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At some point we all need to transport our bikes to the trailhead, bike shop, etc. While most cars can handle one bike stowed inside, it’s a pain getting it in and out, and if you want to carpool withfriends it can be difficult to fit them all.

The solution is a quality bike rack, and there are three basic types: trunk mount, hitch mount, and roof mount.

Trunk mount carriers are the least expensive solution and can be quickly removed from the vehicle when not in use. Because these racks mount using only straps and buckles, they are not the most secure solution. They do very little, if anything, to prevent theft, and damage to your car or bike is likely. These should be considered a temporary solution, and if you consider yourself a serious mountain biker you should look into a more permanent option. These racks will run from $50 to $250.

photo credit 1upUSA.com

Hitch mount carriers, as the name implies, attach to the receiver hitch on your car. If you car already has a hitch, this is a great way to go. If your car doesn’t, you’ll need to factor in the cost of a hitch as well as the rack. Hitch mount racks come in two versions: ones that hold the bikes by the frame, or ones where the wheels sit in a tray. The former are usually less expensive, but are limited on what frame shapes they can fit.

The tray mount variety can hold literally any bike, and tend to be more stable and secure. Most hitch mount racks can swing down or away from the vehicle to allow access to the trunk or hatchback. One issue with hitch mounts is that they can drag or scrape when driving through a dip such as when entering a parking lot. Another is that even the best hitch mounts have a little bit of ‘bounce’ which jostles your bike when you hit bumps. This is mitigated when the bike is held by the wheels. Expect to pay between $200 and $500 for this type of rack.

Roof mount racks, obviously, go on the roof of your car. The two major rack vendors are Thule and Yakima–both make systems for a wide variety of car models. Both vendors also make the bike trays as well, or you can choose a tray from Rocky Mounts that will fit on eithermanufacturer’s’ bars. Roof racks are my preferred setup, and they tend to be stable and secure. If your car already has factory rails, setting up the rack system is a cinch. Even cars without rails can usually be made to work, and some sedans such as Volvo havededicatedmounting plates specifically for Thule rack systems.

While roof racks are easy to use and are very stable while driving, they also present a couple of issues. When transporting your bikes, you will take a fuel efficiency penalty; however when the racks are empty they shouldn’t make too much of a difference. Another potentially disastrous problem is driving your bikes into a drive-thru overhang or into your garage. At a minimum you will damage your fork, and possibly your rack, car roof, and the structure you hit. It’s not pretty. Expect to pay as much as $600 or more for a complete setup that can haul a pair of bikes.

If you have a Jeep or SUV with a rear-mounted spare tire, there is also a bike rack that can attach directly to the tire mount hardware. It looks like the trunk mount, but is much more secure and can be locked. This type also swings with the tailgate, allowing access to the back of the vehicle.

Whatever rack system you decide to go with, do a little research online and see what other owners of your type of car have had success with. Also factor in how frequently you actually need to transport bikes, and how many. If you really only need to transport a bike occasionally, a trunk mount might be okay. If you routinelytransporttwo or more bikes, and do so for long distances, you owe it to your bikes and your car to get a dedicated hitch or roof mount system.

Rack Selection Resources

Singletracks bike rack reviews.

Roof racks: Thule, Yakima and Rocky Mounts.

Hitch racks: 1Up, Thule, Yakima, Kuat,XPortand Saris

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# Comments

  • comacruz

    For pick up truck owners – I’ve been using 2 Thule Insta-gaters with great success. When needing to transport more than 2 bikes, I use a Dakine tailgate pad.

  • TrevorDHyland

    So far I’ve only been able to use a trunk mount because I cannot afford a roof rack set up for my Yaris. Fortunately, I usually only have to transfer one bike and usually not for more that 20-30 miles at a time. Seems to be secure enough. If I do get a new rack for this vehicle however, it will be a roof rack system, probably Yakima.

  • maddslacker

    @TrevorDHyland, when you get ready to buy, make sure to check craigslist. You can find some awesome deals on barely used rack equipment.

  • goonie72

    Good information for those looking, it’s exactly the kind of info I was searching for when I first decided to ditch the trunk mount that was scratching my car, and jsut started to look like an eye sore for me with all the straps allover. I now use a yakima roof set up for about a year now with the highroller on my subaru impreza (hatch/wagon). Love it.. Haven’t ran into any clearance issues and thats with 29ers typically on it but did get nervous the first time I pulled into a Sonic. I had plenty of clearance but from my view loooking up through the sunroof it looked really close lol it was pretty funny and nerve racking.. One thing I do when leaving my house is open up a small foldable chair like a beach chair or something and place it in the garage right where I park, this way when I come home I have to get out to move the chair. I’ve never forgotten I had bikes on my roof, but better safe than sorry.

  • maddslacker

    @goonie72, my old trick was to take the garage door opener off of the visor and put it in the glove box. The new car has the opener built in to the visor, so now I wheel the trash can out like what you do with the beach chair.

    I think Trek7k posted something on the forums a while back about some sensor/alarm setup for garages, but it seems like overkill to me.

  • dgaddis

    Good post madd. Each design has it’s own advantages and disadvantages, everyone just has to figure out which will work best for them.

    I like my hitch mounted rack. You do have to be careful of scraping it on the ground, some models have more clearance than others. I have a Raxter rack, and it’s only scraped once – and I drive a lowered car. But some other designs wouldn’t work well for me at all.

    Hitchmounted racks do leave your bikes vulnerable though, if someone rear ends you the bikes are toast.

    Roof racks will decrease your gas mileage even when the bikes aren’t mounted, they really mess up the flow of air over the top of the car, especially for cars not designed to have rails on the roof. Some folks have report around 15% decrease in MPG without bikes mounted. They can also cause a lot of wind noise (I’ve experienced this with a rental car myself, at highway speeds the entire roof vibrated and turned into a speaker…not cool). One other concern, if it’s a fork dropout mount, that can be problematic with all the various standards now. 9mm quick release, 15mm and 20mm thru-axles, and Cannondale Lefty’s.

    Roof racks scare me. I just know I’d drive it into my garage eventually. A buddy of mine did that with his $9,000 carbon bike….brick-1, carbon-0. I also worry about being super tired after a big ride and droping the bike down the side of my car.

  • maddslacker

    @dgaddis, Thanks! My wife and I both have digital average and instant fuel economy readings and with no bikes mounted, fuel economy is not affected enough to show up. Both measure to the tenths of a MPG.

    With bikes, however, there is a noticeable wind drag.

    Getting the bikes off the car is no biggie with mine because it’s so low. It’s a bit more challenging with her SUV.

    As for rear mounted, I know two people who have lost bikes to rear end collisions. Both got them replaced from the other driver’s insurance, but they were without their bikes while that played out. Really though, crap happens no matter how careful you are so I wouldn’t let that deter me from a hitch mounted setup if that was the best option for me.

  • jeepingeek

    I have my 29er mounted INSIDE of my Jeep Liberty. Safe from weather, safe from theft. rides upright only have to fold down the one seat. Im surprised the article didnt address this style of transport to be honest. ( similar to the roof mount clamps)

  • mtbgreg1

    Or just buy a few straps and strap them upright in the bed of a pickup like the moto riders do. Secure, safe from collisions, safe from wind drag and garages, and way cheaper than all of these options if you already own a truck

  • bstill30

    I used roof racks for several years and they worked fine for my trail bikes. For my heavier DH, not so much. Lifting a heavy bike on and off got old real fast, and using a Fork-Up 20mm adapter didn’t leave me feeling very confident that my bike was secure. Due to the small clamping area offered by the adapter, my DH bike would sway. Just my 2 cents worth on the subject.

  • element22

    I personally like the hitch…

    For one thing with today’s economy having bikes up top on the roof is a big drag and slows the vehicle down.

  • maddslacker

    @jeepingeek, I didn’t mention inside storage as that technically doesn’t require any equipment. My bike fits fine inside of my station wagon with one seat folded down, and when I worked at a job with a parking garage I had to do it that way.

    However…

    As it stands now I can put 4 bikes on the roof of my wife’s car, and seat 4 adults comfortably, and stow all of our gear. I can’t do any of that if a bike is inside the car. I also don’t like putting a dirty bike inside my car after the ride.

  • maddslacker

    @element22, my car is too low for a hitch mount, but the wife’s would work that way. When I eventually get a receiver installed, I will probably get that 1Up system. I saw one at the trailhead once and it is amazing!

  • captainmorgan

    When my buddies and I go on our week long trips out west, we usually end up loading the car up so much that the suspension bottoms out. I had a problem where 3 all-mountain bikes were too heavy for the hitch mount I had as well and had one of the pivot pins yielded a bit.

    After these trips I decided to get a trailer. Went to Harbor Freight and bought the small utility trailer with 12″ wheels http://www.harborfreight.com/1090-lb-capacity-40-1-2-half-inch-x-48-inch-mini-utility-trailer-with-12-inch-four-lug-wheels-and-tires-90153.html

    I mounted all my Yakima roof rack to it. I now have 1000lbs carrying capacity, low lift height, better gas mileage (no giant cargo box on top of the car), and the car can be used without all the gear inside or on top for running around town by easily detaching the trailer.

  • maddslacker

    @captainmorgan, wow, that trailer is a really good price. Will it fit 4 bikes?

  • goonie72

    @dgaddis, I’d have to second maddslackers roof rack comments. I too have not experienced any real noticeable gas mileage loss. My readout is digital and I’m consistantly right at 28.5 city driving with or without my bikes but the rack itself is pretty much always on the roof. But thats not to say if I totally removed my setup that it would not increase a descent amount. Although my subaru suggested mileage in the city is listed at 26 or 27 so I’m actually getting more than I expected so if I am losing anything I’m not missing it/ plus the car I traded in for the subaru was getting me 17 miles.. Thankfully, I don’t get much road noise on the highway either, but the car is not ultra quiet even without the bikes so perhaps I don’t notice if there is wind noise, plus I ride the interstate with my windows up and music up unless I’m talking to someone.

  • maddslacker

    @goonie72, that’s the thing, both of my cars were driven for some time (a year in my wife’s case) without racks and now with. Without bikes: zero difference, with bikes there is a difference but it’s not huge. With bikes I can still set the cruise and drive comfortably at 75(+5)MPH 😀 when I head out to Moab.

  • captainmorgan

    I got mine on sale, and then had one of their 20% coupons that they run almost all the time. I think it cost $150 by the time all the discounts were applied.

    I have cross bars setup on it so that I can mount the cargo box in the middle and two bikes on either side. The bikes are over the wheels but they are rock solid there. You can mount them directly to the trailer frame in a staggered pattern if you use something like this http://yakima.com/shop/bike/truck-bed/blockhead

    I need to lengthen the tongue a bit so that I can get my kayaks on there and to make it more maneuverable. It is very short and hard to back up.

  • nanook

    @captainmorgan I would love to see pics of your trailer set-up! I was just thinking about rigging something like you have described.

  • goonie72

    @maddslacker the simple fact that you can just “head out” to Moab makes me incredibly envious lol…

    But yeah I definitely see what you are saying.. See for me I had this Benz C350 sport that I’d throw my rack up on and it got 17-19 in the city before even putting bikes up lol so for me to now get an extra 10 miles or so I’m like a goonie with One-eyed Willies treasure. lol

  • captainmorgan

    I’ll get some pictures this weekend and maybe I can do a little writeup and cost breakdown.

  • oneeyeredeye

    I own a gmc canyon pickup so i went to lowes got a 2×6 cut it to the width of my bed. then went and bought 2 fork mounts and mounted them to the 2×6. then, are you ready for this?, i took 6 three inch deck screws and screwed them threw the board and right through the bed of my truck. 2 on each end and 2 in the center. everybody told me i was crazy and that within months my truck bed will rust and the board will come loose. well 5yrs. later same board same screws and it is just as screwed down as day one. you would have to use a prybar to get to move any at all. after the bikes are in the fork mounts you dont even have to strap or bungee anything the bikes ride just fine only in the mounts( even at 70mph on highway) the only thing i do is put thompson water seal on the board and it still looks brand new.

  • Bubblehead10MM

    I’ve gone around a couple ways with my truck, starting with attaching a spindle mount to the stack, and some channel steal to the brace then strapping the frame down and padding the rear tire with felt. that looked cleaver and worked well, but left the bike in the weather and vulnerable to damage and theft. finally went to stowing in my bunk rapped up in a tarp, with front with hanging in closet. I like this in spite of space used
    I did leave the front wheel sitting next to truck and run it over once, oops.

  • allroy71

    http://www.seasucker.com/content/mini-bomber
    http://www.seasucker.com/content/cable-anchor-trunk

    I usually put my bike in my hatchback VW. But when I use my wife’s car, I have used my Seasucker rack, which uses vacuum cups. Good alternative to a traditional roof rack. Take it off when not in use. Better for gas.
    Some disadvantages, the locking mechanisms aren’t that stellar, so keep your car near the restaurant. You need to keep your car clean to get the best suction!! Price is fairly comparable to getting a whole bike roof rack, but without the accessories.

  • minkeyman

    Another tip for truck guys. I have a toolbox in my truck and I simply bought some of the mounts that act as the front axle after you remove the front tire (can’t think of a name for them) and I have three of those bolted to my toolbox. It works great and is easy to do and very sturdy. I have even seen these mounts available for around $20 that have a hole made for a lock so the bike can’t be stolen. It’s a great way to go (and pretty cheap)! Or you can buy the same mounts and bolt them to a 2×4 and slide it in the slots in the bed of most trucks. Just some ideas!

  • stillfat

    Quick N Easy’s, two by fours and a couple of bike tights – best rack system available (though only fits old vehicles with rain gutters).

  • jreeves871

    @captainmorgan …you have another fan wanting to see pictures of this trailer…

  • Jared13

    Hey! I know that first bike and car! 😀

    We bought a Thule hitch rack in April, but returned it. My wife was afraid she wouldn’t be able to lift it up and slide it into the receiver if she and my daughter wanted to go somewhere and I wasn’t home to install it.

    We’ve been looking at roof racks, both new and on craigslist. There are quite a few deals to be had on barely used racks! Thanks for the tip, Madd.
    My only concern is getting the mounting hardware/kits. As you can see from the top pic, my car doesn’t have a roof rack.

    I have to admit, I was happy to not have a roof rack the day after that pic was taken. I broke my collar bone but was still able to get the bike on the trunk rack. Had it been on the roof, I’m not sure what I would have done.

    We know the roof rack will decrease our MPG when we’re carrying the bikes, but we didn’t even consider the noise factor. Time to do some more thinking…

  • mtbgreg1

    @Jared13, why not just leave the hitch rack in the hitch receiver at all times? If you’re riding enough, you should be using it on a regular basis 😀

  • captainmorgan

    Got her all dressed up 😉

    https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150828578641254.393145.519101253&type=1&l=d9849b6476

    You can see that the tongue is way to short and it makes maneuvering it a pain, so I have to run over to Speedy Metals and pick up a 14′ section of channel to replace it.

    Harbor Freight Mini Utility Trailer With 12″ Wheels
    40.5″x48″ steel diamond plate decking
    Yakima Control Towers
    Yakima Landing Pad 1
    Yakima 78″ Cross bars
    Yakima Viper fork mount tray (x2)
    Yakima HighRoller (x2)
    Thule 611 Boxter

    I also have Yakima Hullraisers for carrying the kayaks, but with the tongue being too short they interfere with things like, the car. minor difficulty.

    I’m also looking to build an enclosure then mount everything on top of that.

  • MrRodgers82

    Ill throw another mention in for the SeaSucker. Its a great rack. I use it for my 29er and my road bike with absolutely no problems. The reason I got it was that it can be used on basically any type of car. So, I mostly use it on my tiny sports car and girlfriend’s sedan, but I have also used it on pickups and SUVs. The other great thing is that you can travel with it. Its small enough to pack in a duffel and stick on the rental car when you get to your destination

    As Allroy said, the locking mechanism isn’t the best, but I tend to not let my bike or car too far out of my sight while traveling. And, it’s so easy to remove and install that you can easily take the bike and rack with you wherever you go.

  • bikerjames

    Ditto the roof mount disasters (I’m a 3 timer!) . I have a friend who was so bad he put his garage door opener in the back seat, got out opened the door, then jumped back in and proceeded to “shave” the top of the car off. After the first time for me (sunk the two mt bikes, rack into the roof of our Lexus, I fool proofed by putting a SuperBowl Miller LIght Blimp hanging in the garage space with Caution Bikes, didn’t work. Then finally a sign that flipped down and a box (like the chair) in the front of the garage. I got out, moved the box got back in and had this “sinking feeling” as I drove into the garage. I’m hopless (no drinking either). I used to have a Broncho and I could put the whole bike in the back or on the rack on the tire and just got spoiled (that’s the best system for me). Now I use a Hoda Civic and hope the car (worth less than the bikes) gives before the bikes!

  • richy1

    Saris do have some great trunk racks. The Saris Bones has top reviews.

    Roof racks have a few disadvantages and issues, the fuel efficiency penalty and the possibility of driving your bikes into the top of your garage door, plus it isn’t as easy to load and off-load bikes onto the roof of your car as it is onto the rear.

    For these reasons, a quality hitch bike rack like the Allen Premium comes up trumps for me. Easy loading to the back, very stable and secure, and keeps your bikes safely away from your vehicle.

  • proedgebiker

    lets not forget our SeaSucker Racks.. if you havent tried them, they are a must…

  • lazyjapanese

    After my husband and I were reminded that we are too stupid to own a roof rack (yes, he proceeded to park under the carport and I did not remind him about the bikes on top), we bought this rack by North Shore Racks. We have 4 bike one and it is great if you are just loading 2 bikes but to load all 4, it requires some time to make arrangements.

    http://www.northshoreracks.com/NSR%204-bike.htm

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