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Choosing the best bike rack for your car, SUV, or pickup truck can be a daunting task. Fortunately, we regularly test the best bike racks out on the road, and with more than 20 years of experience, our expertise is impossible to match. From premium hitch-mounted racks from Thule, Yakima and 1UP USA, to budget friendly trunk-mounted options from Saris, we test them all. Read on to discover our top bike rack picks of 2023.
We’ve driven well over 150,000 miles (and counting) with dozens of bike racks over the past 20 years. In addition to our vast experience, we consider the overall ease of use, durability, features, weight, and price for our top bike rack picks.
Price: $799.95 MSRP Type: Hitch, platform Bike Capacity: 2 (4 with add-on) Wheel Size: 20″ – 29″ Max Load: 60 lbs. per bike E-Bike Rated: Yes Rack Weight: 52 lbs.
Pros: – Very easy to use, holds a wide variety of bikes, and has proven itself over and over again. Cons: – Heavy and expensive, but that’s true of all premium hitch mount bike racks.
Why it’s Great
For its ease of use, high-quality materials used throughout, and full set of features, Thule’s T2 Pro XTR is hands down the best bike rack we’ve ever used. Platform style hitch racks are one of the most versatile and secure ways to transport bikes, and the T2 Pro XTR exemplifies these characteristics.
The Thule’s adaptable carrying system accommodates everything from 20-inch kids bikes to fatbikes, without the use of adapters. And its robust arms tightly fasten down on the front wheel, allowing very little movement even on rough roads. Thule’s tilt feature is also one of the easiest to use out of all the options tested, which makes accessing the rear of a vehicle a breeze–even while bikes are loaded. We’ve put tens of thousands of miles on the Thule T2 Pro XTR and haven’t had a single issue. So while its high price tag is certainly hard to ignore, rest assured that this rack will last a lifetime.
How it Compares
Simply put, the T2 Pro XTR’s user friendliness outperforms all other platform style hitch racks we’ve ever used. The Yakima StageTwo (listed below) and 1UP USA Heavy Duty Double are both very worthy competitors, but the overall package of the Thule is just impossible to beat. To be specific, the T2 Pro XTR’s ratcheting arms and tilt mechanism are easier to use than both the Yakima and 1UP USA. And out of the box the Thule works with a greater range of bikes whereas the other two options require you to purchase adapters separately, making the Thule the more versatile option. However, and this is an important one for those who own electric bikes, the Yakima StageTwo has a higher max load capacity (70 pounds per bike compared to the Thule’s 60) and is our recommended choice for heavier loads.
Price: $205 MSRP Type: Hitch, platform Bike Capacity: 2 Wheel Size: 20″ – 29″ Max Load: 35 lbs. per bike E-Bike Rated: No Rack Weight: 30 lbs.
Pros: – Very light, folds up small, and easy to move around the garage. – Reasonably priced. Cons: – Clamping arms can scuff and scratch frame paint. – Rack wobbles more than premium options.
Why it’s Great
For about a quarter of the price of premium models, the Swagman XTC2 Tilt is the best budget hitch mounted bike rack you can buy. Put plainly, it provides everything you need to transport your bike from point A to point B.
The padded foam hooks and two wheel straps do an excellent job of securely holding your bike while on your way to the trailhead, and the adjustable trays fit wheel sizes from 20 to 29 inches and tires up to 2.5 inches in width (fatbike trays are sold separately). We also like that the Swagman tilts down and out of the way to allow easy access to the back of a car, a feature not commonly found on budget bike racks. Finally, the Swagman carrier folds up nicely and only weighs about 30 pounds, making it one of the easiest hitch-mounted platform options to store. All things considered, the Swagman XTC2 Tilt has a lot going for it.
How it Compares
First things first, it’s important to have realistic expectations with a budget hitch mount bike rack, and the Swagman XTC2 Tilt is no different. Compared to premium options, like the Thule T2 Pro XTR, the Swagman falls far behind. Based on our experience, the Swagman is more difficult to load (especially the bike nearest the car), the materials used are of much lower quality, and the max load capacity is 35 pounds per bike–which automatically excludes e-bikes. It also doesn’t include locks of any kind, and the threaded hitch pin that keeps the rack from wobbling back and forth is sold separately. Having said all that, not everyone has the need for an $800 Thule, and for you we think the Swagman XTC2 is a solid choice.
Price: $749 MSRP Type: Hitch, platform Bike Capacity: 2 (4 with add-on) Wheel Size: 20″ – 29″ Max Load: 70 lbs. per bike E-Bike Rated: Yes Rack Weight: 66 lbs.
Pros: – Extremely sturdy design and very easy to operated. – One of the highest max load ratings. Cons: – At 66 pounds, it’s about 15 pounds heavier than most of its competitors.
Why it’s Great
With its sturdy frame, high load capacity (70 pounds per bike), and an optional ramp for easy loading, the Yakima StageTwo is the best bike rack for e-bikes. We’ve been using and abusing the StageTwo around the Pacific Northwest for the past four months and have come away impressed by its ease of use and overall package.
The optional ramp integrates nicely into the trays and makes loading and unloading heavy e-bikes a breeze, the sturdy ratcheting arms securely hold bikes in place, and the fit and finish are holding up well. Other premium features we’ve come to love are the tilt mechanism that allows easy access to the rear of vehicles, as well as integrated locks (which are included) for peace of mind. Finally, the tiered trays keep bikes from touching one another and improve ground clearance, and the anti-sway knob eliminates side to side movement on rough roads. All told, the Yakima StageTwo makes the perfect e-bike carrier.
How it Compares
If you’re looking for the best e-bike carrier on the market, then Yakima’s StageTwo is an easy choice for the reasons listed above. However, in the greater field of hitch-mounted bike racks, there’s stiff competition. The Thule T2 Pro XTR listed above very slightly edges out the StageTwo in terms of ease of use (the tilt mechanism of the Thule is easier to engage). However, the Thule isn’t rated to carry very heavy e-bikes as its max load rating is 60 pounds per bike. The 1UP USA (listed below) is also another formidable choice, but again, it maxes out with a load rating of 50 pounds per bike. And as much as we personally love the 1UP USA, it’s not as user friendly as the StageTwo. All things considered, Yakima nailed the execution of the StageTwo for electric bikes, making it a standout carrier.
Price: $199.99 MSRP Type: Trunk Bike Capacity: 2 – 3 Max Load: 35 lbs. per bike E-Bike Rated: No Rack Weight: 9 lbs.
Pros: – Curved arms help mitigate bike-to-bike clearance issues. Cons: – Doesn’t work well with small kids bikes or full-suspension mountain bikes.
Why it’s Great
The Saris Bones is affordable, easy to use, and very lightweight, making it the best trunk-mount bike rack on the market. For just over $100 at the time of publishing, the Bones 2-Bike easily undercuts most competitors but gives up very little (or nothing) in terms of features.
The curved arms help eliminate bike-to-bike clearance issues that plague those with straight bars, and the plastic ratcheting straps do a good job of holding everything in place. We love how quickly and easily the Saris stores away when not in use, and weighing in at a scant 9 pounds, the rack is exceptionally easy to move around the garage. If you’re in the market for the best trunk-mounted bike rack, then it’s really hard to beat the Saris Bones 2-Bike.
How it Compares
It’s no real secret that trunk bike racks have their limitations–they aren’t strong enough to carry heavy e-bikes, and curvy full-suspension mountain bikes frames don’t play nice with the arms. However, for road bikes or hardtail mountain bikes, they make a lot of sense. Another popular option is Yakima’s FullBack trunk rack. Priced at about $280, the Yakima rack has a metal frame that feels a bit more robust compared to the Saris, and the ratchet straps are a bit easier to use. We also like that it includes an integrated lock. However, as much as we appreciate those premium features of the Yakima, we don’t think it’s worth three times the cost of the Saris. In the end, the Saris carries bikes just as well as any trunk rack we’ve used and is the smarter choice.
Price: $299 MSRP Type: Roof Bike Capacity: 1 Wheel Size: 26″ – 29″ Max Load: 45 lbs. E-Bike Rated: No Rack Weight: 18 lbs.
Pros: – Quick and easy to install. – Very simple to use. Cons: – Because of its height on top of a vehicle, loading this style of rack can be challenging.
Why it’s Great
For those with an existing base rack system, a quality roof-mounted carrier is a quick, easy, and economical way to transport a bike. For the best roof top bike rack, look no further than the Yakima HighRoad.
Obvious from the get-go, the Yakima employs a very user-friendly design. The rack comes completely assembled (no tools required), it has a relatively low weight (18 pounds) that’s easy to lift overhead or move around the garage, and it can mount to most crossbar shapes (we tested it on square, round, and oval without any issues). In terms of loading and unloading a bike, the Yakima is among the easiest for a wheel-on model. The front hoop guides the wheel into place and then is secured down via the tightening knob, which clicks to let you know when it’s secure. Finally, the rear wheel strap simply runs over the rear wheel and ratchets into place. From carbon frame gravel bikes to full-suspension 29ers, the Yakima HighRoad provides a seamless experience and exceeds expectations.
How it Compares
Thule’s UpRide roof-top bike rack is another popular choice that matches the security and build quality of the Yakima HighRoad. Both models cost about $300, work well with a variety of wheel and tire sizes, and can be installed in as little as five minutes (with some practice). With that being said, there’s one major advantage of the Yakima HighRoad, and that’s convenience. Specifically, the Yakima’s front wheel attachment system is significantly easier to use than the Thule’s awkward two-piece design.
If you prefer a fork-mounted model–which are a bit easier to load–then have a look at the Kuat Trio. It’s a high performing bike carrier that works well with 9, 12, 15, and 20 mm forks (which basically means every bike out there). That said, removing the front wheel on a regular basis gets old quickly and is why we prefer the HighRoad.
Price: $799 – $985 MSRP Type: Hitch, vertical Bike Capacity: 5 Wheel Size: 24″ – 29″ Max Load: 55 lbs. per bike E-Bike Rated: Yes Rack Weight: 94 lbs.
Pros: – The best way to carry as many bikes as possible. – Works well with any style bike. Cons: – Heavy, cumbersome, and difficult to store.
Why it’s Great
Capable of carrying up to seven bikes at once, the VelociRAX is versatile, economical, and convenient, making it the best vertical bike rack on the market. So when it’s time to haul as many bikes as possible–think road trips, family bike days, or shuttle laps with friends–VelociRAX is our top choice.
Offered in a number of models with capacities ranging from three to seven bikes, the five-bike 5X model is our favorite. The VelociRAX 5X is unique in that it has 15 inches of space between the baskets and lets you load five bikes regardless of handlebar shape, which is not possible with their other models that have 10 inches of spacing. Second, the combination of wheel basket and heavy duty rubber straps does an excellent job of securely holding bikes in place (even while shuttling rough roads). And finally, the VelociRAX undercuts the competition by a few hundred dollars while giving up nothing.
How it Compares
It would be impossible to talk about the best vertical bike racks and not mention North Shore Racks, the OG for shuttle days and DH bikes. That said, they are no longer our rack of choice for such purposes (and haven’t been for a while). Their carrying method quickly wears through paint, and we’ve seen many rusted out models at local trailheads. Not to mention, they don’t pair well (or at all) with drop bar bikes, which makes them very singular in purpose. Other popular options include the 1UP USA Recon and Alta Racks. Each model differs slightly from the other, but all work and perform similarly to one another. The main differences are country of origin (both the Recon and Alta are made in the USA whereas the VelociRAX is not) and price (the VelociRAX undercuts both by a couple hundred dollars).
Price: $109 – $219 MSRP Type: Tailgate pad Bike Capacity: 1 – 6 Wheel Size: Any Max Load: N/A E-Bike Rated: Yes Rack Weight: 5 lbs.
Pros: – Fits a wide variety of tailgate shapes and holds bikes in place better than its competitors. Cons: – One of the more expensive pickup tailgate pad options.
Why it’s Great
In their infancy, tailgate pads were little more than a moving blanket thrown over the end of a pickup, but take a close look at newer offerings and you’ll see that things have clearly evolved. For the best pickup truck tailgate pad in the business, we recommend the Race Face T2 Tailgate Pad.
The Race Face stands ahead of the compeition with its hard-wearing construction, heavy duty materials, and overall functionality. The integrated straps do an excellent job of holding bikes from bouncing around during long shuttles, and the sewn-in foam blocks keep them from sliding all over the place. Other cool features include a flexible opening near the tailgate handle that lets you utilize the backup camera, and the top of the pad is adjustable to accommodate curved tailgates. Race Face also makes a few different widths of pads, which allows you to find the perfect fit whether you have a mid-size or full-size pickup truck.
How it Compares
Tailgate pads are a popular way to haul a lot of bikes on a budget, but with so many options available, what makes the Race Face our top choice? It’s really the sum of the parts that makes the Race Face T2 the best pickup truck tailgate pad. Cheap Amazon models don’t have near enough padding to protect your bike and truck, and the overall quality and materials used are certainly suspect. And while well-known options from Dakine, Yakima, and Thule are viable alternatives, their lower-profile padding and foam don’t hold bikes in place as well as the Race Face. Finally, no other model we found can adjust to the curvature or varying widths of modern pickup tailgates as well as the Race Face T2 Tailgate Pad.
Price: $1,095.95 MSRP Type: Hitch, swing away Bike Capacity: 2 Wheel Size: 20″ – 29″ Max Load: 60 lbs. per bike E-Bike Rated: Yes Rack Weight: 60 lbs.
Pros: – The integrated swing away feature is simple to use and allows uninterrupted access without unloading bikes. Cons: – Can’t add a 2-bike extension and a bit cumbersome to remove.
Why it’s Great
For the best swing away bike rack that money can buy, choose the RockyMounts AfterParty. Featuring a sturdy frame, quality components, and a simple swing-away system, the AfterParty is a real treat to use. The RockyMounts AfterParty uses two ratcheting arms that securely hold bikes in place, it’s super quick and easy to load, and it works well for everything from 20-inch kids bikes to full-suspension 29ers. And as the name suggests, the swing-away feature allows unencumbered access to the rear of the vehicle. One final praiseworthy trait is that it has a max load capacity of 60 pounds per bike, making it compatible with most e-bikes. If having full access to the rear of your van, pickup truck, or SUV is a top priority, the RockyMounts AfterParty is your best option.
How it Compares
There are very few swing away bike racks on the market, making the RockyMounts AfterParty a standout option. However, there is one viable competitor, which is RockyMounts’ own BackStage. Like the AfterParty, the BackStage features a sturdy design, quality construction, and allows for unencumbered access to the back of a vehicle. Nevertheless, the AfterParty’s dual ratcheting arms are more refined and there’s less use of plastic throughout, making it the higher-quality option. Furthermore, the AfterParty can accommodate bikes that are five inches longer than what the BackStage can handle, which is important for extra-large riders big bikes. While the BackStage comes at a more budget-friendly price, about $300 less than the AfterParty, if you’re looking for the best swing away bike rack, then the AfterParty is the easy choice.
Price: $270 MSRP Type: Hitch, hanging Bike Capacity: 2 Max Load: 40 lbs. per bike E-Bike Rated: No Rack Weight: 14 lbs.
Pros: – Extremely light while simultaneously being able to carry heavy bikes. Cons: – Doesn’t work well with small kids bikes or those with curvy frame.
Why it’s Great
For one of the lightest hitch-mounted bike racks on the market, we turn to the Kuat Beta. Weighing in at a feathery 14 pounds (about half of similar racks from Yakima and Thule), the Beta includes everything you need to easily carry two road, gravel, or hardtail mountain bikes. The sturdy horizontal arms have a max load capacity of 40 pounds per bike, the ratcheting straps do a good job of holding bikes secure, and the anti-sway hitch tightener keeps the rack from wobbling side to side. And perhaps best of all, the entire rack folds nearly flat for easy storage. Occam’s Razor often comes to mind when describing the Beta, which states: “the simplest solution is almost always the best”. So while we generally recommend platform-style racks over hanging models, the Kuat Beta is worth a look for weight conscious or space limited buyers.
How it Compares
Both the Yakima RidgeBack 2 and Thule Camber 2 are strong offerings for hanging-style racks, but neither can compare to the Kuat in terms of a lightweight hitch rack. First and foremost, both the RidgeBack (32 pounds) and Camber (28 pounds) weigh significantly more than the Beta (14 pounds). And to our surprise, the Beta actually has the highest max load capacity of 40 pounds per bike out of the three. We also like how the Beta is able to fold up almost flat when not in use, something that the Camber and RidgeBack simply can’t do. Finally, the $270 Kuat Beta is the least expensive of the three and undercuts both the Camber ($330) and RidgeBack ($400) by a significant chunk of change. If you’re looking for a lightweight and inexpensive two-bike hanging hitch rack, then the Kuat Beta is worth checking out.
Price: $650 – $700 MSRP Type: Hitch, platform Bike Capacity: 2 (3 or 4 with add-ons) Wheel Size: 16″ – 29″ Max Load: 50 lbs. per bike E-Bike Rated: No Rack Weight: 46 lbs.
Pros: – Highest quality bike rack on the list and aluminum construction won’t rust. – 100% made in America. Cons: – Not as user friendly as the Thule T2 Pro XTR or Yakima StageTwo.
Why it’s Great
Equally at home hanging in a high-end art museum as it is off the back of a clapped out Tacoma, the 1UP USA Heavy Duty Double is a thing of beauty. The first thing you can’t help but notice about the 1UP is how it secures bikes on the rack. Unlike most other platform style bike carriers that use a single arm for the front tire and plastic or rubber strap for the rear, the Heavy Duty Double uses two folding arms that quickly and easily cinch down on both tires. The main benefit to this design is that the rack only comes into contact with rubber and never has the chance to scratch up your frame or wheels.
Diving a bit deeper into the 1UP, you’ll also notice that it’s almost entirely made out of aluminum (which is much lighter and more resistant to rust when compared to steel). And after nearly 50,000 miles of 100% trouble-free use, ours hardly shows any signs of wear. For a rack that will likely outlast your biking obsessions, the 100% made in America 1UP is an easy choice.
How it Compares
So if the 1UP is such an amazing rack, then why isn’t it at the top of our list? Really, it all comes down to ease of use and convenience, which is where the Thule T2 Pro XTR really shines (listed above). For starters, the latching mechanism on the 1UP’s arms can be a bit finicky to engage and disengage–even with our extensive use they sometimes snag. Second, the tilt lever is all but impossible to use on the 1UP when loaded with two heavy bikes (yes, we know there’s an optional extender for another $80). Third, hauling fatbikes requires purchasing adapters, and to adjust to kids bikes you need to disassemble and reassemble part of the rack with tools. Finally, the 1UP does not include any type of bike locking mechanism, which the Thule does. All told, we love our 1UP and use it regularly, but we don’t think it’s the best option for most users.
Having logged many miles with the 1UP USA Recon, we can confidently say that it’s one of the best bike racks for shuttle days with friends. The vertical design carries up to six bikes in a compact way–which improves departure angle for offroad use–and the extremely burly build stands up well to many seasons of abuse. For years, it was our preferred choice. However, other companies have taken note and it now faces stiff competition. Enter Utah-based VelociRAX (listed above). For about $400 less than a comparable Recon, VelociRAX racks offer all the benefits of a vertical bike rack with a significant reduction in price. We particularly like their 5R model, which adds a few extra inches of spacing between bikes and works well for road and gravel bikes (in addition to mountain bikes of course).
The OG of pickup tailgate pads, we have many fond memories of bombing long dirt roads with friends using the Dakine Pickup Pad. Its ability to carry a ton of bikes cut down on the number of vehicles required for shuttle laps, and the quick loading nature made for minimal fuss and maximum trail miles. While the Dakine Pickup Pad holds a special place in our hearts, times have changed and better options now exist. The Race Face T2 Tailgate Pad has superior padding, holds bikes more securely in place, and is able to adjust to curved and varying width pickup tailgates. All things considered, there isn’t a good reason to choose the Dakine over the Race Face option (listed above).
Stable, secure, and good looking, there’s a lot to like with the Kuat NV Base 2.0. The beefy ratcheting arms do a great job of holding bikes in place, the matte black finish looks good and is durable, and it fits bikes with 20 to 29 inch wheels (although you need an adapter for the smaller sizes). There’s really only one thing that holds the Base 2.0 back from making our top 10, and that’s the location of the tilt lever. Situated inboard at the pivot itself, the lever is very challenging to reach when two bikes are loaded, and all but impossible when utilizing the two bike add-on. Kuat says to use your foot to activate the lever, but our acrobatic skills are limited and we much prefer hand-operated models. For a much better overall experience, see the Thule T2 Pro XTR listed above. With a similar price tag, better performance, and a much more ergonomic tilt lever, we wholeheartedly recommend the Thule T2 Pro XTR over the Kuat.
Ten years ago, North Shore Racks was the go-to vertical bike rack and one of the only options on the market. However, fast forward a decade and the landscape has changed significantly, and better options are available. Over the years, we’ve had serious rust issues with the rack, they rub paint off the crowns of suspension forks in just a few outings, and it’s all but impossible to carry anything other than a standard mountain bike. Sure, you can flip road bikes around and hang them by their handlebars, but it’s not a great solution. For about the same price and with much better functionality, a VelociRAX model is the smarter choice.
From roof-top carriers to trunk- and hitch-mounted options, bike racks come in all shapes and sizes. Below we break down the most popular ways to transport bikes, providing the pros and cons of each style.
Hitch Mount Bike Racks
Best For: SUVs and Pickup Trucks
Pros: The most secure style of bike rack. Low height and high load capacity make them a perfect match for e-bikes.
Cons: More expensive than most other styles of bike racks.
As the name suggests, hitch-mounted bike racks like the Thule T2 Pro XTR attach to the back of your vehicle using the hitch. They provide one of the most secure ways to carry your bike and are low to the ground, making them easy to load–which is an especially important consideration for heavy e-bikes.
Platform Bike Racks
Pros: Very quick to load, easy to operate, and work well with all styles of bikes.
Cons: By far the most expensive option. Also the heaviest.
Platform-style hitch racks are very secure and are one of the easiest to load and unload out of all rack types. And since bikes are usually secured by an arm pressing down on the tire, there is little bike frame-to-rack interference–making them ideal for everything from small kids bikes to beach cruisers. Platform-style hitch racks also have some of the highest weight capacities and are one of the few styles rated to carry e-bikes (which can weigh in excess of 60 pounds each). However, the two biggest downsides to platform-style hitch racks are their price (it’s easy to spend over $600) and their heft (most models weigh over 50 pounds). All things considered, a platform rack like the Thule T2 Pro XTR is our preferred method of carrying bikes.
Hanging Bike Racks
Pros: Generally less expensive than platform styles. Some models can haul up to five bikes at a time.
Cons: Don’t work well with kids’ bikes, full suspension mountain bikes, or curvy frames.
Another popular hitch mount style is the hanging rack, which has two arms that extend horizontally and provides a place for a bike’s frame to rest on. Straps then run over the top of the bike and secure it to the rack. Compared to platform models, hanging racks are a relatively compact and lightweight alternative for hauling lots of bikes. For example, Thule’s Apex XT 5 weighs in at a light 35 pounds, can carry four bikes, and folds up nice and small for storage purposes.
Despite these advantages, however, hanging racks do pose a few problems. They typically have a lower max capacity of around 35 pounds per bike–which rules out e-bikes–and the horizontal arms don’t play nicely with curvy frame designs or small kids bikes. Finally, these styles can scuff frames over time and the bikes sway more when traveling on rough roads.
Vertical Bike Racks
Pros: Simply the easiest and most secure way to haul up to seven bikes at once.
Cons: Very heavy (up to 100 pounds) and very expensive (over $1,000 for certain models).
If you’re looking for the best rack for shuttle laps, dirt roads, and lots of bikes, then the vertical style bike rack should be first on your list. These racks hang the bike vertically by the wheel, fork, or handlebars and are positioned side by side behind the vehicle. The main advantages of this style include their ability to carry a ton of bikes (up to seven) and not take up much room while doing it–this makes traveling over washed-out roads much less problematic. That being said, vertical racks are extremely heavy and very expensive, and they take up a ton of room when not in use. Case in point, the 1UP USA Recon 6 weighs 102 pounds and costs a cool $1,400.
Swing-Away Bike Racks
Pros: Offer easy and complete access to the rear of your vehicle.
Cons: Heavy, a bit cumbersome, and typically only holds two bikes.
For ease of accessing the rear of your campervan, SUV, or crossover, it doesn’t get much better than with a swing-away style bike rack. Unlike other racks that tilt down, these models swing away completely from the vehicle, providing best-in-class access without unloading bikes. Models like the RockyMount AfterParty combine swing-away functionality with a platform-style hitch rack, making it one of our favorites at the moment. Of course, swing-away models weigh significantly more due to the extra functionality, and typically have an added cost as well. It’s also important to note that most are not compatible with 2-bike extenders.
Trunk-Mount Bike Rack
Best For: Hatchbacks and Cars
Pros: Lightweight, inexpensive, and easy to store.
Cons: Can scuff bike frames and don’t work well with kids’ bikes or full-suspension mountain bikes.
Trunk-mount racks are one of the most effective ways to transport bikes on hatchbacks and small cars. They’re relatively inexpensive, don’t require any modifications, and they take up little space when not in use. Trunk-mount models work well with bikes that have simple frame designs–like hardtail mountain bikes and road bikes–and are relatively simple to load. As with most bike rack styles, it’s all a give and take. Trunk racks don’t hold bikes as securely as platform styles, and the carrying arms can scuff and scrape the frame. Nevertheless, models like the Saris Bones 2 work great for cyclists who may only need to haul their bikes a handful of times a year or those who are limited on storage space.
Roof-Top Bike Rack
Best For: Hatchbacks and Cars
Pros: Don’t block access to the rear of your vehicle and go unnoticed when not in use.
Cons: Can be challenging to load on anything taller than a sedan. Expensive if you don’t already have a base roof rack system.
Roof-top bike racks have a lot going for them: they take up minimal space whether on your car or stored in the garage, they’re relatively inexpensive (if you already have a roof-top rack system), and they don’t block access to your trunk or rear hatch like hitch-mounted options. Roof-top carriers can be broken down into two different categories, fork-mounted models like Kuat’s Trio which requires removing the front wheel to mount the bike, and wheel-on models like the Yakima HighRoad where the rack clamps down on the front wheel.
Fork-mounted options are slightly easier to load–with the front wheel removed you don’t have to lift the bike as high–and wobble a little less. However, cramming a muddy front wheel inside your car can be a messy and inconvenient experience. With wheel-on models, you don’t have to constantly disassemble and reassemble your bike, which certainly makes them the more convenient and quicker option. That said, wheel-on models can be challenging to load, especially for shorter riders. Even lifting a light road bike onto a relatively small vehicle–like a Subaru Impreza–can be pretty tricky. Regardless of the style of roof-mounted bike rack, don’t forget to remove bikes before pulling in the garage! We’ve known more than a few riders who have crunched bikes over the years.
Best For: Pickup Trucks
Pros: The least expensive ways to haul up to six bikes. Simple, easy, and quick to load.
Cons: Must own a pickup truck. If not properly loaded and tied down, bikes can easily be damaged.
Tailgate pads are one of the most convenient and least expensive ways to haul a ton of bikes (up to six or more). A tailgate pad, as the name suggests, rests over the tailgate of a pickup truck and provides a place to rest the frame of your bike, while the front wheel hangs out the back. Quality models, like the Race Face T2, feature raised bumpers and tie downs to keep bikes from moving around, a soft inner liner to protect your pickup’s paint, and high-density foam padding to keep everything safe and sound. For around $200, the bike capacity-to-cost ratio is very favorable. Having said all that, tailgate pads fall short in two areas. One, if bikes are not properly secured and spaced, they rub against each other and create scratches. And two, we’ve never had much luck with them for road and gravel bikes (they shift around quite a lot).
In general, each style of rack has its own set of limitations for bike carrying capacity. Starting with the lowest: a single roof-mounted bike rack is able to carry one bike, however, it is often possible to fit one or two additional racks on your roof. Trunk racks range anywhere from one to four bikes most of the time, as do platform style hitch racks (with the use of an add-on). If you’re looking for the ultimate bike capacity, hanging or vertical style hitch racks are among the best, with the Yakima RidgeBack 5 being a great example. Finally, we’ve seen pickup tailgate pads hold up to eight bikes at once, providing the highest carrying capacity out there. And should you need even more carrying capacity, consider combining roof-mounted models with a hitch-mount style.
How Much Do Bike Racks Weigh?
Overall bike rack weights are an important piece of the puzzle when it comes time to choosing one, especially if you plan to remove it with any regularity. Due to their simple design, roof-mounted models are among the lightest out there, with most models weighing under 20 pounds. Trunk-mounted racks are also relatively light in nature and usually weigh less than 30 pounds. Both of these styles are easy to remove and store without much issue. However, hitch-mounted bike racks are where weight starts to increase significantly. There are some lightweight models available–like the Kuat Beta (14 pounds)–but expect most to be closer to 50 or 60 pounds. That said, the recently updated Thule T2 Pro XTR now features little wheels integrated into the rack, which make removal and storage a bit easier on the back. However, we recommend leaving hitch racks mounted for the duration of your riding season.
With so many different frame shapes, it’s important to understand that some bike frames pose compatibility issues for certain styles of racks. The one standout offender is the hanging style hitch-mounted model, like the Saris Bones or Yakima RidgeBack. These racks don’t work well with full-suspension mountain bikes, small kids bikes, or bikes with curvy frame shapes. Put plainly, the two horizontal arms have a hard time fitting and supporting these types of bikes. Of course, you can buy an adapter, but it’s simply a band-aid for a much larger issue. Having said that, adult-sized road, gravel, and hardtail frame designs work well with hanging style racks.
Wheel Size and Tire Width
Mostly a consideration for fatbikers and those who ride on plus-sized tires, it’s important to know that not all platform and roof-top racks will work with your bike out of the box. Oftentimes, a larger strap or additional hardware is needed to fit these bikes. For example, Yakima’s StageTwo rack will happily accommodate oversized tires, but it needs a longer strap to fit around the rear tire. Also, 1UP USA’s Heavy Duty double requires wider spaces for bike tires greater than 3.1 inches. Some models, however, will work with pretty much all wheel sizes and tire widths (like the highly versatile Thule T2 Pro XTR).
Bike Rack Weight Capacity
A sometimes overlooked detail when choosing a bike carrier is a rack’s max load capacity. It’s wise to consider this, especially with the rise in popularity of heavy e-bikes. It’s safe to assume that most non-e-bikes (sometimes referred to as acoustic bikes) weigh around 35 pounds or less, and should work with any number of racks. For e-bikes, however, it’s not uncommon that they weigh 55 pounds or more. And for these riders, we recommend an e-bike-specific carrier like the Yakima StageTwo, which has a max load capacity of 70 pounds per bike. So, make sure to check the manufacturer’s website for this technical spec before making a purchase.
Key Features of Bike Racks
Typically located at the very rear of a hitch-mounted carrier and engaged with a lever or handle, a tilt mechanism allows a user to swing a bike rack down to gain access to the back of a vehicle. Without this feature, it would be all but impossible to lower a pickup tailgate or open the rear of an SUV, van, or hatchback with the rack mounted. Many premium models–like the Thule T2 Pro XTR–are also easy to operate with bikes loaded, which is especially convenient. Thankfully, tilt features are found on all but the cheapest hitch racks.
Bike rack locks offer great peace of mind when running into the store for a quick post-ride snack and are a great way to deter thieves from quickly nabbing your bike. Fortunately, most bike racks have simple attachment points for cable locks, and you’ll find them included with more premium options. However, aftermarket options aren’t inexpensive and it’s smart to include their price into your overall budget. While bike locks aren’t a guaranteed way to keep your bike from getting stolen, they’re a worthwhile investment that we recommend purchasing.
Maybe it’s just us, but there are few things more aggravating then seeing bikes swaying around behind a vehicle when cruising down the road. Mainly because any extra motion can cause more wear and tear on our beloved bicycles. For this reason, we always recommend looking for hitch racks with some type of anti-sway component built into the hitch attachment. Our two favorite racks at the moment–the Yakima StageTwo and Thule T2 Pro XTR–both have a knob which expands a wedge inside the receiver hitch. This effectively eliminated all swaying and side-to-side movement, which in turn saves our bikes from scratches and unnecessary wear. That said, if you’re eyeing a model without an anti-sway feature, there are plenty of quality aftermarket hitch stabilizers that work quite well.
Popular Bike Rack Accessories
Spurred by the rise in popularity of e-bikes, ramps are an essential feature for loading and unloading heavy bikes on hitch-mounted racks. Instead of a two-person job, or a struggle for one, ramps allow a rider to simply wheel their bike up and onto the rack platform. While these aren’t super common at the moment, they can be found on the Yakima StageTwo (ramp sold separately) and the Thule EasyFold XT 2 (ramp included). Sure, you could use a piece of two-by-four wood for the job, but it’s definitely not as painless as the purpose-built options.
If you spend a lot of time transporting your bike at night–or perhaps you just like the added peace of mind–look for bike racks with built-in lights or reflectors. Unfortunately, these options are pretty limited at the moment, and Yakima is one of the few to offer an aftermarket lighting kit for their StageTwo rack. That being said, aftermarket rack lighting kits are relatively inexpensive and can easily be added to just about any hitch rack, and they simply plug into your vehicle’s trailer wiring harness. It’s worth noting that most rear-facing racks (like trunk and hitch options) can obscure taillights when they are loaded with bikes, so it makes a lot of sense. Having almost been rear ended multiple times over the years, we think it’s a worthy investment.
Bike Racks and Vehicle Access
Accessing the rear of your vehicle is an important consideration when selecting a rack, especially if you’re in the market for a hitch- or trunk-rack model, as these are the styles that typically cause the most interference. Luckily, most hitch-mounted racks feature a tilt or swing feature that allows access to the back of your SUV or van. Our current favorite, the RockyMounts AfterParty, has a built-in swing feature. However, even with this capability, these styles of racks can still make it more challenging to load groceries or other objects into the rear of the vehicle. Only the cheapest models of hitch racks don’t come with this capability, and we think it’s best to avoid them altogether–you’ll thank us later.
Although trunk racks don’t physically inhibit access to the rear of your vehicle, they can cause other problems when you need to get in the back. Because of how these racks are mounted, the rear hatch or trunk of your vehicle is supporting the weight of the rack 100%. This makes lifting the trunk of your vehicle slightly harder (because you’re now lifting the weight of the rack as well) and can also cause unwanted wear and tear on your vehicle. And unlike the hitch-mounted racks above, where many models can swing or tilt with the bikes still loaded on the rack, bikes on trunk racks need to be removed before accessing the back.
Popular Bike Rack Brands
When it comes to quality bike rack options, several brands stand out. At the top, you’ll find Thule, Yakima, Kuat, and 1UP USA, who are well-known for their quality, ease of use, and wide range of rack styles and price points. Thule’s T2 Pro XTR offers a top-tier hitch-mounted design, while Yakima’s HighRoad provides a versatile roof-top option. Kuat’s NV Base 2.0 is known for its sleek design and functionality, and 1UP USA offers robust, 100% USA-made racks like the Heavy Duty Double. These brands consistently deliver durability, user-friendly features, and strong customer support. While it can be hard to swallow the price tag for some of these models, we recommend a buy once cry once approach (we’ve put well over 20,000 miles on the Thule mentioned above without a single issue).
Materials, Build Quality, and Durability
Ranging in price from $50 to $1,400, bike racks run the gamut when it comes to build quality, materials, and durability. Inexpensive plastic models–like the $110 Saris Bones–are a nice budget option for cyclists who only need to haul their bikes on occasion. However, they can’t really hold a candle to premium options like the all aluminum 1UP USA Heavy Duty Double. Which, after tens of thousands of miles of use, has not had a single issue. Dedicated cyclists will likely take the cry-once buy-once approach and opt for a high-quality model that will last a lifetime. But for those who are just dipping their toes into the sport then a budget model like the Swagman XTC2 Tilt may be the way to go.
Bike Rack Maintenance and Care
Proper maintenance and care ensures your bike rack lives a long and happy life. It’s important to regularly inspect and tighten bolts, lube any moving parts, and give it the occasional rinse to prevent road grime from building up. Additionally, we recommend storing your rack in a cool and dry place if it will go more than a week or two without use. Performing some routine care now can prevent problems down the road, and any possible safety issues that can arise from neglect. In the end, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for how to clean and care for your bike rack.
Do Bike Racks Come With a Warranty?
When you’re spending up to $500 or more for a quality bike rack, a solid warranty can add peace of mind to your investment. Most reputable brands, like Thule, Yakima, 1UP USA, and Kuat, offer a limited lifetime warranty. This typically covers any defects in workmanship or materials for the lifetime of the product and is only valid to the original purchaser. However, normal wear and tear, and improper use is not generally covered. No matter what brand of rack you want to purchase, it’s important to review the warranty terms, considering factors like coverage duration, specific components, and limitations. Further, registering your rack and following maintenance guidelines can help uphold your warranty’s validity.
Rack Fit Guides
There’s typically never a one size fits all approach when purchasing a bike rack, as most cars are unique in their own way. Some vehicles come with hitches and roof racks installed from the factory, whereas others do not. There are also variations within factory options from vehicle to vehicle (like round vs square vs oval bars). With so many options, it’s next to impossible to remember all the different combinations and what will work for you and your vehicle. Luckily, brands like Yakima and Thule have created excellent rack fit guides to help you through the process. Their step-by-step approach is quite simple, and you’ll almost certainly be able to find the perfect rack for your vehicle. Not only do we find these guides to be very comprehensive and easy to use, but companies like REI have partnered with these brands, making for a seamless online buying experience.
Bike Rack Storage
For riders who remove their racks when not in use, finding a suitable storage solution can be challenging–especially if you have a big and heavy hitch rack. If this applies to you, we recommend looking into customized rack storage solutions that mount to a garage wall. A well-made model–like the 1UP USA Rack Stash–safely and easily mounts a hitch rack to the wall, and also has additional slots for alternative racks or accessories.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Which type of bike rack is best?
Without a doubt, a platform style hitch-mounted carrier is the best type of bike rack on the market. They’re exceptionally easy to load and unload, they work well with all styles and types of bikes, and the quality models will last a lifetime. For these reasons, Thule’s T2 Pro XTR is our top pick at the moment.
Which is better, roof or trunk bike racks?
If you have a small sedan or compact car, roof-top bike racks are the better choice over trunk-mounted models–they do a much better job of firmly holding bikes in place. However, for taller vehicles where lifting a bike overhead would be nearly impossible, trunk-mounted models are the better option.
Are vertical bike racks better?
Vertical bike racks excel at carrying a lot of bikes (up to seven in most cases) in a compact way, making them the better choice for large families or shuttle days with friends. They also don’t stick out as far as similarly loaded hitch-mounted carriers.
What is the easiest bike rack to load?
Trunk and hitch-mounted bike racks are by far the easiest to load and unload. You only need to lift your bike about a foot off the ground and the racks, in general, are more user friendly. Compared to roof-mounted bike racks–which require you to lift your bike overhead–hitch carriers become the easy choice.
Are hitch bike racks worth it?
Although hitch bike racks are quite expensive, their ease of use, high convenience factor, and overall durability absolutely make them worth it. This is especially true if you’re regularly loading and unloading your bike, as they’re the quickest and easiest style out there to use.
Erik Nilson, founder of Cascade Gear Reviews, boasts a decade-long journey in the outdoor industry. He began his career at REI, excelling in marketing, merchandising, and product development. Later, at Switchback Travel, Erik managed cycling content. With multiple Pro podium finishes in mountain biking, he’s not just an industry expert; he’s an active participant. Whether testing gear, capturing photos, or crafting reviews, Erik’s hands-on approach defines his dedication. Based in Winthrop, WA, he brings experience, expertise, and passion to outdoor gear reviews.
Erik Nilson, founder of Cascade Gear Reviews, boasts a decade-long journey in the outdoor industry. He began his career at REI, excelling in marketing, merchandising, and product development. Later, at Switchback Travel, Erik managed cycling content. With multiple Pro podium finishes in mountain biking, he's not just an industry expert; he's an active participant. Whether testing gear, capturing photos, or crafting reviews, Erik's hands-on approach defines his dedication. Based in Winthrop, WA, he brings experience, expertise, and passion to outdoor gear reviews.
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