Who makes the best hitch rack?

For the past ten years I’ve owned a pickup as my primary vehicle – carrying bikes was either on the roof rack, or for short trips to the trail head; in the bed of the pickup. This winter I decided to get something with a little more passenger room, but in the process, I lost the pickup bed and gained extra height, so it made sense to not have to lift the bikes to the top of the vehicle every time by switching to a hitch rack. Other pluses of hitch racks include; maximum stability, doesn’t touch the surface of the vehicle, and easier mounting for a variety of frame styles.

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So which hitch rack should you buy? After trying out two popular styles, it’s clear the answer lies with how you will use a hitch rack. Both of the models here are available, or come equipped for 1 1/4 or 2 inch receivers. Both are 2 bike models, but are available as 4 bike models. When carrying four bikes, it’s recommended that you do so only on a 2-inch receiver mount. I’ve spent some time with the Saris Freedom 2-bike and the newest version of the Yakima Holdup 2-bike. Here  are the specifics, along with my impressions.

Saris Freedom

Manufacturer: Saris (Made in Madison, Wisconsin!)Size: Out of the box, fits 1 1/4 and 2 inch with the included adapter.
Capacity (and bike sizes): 2 bikes, each up to 35 lbs and most frame sizes.
Warranty: Lifetime
MSRP: $239.99

Impressions:

This is definitely a value-oriented rack; It’s design is simple and easy to use, but to get it set up does a take a few minutes to align the trays so the bikes sit well together. The Freedom holds the bikes in place via two wheel straps and a cradle to support one of the main tubes of the bike (ideally the downtube). On a road bike, I found it easiest to position the cradle so the bike rested in it, and could be set in from the top. With a full-suspension mountain bike that utilized large tube shapes and lots of cables on the bottom, I found it most secure to place the bike in the wheel trays and lower the cradle down on top of the downtube. In either case, the hold was secure for long trips. The straps on the wheel trays did prove a tight fit with 2.3″ wide tires – for fat bikes like the Surly Pugsley it will work, but not perfectly (with fat bikes often weighing over 35 lbs, it’s not recommended to load it up). The Freedom rack does not lock, but the method used for securing the bikes allows for putting a cable or lock like the Kryptonite 1218 Combination – giving you enough security to grab a bite to eat or make a side stop. Keep in mind, that this does not lock the rack to the car, just your bikes to the rack.

Here the cradle is in the downward position on the downtube. This method is very secure, but requires a bit more manipulation, and as you can see, is a tight space.

Built simply, the Freedom does not tilt to allow access to the rear of the vehicle when bikes are loaded, nor does it stow out of the way when not in use. Despite this, it’s shape and weight make it easy to remove and install, allowing you to put it on and take it off as needed.

Yakima Holdup 2

Manufacturer: Yakima
Size: Available as either a 1 1/4 or 2 inch.
Capacity (and bike sizes): 2 bikes, easily adapts to most frame sizes and styles.
Warranty: Lifetime
MSRP: $439.99

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Impressions:

The Holdup from Yakima is newly updated this year. Improvements in this model include adjustable trays to better position the bikes, and locking cables on each of the bike mounts. Additionally, the new version is gloss black in color, following current vehicle color trends for more black. Where it counts, the Holdup I used is 1 1/4″ mount. This limits the unit to two bikes – if you get the 2 inch model, you can add the Holdup plus 2 and carry a total of four bikes.

 

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The Holdup is a robust rack, that requires a little more assembly out of the box, but all that pays off in a great deal of adjustability. The Holdup differs from the Freedom in its ability to tilt – either up and out of the way when not in use (seen below), or down slightly with bikes in to access the back of the vehicle (though with wide handlebars like mine at 720 mm, the gate won’t open all the way).

Mounting bikes could not be more easy – there is no prep work to be done, and the bikes are secured by lowering a hook onto the tire just in front of the fork. This method requires no more than two hands and is very friendly to odd frame shapes as well as to carbon fiber frames. Yakima advertises the holdup being able to fit from 14″ tires to 29″ tires with ease. Fat bikes work as you will see in the pictures, but the fit is tight with a 3.8″ tire – ruling out the widest of fat bikes.

One feature not found on the Freedom is the built-in locking ability. The Holdup includes a lock for the hitch pin (which locks the rack to the vehicle) and the built-in cables secure your bikes with the same key.

The Verdict

The right rack really depends on how you are going to use it. If the two bikes that go on the back of your car will never change, or you transport bikes occasionally, the Freedom is a great option for a price that no other rack on the market comes close to in terms of value. Mounting bikes is fairly straight forward, but not as fast as it could be given the mounting method, and those people who travel with bikes and routinely need to access the back of the vehicle will find themselves loading and unloading the bikes to do so. At a full $200 less than the Holdup 2, it is worth looking into and provides a great alternative to a trunk rack for those who have a receiver hitch installed.

The Yakima Holdup 2 still holds the title for most features, but those come with an increased price tag. If you are into multiple disciplines (mountain, road, etc.) you will appreciate the ease of adjustment that comes with Yakima’s mounting system. The security of each bike as well as the rack being locked to the vehicle make your family travels and biking trips more enjoyable, and the ability to access the rear of the vehicle is another huge plus. Like all Yakima hitch racks, a bottle opener is found at the back end for celebrations back at camp.

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