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Best Bicycle Racks for Your Car

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When looking for a bicycle rack for your vehicle, you might be overwhelmed by the choices. Should you choose a roof mount, a trunk mount, or a hitch mount rack? This article describes the pros and cons of these different types of racks, some of which are not obvious until you have experience using them. For example, are you a forgetful person? If so, then you might want to reconsider a roof mount rack, because you can't forget you have a bike on top of your car, less you run into a low hanging tree limb or attempt to pull your car into the garage before taking off the bikes.

Bike Rack
Image provided by  "How to carry a penny-farthing on a car" (David Hawgood) / CC BY-SA 2.0

Trunk Mount Racks

The cheapest and simplest type of bicycle rack is the trunk mount type. Using one is definitely better than throwing your bike in the back seat (getting grease stains out of your seats is next to impossible), but these types of racks have limitations.

Pros

  • Inexpensive.
  • Easy to install and remove.

Cons

  • They don't work for all cars. You can check the rack manufacturer's website to find if a rack fits the make, model, and year of your car. 
  • The rack or your bike can easily scratch your car.
  • Depending on your car, you might be unable to open the trunk with the rack attached.
  • You can't reliably prevent theft of the rack. If someone wants your bike, they can easily remove the rack and the bike.

Hitch Mount Racks

A more expensive option is a hitch mount rack.  These hold 2-5 bicycles depending on the type, and attach to the hitch on your vehicle. If your vehicle does not have a hitch receiver, you will need to buy one, which for my vehicle costs an extra $130.

Pros

  • They extend behind your vehicle, giving you access to the trunk.
  • They are more difficult to remove and steal (you can also buy locks that make them even more difficult to remove).
  • They offer protection in a back-end collision. Here I can offer only anecdotal evidence. A car back-ended me and though the collision bent my rack slightly, my car was not damaged.  I can't say the same for their car, however.

Cons

  • They are more expensive.
  • They require that your car has a hitch receiver.

Before you buy a hitch mount rack, verify that it fits your car, but also verify that the clearance is acceptable. Some are low to the ground and can cause problems on vehicles with low clearance. I had to replace a hitch mount rack because it repeatedly scraped against the steep incline of my driveway and got damaged.

Roof Mount Racks

Roof mount racks are usually a little more expensive than the hitch mount types. Again, they only work for certain types of vehicles, so check the manufacturer's website to see if it fits your vehicle. 

Roof Mount Rack

Yakima HighRoller Rooftop Upright Bike Rack

Roof mount racks come in two main types, fork mount and upright. With a fork mount, you take off the front wheel and attach the fork to the rack. With an upright mount, there is no need to take off the wheels. The bike stands upright and attaches to the rack by the frame or the crank.

Pros

  • The upright mount is convenient because you don't need to remove the wheels.
  • They don't interfere with access to your trunk.
  • Theft is difficult (assuming you buy and use the locks, which are usually sold separately).

Cons

  • They are more difficult to install.
  • They effect your gas mileage, especially at highway speed.
  • You have to remember there is bike on your roof when pulling into your garage (when using my rack,  I would put an obstacle in front of my garage door that would remind me to take off the bike before pulling into the garage).

Typical Trunk Mount

Hollywood Racks Express 2 Two Bike Trunk Rack (Black)
Amazon Price: $65.99 $58.46 Buy Now
(price as of Nov 11, 2014)
This rack holds two bikes and is fairly sturdy.

Typical Roof Mount

Yakima HighRoller Rooftop Upright Bike Rack
Amazon Price: $199.00 $179.10 Buy Now
(price as of Nov 11, 2014)
This is an upright mount. Keep in mind that you need to lift your bike over your head to mount it. For most lightweight road bikes, this is not a problem, but if you are not very strong and your bike has a heavy, steel frame, this could be an issue.
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