Bike Racks 101: The Cliff Notes Edition

Cute Bike NymphSo, you dropped a mint on a hand-made Rivendell bike, but now you’re running out of routes to ride in your neck of the woods. Or, you converted your old lugged-steel Nishiki into a fixie, but you don’t yet have the thigh muscles to summit the San Franciscan-sized hill separating your apartment from the meet-up point of your local Critical Mass. What’s a bicyclist to do? Park your 2-wheeler on your car and head out, that’s what. For that, you’ll need a proper bike rack, but which type is right for your ride? Here’s a quick rundown on the three main types of bike racks.

Roof Mount Bike RackRoof mount bike rack

Your vehicle’s scalp is more than just a target for bombardier pigeons squeezing out their scuzzy artillery. It’s prime bike-carrying real estate with a proper roof bike rack, like the Thule 599XTR Big Mouth. The main advantage of a roof mount bike rack is that it leaves the back of your car free, so you don’t have to fight with your bikes when you need to get into your cargo. Also, they hold your bikes incredibly stable and work with a wider range of bike frames since they grab onto the fork and wheels instead of the top tube. (Don’t know the difference between a top tube and a tube top? Check out this informative article on bike frames.) Plus, roof bike racks are usually the most affordable type of bike carrier, so you won’t have to sell your Campagnolo gruppo to pay for it.

There are a few drawbacks to roof bike racks, though. First, hoisting your pedaler all the way up onto your roof can be a strain, especially if you’re vertically challenged or drive an SUV or donk. Second, you have to have a base roof rack with crossbars in order to install a roof bike rack, so you could end up dropping an extra couple of Benjamins just to get your roof ready for a rack. Third, it can cause some serious aerodynamic drag and reduce your fuel economy unless you also add a wind fairing.

Hitch Mount Bike RackHitch mount bike rack

Hate to see a hole go unplugged? If you have an open hitch receiver in the rear of your rig, put it to work with a hitch mount bike rack. These types of racks are the most popular by far because they’re easy to install, easy to use and easy to take off when you don’t need to haul bikes. What’s more, they come in a wide range of capacities, like the 2-bike Thule 958 Parkway, 4-bike Thule 964 Revolver and the 4-bike Thule 954 Ridgeline. And, they come in different sizes to fit all receiver classes, like the Thule 957 Parkway for 1.25″ receivers, Thule 956 Parkway for 2″ receivers and the AC/DC Thule 912 Roadway that fits both 1.25″ and 2″ receivers.

Even though you won’t have to strain your muscles lifting a couple bikes into these low-rising bike racks, there is one slight issue: what if you don’t have a traditional top tube? A lot of newer mountain bikes, beach cruisers and women’s bikes don’t have a top tube, so you’ll have to get an additional Thule 982 frame adapter to make it work. And, while you’ll have better aerodynamics than a roof rack, your rear view and your cargo access gets blocked by bikes.

Trunk Mount Bike RackTrunk mount bike rack

If you don’t have a receiver hitch and still want to carry your bikes on the back of your ride, a trunk mount bike rack is the way to go. These padded racks strap to your trunk and adjust for a tight fit. Though there’re not as spacious as a hitch mount rack, they do come in a range of sizes to hold a couple or a few bikes. For example, the Thule Speedway comes in both a 2-bike model (part Thule 961XT) and a 3-bike model (part Thule 962XT). While just as convenient to load as a hitch bike rack, they’re not as stable, and they completely block access into your trunk unless you take the entire rack off.


One response to “Bike Racks 101: The Cliff Notes Edition

  1. We’ve got these new bike racks on the streets of Nashville that are pretty cool. One is a bike microphone and the wire is coiled as the bike rack on the sidewalk. Obviously playing into the whole “Music City” thing but they do look really nice.

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