The Best Bike Racks for Cars and SUVs
Gearing up for some two-wheeled adventures? Choosing a new bike rack can be confusing with so many options available. Each type has its own pros and cons, which means the best bike rack for car and SUV drivers usually depends on the circumstances.
Are you headed on a family summer holiday, with four bikes and a caravan in tow? Or will you be hitting the open road solo, with a need for speed and easy access to your wheels? Always think about your needs now, and in the future, to find a rack that's going to work long-term.
In this quick and easy guide, we will cover the four primary types of bike racks for cars and SUVs to help you find the one best suited to your adventure.
- Towbar Mounted Bike Racks
- Towball Mounted Bike Racks
- Rear Mounted Bike Racks
- Roof Mounted Bike Racks
- Best Bike Rack for Car and SUV
Towball Mounted Bike Racks
Towball Mounted Bike Racks Are Best For:
- Regular bike and cycling adventures
- Keeping expensive bikes safe and secure
- Long-distance family trips, with access to the boot
Towball mounted bike racks are possibly the most common and popular type of bike rack. Solid, secure, and with space for up to four bikes, these racks are suitable for family adventures large and small, without hindering access to your boot.
You will also need to purchase a tow bar if you don't already have one, but the good news is that these racks are compatible with a range of different tow bars. An additional number plate is usually required, but lighting boards (replacement rear lights) tend to come with the rack itself.
The rack can then be either bolted or clamped on, secured onto the vehicle's tow ball via a quick-release lever system, or bolted on with an adjuster screw. This makes it relatively easy to whip it on and off when the mood for a two-wheeled adventure strikes. Bikes are loaded onto a platform with an arm to hold the front wheel in place or hang from a bracket by their top tubes. A ratcheting strap can also be used to fix the rear wheel in place.
Towball mounted racks offer a range of features to get your bikes securely to your destination in one piece. The rack is locked in place at the fixing point, while a cable lock can be wrapped around the bikes and carrier for additional peace of mind. On some models, you will also have the option to upgrade cycle support arms to lockable handles.
With loading low to the ground, hitching your bikes up to your car or SUV is hassle-free. Meanwhile, this type of bike rack will tilt even with cycles loaded, allowing access to the boot whenever you need it.
Try this Towball Mounted 4 Bike Cycle Carrier which is suitable for bikes up to 15kg each with easy access to your car luggage compartment.
Towbar Bike Racks
Towbar Bike Racks Are Best For:
- Towing a caravan or trailer at the same time
- Attaching and removing at a moment's notice
- Family adventures on a budget
If you have a caravan or trailer in tow, a towbar mounted rack is the way to go. Suitable for cycles of all shapes and sizes, a towbar bike rack has the capacity for a heavy load and takes seconds to install and remove. This makes it a good choice for all sorts of adventurers, from breezy E-bike enthusiasts to heavy-hitting off-roaders.
It tends to cost less than a tow ball mounted rack, which means it's also a great option for the budget-conscious, who aren't too worried about bikes getting scratched or stolen. Bikes cannot be securely locked to this style of rack, so you'll need to keep an eye on them when stopping off at service stations and campsites.
If you don't already have one, you will also need a flange-type towbar, which can either be permanently attached to your vehicle or removable. Remember to find one that's compatible with your vehicle's make and model. You'll also need an additional number plate.
It's worth noting that access to the boot is often limited with a towbar mounted rack, although you will have space on the roof for extra storage. Once the initial base plate has been installed, this type of rack is a breeze to get on and off, and fits securely to most cars and SUVs fitted with a flange tow bar.
This Flange Towbar Mounted Cycle Carrier is a cost-effective option with space for up to three bikes.
Rear Mounted Bike Racks
Rear Mounted Bike Racks Are Best For:
- Shorter distance trips or one-off adventures
- Couples and solo cyclists
- Those on a budget
Rear mounted bike racks are typically attached to your car or SUV without the need for a towbar or roof bars. This makes it a cost-effective choice if you don't regularly need to transport your bikes, and only need space for one or two.
Also known as boot mounted bike racks, these racks are simply strapped to your car or SUV and can be adjusted as needed. Quick to fit and remove, they are also easy to load and unload, with the bikes mounted at bonnet height.
While you won't need any towing equipment, you will need an extra number plate and lighting board to remain legal on the roads. It's worth bearing this in mind when weighing up options in terms of budget.
Another advantage to rear mounted racks is the fact that they can be folded neatly away when not in use. This makes them especially suitable for part-time cycle lovers and quick day trips. Despite the low cost, these racks are usually sturdy enough to support a typical adult cycle or two, whether you prefer mountain biking or road riding.
The main downside to rear mounted racks is the security. With bikes often secured by straps, there is the possibility for movement during transit, which runs the risk of scratched paintwork. There is no locking system either, so bikes are vulnerable to theft if left unattended. Because of this, it's best to stick to paved roads when driving, secure your bikes with additional accessories like a ratcheting strap, and stick to short-distance adventures.
For peace of mind, try this Rear 2 Bike Carrier with Foldable Rails, which comes with rigid top fixing brackets and an additional safety strap, tested with a whopping 300kg load.
Roof Mounted Bike Racks
Roof Mounted Bike Racks Are Best For:
- Lower vehicles
- Drivers who need rear-view visibility
- Lighter cycles such as road bikes
As the name suggests, roof mounted bike racks are fixed to the roof of your vehicle, supporting up to four bikes. You won't need a tow bar, but you will need roof bars for the top of your vehicle, which can also be used for transporting roof boxes and other sports equipment.
Roof racks offer the unique advantage of uninterrupted access to the rear of the vehicle. This is especially important for drivers who rely heavily on their rear-view mirror. You'll also be able to access the boot at all times, with no added bulk in the way. Of course, bear in mind that having bikes on the roof can affect the fuel economy of your vehicle, as they interfere with aerodynamics.
One drawback to roof car bike racks is the difficulty of loading and unloading. You'll find that lighter bikes work better here – anything heavier than an adult road bike will make mounting a strenuous affair. Some roof racks also require the removal of the front wheel, which adds time to the loading process and reduces storage space inside the vehicle.
An SUV is likely to be too high to reasonably mount bikes on top of, so roof racks are better suited to lower vehicles. Having said that, sporty cars will have a low weight limit when it comes to roof mounting, so be sure to check your vehicle's manual before making a purchase. Road bikes and kid's bikes should be fine, but this type of rack is not usually suited to anything particularly heavy, such as E-Bikes.
Once loaded onto the roof, wheels are fixed to the track with ratcheting straps and bikes are firmly fixed in place with an adjustable arm. You can usually lock the roof rack to your vehicle and then lock each bicycle to the roof rack for security.
Solo cyclists can't go wrong with this simple Roof Mounted 1 Bike Carrier, which includes 'T' adaptors to help fix it to your vehicle's existing roof bars.
Best Bike Rack for Car and SUV
In summary, the best bike rack for cars and SUVs depends on a number of variables, including how often you plan to transport your bikes, how many you plan to transport, the type and weight of those bikes, and the vehicle and towing equipment you already own.
For easy loading, a secure fit and the ultimate versatility, a towball mounted rack is easily the most popular choice. These racks can be fixed to most tow bars and are suitable for transporting all sorts of bikes on adventures large and small.