Choosing a rack system for your car can be a daunting task. Our series of rack guides are here to help you navigate all the options, bells and whistles, and best fit for your vehicle and lifestyle.
Roof, Trunk and Hitch. These are the three basic types of racks a cyclist can use to get their shred machines to the trail and back. Not sure which is right for you? Don’t worry. We’ve got a beginner’s guide to rack to grow your knowledge. Check it out here part 1. You got it? Good! So, now that you know what kind of option you might want based on the car you drive and how many bikes you need to transport, we thought we would get into the nitty gritty of a few of the top bike racks out there.
This article is not a complete look at all the rack options that are available, but it will give you a solid idea of the features and benefits that you may want from a rack. If you would like even more help navigating all the options out there, contact our Gear Advisors and they will get you dialed with a perfect fit for your lifestyle.
So, you’ve decided you want a roof rack, now what? You should probably pick a base crossbar and rail system for your car. A good place to start would be to go to Yakima’s or Thule’s website and configuring a tower and crossbar system that’s right for your car. Both Yakima’s and Thule’s websites have a handy drop down menu that will help you determine the right tower system to hold your crossbars (or even configure other types of racks) based on your car’s make, model and year of production.
Yakima Fit Guide
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Thule Fit Guide
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For example, I used to own a 1972 VW beetle, which I used as my shuttle rig. By using the calculator on the Yakima website, I was able to find the right towers to clamp onto my rain gutters. (Yakima 1A tower with a Hirise Kit) I was also able to figure out online what width crossbars I needed. However, it is also recommended that you measure the width of your roof and always buy crossbars that are wider than you really need. This gives you extra room for accessories, easy tie down locations, and the ability to shorten the bars to your exact needs. It’s also worth mentioning that you can buy an optional lock system for your rack so no none will walk away with it while you are out riding.
In the case of my VW, this crossbar system worked like a champ for the 4 years I owned the car. I paired it with a Yakima Highroller system that allowed me to put my bike on the roof without having to remove the front wheel. At the time, I was quite happy with the level of durability and utility I got out of it (and I was quite happy since the Highroller definitely isn’t the cheapest option.) It was quite secure and I never had any issues with my bikes moving around on top of the car when in use, even with a 40lbs + DH bike. Of course, I was careful not to race around too many corners and to avoid low overpasses.
These rack components have treated me so well that I actually still have them. I sold the 1A HiRise towers to my parents who put them on their VW bus to carry their canoe, and I still use the Highroller rack on my current car over 8 years later (albeit with a Thule Podium 460 base rack system.) I give it 4 stars out of 5 for holding up so well, not bad for a $200 rack. It’s still worth noting that a good rail system could cost you $250 as well. It would have been 5 stars if the rack had been a little quieter on the freeway as, even with a fairing, it could be a bit noisy. Most of the major brands have aero series of their racks which helps to significantly decrease noise and wind resistance, but they come at a premium. However, Yakima has recently released two new aero bar series that are aimed at a much more wallet friendly price with many of the same performance features as their higher end sibling. You can see them below and click for more info.
One point of frustration with the Yakima High Roller was that I, somehow, also lost the ratchet strap that holds down the rear wheel. Because of this I feel it would have been better if it was not completely removable. However, you can buy replacement parts for most racks and accessories in case you lose or break a piece.
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*It’s worth mentioning here that both Yakima and Thule make a wide variety of racks that are strong and reliable while also having some cross compatibility with carriers from each other’s brands. The most important feature in keeping your bike on the roof is determining the correct rack fit for your vehicle, so we recommend that you find a base system that was designed for your car and, then, move on from there in determining the right accessories to carry your bike based on features and budget.
Don’t want to lift bikes on to your roof after a hard ride? A hitch rack may be just right for you. Just like when you determine which roof rack you want, you need to think about the base system that holds your roof rack on. In this case, that’s the hitch. If your car, truck or SUV didn’t come with a hitch factory installed you will need to have one installed before you can use a hitch rack. When purchasing a hitch you should think about 2 things: 1) will I be using the hitch to tow a trailer in the future? 2)How much weight will I need to carry? If you will be towing or carrying more than 2 DH bikes on your hitch rack you should probably get a 2” receiver hitch and consider having the hitch welded to the frame of your car. If not a bolt on hitch with a 1.25” receiver should be fine. Of course we aren’t experts on hitches here, so we recommend talking to your dealer or a hitch installer to find the right one for your needs. What we can do, however, is help you choose the right rack for your bikes.
After some serious analysis and a poll of our office parking lot, we have concluded that the best, if not the most popular hitch rack around is the Yakima HoldUp. With the 2” hitch receiver it is quite a burly piece of equipment. It can hold 2 bikes right away without having to remove the wheels with the option of holding 2 more with the HoldUp +2. Employees who own the system point out how fast and easy it is to load their bikes. This rack system is simple and secure and easily folds away when not in use.
This rack is fairly quiet when loaded, but can wobble a bit which is not too uncommon for most hitch racks. It does include a cinching bolt for reducing wobble between the rack and the receiver, but you still get a small amount of play through the articulating pieces of the unit. One of the coolest feature is one that is not a necessity, but it ups the rad factor of this rack. The Holdup includes a bottle opener on the back of the rack for the after-ride party (just be sure to drink responsibly.)
There are a few drawbacks, however. When unloaded, the rack can rattle around a bit causing some noise. But, the biggest drawback to this rack is the price. Starting at $450, it’s not cheap and if you want to carry 2 more bikes that price jumps a fair amount again. However, this tends to be the going price on most top-end hitch racks from most manufacturers. Swagman and Thule both offer some down-spec’d hitch mounted rack options for more competitive prices, but they lack many of the bells and whistles, and the clean aesthetic of the Yakima.
Perhaps, you would rather have the ease and portability of a trunk rack. Okay, let’s talk about some trunk rack options. Since they are more portable, and generally cheaper than other options, they are a great choice for people who only need to drive their bike to a destination occasionally. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t also a good solution to those who use a rack daily, but generally those individuals will look for a more permanent and secure option.
The Thule Raceway Pro series of racks is a clear contender for the best in this category due to their ability to carry up to 3 bikes, and their convenient features which include secure locks, rubber padding, and a quiet design that is relatively quick and easy to install on most cars. The best part, and the one that wins us over, is the ratcheting steel cables that keep everything secure and tight. Most trunk racks utilize nylon webbing for the straps. These tend to be a bit flexy and cumbersome to keep tidy. The steel cables of the Raceway Pro series are substantially more robust and store cleanly in the ratcheting housing making for a clean, simple, and quick installation. These racks also feature a fit dial that allows you to quickly unfold your rack from storage and setup up for hauling your bike in minutes. These are some of the stellar features that set these trunk racks a step above the competition. After a year of use, one of our employees who owns one, hasn’t been disappointed.
One of the challenges with trunk racks is making sure to not damage the paint of your car. Keeping the contact points of the rack and car clean is the easiest method. We recommend keeping a bottle of cleaner and a rag in your trunk for use just before installation. Thule has designed its contact pads to reduce the amount of dirt that builds up around them on the Raceway racks, but a quick clean is a secondary precaution. Again, the biggest downfall with these racks is the price. For between $270 and $350 you could almost buy a hitch receiver and a moderately priced hitch rack or a full roof system. Of course, Thule and Yakima both have other similar offerings with a more moderate entry-level price. However, you won’t get the same security for your beloved bike, ease of use, and quick installation. Plus, the Raceway Pro series is one of the best looking trunk racks.
This was just the tip of the iceberg, and we will be continuing our look into various racks and accessories down the road. The category of auto racks continues to evolve and grow, and we will strive to show you all the different options, various types of racks, and new releases so that we can help to keep you dialed with the best racks for your lifestyle. Keep an eye out for our next Racked article..