The Best Bike Racks for Hitches, Cars, and SUVs
Bike rack variations are seemingly endless, making the choice between them daunting. We researched 60+ models, picking the 17 best for testing. This array includes roof-, trunk-, and hitch-mounted racks, and over the course of a year, we loaded them up on multiple vehicle types and with many different bikes. Unloading and loading for thousands of miles of transport, our experts analyzed how easy each was to deal with while comparing this to the overall security of the system. Our testers also kept track of how simple each system was to install and uninstall with the changing seasons, and whether or not the racks had pesky quirks. Choosing a back rack can seem impossible, but it doesn't have to be. Thanks to the mountain of data compiled within our review, you'll be able to sniff out the rack that best suits your needs.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Updated May 2017
Cycling weather is here, so we updated this review as of May 2017 to include any product changes and updates, adding helpful pros and cons about each model reviewed to make your comparison easier. In 2017, our Editors' Choice winner received a product update and a new name, the Thule T2 Pro XT. We looked at the current market to ensure that the T2 Pro XT is still the Grand Poobah.
Best Overall Bike Rack
Thule T2 Pro XT
The Thule T2 Pro XT was the unequivocal winner of our review, and as of February 2017, Thule has updated it with a focus on ease-of-use and efficiency. The 2016 version was the best all-around rack, scoring high in nearly every testing category. The 2017 version ups the ante, introducing increased tray spacing and lateral tray adjustment, as well as a new colorway. Our experts found the T2 to have above-average ergonomics, with the lowest loading height of any rack reviewed. Its design is well thought out and fine-tuned down to the extra wide wheel trays and ratcheting arms, giving fat bike enthusiasts a viable hitch mount option. This rack is truly a game-changer, offering you what you didn't even know you needed. A hitch mount's ability to tilt down is crucial, but the T2 moves the control for the feature, which upgrades the entire experience, making rear vehicle access easier than ever. All of this combined with tool-free attachment is the recipe for a winner. From the 2016 version, the price increases $30, but we think it's worth it.
Read full review: Thule T2 Pro XT
Best Bang for the Buck
The RockyMounts JetLine is the winner of our Best Buy award. At $130, it is not the cheapest rack tested, but you get a lot for your money. The JetLine is a roof top, fork mount rack. It will fit both Thule, Yakima, Aero, and many factory crossbars with the included hardware. The quick release lever is easily manipulated and will clamp any bicycle fork with 9mm dropouts. With the addition of the Drive Shaft (through axle) adapter ($69.95) from RockyMounts, the rack can hold bikes equipped with 15mm and 20mm through axles. The tray has a cutout to accommodate disk brake calipers and a sliding, ratcheting strap to secure the rear wheel. If you wish to lock it, the JetLine requires two lock cores ($19.95, not included), one to secure the rack to the vehicle and one to lock the quick release lever securing the bike. The JetLine is a great buy and offers security and versatility, along with add-on parts you can purchase as funds permit. For 2017, RockyMounts has updated the available colors, so you can tailor your rack to accessorize your vehicle.
Not compatible with through-axel front forks without purchasing adaptors
Read full review: RockyMounts JetLine
Top Pick for a Roof Rack
Kuat has improved upon the tried-and-true design of the Kuat Trio fork mount rack. Gone are the days of needing an additional adaptor to hold your mountain bike with a through axle. Kuat has an innovative solution that can hold bikes with any axle standard at the fork. It comes ready to handle your 9mm, 15mm, and 20mm forks. An additional adaptor can be purchased to accommodate the wider fork spacing of fat bikes and plus bikes. The Trio mounts to almost any cross bars, using a U-bolt style clamp. It also has a handy cutaway for clearance of disc brake calipers. Top it all off with a cable lock that extends from the back of the rack and you have the most versatile, secure, and easy-to-load rook rack on the market.
Easy to use
Middle of the road price
Could be easier to assemble
Read full review: Kuat Trio
Top Pick for a Trunk Rack
Thule Raceway Pro 9001
The Thule Raceway Pro 9001 is our Top Pick trunk mounted bike rack. It is the only trunk mount rack tested that uses rubber coated steel cables for mounting rather than nylon straps. The steel cables increase durability and are easily adjusted to length and tightened with built-in, user-friendly knobs. Setup is easy, using the Thule Fit Guide that has a number designated for each compatible vehicle. The Fit Dial on the rack is then turned to the corresponding number and the optimum support arm angle for your vehicle is set; no guesswork. The support arms are adjustable in both angle and lateral spread, which increases the ability to carry a variety of frame types and sizes. The Raceway Pro is also the only trunk mount in the test group that comes with a retractable cable lock.
Easy to use
Limits access to vehicle
Read full review: Thule Raceway Pro 9001
Analysis and Test Results
Types of Bike Racks
The vast majority of models on the market fall into three main categories that differ in the way they attach to your vehicle. We included all three types in our review to learn the plusses and minuses of each system.
In the past, Yakima and Thule both produced roof racks that would only work with their proprietary cross bars. To some extent, this is still the case. However, both companies have begun to produce contenders that will work with any type of crossbar such as our Top Pick Award winner, the Yakima ForkLift, and our Best Buy Award winner, the RockyMounts Jetline. The trend toward creating bike racks that will work with a multitude of crossbar configurations has been driven by the increase in vehicles coming equipped with factory crossbars and the infiltration of the market by smaller companies. RockyMounts and Kuat, for example, do not manufacture crossbar systems, but both produce products that are compatible with either round or square bars.
Roof racks have many advantages over other types of carry systems. In many cases, they provide the greatest capacity to handle multiple bikes for a given vehicle. With long crossbars that extend beyond the width of the vehicle it is possible to carry up to six bikes on the roof of some vehicles. Versatility is another plus. The racks can be removed from the crossbars, allowing the crossbars to be used to carry cargo boxes, ski, kayak or surf racks. If your vehicle is equipped with factory cross bars, and you only need to purchase one for your bike and not an entire rail and crossbar system, then roof racks can be quite cost effective.
Roof racks can be further divided into fork mount, and tray style racks that hold the wheel or frame with some sort of clamp. A tray style rack, such as the Yakima High Roller, does not require removal of the front wheel. This can be convenient but also requires the bike to be lifted much higher to get it into the rack. On a car with a low roof height this is not a problem, but it may be difficult to impossible for most people when loading bikes onto SUVs and vans. There are several new racks on the market such as the Kuat Trio, winner of our Top Pick Award, that utilize a fork mount, but are capable of carrying bikes with a variety of axle standards such as 9mm, 15mm and 20mm. These types of bike racks can be a great option for the user that has multiple bikes.
Saris Freedom 2-Bike. Hitch mount competitors hold bicycles in two ways: a tray mount, such as the Kuat NV or the Thule T2 Classic, which use a clamping arm that holds the front tire and a small strap that holds the rear, or a support arm style hitch uses some combination of fixed or non-fixed arms that contact the frame, with straps (either nylon or rubber) that secure the bicycle.
Hitch mount style bike racks have the advantage of being easy to load, as they are closer to the ground. They also keep bikes out of the wind and in the slipstream behind the vehicle, potentially increasing fuel economy. On the other hand, hitch mounted models can be quite expensive. They are also generally fairly heavy, in the 30-50lb range. Overall capacity is also limited to four bikes with even the highest capacity models. Hitch mount models can also limit your access to your trunk or rear hatch. Some higher end models such as the Thule Apex Swing 4-Bike swing away from your vehicle, offering access to rear doors. The Editors' Choice Thule T2 Pro XT takes another approach to access and tilts down to allow access to the rear of the vehicle.
Criteria for Evaluation
Capacity is an important consideration for any prospective buyer. If you need to transport multiple bikes at once, then overall capacity should play a large part in your decision process. Versatility is a measure of the ability to carry multiple different types of bikes and bicycle frame shape and size can present issues for some. Any rack that uses the bicycle frame as the primary point of attachment will suffer in overall versatility since there are a multitude of frames on the market. Our Editors' Choice Thule T2 Pro XT scored highest due to its ability to hold virtually any type or size of frame securely. The similarly designed Kuat NV 2.0 comes in at a close second to the Pro model in terms of versatility, also accommodating any style of bike. The Thule T2 Pro XT and the Kuat NV 2.0 both use a ratcheting arm that holds the front wheel of the bicycle, regardless of wheel size, and are amongst the few options available for those wishing to transport fat bikes. A small strap secures the rear wheel. With this design, the shape or size of the frame is inconsequential. The Thule T2 Pro XT as tested is only able to carry two bikes.
Other models that we reviewed such as the Thule Apex Swing claim they carry four, but the design limits its ability to actually carry four. It is the rare combination of four bikes that will actually fit, and even when we were able to get that many on, the increased contact would result in damage that is impossible to avoid. As noted in our category breakdown, most vehicles' peak capacity is achieved by using a roof mount set up with multiple individual roof racks. It is of note that a roof unit such as our Top Pick Kuat Trio can only hold one bike, but the ability to put multiple units on the roof makes for a high capacity option. The Yakima High Roller was another standout for versatility with its ability to carry bikes differing axle standards.
Ease of Assembly and Attachment
It is rare to find any product these days that does not bear the label "some assembly required" and bike racks are no exception. Packaging, directions, and overall design all play a role in a given unit's ease of assembly. Once properly assembled, it must be attached to your vehicle. If you plan to take it on and off of your vehicle, or swap it between vehicles frequently, then this section is for you.
Once again, our Editors' Choice Thule T2 Pro XT was a standout. Assembly was easy, using the included hex wrenches. Attaching the T2 Pro XT to your vehicle is as simple as inserting it into your hitch receiver, engaging the stinger pin in the hitch receiver hole, and tightening the anti-sway knob by hand. At over 50lbs, the Thule T2 Pro XT is on the heavy side, but you only have to lift it as high as your receiver is off of the ground. Our Top Pick Thule Raceway Pro 9001 was also easy to assemble, requiring no tools. Attachment to the vehicle is quick and easy utilizing the Fit Dial feature, which gives you a number that corresponds to the ideal arm angle setting for your vehicle.
Ergonomics and Ease of Use
Getting the bikes on and off of the vehicle with minimal effort and headache was paramount to our testers. The less hassle it is to load, the more likely you will be to go for a ride.
Roof Racks: In general, our testers felt that while many of the roof models we tested are well designed, the overall ease of use suffered from the simple fact that they mount to the roof. Even a small passenger vehicle with roof racks will require that bicycles be lifted higher than you would need to for the trunk and hitch mount style racks we tested. For our testers who are shorter in stature, the need to lift up to the level of the roof was a deal breaker. It goes without saying that the taller your vehicle, the more pronounced this problem becomes. Of the roof models we tested, we found the Top Pick Kuat Trio and the Best Buy RockyMounts JetLine to be the easiest to load, primarily because both models clamp the front fork with wheel removed, so the bike does not have to be lifted as high, as compared to loading the Yakima High Roller.
Hitch Racks: These have the advantage of being lower to the ground. The tray style Editors' Choice Thule T2 Pro XT, the Thule T2 Classic, Yakima Hold Up, Kuat NV, and Kuat NV 2.0 require the least amount of lifting and offer the most user-friendly means of attachment. The Saris Freedom 2-Bike came in a close second, with an equally low loading height, but requires much more adjustment due to its frame clamp retention system.
Trunk Racks: All of the trunk racks have a relatively low loading height but can be difficult to load due to the two arm frame clamp design used by all of them. If you have a relatively horizontal top tube and it is not too small, loading can be fairly easy. If however, your bicycle frame is of the full suspension variety, or has an exotic or unique shape, positioning can be difficult. All of the trunk models we tested also require the use of stabilizing straps that must be threaded through the frame and back around the rack itself to prevent them from swaying. This added step increases the loading and unloading time.
We did our best to put all of the tested products through their paces. Luckily for our bikes, we did not have any catastrophic failures. Every product we tested came with the fine print "not for off-road use." While we understand that the manufacturers have to protect themselves legally, we had no intention of keeping these on the pavement. That said, some of our tested products really should not be used off road and we have detailed that in our test results in the individual product review sections.
The Editors' Choice Thule T2 Pro XT stood out with a robust, if not overbuilt, design. With a weight capacity at 120 lbs, you would be hard pressed to overload it. The cable lock and ratcheting arms worked flawlessly throughout the test period despite lots of rain, mud, and dust. The Kuat NV 2.0 is also a standout, with a powder coat finish that is difficult to scratch, and it holds up exceptionally well when exposed to the elements. Other durable-enough-to-last-a-lifetime standouts include the Best Buy RockyMounts JetLine and the Top Pick Yakima ForkLift. With very few moving parts and a simple design, they should get you through many seasons.
Given the right tools and enough time, a determined thief can compromise even the most secure bike rack. We feel that the most secure ones utilize cable locks like the Editors' Choice Thule T2 Pro XT and the Kuat Trio, or locks integrated into a fork clamp such as the Yakima ForkLift. The Thule T2 Pro XT, Kuat NV 2.0, Yakima Hold Up, and the Thule T2 Classic lock to the car via a burly locking hitch pin, and have cable locks that pull out of the trays or ratcheting arms. For these features they receive our highest marks. However, even our highest rated contenders have vulnerabilities. None of the racks we tested have long enough cables to thread through every wheel and the frame. A thief could remove expensive wheels and leave the frame. While a secure rack is no guarantee of safety from theft, it can give a bit of peace of mind when you stop for a bite to eat after a long ride.
A good bicycle rack should be versatile and easy to use, in combination with being incredibly bombproof. We set out to discover which model performs the best and which ones don't quite make the cut. We hope we've been able to help you decide which bicycle rack is best for your needs. However, if you're still unsure, consider reading over our buying advice for additional guidelines in making your decision. Happy riding!
— Curtis Smith
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