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Whether you like tearing up the asphalt on a sleek road bike, hitting the trails on a rugged MTB, or just leisurely taking in the sights, bike riding can be an extremely fun, rewarding and healthy hobby.
A great way to take your hobby to the next level is to get your car involved. While that may sound a little strange, cars and bikes can have a positive partnership than many people assume – we’re thinking more PB & J rather than Tom and Jerry. A car opens up the horizons for your bike-riding hobby, allowing you to ride in new, fun locations.
To do that you need a bike rack, and luckily there is a wide range on the market. This means no matter your vehicle size or bike type, there is a car bike rack out there for you.
In this guide, we take a look at some of the best bike racks for cars and highlight some of the features you should keep in mind when selecting your new bike carrier.
The Best Bike Racks For Cars
Allen Sports has been designing and making bike racks for over 50 years since Dick Allen founded the company in his garage. The first rack he designed was made of electrical conduit and old fire hose, but the company has since moved on to more modern materials.
This product is simply brimming with excellent design features, but the number-one most impressive element about it has to be the ease of use. It slots onto your trailer hitch (you need a 2-inch hitch, though that’s pretty standard), you stand the device upright and secure it with a simple but sturdy bolt. That’s about it, and you’re ready to go.
The carry arms are 22-inches long, making them suitable for even larger bike frames, and they fold out of the way when not in use. Allen Sports’ patented tie-down system is very easy to use, while anti-wobble ties are also incorporated to stop the bike from wobbling while you are driving.
Construction is a sturdy steel with a black powde-coat finish for a product with a long lifespan, and it even comes with a lifetime warranty. This is a very well-designed, very well-built bicycle rack from a company you can trust.
It must be noted as well that you are getting that top draw design and construction on a large model with space for 4 bikes and a decent price tag. That is simply phenomenal value.
No Wobble Hitch Installation
Very Easy Install
Solid & Secure
- BrandAllen Sports
- Weight22.8 lbs
Saris is one of the premium manufactures of bicycle racks for cars, and it’s no surprise that it has found its way onto our list. It is renowned for cutting-edge design when it comes to racks, and this trunk-mounted model lives up to the brand’s pedigree.
Easy to install, adjust and load, this bike rack is designed with ease of use as one of its most important features. A largely plastic construction keeps weight low (it weighs barely 10 pounds total), while a clever injection molded construction keeps the rack rigid and strong – much stronger than you would expect from a plastic rack.
It’s a pretty good value given the high-quality materials and design – though you will be able to find cheaper rear-mounted racks elsewhere if your budget is very tight. Also, don’t forget that this model only has the space to load up two bikes, and there are options out there with a little more space if you need it.
That being said, this is still a very well-designed rack from one of the best manufacturers on the market.
Injection Molded Construction for High Strength
Made of 100% Recycled Material
Easy to Install & Adjust
- Weight10.2 lbs
Another brand with an outstanding pedigree, a Thule Bike Rack has long been recognized as a solid investment by cycling enthusiasts. Notice the use of the word “investment” – we didn’t use it by accident.
The product carries an eye-watering price tag. That easily makes it the most expensive car bike rack on the list.
For that money you get an insanely well-designed bike. It boasts very easy, tool-free attachment to a 1.25 or 2-inch tow hitch. Once it is attached, a very clever hinged joint either leans outward to allow trunk access even when loaded with bikes or allows the whole rack to fold up and out of the way when empty.
Trunk-mounted styles like this one are usually easier to load than roof rack versions; however, this model takes that ease to a whole new level. Bikes simply slot on about a foot off the ground with a set of well-designed ratchet arms locking them easily into place. It even boasts an integrated cable lock to lock the bikes to the rack for added security.
In summary then, yes this not a cheap option. It is, in fact, the absolute opposite. But a Thule bike carrier remains a solid, long-term investment that is well designed, well constructed and simply packed full of extremely useful features.
Tool Free Attachment
Rack Tilts for Easy Trunk Access
Easy to Load
Folds up When Not in Use
Built-in Security Lock
- Weight63.6 lbs
If you like the look of the Thule Bike Carrier but winced at the price tag, then this bike rack from Swagman could be worth a look. It is essentially a far, far simpler version with a far, far lower price tag.
On the one hand, this model is missing a lot of the high-end features that you will find on other models. There is no hinge to allow for trunk access; it does not fold up on itself for ease of storage. A locking cable is available to securely lock down your bikes, but it is sold separately.
On the other hand, it is very easy to use with a pair of ratchet arms that securely lock the bike during transit and are very simple to use – they also have a pretty wide loading range and can accommodate up to 59cm frames. They also have a good load capacity of up to 35 pounds per bike, which should be more than ample for the vast majority of bike types.
All in all, then, this is a pretty simple model that lacks a lot of the bells and whistles of more premium models. It is, however, also lacking a premium price tag, and for a very reasonable price, you are getting a pretty decent bike carrier here.
Very Simple To Use
Universal Hitch Mount (1-1/4 and 2 Inch)
Easily Adjustable Ratchet Arms
2 Bike Capacity, 35 Pounds Max per Bike
- BrandSwagman Bicycle Carrier
- Weight29.3 lbs
Another hitch-mounted style of a car-bike rack, this model is slightly different from the previous models we listed. Instead of being a base-mounted (i.e. via the bike wheels) carrying rack, this model has an extended arm to which the bike tubes are attached.
It does share some characteristics with the two previous models, primarily the ease of installing the rack onto your vehicle. This is achieved with a very simple SpeedKnob style of attaching point that easily inserts into either a 1-1/4 or 2-inch hitch.
You can also get a lot more carrying capacity with this bike carrier with different models available to carry 2, 4 or even 5 bikes, making it very useful for family bike trips.
In use, bikes are easy to load and are secured in place with easy to use but secure zip strips. We also have built-in anti-sway cradles to stop the bikes from knocking into each other as you drive.
The price point (depending on the model carrying capacity) is toward the pricier end of the market, but it still a lot less than some other models.
Tool-Free, Easy Installation
Rack Tilts for Trunk Access
Bikes Secured with ZipStrips
- Weight45.9 lbs
Our second product from Allen Sports to make the list, this is a remarkably flexible design. While the last few models we’ve looked at on the list are built for attachment to hitch bars, this model is designed for attaching to vehicles without a hitch.
On top of that, it is a very clever design that makes it suitable for a wide range of vehicles, including everything from sedans and hatchbacks up to minivans. This is even a great bike rack for SUVs.
Mounting is safe and secure with a well laid out and simple to use systems of straps, and at each point where the rack rests upon the car body, you will find patches of durable padding to protect the vehicle paintwork.
Your bike is loaded into the individual tie-down points that lock down onto the top tube to hold bikes securely in place during transport. It’s also worth noting there is a range of sizes available, with racks suitable for 2, 3 or 4 bikes.
This is a very well designed rack from a highly reputable company that really cares about its products and have produced a great product for a really low price.
Suitable for Sedans, Hatchbacks, Minivans and SUV’s
Padded Lower Frame to Keep Bikes Away from Vehicle Body
Delivered Fully Assembled
Easy to Install
- BrandAllen Sports
- Weight8.9 lbs
Here’s another Thule bike rack and another high-quality product from the well-respected manufacturer. This model is a little different from the previous Thule model we looked at in that it is of the type that the bike is connected via the top bar rather than the wheels.
That makes it a little less complicated in its design than we saw on the other model, so the price for this Thule bike carrier is quite a bit lower. That lower price does result in a bit of a trade-off as far as included features.
The main thing we’re missing is that hinged joint that allows the rack to be moved forward out of the way of the trunk. It also can’t be folded out of the way, making trunk access a little harder with this model even when empty.
On the other hand, you get potentially a lot more capacity with racks available to take 2, 4 or even 5 bikes. The bikes are secured in Hold Fast Cradles that hold the bikes securely during transit. It also includes the locking cables to lock your bikes and protect them from thieves during transit.
This is a more basic model from Thule, however, it still has all the excellent build quality and a number of the features that are found on the high-end, more expensive model.
Fits Most Hitch Receivers
2 Bike Capacity
Excellent Ground Clearance
Integrated Heavy Duty Locking Cable
- Weight42 lbs
On the one hand, this is something of a basic model, and it certainly does not come with the name brand recognition of some of the other manufacturers on our list like Thule or Yakima.
On the other hand, that does mean that the price tag on this model is quite a bit lower than you would see on the big boys’ products. Plus, just because the price is lower doesn’t mean you’re missing a whole lot of features.
We have some very secure, well-designed attaching points on this rack. In addition, it attaches with a nice and simple hitch adaptor that works with most 1.25 and 2-inch hitch receivers.
The carrying capacity of up to 4 bikes is very generous and, most impressive, it includes a hinge joint (like the Thule Bike Rake) that allows it to tilt forward for easy access to the trunk.
It lacks a few of the bells and whistles found on truly premium products, but for the price, this is a very solid bike rack. Oh, all of that and it even comes with a free bike lock! Not too shabby, huh?
Tilt Down Feature
Fits Most Hitch Receivers
Soft Lining on Cradle & Arms
Free Bike Lock!
- BrandTyger Auto
- Weight28.2 lbs
This is our penultimate product and the second entry from Yakima – and we’ve waited until near the end of the list to see something a little different. What we have is an upright style of bike rack, i.e. one that is mounted to the roof of the vehicle via the roof rack.
There are advantages and disadvantages to this type of rack (which we will talk about a little more in our buying guide below), but basically one of the bigger advantages to be found in these types of the rack is the ease of use.
The bike is secured at the front via a wheel hoop and a simple strapping device for the rear. This provides both a secure hold as well as a very easy loading method – you can have the bike locked in and ready to go in just a couple of minutes.
The design is nice and sleek and, unlike some upright holders, will do it’s best to minimize drag and protect your fuel economy.
It is cheaper than the other Yakima model we looked at (though not by much), and it does only hold one bike. But if you are looking for a premium, upright style bike rack this could be the one for you.
Upright Style Bike Carrier
Requires a Roof Rack
Very Simple to Use
Capacity for One Bike Only
- Weight24.3 lbs
What we have here from Allen Sports is a very useful little device. It is a simple but ingenious product that hooks onto the bike frame and essentially creates a top bar. This can be very helpful as it opens up your bike to be carried on the full-range of bike racks currently available on the market.
You may not need this device, in which case skip it for another item. If you do, however, it is a very well-designed little tool that is incredibly useful and has a very low price. It’s ideal for a bike that doesn’t have a conventional top tube, such as female-specific frames or BMX-style bikes.
Creates a Top Tube
Secure, Internal Spring Mounted Lock
A hook is Plastic Coated to Protect Bike PaintworkAllen Sports
- BrandAllen Sports
- Weight2.3 lbs
Best Car Bike Racks Buying Guide & FAQ
In our buying guide, we’ll go through some of the features to look out for when selecting your model of the bike rack. As you will have seen, there is quite a bit of variety in the styles of the rack on the market today – hitch mounted, strap mounted and upright style designs have all found a place on our list.
We’ll take a look at the pros and cons of each design and help you to decide which is best for your needs.
Related Post: Best Indoor Bike Racks
Key Features to Consider When Buying Bike Racks for Cars
Generally speaking, you are going to see an increase in costs with the more features that you want on your rack. Here are some of the key features to keep an eye out for, you’ll find that some will be available on most models, whilst the Thule, as the truly premium item, comes closest to packing them all into one feature heavy bike rack – albeit with that premium price tag we mentioned!
- Locking Cables – These are essentially built-in security devices that wrap a sturdy chain around your bike and lock it into place. This has the obvious advantage of protecting your bike from any opportunistic thieves who could look to steal it straight off the rack. Bear in mind that typically you’re only going to see this feature included as standard on the more premium models. Some of the products we looked at above did have a locking cable as an option to buy separately, so check if the rack comes pre-equipped if you want a cable.
- Strong Securing Points – The bike has to be attached to the rack somehow, and this can be one of the most important parts of the design. The securing points have to combine the strength to hold your bike whilst also being gentle enough to not damage the frame, wheels or paintwork. Don’t underestimate the holding power required either. As your vehicle barrels down the freeway, there can be quite a bit of wind buffeting the bike. It needs to be held securely so you don’t glance into the mirror to see your beloved two-wheel steed flying off the back of the car!
- Padded Securing Points – If you are choosing a rack that holds the bike via the top tube, you should then also keep an eye out for padding on the securing points. This can really help to protect your paintwork when you are locking the bike into place.
- Anti-Sway Cages – There are a few different ways that racks can be designed to minimize sway, but an anti-sway cage is the most widely used. In particular, you’ll find these on rack designs that hold the top tube, but rear mounted designs that lock the wheels can also benefit from built-in anti-sway tech. In essence, it’s just going to help to keep the bike stable in the rack as you drive. This has the dual benefit of not allowing the bikes to affect vehicle handling (especially at highway speeds) and also stops the bikes knocking into each other.
- Car Attachment Points – Just as the rack must have a method of attaching to your bike, it has to attach to the car. How it does this will depend on the style of rack that has been used (more on that in a moment). Generally speaking though, you want all the points the rack touches your car to be ideally padded, or at the very least tipped or coated in plastic. This is going to protect your car paintwork from damage.
Why you Need a Bike Rack for Your Car
You’ll only need a bike rack if you already think you need one. No, you haven’t just opened a fortune cookie, what we mean is that only you will truly know if you need a bike rack or not – and if you’ve opened up this article to look for one, then you probably need one.
A bike rack is going to open up the world to your biking hobby. Instead of being restricted to your local area, you can now head off for a two-wheeled adventure anywhere you can drive to – i.e. anywhere in the country!
If the thought of bringing your bike or bikes somewhere further away appeals to you, buy a bike rack. If you would like to bring your two-wheeled stead on the next family camping trip or if you are thinking of getting into bike racing then buy a rack.
You will know better than anyone if you can really benefit from picking up one of these extremely useful vehicle additions.
Types of Car Bike Racks
Nothing can ever be simple, can it? All you want to do is carry your bike on your car, and now there are all these features and styles to pick through.
Thankfully, the three main styles of bike carrier out there are all quite different, so there are pretty wide pros and cons between each style – that should at least make it easier to select the right style of carrier for you.
- Hitch Mounted – These types of the rack are connected up to the receiver hitch at the back of the vehicle. They tend to be very strong and stable, and often pack in more features than you may find on the other styles. The main benefit of these types is that they are lower and easier to load then the roof-mounted versions. They also largely keep the bike out of the vehicle airflow, helping minimize the impact on your fuel consumption. The negative is they can affect your rearview when driving, they can make trunk access difficult or even impossible and you must remember you have the rack mounted when you are reversing!
- Strap Mounted – Designed primarily for vehicles without a hitch receiver. The plus points for this type is that they are typically easier to mount than the other styles, making them perfect for occasional use as you can get them on and off quickly. They are also typically cheaper than the other styles of the rack. On the negative side, as they lack a truly solid attaching point they are not as secure, and you must ensure that you attach them properly before loading up the bikes.
- Upright – As the name suggests, this type of rack will hold the bike upright. This is a very safe and secure method of transporting a bike. On the downside, a roof rack itself can have a negative impact on fuel performance though you can offset that a lot by selecting the best roof rack. It can also be harder to load these types of racks, especially with taller cars or heavier bikes. Speaking of taller cars by the way, if you do have an SUV or Minivan, just bare in mind the extra height you now have when driving!
Best Car Bike Racks FAQ:
Q: Will I have to drill holes in my car?
A: No. None of the models we have listed require any drilling – they attach via straps, to the roof rack or directly onto the hitch receiver – so leave the kit in the tool chest for this job.
Q: My vehicle doesn’t have rain gutters, can I still put a roof rack on it?
A: You can indeed! Check out our guide to the best roof racks on the market today for a number of products that can be attached to vehicles that lack gutters.
Q: What if I change vehicles?
A: Well, it’s the same as any other accessory really. If you’re moving vehicles, look for ones with the same attaching points – so if you buy a hitch mounted rack today, when you are buying your next car just look for one with a hitch receiver to carry on using it.
Q: Can I put a hitch on my car while using a bike rack?
A: No, the racks that are mounted to the hitch essentially plug into it, blocking it from being used by any other application.
Q: Can I get replacement parts for my rack?
A: Most will come with at least a limited warranty that should cover parts, at least for a short period. After that, you may need to contact the company, but a well-regarded manufacturer like Thule, Yakima or Allen Sports will usually be helpful.
Q: Can I go through a car wash with my rack on the car?
A: It’s not recommended that you do, as parts of the car wash can snag on the rack causing damage to the bike carrier, to your car, to the car wash machine itself or even to all three.
Our Top Pick
There really are some excellent products on this list, all well designed and manufactured by some of the leading companies in this field. That’s made selecting a top pick particularly hard, but we think we’ve got it right by going for the Allen Sports Deluxe Hitch Mounted Bike Rack.
For us, this product just hits the sweet spot between performance and value. Yes, there are models on here that pack more features and yes there are other models with a lower price tag.
But in the end, it is the Allen Sport Rack that manages to straddle the line successfully, by supplying such a well designed, carefully built product that will do everything you need it to but without breaking the bank.