How Bike Racks Work

By: Robert Lamb

Types of Bike Racks

The type of vehicle you drive is a major factor in choosing a bike rack.
The type of vehicle you drive is a major factor in choosing a bike rack.
Karl Weatherly/Stockbyte/Getty Images

There are several types of bike racks on the market, each aimed at meeting the demands of various vehicle designs and bicyclists of differing levels. First, you need to evaluate what kind of automobile you have at your disposal. Once you know what the options are for your vehicle, it's just a question of how many bicycles you need to transport. Let's take a look at some of the main varieties of bicycle racks.

Roof mount bike racks: One of the most popular ways of transporting bikes by car is vertically mounting them right on top of your vehicle's roof. Most of these racks require an existing base rack system or factory-issued roof rack, which a roof mount bike rack simply latches onto. Some designs require you to remove the front tire from the bicycle to lock it into place, but others lock in as many as six fully assembled bicycles. Before you pile a bunch of cycles on the roof, check your owner's manual to make sure it can support that much weight. Also, keep in mind how much height the bicycles will add to your vehicle and where you'll be driving. If you're planning to mount bikes on top of a giant SUV and drive through an area with a lot of low overhangs, then you might be in for a few unpleasant surprises.


Hitch mount bike racks: No, you don't need a wheeled trailer to take advantage of a trailer hitch. These bike racks lock directly into a drawbar receiving tube or hitch tube and allow you to either strap the bicycle frames into a tube top or rest them, wheels down, in a tray rack. Trailer hitches are designed to take on a fair amount of stress, so your main concern will be making sure the rack fits your trailer hitch size. These racks typically hold the bikes several inches out from the vehicle, cutting down the risk of nicks and scratches. Hitch mount bike racks typically fold down or swing to the side to allow easier access to your trunk or truck bed. These racks usually carry two to six bikes.

Spare tire mount bike racks: If your Jeep or SUV has a spare tire mounted to its rear on a hinged mount, then you have a perfect place to mount a small bicycle rack. These racks attach behind the tire, which means you don't have to sacrifice your spare to lug a few bikes around. Mounting aside, these racks hold bikes in the same way as a hitch mount rack. You simply strap and lock the bike frame into place. These racks typically carry two bikes.

Trunk mount bike racks: But what if your vehicle doesn't have a trailer hitch, rear tire mount or roof rack? Well, don't fear, because all you need is a trunk to take advantage of this popular design. These folding racks fit a wide range of trunk styles, from classic, flat car trunks to nearly vertical SUV rear doors. They simply lock and strap into place around the edges of your trunk lid or door. Trunk mount bike racks are inexpensive and versatile enough to fit nearly any kind of automobile.

Truck bed bike racks: If you own an open-bed truck, you might be tempted to simply throw the bikes in the back and drive off. This method may save you time, but it doesn't help you to secure the bikes in place or protect both truck and cycle from scrapes, chipped paint and possible theft. Some truck bed bike racks resemble smaller versions of traditional, sidewalk bike racks, with a framed groove in which to slide the front bicycle tire. Others require you to remove the bicycle's front wheel to lock it in place. While the exact design varies, the result allows you to stow your bikes vertically without compromising safety or risking damage.

Ready to install that bike rack? Read the next page to find out how.