How to Pick the Right Car Rack

Not sure which car rack is the right one for?  Let us help find the right one for you, your car and your bikes. There are two important questions that you will need to answer to help you narrow down your options.

How many bikes are you looking to carry?

There are racks that can hold anywhere from 1 to 5 bikes. The number of bikes you are looking to carry will play a part in which type of rack you need. If you need to carry 3 or fewer bikes, any style rack will have options for you.  If you are looking to carry 4 or more bikes, then a hitch rack or roof rack will be your best option.

How will you carry the bikes? Hitch, Trunk or Roof?

Racks come in in three basic styles: trunk racks, hitch racks, or roof racks. It is important to use the manufacturer fit guide to know which style rack will fit your vehicle. At ERIK’S we carry Thule, Saris and Yakima racks. All brands have handy fitting guides on their websites: Thule Fit GuideSaris Fit Guide, and Yakima Fit Guide.

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Trunk racks are attached with straps to the trunk of your car.  They are a great option for many reasons.  They fit most vehicles.  They don’t require a hitch or roof rails.  They are lower to the ground than roof rack making them easier to load.  And they are often less expensive than hitch or roof racks.

On the other hand, trunk racks can be time-consuming to put on and off your vehicle.  They can make access to your trunk difficult or impossible while bikes are loaded.  If you are carrying a bike with a woman’s or step-through style frame, then you may need to purchase a top tube adapter to create a top tube for the bike to hang from.  And they typically can’t hold more than 2 or 3 bikes.

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The second rack is a hitch rack.  This style attaches to your vehicle at the hitch receiver.  They come in two main styles: mast and tray. The mast style rack, like the trunk rack, holds the bike by the top tube or top bar of the frame.

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The other style of hitch rack is the tray style. This rack has two trays that the wheels of a bike rest in.  There are straps to secure the wheels down. There is also an arm that clamps down on the frame or wheel of the bike to help hold the bike in place.

Hitch racks come in a variety of configurations and can take up to 5 bikes or more.  These racks are easy to take on and off your vehicle.  Loading bikes onto them can be a breeze, especially if you have the tray style.  Most hitch racks come with adapters that will fit both 1-1/4 inch and 2-inch hitches.

But there are some disadvantages of hitch racks.  Not all vehicles are designed to accept a hitch.  Some models fold down allowing clearance to open the trunk, but this isn’t a feature in all hitch racks.  With the mast style, like the trunk rack, you may need to purchase a top tube adapter if you are carrying a woman’s or step-through style bike.  With the tray style, you might need an adapter to carry a kids’ bike because the wheels are so close together.  Bikes with fatter tires like a fat bike might need adapters trays.

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The third option for carrying your bike is a roof rack. This system mounts to the crossbars or a luggage rack on the roof of your vehicle.  This style can give you the most carrying capacity in terms of weight.  The rack can be either permanent or removable.  They’re very secure when properly loaded.  And you they don’t limit access to your trunk.

On the other hand, it can be difficult to load a roof rack.  Some of the models require removing a wheel from the bike.  Your vehicle needs crossbars or a luggage rack system.   The bike can create drag that may lower your gas mileage.  And bikes on these racks can get a little more bug splat on them on a road trip.

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One final thing to consider are the bikes you will be carrying. As mentioned above, women’s style or step through bikes require additional parts if the rack holds bikes by the top tube. Some racks cannot accommodate the smaller sized kids’ bikes. And the size of the fat bike tires might not work with the tray style racks without adapters.

Each rack style has its advantages and disadvantages but it doesn’t need to be a hard decision.  When you are shopping, just keep in mind how many bikes and the styles you’ll be carrying, and how you want to carry them. For more information and to talk to one of our experts, roll into any ERIK’S location, give us a call at 877-885-2453, or shop our racks online.

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2 responses to “How to Pick the Right Car Rack”

  1. SCOTT D WESTERFIELD says :

    Looking for a trunk rack to carry one bike on a 2013 Audi S4 (A4 body). Any suggestions?

    • eriksbikeshop says :

      Hi Scott,

      The Saris Bones 2 Bike would fit your car and be a great choice. I’ve had a Bones for 10 years and have nothing but good things to say about it. Very sturdy and easy to use. If you have any other questions, give us a call at 877-885-2453 and ask for Geoff.

      Thanks!

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