Car racks bring lots of function to your vehicle and look super cool too. Choosing the correct rack setup for your car can be daunting. We’ll help you to make the right choice for your next adventure.

For those of us not blessed to live within riding distance of the local trailhead, having a bike rack on our cars to get our shred machines from the garage to the starting line is a major necessity. Unfortunately it seems like the moment us cyclists have the need to transport our bikes, and begin the great quest to find something to do the job, we are inundated with so many options, configurations,  and incompatible numbers, and can easily become overwhelmed with the amount of different racks available.

There are hundreds of racks out there with differing bike capacities, taking various forms and all having a myriad of  features. It can be hard to nail down the right one for your needs. So with that in mind we’ve compiled some info that should help take the edge off of choosing the right rack for you.

Let’s start by learning the differences, advantages, and challenges of the main types/styles of racks out there. We’re not talking about brands specifically, but more so focusing on the various types of racks, and how they may be the right fit for your bike, vehicle and lifestyle.

The Roof Rack

Probably the most common type of rack is a roof mounted rack system. Depending on the type of car you drive you will be able to get a crossbar system that spans the roof of your car allowing a variety of rack attachments to be used, including roof boxes, ski and snowboard holders, and most importantly, bike carriers.

Some cars come equipped with factory crossbars and rails. If you have factory crossbars you only need to find a compatible bike attachment in the carrying style you want. If you have factory rails, but no crossbars, you will need to install some before adding any attachments. You can find factory crossbars through your dealership, but options from Thule, Yakima or other roof rack companies will generally be cheaper, better built, and more versatile.

Roof mounted bike carriers are usually a tray with some kind of compression straps or an arm that locks your bike into place. There are generally 2 types. One lets you put your whole bike on the roof without removing the front wheel, and the other design locks your bike into place via the dropouts in the fork, requiring you to remove the front wheel. I personally prefer the no hassle, leave-your-wheel-on option when shopping for a roof rack. You’ll want to keep in mind that you will have much less height clearance with this option, so watch out for low hanging trees, and say goodbye to the drive-through window while on the road.

If you drive a SUV, lifting your trail baby up onto the roof can definitely be a hassle…

The Hitch Rack

If you drive an SUV lifting your trail baby up onto the roof can definitely be a hassle, especially after a long day in the saddle or if your trail baby happens to be a 40 pound downhill bike. A hitch mounted bike carrier might be the best solution for you. Many companies including Yakima, Thule, Kuat and Swagman have multiple options.

Hitch rack systems tend to be some of the more expensive rack setups. Some of this extra cost lies in the fact that most vehicles do not come stock with a hitch receiver, therefore you must have one installed. However, these bike carriers are some of the most value for your dollar. Hitch racks provide the best security for your bike, highest carrying capacity, ease/convenience of loading and unloading bikes, and have the least effect on your gas mileage. One drawback is carrying your bike on the back of your vehicle does leave them at risk if you’re ever rear ended. However, this risk seems lower than that looming garage door you must beware of when using a roof rack.

Along the same lines as rooftop systems, there are generally 2 types of hitch mounted racks. The first uses a dual prong approach, similar to most trunk racks, that holds the bike by hanging it via the top tube of the frame and secures the bike with rubber straps. This type of rack does have a downside. Many full suspension mountain bikes may not be compatible due to the the rear shock placement. However, any hardtail bike is pretty much guaranteed to work with this style of rack. Of the two types of hitch racks these tend to cost less, but are generally not as secure, and can have some challenges fitting multiple bike with varying frame shapes.

The second common style of hitch rack uses bike trays that secure the wheels and hold the bike upright similarly to roof racks.  This style of carrier will easily carry any style bike from 20” kids and BMX bikes, all the way to 29ers. While this is the more expensive option of the two hitch rack systems, it provides the most stability, carrying capacity (up to 4 bikes) and security.

The Trunk Rack

Most people who are first getting into cycling opt for the affordability of a trunk rack. Trunk racks temporarily attach to the trunk of pretty much any sedan and offer the ability to carry two or three bikes at a time. This rack system generally uses ratcheting straps and pads to tightly secure the rack onto the rear trunk of the car. Trunk racks almost always use the dual prong method that allows your bike to rest on the rack via the top tube as previously described, and they come with all of the same disadvantages as well as one other that may trouble some cyclists with bikes that cost them an arm and a limb in the first place. This disadvantage is that trunk racks are much less secure than any of the other methods. You may be able to lock your bike to the rack, but you may not be able to lock your rack to your car. Also, not all cars can accommodate trunk racks as certain design features of the car will interfere with the rack.

So, that’s the 3 main types of bike racks in a nutshell, with a few points about their advantages and disadvantages. With all rack systems be sure to check out the fit guides on the manufacturer’s website to make sure they are compatible with your vehicle. Stay tuned as we, at Jenson USA, take a more in-depth look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of each bike rack system.

To the Trailhead with Ease