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The Best Bike Racks for Your Car

The right rack carries your gear safely, freeing up space in the car for people. Or snacks.

You could MacGyver yourself a DIY bike rack of sorts, by attaching two-wheelers to the roof of your car using wafting twine. This is not a smart idea. Why, you ask? Because no amount of knot-tying pyrotechnics will best the laws of aerodynamics. A bike rack can haul your gear securely, so you can focus more on driving and less on worrying if your kid’s Schwinn fell off somewhere a few exits back. The best bike racks for your car should fit properly, let you securely transport the bikes from point A to point B, and do so without setting you back a mortgage payment.

Shopping for a bike rack can be confusing and intimidating. When it comes to strapping a bike to a rack, that system attaches to your car in one of three ways: It can be bolted onto the roof, strapped to the trunk, or slipped into a hitch.

Picking the right one depends on your budget, the make and model of your car, how many bikes you’re bringing, and what kinds of bikes they are. You can spend less than $100 or eight times as much on a rack. While hitch and trunk racks fit a wide range of vehicles, roof-mounted versions tend to be more specific to a car or truck’s make and model, so you’ll need to know both. Not all rack styles carry the same number of bikes, and if you have a non-standard bike frame—like a child’s, fat tire, or e-bikes—those might require the use of an adaptor to fit well.

Here’s what you need to know about each type of bike rack.

Trunk Bike Rack

Number of bikes it can carry: 1-3

The Saris has ratching straps that help cinch down on the bikes with cradles that are designed to fit a wide range of bike frame styles.

This rack category generally has arms that extend out from the car, carrying the weight of the bikes. The rack attaches to the vehicle with straps that fit around the trunk and the system is adjustable to fit a wide range of car styles, from sedans and hatchbacks to crossover and SUVs. These tend to be the most budget-friendly, with many under $100.

Pros:
-Folds up when not in use so it’s easy to store.
-Typically, a trunk rack fits different kinds of cars so you can switch between vehicles in the same family or use it on a rental.
-Easy to load one or two bikes once installed.
-These racks don’t require the added expense or hassle of adding bars to the roof or a hitch.
-They don’t increase the height of your car so low overheads aren’t an issue.
-Of all the rack styles, truck versions tend to be the least detrimental to your MPG.

Cons:
-Bikes can bang into each other in transit, scratching the paint.
-The view out of the back window will be restricted.
-The straps that hold the rack to the car are made from webbing that can be easily cut, so theft can be an issue.
-You can’t access the trunk while the rack is on.
-For oddly shaped bikes you might need an attachment so it hangs correctly.
-Your bikes might block the view of your license plate, which a cop might write you up for.
-The straps have a way of working themselves loose on the roads so you might need to stop every so often to tighten them.

Roof Bike Rack

Number of bikes it can carry: 4-7

Packaged with fittings that let this tray-style rack fit onto round, square, and most factory crossbars, the Yakima installs quickly with a pair of giant thumb screws. Note the price does not include the cost of the roof rails or cross bars.

These are the most versatile systems that, with dedicated attachments, can carry everything from bikes to kayaks to luggage, and there are versions for most cars, SUVs, and pickup trucks. Adding a system to carry bikes on the roof of a car that doesn’t have one can add about $200 to the total cost, but if you already have roof rails (which run hood to trunk) or a roof rack (which runs door to door) you can save yourself some money.

Stored this way, the bikes tend to be more secure both in transit and from theft. Bikes attach to the rack in a couple of different ways, either with an arm that clamps down on the frame or the front wheel. Some attach to the fork, which requires taking off the front wheel and storing that in the car.

Pros:
-Hauling gear on the roof means the trunk and hitch are free so you can get in and out or tow something.
-The system is flexible to carry bikes and just about anything else you’d want to haul.
-Many of the racks have keyed locks for peace of mind if your bike is staying on overnight.
-The tray design means it can more easily accommodate things like tandem bikes or fat-tire bikes, though you should always check for compatibility first.
-The view out of the back window is not obstructed.
-Parking can be easier since you’re not adding length to the car.

Cons:
-Lifting a bike onto the roof of a car, especially an SUV or truck, can be difficult and might scratch your paint job.
-Making your car taller can sap your MPG more than any other rack style, and the wind resistance is also noisy.
-Low clearance spaces like overpasses, drive-through lanes, and parking garages can be an issue so know the overall height of your car with the bikes mounted.
-Time consuming to install initially.

Hitch Bike Rack

Number of bikes it can carry: 1-4

Carry up to 4 bikes, each with 7-inches of space between, on this Thule rack, which also pivots down, giving you access to the trunk.

If you already have a hitch on your car or truck, these racks slip right in and carry bikes on a pair of fold-out arms or a tray. You’ll need to know the size of your hitch, which is usually a Class 1 (1 ¼-inches wide) on cars, crossovers, and SUVs, and Class III (2-inch wide) on pickups and trucks. Installation is easy and adding the bikes is simple too. Basic options start at around $100 but the better versions tip out allowing access to the trunk even while the bikes are loaded on—adding about $300 more to the cost.

Pros:
-Easy installation of the rack and the bikes, which makes removing the rack when not in use a breeze.
-Can be used on multiple cars, provided the hitch is the correct size.
-Most racks come with adaptors to fit Class 1 or Class III hitches.
-Bikes are spaced out a bit further than on a trunk rack so there’s less chance of them bumping into one another.
-Does not add height to the car so overpasses are not an issue.

Cons:
-Your bikes might block the view of your license plate, which a cop might write you up for.
-Adding a hitch to accept these racks can add about $200-$300 to the overall cost.
-Blocks the view out of the back of the car.
-Might need an adaptor to fit oddly shaped bikes or ones with fat tires.
-Security can be an issue without some method of locking the bikes.

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