Best Bike Racks for Cars: ERIK’S Car Bike Rack Guide

A man wearing a blue cycling jersey and a helmet unloads four bikes from a hitch rack.

Ready to take your bike on an adventure but don’t know how to safely bring it along with you? Sounds like you need a car rack! With summer upon us, now is the perfect time to find a new rack for your vehicle and bring your beloved bike(s) to your next vacation destination.

In this ultimate car bike rack guide, we go through all the important considerations to choose the perfect carrier for you, including car compatibility, bike compatibility, ease of use, security, and budget. We even have a new series of videos to show you how it’s done, with links included below!

Considerations When Choosing a Bike Rack 

There are so many different kinds of bike racks for various vehicles out there, it can be daunting to figure out which specific one you need. Here are five important considerations to keep in mind.

Car Compatibility

There are four different basic kinds of mounts, along with an additional option for pickup trucks. Hitch racks are a sturdy and reliable option for any vehicle that has a hitch receiver. If you want to go this route, make sure to measure your hitch’s inner diameter to determine its size. (Even if you don’t have a hitch receiver, one can be added to many vehicles—check with an auto repair shop to see if this is an option.)

Roof racks are a secure option for vehicles that already have roof rails installed (and/or don’t have a hitch receiver). Be sure to look at the shape and size of your car’s roof rails and check compatibility with your dream rack before bringing it home.

If your vehicle doesn’t have a hitch receiver or roof rails, then a trunk rack might be the way to go. Certain trunk shapes, spoilers, or accessories can interfere with trunk rack systems, so check with the rack manufacturer or your local ERIK’S bike shop to be sure this solution works for you.

Spare-tire racks are compatible with the relatively small number of SUVs and off-road vehicles that have an exterior spare tire mounted on the rear. Finally, if you have a pickup truck, tailgate pads are a simple way to carry your bikes. Find out more about each of these mounting options below.

Bike Compatibility 

Generally, there’s a little overlap between car racks that can work for different kinds of bikes. For example, most kinds of hitch or roof racks could work for many different road bikes or mountain bikes. For electric bikes, though, you’ll need a hitch rack that’s able to accommodate higher weight capacities, and certain kinds of racks (like trunk or spare-tire racks) work best with recreational bikes and commuter bikes, respectively.

Aside from the type of bike you have, there are other considerations to remember. Carbon-frame bikes can be damaged when racks are clamped directly onto them, so they’ll need racks that attach to the bike’s wheels or axles. Bikes with fenders, meanwhile, will have to be attached by frame contact, since the fenders may impede some racks’ connection mechanisms.

See below for more info on which rack to choose depending on your type(s) of bikes.

Two people wearing cycling apparel unload mountain bikes from a hitch mount on the back of an RV.

Ease of Installation and Use

Some kinds of racks (like trunk racks and spare-tire racks) require very little hardware or know-how to install; others (like hitch and roof racks) will need some tools and a slightly higher learning curve. If your main priority is installing your rack quickly and getting on the road as soon as possible, that may impact the kinds of racks you’re looking for.

Security Features

Security for your car’s bike rack doesn’t only refer to your bicycle being as secure as possible—through a variety of different mounting and locking mechanisms, such as straps and shepherd’s hooks—but also locking your bike(s) to your rack so you can leave it unattended and not have to worry about theft. A variety of different security features are discussed below.

Budget

Do you want to come out the pocket for a top-of-the-line rack with all the bells and whistles, or opt for an affordable option that gets the job done? There’s no right answer—it all depends on the qualities you’re looking for in a bike rack, the mounting options on your vehicle, the number of bikes you have, and so on. Luckily, ERIK’S stocks a wide variety of bike racks to fit your budget, no matter how high or low it is! 

Bike Racks for Different Bike Types

Our new series of car bike rack videos features four episodes focusing on different kinds of bikes: electric bicycles, mountain bikes, road bikes, and recreational or family bikes. As the videos illustrate, the ways these different types of bikes impact the kind of rack you need are small but significant.

An electric bike sits on a hitch rack attached to a vehicle.

Bike Racks for E-Bikes

The first thing to keep in mind when buying a car rack for your electric bicycle is that e-bikes are heavy, typically weighing between 40 and 100 pounds. It’s important to know exactly how much your e-bike weighs, so refer to the manufacturer’s specs for that amount. Due in part to those weight considerations, all the suggested racks below are hitch racks.

Thule EasyFold XT

The Thule EasyFold XT2 model accommodates two bikes and has become a favorite among cyclists for the following reasons:

  • As the name suggests, it’s easy to fold! This makes it great for transporting and storage when the rack is off the vehicle, collapsing down to about the size of an average piece of luggage.
  • It has accessibility features like a ramp hidden on the rack that can be pulled out to aid in rolling the e-bike (or other kind of bike) onto the carrier.
  • Securing bikes onto the rack and fixing the rack to the hitch are easier than ever before with AcuTight torque limiters and foolproof locking mechanisms.

The Thule EastFold XT2 has a capacity of 65 lbs. per bike (130 lbs. total) and can even accommodate fat tires with the use of wheel straps (sold separately). It’s durable, light, and easy to use!

Thule Epos

This newer model from Thule accommodates two or three bikes and boasts many of the same features as the EasyFold—namely, the ability to fold up for storage and transportation and the ratcheting wheel straps.

The difference comes in the way the arms attach to the frame. The Thule Epos uses a strap that wraps fully around the frame (either the downtube or top tube) and arms that slide and rotate 360 degrees, giving you basically infinite mounting options.

Like the EasyFiold, the Epos rack tilts forward to allow access to your trunk and has numerous locks built in to make sure your bikes are safe and secure. 

Hollywood Sport Rider

What sets the Hollywood Sport Rider apart is its increased weight limit—80 lbs. per bike! That along with the fact that the Sport Rider comes with wheel straps long enough for fat tires makes this ideal for fat-tire e-bikes.

Hollywood’s “no-wobble” attachment system tightens the rack securely for optimal safety, along with a locking hitch-pin and additional cable lock so you can breathe easy when you’re away from your vehicle.

One downside is that this rack is only compatible with 2-inch hitches and cannot accommodate a hitch adapter, so make sure the hitch size on your vehicle is compatible. Another thing to note: if your e-bike has a step-through frame, you’ll need to use a top tube adapter to make this rack work.

Saris Door County

The final car rack we recommend for e-bikes is the Saris Door County, which makes lifting your electric bike onto the rack an absolute breeze. It has a built-in lift system that connects to your vehicle’s seven-pin connection (located near the hitch receiver). Because the rack receives electrical power from this connection, it also offers brake lights and turn signals—a nice feature. 

Otherwise, the Saris Door County includes many of the same capabilities included on the racks above: locking mechanisms to make sure bikes are securely attached to the rack and the rack is securely attached to your hitch; a tilting feature to allow access to your trunk; and foldable wheel trays to aid in storage and transportation. Note, however, that this rack is also compatible only with 2-inch hitches.

Watch “Best Car Racks for Electric Bikes: ERIK’S Car Rack Guide.”

Two mountain bikes are secured to a hitch rack affixed to the back of a pickup truck.

Bike Racks for Mountain Bikes 

When transporting your mountain bike(s), confidence is key. Having a solid platform and secure locking mechanisms are what you’re looking for. It’s all about making sure your bike makes it safely to the next trailhead so you can continue chasing the adventure!   

None of the racks below clamp directly onto the frame of the bicycle, making them great options for virtually all bikes, whether they’re made of aluminum, carbon, titanium, or steel. Carbon frames are very strong but are not designed to be clamped on—it can be easy to overtighten and crack the carbon. Thankfully, all the racks below utilize a shepherd’s hook for the front wheel and wheel straps to create three points of contact for effortless security.

Thule T2 Pro XTR

This latest version of one of Thule’s premiere racks boasts an array of attractive features:

  • Robust frame and first-rate ergonomics, including an upgraded shepherd’s hook, wheel straps, and wheel holder
  • Ultra-secure locking mechanisms and wheels for easy transportation
  • Ability to hold up to four bikes (with add-on kit sold separately)

With multiple secure contact points and maybe the best mechanism for attaching the rack to your vehicle’s hitch, the Thule T2 Pro XTR offers an ideal blend of security and ease of use. It even has the capacity to hold 5-inch tires, making it an ideal option for fat-tire e-bikes.

Thule T2 Pro X

If you want most of the features of the T2 Pro XTR at a more affordable cost, the Pro X might be your best bet. Like the Pro XTR, it can hold up to 50 lbs. per bike and uses the same platform and mechanism to secure the rack to the hitch of the vehicle. The main difference is slightly less refined ergonomics, but the overall concept is the same. The Pro X can only hold up to 3-inch tires (though fat tire wheel holders can be bought separately), and it doesn’t provide the super-secure lock cores of the Pro XTR. But for a solid mountain-bike rack at an excellent price, it’s hard to beat the Thule T2 Pro X!

Kuat Piston Pro X

This is a one-of-a-kind mix of form, function, and bomb-proof materials: made of 99% metal and stainless-steel hardware, the Kuat Piston Pro X can withstand even the toughest elements. Here are some of its gnarliest features:

  • Extensive lock setup to make sure your bike is secure on even the roughest terrain
  • OneTap system that makes it fun and easy to load your bikes (up to 67 lbs. per bike)
  • FastFit wheel chock system able to accommodate up to 29” wheels
  • PedalPivot system to tilt the rack forward to provide access to the trunk or fold it up against the vehicle when not in use

Last but not least, the cradle arms don’t touch the frame at all, so this is an ideal rack for carbon-frame mountain bikes. Not to mention it looks fantastic with its no-fade powder coating and dash of gold color. All in all, the Kuat Piston Pro X is a one-and-done superstar. 

Kuat NV 2.0

Style, security, and ease are the key words here, with a shepherd’s hook design similar to the T2 series from Thule. The rack mounts to the hitch of the vehicle without tools, allowing you to spend less time digging around in the glovebox.

One feature that sets the Kuat NV 2.0 apart is the Trail Doc built-in repair stand. When the rack is folded up against the vehicle, you can pull out this arm, which is basically a mobile repair stand for any last-minute adjustments you may need before hitting the trails.

Watch “Best Car Racks for Mountain Bikes: ERIK’S Car Rack Guide.”

A woman rides her bike past a parked car with a road bike affixed to a trunk rack.

Bike Racks for Road Bikes

Even though road bikes are a little lighter than most other types, you still want to make sure you have a safe, secure, easy-to-use option for transporting them.

Some racks are flexible enough to work for both mountain and road bikes, so there are a few models listed above that are also perfect for carrying your road bikes—namely, the Thule T2 Pro X and Pro XTR, along with the Kuat NV 2.0. These three hitch racks are all ideal for carbon-frame drop-bar road bikes. But there’s another option for road bikes that we haven’t talked about yet…

Thule Apex XT 5

The Thule Apex XT 5 is different from the others we just mentioned in that it’s a hanging or mast style of bike rack. It still mounts to the hitch but doesn’t have a platform base like the others.  

Again, this rack is not compatible with carbon-frame bikes, but it’s perfect for aluminum bikes—especially if your whole family wants to bring their bicycle along for the ride, since the Thule Apex XT 5 can accommodate five bikes. 

The mechanism for attaching the bikes with ladder straps is easy to learn, and the lower strap attaches to the seat tube to minimize sway on the road. Finally, there’s a wedging mechanism that tightens into the hitch as you turn the knob—one of the best and most intuitive systems on the market.

Simple, sturdy, and straightforward, the Thule Apex XT 5 is an excellent, budget-friendly option—as long as you’re not carrying carbon-frame bikes.

Watch “Best Car Racks for Road Bikes: ERIK’S Car Rack Guide.”

Bike Racks for Recreational Bikes

Finally, here are some great options if you’re looking to transport an aluminum- or steel-frame, non-electric bike. These racks feature larger bike capacities than the platform-style racks above; they’re all about bringing the family and friends along for any type of excursion. 

The Thule Apex XT and Thule T2 Pro XTR mentioned above are popular options for recreational and family bikes, but there’s an offshoot of those racks that we should mention. 

Thule Apex Swing

The Thule Apex Swing has most of the features present on the Thule Apex XT 5, but as the name suggests it adds a swinging function in which the rack swings out of the way entirely, giving you full access to the rear of the vehicle no matter what kind of door, trunk, or tailgate you may have. This rack is ideal for anyone looking to tailgate or set up a mini kitchen/camp at the trailhead, park, or campground—as long as you don’t exceed the weight limit of 37.5 lbs. per bike.

Saris Bones 3

This one is a bit different from the rest in that it hooks onto the trunk of the vehicle instead of the hitch. This makes it one of the better options for coupes, sedans, and some small SUVs.

The Saris Bones 3 rack has six straps that attach around the trunk: two on top, two on the sides, and two on the bottom. This rack experiences a lot of leverage, so double- or triple-checking the straps to make sure they’re cranked nice and tight is a good idea.

The Saris Bones is a cost-effective, hitch-free solution that works for most styles of sedans and coupes, but take note: it doesn’t feature any mechanisms for locking your bike(s) to the rack, so make sure you don’t leave it unattended.

Now that we’ve checked out the features you’re looking for depending on the type of bike you have, let’s explore the different kinds of hitch options and how they might affect your choice of car rack.

Watch “Best Car Racks for Recreational Bikes: ERIK’S Car Rack Guide.”

Types of Car Rack Mounts

There are four main types of car rack mounts: roof, hitch, trunk, and spare tire. Most of the racks we mentioned above are hitch racks, which offer a wide range of weight capacities and carrying options. But it’s important to know what other kinds of mounts are out there, especially since they might not all be present on your car, truck, or SUV. 

A related option is tailgate pads for pickup trucks, which we’ll also cover briefly below.

A man wheels a bike onto a platform hitch rack.

Hitch-Mounted Bike Racks 

Most of the racks listed in the first part of this article are hitch racks, which attach to your vehicle at the hitch receiver. For most purposes, this is the most secure and adaptable kind of rack, and it’s the ideal option for hatchbacks. They come in two main styles: mast and tray. The mast-style rack, like the trunk rack, holds the bike by the top tube or top bar of the frame.

The other type of hitch rack is the tray or platform rack. This rack has two trays that the wheels of a bike rest in, and there are straps to secure the wheels to the rack. There is also an arm that clamps down on the frame or wheel of the bike to help hold the bike in place.

Pros

  • Simple installation
  • Easy to load and access bikes
  • Good for frequent use

Cons

  • Generally more expensive
  • Some models interfere with access to the trunk or hitch area
  • Bikes may sway while driving

Best for…

  • E-bikes
  • Fat bikes
A man lifts a bike onto a trunk rack on top of his car.

Roof-Mounted Bike Racks

Roof racks mount to crossbars on the roof of your vehicle. This kind of mount usually gives you the most carrying capacity regarding weight and the ability to carry other gear. The racks can be either permanent or removable. They’re very secure when properly loaded, and they don’t limit access to your trunk.

There are a few things to consider if you’re looking at roof racks. First, consider whether you can lift your bike onto the roof of your vehicle (which might be difficult with heavier e-bikes). Second, items mounted to the roof of your car will create more drag and impact your gas mileage. Lastly, bikes on roof racks tend to get more grime and bug splatter on them.

Pros

  • Most versatile
  • More secure and stable
  • Open access to car doors, rear hatch, or trunk

Cons

  • Lifting and reaching required
  • Noticeable wind resistance and noise
  • May not fit in low-clearance spaces

Best for…

  • Mountain bikes
  • Road bikes
A woman secures her mountain bike into a trunk rack attached to an SUV.

Trunk-Mounted Bike Racks

Trunk racks attach with straps to the trunk of your car. They’re an excellent option for many reasons. Trunk racks fit most vehicles, they don’t require a hitch or roof rails, and they are lower to the ground than roof racks, making them easier to load. Also, they’re usually less expensive than hitch or roof racks.

On the other hand, trunk racks can make access to your trunk difficult or impossible while the rack is attached. If you’re carrying a bike with a step-through style frame, then you may need to purchase a top tube adapter for the bike to hang from. Lastly, trunk racks typically can’t hold more than two or three bikes.

Pros

  • Less expensive
  • Easily portable
  • Easy to load and access bikes
  • Can be used on multiple vehicles
  • Good for occasional use

Cons

  • Interferes with access to trunk
  • Bikes may sway and bump each other

Best for…

A woman holding a camera stands on a rocky ledge overlooking a Jeep with a bike attached to a spare tire rack.

Spare Tire–Mounted Bike Racks

Similar to a trunk mount, this quick and easy kind of rack is a great choice for any SUV or off-road vehicle with a spare tire mounted on the rear. Generally, spare-tire racks rest on the tire or screw in securely to the tire mount. Although fewer vehicles these days have a spare tire mounted in the rear, if yours does then you’re in luck, as this can be a lightweight and affordable option.

Pros

  • Easy to load and access bikes
  • Provide clear access to trunk/rear door

Cons

  • Dependent on tire size
  • Can usually only carry two bikes
  • Bikes may sway or bump each other

Best for…

Tailgate Pads

If you have a pickup truck, tailgate pads offer an easy solution for transporting your bike(s). While not technically a rack, tailgate pads secure directly to the tailgate, providing a padded barrier between bikes and your truck to protect both from scratches, and they feature straps that secure multiple bikes in place as they rest in the truck bed.

Pros

  • Easy and affordable
  • Can transport up to six bikes
  • Bikes are stable and secure if loaded correctly

Cons

  • Potential damage to the downtube
  • Potential abrasion to bike frame and components
  • No great security options to prevent theft

Best for…

Two people enjoy beverages as their mountain bikes are secured into a hitch rack next to them.

Tips for Proper Installation and Usage

The most obvious tip is the most important: refer to the manufacturer’s instructions. There are simply too many variations between different brands and kinds of racks to present a checklist that applies to all the different kinds of bike carriers out there.

That said, here are a few pointers to make sure your bike rack stays secure and effective for as long as possible:

  • Make sure to position the bike correctly and securely—most racks have finely tuned locking mechanisms to make sure they’re snug in the carrier.
  • Spin the bicycle pedal to avoid scraping the car paint. Try spinning the pedal of the first bicycle (if you’re transporting more than one) so it rests safely against the license plate.
  • If you have multiple bikes, you may want to secure padding in between them; it’s possible they’ll sway or jostle slightly while you’re driving.
  • Make sure the wheels aren’t close to the car’s exhaust pipe; this could melt the rubber or plastic and ruin the tires or accessories.
  • Check your vehicle’s manual before installing a roof rack system to ensure you don’t exceed max capacity. The same goes for the towing capacity of your vehicle if you select a hitch mount.
  • Avoid taking your rack through the car wash. Brush off loose dirt and grime and hand-wash with an environmentally friendly soap.
  • If you don’t need your bike rack during the winter or summer, remove and store them throughout the season. 

Conclusion

Hopefully you feel more prepared to find the perfect car rack for your needs! To recap:

  • Check out our recommended racks for each kind of bike and watch our how-to videos for selecting the right rack for e-bikes, mountain bikes, road bikes, and recreational bikes.
  • See what kinds of mounts are compatible with your car, pickup, or SUV, and check with the manufacturer or an ERIK’S bike shop to make sure the rack you’re buying works with your particular make and model.
  • Determine what kind(s) of bike(s) you’ll be transporting on your car rack most often. Features like weight, size, and frame material will affect what kind of rack you need.
  • Review the pros, cons, and recommended types of bikes for each of the different styles of racks listed above.
  • Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure you’re installing and maintaining your car rack correctly.

Explore all the different options out there, and have fun on the journey! There are so many high-quality bike racks out there that can fit any kind of budget and get you started on your next adventure.

If you follow these steps, you’ll be on the road—and then the trail—enjoying the summer breeze before you know it. Ready to purchase your brand-new car rack, or still have questions? Contact us using the methods below or stop into an ERIK’S shop!

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