The Two Types of Bike Racks for Cars


There are two basic types of bike racks: ones that mount on the roof and those that mount on the rear of a vehicle. Usually, one works better than the other for an individual’s needs, but some cars won’t support either.

Before even considering which option you like better, ask your vehicle manufacturer if your make and model can support any type of bike rack. This is also a good question to ask when you’re shopping for a new vehicle.

Roof-Mounted Bike Rack

Rooftop Bike Rack

A roof-mounted rack (a.k.a. roof racks) is exactly what it sounds like, a rack that goes on the roof of your vehicle. You’ve no doubt seen someone driving at you with one or two bikes on top of their car. While you may have checked out the bicycles, you probably didn’t get a good look at the rack.

That is partly because they’re inconspicuous, generally only sticking up a small distance and not adding much height to the vehicle. Rear-mounted bike racks can be much more noticeable and can cause problems if you need to park in compact spaces. They certainly make parallel parking a challenge. Not so with bike racks that go on the roof.

They certainly make parallel parking a challenge. Not so with bike racks that go on the roof.

There are some drawbacks to this type of rack though. When you actually have your bike or bikes on the rack, you add a significant height distance that can cause problems if you need to drive under things like bridges and apartment balconies.

It could get annoying if you are used to parking in a garage or covered parking space to have to back up and then put your bike on the rack every time you want to transport your bike somewhere, not to mention having to remove the bike whenever you get home before you park.

Don’t forget drive-thrus and front entrances to hotels if you’re going on a road trip.

Another consideration with the roof-mounted rack is space and weight limitations. You can only put so much weight on the top of your car and you can’t generally fit too many bikes safely on the roof.

Some vehicles simply can’t accommodate a roof-mounted rack because of the weight or the shape of the roof.

Having a bike on a roof rack isn’t exactly aerodynamic either. The bike creates wind resistance, which lowers your fuel economy.

You also have to consider the difficulty of lifting your bike up onto your rook and back down on a regular basis. For some people, this isn’t an issue. For others, it might not be worth it.

Roof Mount Bike Rack

Among these types of roofs are two basic categories: fork-mounted racks and frame-mounted racks. To use a fork-mounted rack, you must first remove your front tire and then clamp the fork to the mount. The rear wheel gets strapped into a tray.

A frame-mounted bike rack takes less time and allows you to leave the front tire on, and thus not have to figure out where to put the front tire. There is an arm that clamps the frame of the bike or bikes to the rack.

Consider that both types are fairly difficult to install compared to rear-mounted bike racks.

Rear-Mounted Bike Rack

The second basic option is the rear-mounted rack. The name says it all. These racks mount onto the back of your vehicle. There are several advantages to this type of rack.

Getting your bike up and down off the rack is quick and easy. Installation of most rear-mounted bike racks is simpler than for roof-mounted types. The bikes being in the rear causes less wind resistance.

A quick glance in your rear view window confirms that all your bikes are still there.

You can divide rear-mounted bike racks for cars into four basic categories: spare tire mounted racks, hitch racks, truck bed racks, and trunk racks, or boot racks if you are British. The spare tire racks are the most common.

If your truck or SUV has a spare tire mounted on the back of your vehicle then you’re good to go with this type of bike rack. These racks use the same mounting brackets that the spare tire uses.

Similarly to the spare tire mount, a hitch mount works with what your vehicle already has. These racks mount to the receiver on your car or truck, creating a stable place to store your bike.

Since the hitch extends out behind your car you don’t have to worry about your bike leaving scratches on the back of the vehicle. Many of these types of racks can be easily swung out of the way when you need to get into the back of your car.

These racks offer a lot of convenience and options.

Heininger Automotive 2025 Advantage Sports Bike Rack

Trunk racks are option for smaller vehicles that have a soft top or uniquely-shaped roof. Almost any car with a trunk can have a trunk rack installed, and installation takes very little time.

They are cheaper than most other types, but only hold up to three bikes. Some can only take two. If you are interested in this type, it’s best to look for one that will open with the trunk so that you don’t have to remove it to get into your trunk.

If you own a truck, the most logical solution is to get a truck rack. These racks fit right into the bed of your trunk and hold your bikes upright in a stable position where they won’t fall over and get damaged or damage your vehicle.

You will have to uninstall the rack if you want to lie items flat into your trunk bed, but it only takes a matter of minutes to do this.

**Insider Tips**

No matter what type of best bike rack you choose, you want to make sure that you follow some basic precautions. One thing to consider is the addition of the rack and bike.

You might want to practice parking and driving around a little with the rack full so that you know your vehicle’s new limitations. You should definitely measure how high your bike goes if on a roof-mounted rack.

You don’t want to see an overpass or covered area and just eyeball whether you think your bike can clear it.

Another basic safety tip is to remove everything from a bike before putting it on the rack. Items like water bottles, locks, and seat-packs could potentially come off during transport.

You also might not see them if you wait until after you put the bike on the rack.

If you opted for a bike rack that leaves the front wheel free, be sure to use a strap to secure the wheel less it damages your vehicle or other bikes.

Bike racks are a great way to easily get your bike or bikes for your entire family from point A to point B. Don’t let the difficulty of transporting your bike stop you from enjoying cycling.

Outdoor cycling is one of the best ways to exercise because it puts a minimal impact on your joints but still burns a high amount of calories.

Family Cycling with Kids

Cycling with friends or family is a great excuse to get outdoors and spend quality time together.

It takes little time to learn to ride compared to some outdoor activities and cycling is easy enough that everyone can do it. Few physical activities let you cover as much distance and see as many sights as outdoor cycling, and it offers an effective way to burn calories, tone your legs, and work your core. 

If you plan to cycle outdoors to enjoy the scenery and it requires a car trip to get there, then start looking to get the right bike carriers for you.

Just like when choosing the right bike, your local bike shop can also assist you with narrowing down the type of rack you want.

Consulting a local expert can be tremendously helpful but knowing the basics about bike racks and already knowing the answers to questions such as “How frequently will you be using the rack” and “How many bikes do you need to transport” can save you a significant amount of time.

We hope we have provided you with enough information to make an informed decision. Be sure to tell your friends about!

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