If there’s anything that the past year has taught us, it’s the importance of having an outdoor hobby. Some people took up hiking, others became avid joggers, and many took to two wheels for some COVID-safe adventuring. And whether you choose road, mountain, or gravel, the incredible thing about biking is how it allows you to explore new cities, take scenic rides down country roads, or even rediscover a forgotten corner of your own state. If you’re hooked on the freedom of biking, it won’t be long before you’re one of those cycling fantastics who brings their bike with them wherever they go. Whether you’re planning a trip around a route or just hoping to hit the mountain biking trails as a pit stop, the only thing standing between you and the free-wheeling voyage of your dreams is how the heck you’re going to get your bike from point A to point B. Enter: the dizzying array of bike rack choices on the market.
In choosing a bike rack, you will need to consider a number of various factors. How often are you planning on travelling with your bikes? If you’re a frequent road tripper and plan to tote your wheels across the country, it might make sense to invest in a heavy-duty rack and pay extra for features that make it easy to load and unload.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, if you’re looking for an attachment for your car to move bikes for a single voyage, a simpler model might do the trick. Similarly, you will have to consider the type of car you drive, how many bikes you are planning to haul, the types of bikes you are carrying, and if you need to be able to lock your bikes securely to your ride along your voyage.
There are three main types of bike racks to consider for your adventuring, each one with a unique set of features that might make it perfect for your vehicle setup.
Stashing your wheels atop your car or SUV is a fantastic, sturdy transport option that keeps all your vehicle’s access doors free and clear. The potential downside is that it can be quite challenging to lift bikes (especially those with heavier frames) overhead to load and unload them, especially in the middle of a trip when you’re away from your garage, stepladder, and helping hands. Roof bike racks also tend to be expensive to purchase, and require car roof crossbars and proper installation to be secure.
Hitch racks tend to be the most popular of the bike carrier options, and for good reason. Once installed, a hitch-mount bike rack is convenient to use and easier to load than lifting bikes on and off a roof rack. You do need a hitch receiver on the back of your car to utilize a rear-mounted rack, which many SUVs and larger vehicles already come equipped with. Even if you need to get a hitch added to your vehicle, it may be worth going the extra mile; the wide variety of features on hitch racks on the market today make it easy to pack multiple bikes of various sizes, haul heavy mountain or e-bikes, securely lock bikes to your car, and even convert from carrying two to four bikes depending on the individual trip. A rear-mounted hitch rack typically folds away when not in use, but it does increase the length of your vehicle, which is important to keep in mind if you’re used to parking in a small garage (or even just to keep in mind when doing some tricky parallel parking).
Trunk racks typically use a series of straps and hooks to attach the carrier frame to the trunk of your car, no matter if you drive a small sedan or massive SUV. The truck-mounted bike carrier tends to be the least expensive of the options and doesn’t require the installation of a rack or trailer hitch in advance. The tradeoff to being cheap, light, and portable is that trunk-mounted racks can be a little less sturdy than other options, meaning your bikes may sway and run the risk of scraping against your car. Trunk racks also don’t lock to your car, nor lock your bikes, so they wouldn’t be a good choice if you’re planning to leave your bikes and rig unattended in public.
Given the myriad considerations, we did the leg work for you and tracked down the best bike racks of 2021 for every budget, every car type, and every adventure.
The Most Comfortable Bike Helmets, According to Avid Cyclists
Bike fanatics rave about this all-around all star bike rack for its lightweight aluminum frame, easy, tool-free install, and tilting rack to give you access to your trunk even when loaded up with bikes. The 2-bike hitch rack is packed with extra features like a molded strap on the rear tire cradle to help protect tires, and a foot lever to lower the rack even when your hands are full.
To buy: amazon.com, from $549
This rear-mounted bike rack from Saris is deceptively simple in appearance. The slender frame holds 2 bikes of up to 35 pounds each with a surprising amount of stability through a system of spring buckle straps and hooks. The no-hitch style rack made from lightweight, recycled plastic is perfect for travel, and accommodates most style cars (even those with spoilers on the back).
To buy: backcountry.com, $170
This individual roof rack attaches to most standard roof racks on the market and can fit a variety of different-sized bikes, so no matter whether you’re hitting the trails or the road, you can safely transport your wheels overhead while keeping your trunk access clear and easy. An added bonus is the contact-free design, which will keep even the most finicky carbon frames free of scratches.
To buy: backcountry.com, $249
Toting a bevvy of bikes is no joke, and this rear hitch mount from industry leader Yakima is up to the task. Reviewers note the rack is very sturdy, which makes it quite a bit heavier than others on this list. However, the versatile design allows you easily to convert from a four-bike rack down to a two when you don’t need the full load, and the adjustable trays accommodate bikes of varying sizes.
To buy: amazon.com; $579
If you’re a pickup driver who’s tried to take your bikes on the go, you know you can’t just throw your bikes in the back without a series of straps and pulleys to keep them in place. Skip the bondage-style bungees and opt for this heavy-duty truck bed rack, which can tote kayaks, stand up paddleboards, and more along with bikes.
To buy: backcountry.com, $800
If you have a pickup with a bed, you might be interested in a way to just throw your bikes over the back without scratching both your bikes and your truck. This tailgate pad from Dakine is the perfect accessory to get around installing a rack while still gaining a little more security to your bike transport. The pad itself locks to the tailgate to prevent theft while you’re out adventuring, and the curved design accommodates the wider tailgates of newer trucks without blocking access to backup cameras.
To buy: backcountry.com, $160
You can easily turn a spare tire on the back of your SUV into a rear-mounted bike rack with this two-bike hitch rack. Not only will your bikes be loaded securely with anti-sway technology, but they’ll also be securely locked to your vehicle to prevent theft at pit stops. Just keep in mind that the max weight for this rack is 70 pounds, so it’s probably a better fit for either one heavier bike or two lighter models.
To buy: backcountry.com, $299
On a long road trip, you need to be able to access all the junk you’ve stashed in the trunk, from a change of clothes to the cooler with snacks and drinks. The problem with most bike racks is that they limit access to your tailgate, making it hard to open the trunk without completely disassembling the whole setup. This RockyMounts hitch model swings entirely to the right to provide easy access to your supplies, as opposed to other “easy access” models that just move slightly.
To buy: backcountry.com, $700
When you’re taking the whole family on a trip, you need a bike rack that can accommodate multiple bikes of varying sizes. It doesn’t get more versatile than this mast-style hitch rack from Thule, which fits up to five different-sized bikes through a unique, compact cradle design. Easy, tool-free installation and thoughtful features make the Apex XT a must for large crews.
To buy: backcountry.com, $450
Most of the four-bike car racks on the market are quite pricey, but Allen Sports offers an affordable-yet-reliable rear-mounted hitch rack. Keep in mind that this won’t have some of the other features you might get with a more expensive bike rack, but the simple design is constructed from solid steel and is well built, according to reviewers. If you’re planning on doing shorter trips with your bikes, you can’t find a better value than this bike carrier, which also boasts nearly 8,000 perfect five-star ratings.
To buy: amazon.com, $119
This hitch-style, two-bike rack has extra space between the wheel holders to accommodate the wider base of most ebikes (even those with fenders!) as well as to handle their heavier load. You can purchase an add-on so you can easily convert the platform rack to hold up to four bikes. Reviewers rave about the “extremely easy, no-tool install, external handle to lower the rack for trunk access, [and] total stability even at speed.”
To buy: amazon.com, $620