Bike racks and carriers have become incredibly popular in North America and Europe as both vehicle and bicycle sales exploded in 2020 with individuals looking for options to exercise outdoors and avoid mass public transit.
If you’re looking for a bike rack or carrier but are unsure which option is right for your vehicle and bikes, then you’ve come to the right place. We’ll give you the full breakdown of the best bike rack and carrier options on the market and how they function to help you decide which one best suits your needs.
A bike rack serves as a physical attachment to your vehicle’s rear or roof that safely carries one or more bicycles while parked or in transit. Typically constructed of stainless steel, aluminum, or a hard plastic, a bike rack or bike carrier will mount on your vehicle and lock your bicycles in place with straps or a clamping mechanism.
Bike racks and carriers are now one of the most popular exterior accessories for sedans, trucks, and SUVs alike, with many options available depending on your design preferences, bike size and weight, number of bicycles to be carried, and fitment for your specific vehicle.
Bike racks are normally categorized based on how and where they mount onto your vehicle, with the main three being roof bike racks, hitch mounted racks, trunk bike racks that strap onto the back of your vehicle. We’ll dive further into each type a little later on to help you determine which option is right for you and your vehicle.
Have you ever wanted to take a bike with you on a road trip or simply take a ride through nature at a National Park but didn’t have the proper equipment to get your bike there safely? Well most vehicles are too small to safely fit one or more bicycles between the backseat and trunk, and the ones that are large enough run the risk of mud tracking inside the vehicle or having metal gears and spokes potentially pierce the seat and trunk fabric.
Vehicle bike racks and carriers on the other hand allow you to safely and easily transport your bicycles without the risk of damaging the interior of your vehicle. Now let’s look at how bike racks function and determine which one best suits your vehicle and budget so you can enjoy a ride through a more scenic setting away from home.
Roof mounted bike racks are a versatile carrier option that allow even smaller vehicles such as sedans and hatchbacks to carry up to four bikes at a time. Roof bike racks typically attach to your vehicle’s roof rails and crossbars, which are commonly found on larger vehicles such as SUVs and minivans. Mounting clips and roof bar attachments will be necessary for vehicles that don’t have existing crossbars or rails; these attachments will clip and mount along the upper portion of the door frames.
Most roof bike racks are upright mounted carriers that hold one or more bikes in place along the bike’s frame and pedals. Although popular, this option can be more difficult to mount on to your vehicle simply from how high the bikes will sit along the roof. Mishandling a bike can cause scratches to the vehicle's roof or side panels. Another downside is that many taller vehicles may surpass the height restrictions for parking garages or any overhead structures with a low clearance.
Other roof bike rack carriers require the front wheel to be removed prior to mounting, and use clamps along the bike’s wheel fork to secure it in place. This requires more time to prepare your bikes for the road and will take up space in your trunk, however, it does make it easier to securely mount different styled bike frames along the roof, and can make driving conditions safer for taller vehicles.
If purchased with roof crossbars and additional adaptors, a roof rack can also serve as a base to transport cargo boxes and winter or water sport equipment such as skis, snowboards, canoes, and kayaks.
Cost of an aluminum framed roof bike carrier can range from $150 to $250 per bike, along with an additional $200-$400 for roof rails and crossbars if your vehicle isn’t already equipped.
Bed mounted bike racks are a popular option for pick-up truck owners as they can mount either inside the truck’s bed or above the side rails when purchased with additional crossbars. This option is ideal for most truck owners as it does not limit the bed’s cargo capacity, leaving room for other equipment and cargo. It also does not obstruct access to the tailgate door, nor does it block the taillights or the rear license plate.
These raised racks require mounting bars to be installed along the sides of the truck box; the installation and removal process is similar to roof rack carriers but is much easier to mount a bicycle and any necessary adaptors since you can stand level inside the truck’s bed. These carriers are typically more expensive than trunk strap on racks but do provide additional security for your bikes.
Cost of an aluminum or steel framed bed mounted bike carrier can range from $150 to $250, accommodating up to three bikes, along with an additional $200-$400 for rails and crossbars if you prefer to mount the bikes above the truck bed and maintain full cargo capacity.
One of the most popular bike rack carriers is the trunk mounted rack that straps onto the rear of your vehicle. They’re usually a universal fit for most vehicles and are especially well suited for hatchbacks and SUVs as they comfortably strap onto a flatter rear contoured back window and trunk door or bumper.
Trunk strap-on carriers are an ideal option for individuals who lease their vehicles, and only need to transport one to three bikes. They’re also easier to install and mount one or more bikes than a roof rack, and allow you to drive in underground garages and areas with lower clearances.
Trunk racks constructed of aluminum or steel provide increased security and durability compared to hard plastic models and are worth the added cost. It’s typically one of the least expensive bike carrier options, costing as little as $100 for plastic models, and up to $400 for premium aluminum or steel racks with indented or padded frames that carry up to three bikes and fold up for easy storage.
There are some major drawbacks to consider, especially if purchasing an inexpensive plastic trunk rack:
If a trunk mounted bike carrier best suits your vehicle and needs, then we recommend purchasing one with an aluminum frame that is padded or indented and has a higher weight capacity. Also ensure it has a secure strapping mechanism that is durable enough to handle the weight of your bikes. All of this reduces the possibility of any dents or scratches on your vehicle's rear panels or bumper from bearing too much weight, and reduces the risk of the bikes coming loose while in transport.
Hitch mounted and tow bar mounted bike carriers are an excellent option for vehicles that are rated for towing and have an existing hitch or tow bar connected to the chassis. They safely secure one or more bikes in place without touching your vehicle, reducing the risk of scratches or dents. Typically constructed with a steel frame and aluminum rails, making it suitable for heavier bicycles including e-bikes.
For added road safety and compliance, premium tow-bar mounted racks provide a taillight connection and don't fully block your license plate as much as traditional strap on trunk bike carriers. They’re usually safer for taller vehicles such as SUVs, and the installation and mounting process is much easier as it’s done at ground level.
Cost of a hitch mounted or tow bar mounted bike carrier can range from $250 to $400, accommodating up to three bikes. More expensive options include taillight connections, and a tilting feature to allow for easier access to the trunk, costing as much as $900.
Some drawbacks to consider are that many smaller vehicles including sedans don’t have a trailer hitch and may not be rated for towing; this creates an added expense of buying and installing a hitch or tow bar, with some requiring holes to be drilled into the vehicle's chassis. Doing so can affect the vehicle’s warranty and isn’t recommended for leased vehicles. And similar to trunk mounted carriers, some hitch mounted bike racks may obstruct the driver’s view through the rear window, along with blocking the taillights and license plate, which is a finable offense in some regions.
Our recommendation would be to only purchase a hitch mounted carrier if your vehicle is already equipped with a trailer hitch or tow bar, and the carrier includes taillight connections.
Before purchasing a bike rack carrier you should ask yourself a few questions to help determine which option best suits your needs and vehicle.
Many roof mounted and hitch mounted bike rack carriers do not universally fit all vehicles. Roof rack and trunk strap on bike carriers tend to better suit sedans, hatchbacks, and smaller SUVs that have a utility track with roof bars or crossbars. Adaptors might be required to safely attach and install a bike rack onto the roof bars of your specific vehicle.
Taller vehicles such as large SUVs are not always ideal to carry and stow bikes on their roof since it can be difficult to mount, and may cause unsafe driving conditions by changing the aerodynamics of the vehicle.
Hitch-mount carriers and tow bar mounted bike racks are great options to safely carry multiple bikes on SUVs, pick-up trucks and wagons that have an existing trailer hitch.
Bed mounted bike racks are also great options for pick-up trucks as they don’t block the taillights or license plate, and are easier to install and mount while standing inside the truck bed. Just ensure that any crossbars fit the dimensions and width of the bed for your truck’s make and model if you want to maintain full cargo capacity.
Roof rails and cross bars are necessary to safely hold one or more bikes in place, and are not standard attachments on most vehicles, nor are they often included when purchasing a roof bike rack. Trunk mounted bike carriers typically arrive fully assembled and do not require additional attachment to mount onto your vehicle. Prior to purchasing a bike rack for your vehicle, confirm if adaptors or additional bars are required to safely install and mount a bike rack on your roof or rear.
Some bike rack options are designed to carry only a single bike, while others can carry up to four bikes on a roof or rear strap or hitch. A two-bike carrier is ideal for most individuals and vehicles, however many families prefer the option for three to four bikes to be carried on a family excursion.
Most vehicles and bike carriers also have a maximum weight capacity, so please confirm the total weight of your bikes to ensure they can be safely transported.
Roof bike carriers typically carry a single bike, but multiple carriers can be attached to a roof rack and crossbar in order to transport up to four bikes. Hitch-mount and tow bar bike racks are great options to carry two to three bikes on a vehicle that has an existing trailer hitch or tow bar such as an SUV, pick-up truck, or select wagons. Trunk strap on carriers can carry one, two, or three bikes, but it's safer to not transport too much weight as it can possibly scratch or dent the rear panels on your vehicle.
If you enjoy participating in other sports and activities that require a rack to carry equipment such as skis, snowboards, kayaks, or a cargo basket, then purchasing a roof rack with crossbars is a great option for cross functional compatibility. A bike rack itself won't carry other equipment or sport accessories. However, if purchased with compatible roof rails and crossbars, then a similar branded ski and snowboard carrier or cargo box should also attach to that same rail and crossbar system. These sport specific carriers may require adaptors or t-bolt clamps in order to safely install and mount onto the roof’s crossbar or utility track.
Most roof rack bike carriers will add a few feet to the height of your vehicle when a bike is mounted, so make sure to understand your vehicle’s parking needs prior to purchasing one as you might exceed a height clearance in an underground garage or drive-through underpass.
If you likely have to park your vehicle underground, then a trunk strap-on bike carrier or hitch-mounted carrier might work best for your vehicle.
Once you know which bike rack options are compatible with your vehicle and parking needs, as well as the number of bikes you need to carry, you can narrow down your list based on your budget. A multi-bike carrier will be more expensive but will provide the added flexibility of transporting more than one bike per trip.
Hitch-mount and tow bar mounted bike racks are also more expensive than trunk strap-on bike carriers, but provide added security and won’t fully block your taillights or license plate, which can be a finable offense depending on the province, state, or region.
Stainless steel and aluminum bike racks are more expensive than all plastic carriers, but are also worth the added cost as they provide greater durability and superior security for your bikes. Expect to spend about $200 CAD for every bike you need transported, unless you’re carrying light-weight road bikes on a trunk strap-on rack.
Menabo has a rich history of producing superior bike racks and carriers thanks to its extensive investment in R&D, blended with the elegance of Italian craftsmanship. Menabo has become a best selling brand in Europe and abroad with its focus on premium design, safety, and durability.
Menabo bike racks are available in both universal fit and custom fit options for hitch mount, rear mounting, and roof mounting racks for a wide range of vehicles.
Menabo’s Chrono roof-mounted bike carrier for instance is made with a strong aluminum frame and is designed with the highest safety standards. Chrono bike racks connect safely to your vehicle’s roof bars using standard 20mm/0.8” T-bolts, and are suitable for larger mountain bikes, road bikes, and even e-bikes with a maximum load of 55 lbs.
Menabo’s Viper rear mounting bike carrier is another great option for hatchbacks, wagons, and SUVs. Constructed with a steel frame, it’s suited to safely carry up to three bikes with a maximum load of 95 lbs. It’s easy to install on your vehicle’s trunk, and can be safely removed and folded for convenient storage.
Now that we’ve covered the benefits of owning a bike rack carrier and the range of options available on the market, you’re one step closer to choosing the best bike rack for your vehicle and next biking adventure.
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