Depending on your car, you may also need to install mounting points, rails, or crossbars to secure your bikes. It’s possible to install these on your own as long as you follow the manufacturer’s instructions. You can also use roof racks to haul small boats, skis, and cargo boxes.

Advantages of Roof Mount Racks

If you want something that won’t impede access to your car’s doors and hatches, then the roof mount rack is perfect. This type of roof rack is also quite versatile. They come with several mounting systems for different kinds of gear.

This means they are not only limited to bicycles. They also come with several locking options. The bikes will be held so tightly in place that there will be no sway as you drive.

Disadvantages of Roof Racks

A significant amount of lifting and reaching is required to secure your bikes on the roof rack. This makes this rack a challenge for shorter people or those who can’t lift heavy things easily. Apart from that, roof racks are not too easy to remove.

They require some tools. Lastly, there will be some noticeable wind resistance and wind noise as you drive, especially if some bikes are loaded. This can have a bit of an impact on the gas mileage.

4. Spare Tire Mount Racks

Allen Sports Deluxe 2-Bike Spare Tire Mounted Carrier, Model 322DN , Black

Spare tire mount racks are quite similar to trunk mount racks. They are relatively easy to install and remove and are also quite cheap. Spare tire mount racks are a perfect choice if you own a sports-utility or off-road vehicle that has a spare tire on the rear.

The spare tire mount rack will rest securely on the tire where they are screwed in. One of the advantages of spare tire mount racks is that they are quite easy to install. They are also quite affordable. 

Spare tire mount racks are not meant for serious bike enthusiasts. They can only hold about two bikes. Apart from that, you also need to remove the tire covers, which can be inconvenient.

Also, when using this type of rack, you must be extra careful when backing up. Keep in mind that since the spare tire already increases the length of your vehicle, the rack will add even more.

This means the rack increases your chances of bumping into objects as you are backing up if you are not careful. 


What is a Trunk Mounted Bike Rack?

This is one of the cheapest bike rack options on the market. A trunk-mounted bike rack is attached to your vehicle’s body using straps. However, it can only carry one or two bikes.

What is a Roof Mounted Bike Rack?

A roof-mounted bike rack is attached to rails or mounting spots on your roof. The rack is attached to the rails or roof bars using clamps.

Are Bike Racks Safe?

Before they are put on the market, bike racks are tested to ensure safety. 

Can Installing a Bike Rack Affect my Insurance?

It’s crucial to inform your insurance company before installing a bike rack. 

What’s the Best Speed When I have a Bike Rack Installed?

If your vehicle is towing, it’s advisable to maintain speeds below 50mph on single carriageway roads. However, if you are traveling on dual carriageways and motorways, you can reach speeds of up to 60mph. 

What Can I Do if I Lose the Keys to My Bike Rack?

You can get replacement keys from your manufacturer.

Is it Possible to Convert a Two-bike Rear Rack to a Three-bike Rack?

It’s possible to convert some models using an extension rail. However, with some models, it’s impossible to convert. The best you can do is check your manual to see what’s possible.