Whether you’re carrying bikes to a local race or on a riding road trip, being able to carry your bike outside the car not only leaves space for passengers but also means you don’t have to put a greasy, road-grime-covered bike back in your car after a ride.
There are a wide variety of racks designed to carry your bike, some being semi-permanent installations such as roof- and hitch racks while others like trunk/boot racks and tailgate pads can be easily removed and stored when not in use.
The best rack for you will depend on your car, bikes, how many you’d like to carry, and how much you have to spend.
Types of racks
1. Roof racks
Most roof racks attach to crossbars, these can be anything from the square factory rails that some cars come with, to sleek aerodynamic bars from aftermarket brands; other racks use suction cups to vacuum seal a rack to your roof.
Bikes are then secured to the roof using the frame, front wheel or front axle. Each of which has advantages and disadvantages; however, the key thing to consider is will you be able to lift your bike onto the roof in the first place. If you’re driving a tall SUV, consider a hitch or towbar rack, as getting heavy bikes onto the roof can be precarious. Wheel-off racks will lighten the load a bit and take away some of the height you’d otherwise have to conquer, however, if you will be carrying bikes that have various axles standards and hub spacing they can be fiddly. There are quite a few roof racks which grab onto the downtube; however, we would tend to steer away from this style as they can scratch your paintwork and, in the worst case, crush the frame.
Wheel-on roof racks are great if you’re transporting bikes with various hub and axle standards. They don't touch the frame but they are a bit less stable, more expensive and require you to lift the bike higher.
Bikes on the roof are generally safer from other drivers should you get into a fender bender, just don’t forget they are up there when you get home and drive into your garage or a multi-storey car park.
2. Hitch and towball racks
Towbar or hitch racks take advantage of the 1 1/4in or 2in receiver tube or the tow ball on the back of your car and are the easiest to load of the bunch. Some hitch-mount racks will fold up and out of the way when not in use and many feature locks, not only for your bikes but also for securing the rack to the vehicle. They often fold for storage and feature a tilt or swing release so you can get into the back of your car without having to remove the bikes.
Unfortunately, hitch and towbar racks start out at the higher end of the price spectrum and as you add in features like built-in locks, lightweight materials, integrated repair stands, and tail lights, the price continues to climb.
Keep in mind that hitch racks also extend the length of your car considerably, so when you stop for a post-ride burrito take extra care backing up.
Before you buy a hitch rack, make sure to double-check your local laws and regulations. In Australia for example, if the rack obscures your license plate, you’ll need an official accessory plate from the RTA and your rack will also need to illuminate the plate so it can be seen from at least 20m away in poor light conditions.
In the eyes of the law, the classic photocopy or piece of cardboard with your plate number scribbled in sharpie will earn you a hefty fine and a stern talking-to from the boys and girls in blue. That’s not all; you may also cop a fine for driving around with an empty hitch rack on the back of your car — the moral of the story is do your due diligence before you buy a hitch or towbar rack so you don't have a run-in with the 5-0.
3. Trunk and boot racks
These racks attach the back of your car using straps, with feet stabilising the whole thing against the car. They are the lightest and least expensive options and also the least secure. With trunk/boot racks, installing the rack correctly is paramount as if you don’t have something in the right place or pulled tautly, it can damage your paintwork. These work best with bikes that have more traditional double triangle construction and can be an awkward fit for sloping top-tube-style full-suspension mountain bikes.
The best bike racks you can buy today
Best for vertically challenged riders
Type: Roof | Style: Fork mount
No adaptors to keep track of
Changing axle size takes some practice
Axle-mounted racks make attaching bikes on the roof a bit easier because you don’t have to lift the bike quite as high, and without the front wheel they are a bit lighter too. The trouble is, various axle- and hub-spacing standards can mean lots of adaptors to change or lose.
The ThruRide uses an adjustable clamp that can hold an axle regardless of length and diameter and doesn't need any adaptors. It takes a bit of practice to get the process down but once you do, it's a breeze and mounting the rack itself to the car is a tool-free affair.
The rack itself is aerodynamic and low profile; once it's on your car you're likely to forget it's there.
Saris Bones 2-Bike
Timeless design that still holds up and isn't an eyesore
Type: Trunk/Boot | Style: Top tube
Curved arm separates bikes
Nothing to secure the front wheel
Can't be locked to vehicle
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. That is the mantra Saris has used with its Bones 2-Bike trunk/boot rack. The design was first introduced in 1996 and hasn't changed all that much since.
It's available in two- and three-bike versions and is made from 100 per cent recyclable materials and everything from the articulating feet to the arms are adjustable to make the rack fit onto just about any car — including those with small spoilers.
The arm that supports the bikes is curved which provides extra clearance, and the seatpost strap prevents the bikes from wobbling around too much when everything is mounted. Unfortunately, the front wheel is still free to move around, something which no rack of this style efficiently addresses.
Thule RaceWay 3 992
The most affordable, intuitive three-bike rack system available
Type: Trunk/Boot | Style: Top tube
Intuitive hook system
Room for three bikes
Can be locked to the car
Using a series of ratcheting locking cables to secure the rack to your car, the RaceWay rack is easy on paint jobs, and the built-in Fit Dial system makes sure once the rack is mounted, it's not going anywhere. Unlike most of these trunk/boot-style racks, the RaceWay 3 can actually be locked to the car.
It will hold three bikes using a top-tube mount that Thule calls Road Damping cradles to protect your frame from bumps. The rack also utilises a 'NoSway cages' which prevent the bikes from knocking into one another as you’re cruising down the highway. The cages are also fully adjustable for bikes of every size.
Best roof rack for those who are transporting MTBs and road bikes
Type: Roof | Style: Wheel on
Ease of use
Doesn't play nice with mudguards
The Yakima HighRoad is currently on the roof of this writer's car and is one of our favourite racks because it doesn’t touch the frame at any point, and is compatible with 26- to 29-inch wheels regardless of axle standard. It’s one of the easiest and intuitive roof racks to use, provided your car isn’t too tall.
There is no faffing with adaptors and you don’t even need to adjust the front wheel loop to suit different wheel sizes. The rack holds bikes securely even if your trip to the trailhead involves some Overlanding and it's not an eyesore either come to think of it
The HighRoad is nearly perfect but could do with a set of locking barrels and be more accommodating when it comes to mudguards.
Thule T2 Pro XT
The best hitch receiver rack you can buy
Type: Hitch | Style: wheel Mount
Remote tilt release
The Thule T2 Pr XT is so well designed a few other brands have borrowed - read copied - some of its design features like the remote tilt release handle and tool-free mounting system.
It comes stock with trays for two bikes, however, it can be extended with another two trays. Bikes are secured with an extendable half-wheel hook design and a simple ratchet strap at the rear; it will work with just about any wheel size and tyres up to 5in in width.
For the latest version, Thule has increased the spacing of the wheel trays and increased lateral adjustment to help fit a wider variety of bikes.
Kuat NV 2.0
The most feature-rich hitch rack you can buy
Type: Hitch | Style: Wheel mount
Holds a wide range of bikes
Difficult to put together
Kuat makes some of the best-looking racks on the market. It uses a half-wheel loop design similar to the Thule Pro XT as well as a ratchet strap meaning it can accommodate a range of wheel sizes and tyres of up to 4.8in in width. The wheel cradles are adjustable to avoid bikes bumping into each other on the rack and there are removable cable locks.
The installation process is tool-free and an expanding adaptor takes up space in your car's hitch receiver to eliminate wobbles. The tilt switch can be engaged hands-free and there is even an integrated work stand for adjustments and repairs.
Wheel-on rack compatible with bikes of any size
Type: Roof | Style: Wheel on
Compatible almost all bikes
No frame contact
Dual ratchet straps
Full coverage fenders will need to be removed
Hailing from Colorado, the RockyMounts TomaHawk is a roof-mounted tray which utilises a front-wheel hook to secure the bike. A wheel wicket helps balance the bike once it's in the tray while dual ratchet straps and a hook locks everything down.
The rack itself will work with any crossbar and can carry bikes from a 20in Brompton up to a 29er fat bike with 5in wide rubber.
The RockyMounts TomaHawk and all of its parts are backed by a lifetime warranty.
Yakima FoldClick 2
Light weight, stowable and painless to install
Type: Towball | Style: Arm and frame clamp
Lightweight and easy to install
Wheel trails not adjustable
Arms can be awkward to use with non traditional frames
Yakima’s FolkClick rack utilises the towbar instead of the hitch receiver and has a surprisingly high weight limit — you can easily carry two e-bikes and still have weight left over. Not only is the rack quick and easy the install but it weighs just 14kg. The big selling point here, however, is its ability to quickly fold away not to mention the inclusion of a ramp to help you get your bike in place come loading time.
Its design features two wheel trays as well as arms and clamps to grab onto your bike's frame. A foot pedal unclips the base of the rack to tilt it out of the way so you can quickly get into your trunk. The setup also includes a locking system for both the bikes and rack itself.