Choosing the right bike rack

Shock announcement:

Many cyclists also own cars!

You heard it here first. Many cyclists enjoy using said cars for heading off to far flung places to ride their bikes.

Transporting them involves some kind of bike rack. Whether that’s a trailer or an attachable rack that fits on the top or rear of your car.

The biggest problem with shopping around for a bike rack is knowing which one is suitable for both your bike and your car.

Here is me having solved that issue recently:

Man stood next to car with a bike rack on the back near a cottage

(We named the car Thunder on account of the roar when trying to get uphill but failing miserably)

As this is a big purchase, here’s what you need to search deep within your soul and ask yourself:

  1. Does my car have a tow bar?
  2. Does my car have a roof rack?

Yes, I have one of those tow bar thingies

Great! You are in the same position I was in. Two brands that came recommended are Thule and Saris.

I ended up with a Thule Xpress 2-Bike which I got shipped from Amazon next day with Prime as I’m forever leaving decisions until the last minute.

The Thule Xpress-2 Bike Rack is cheap (around £60), has next to zero assembly (I’m allergic to instruction manuals), can be secured with a padlock and folds down fairly small.

When it arrived, I fumbled a little with securing it on the tow bar. Initially, I assumed perhaps there are different size tow bars and mine wasn’t compatible, but that wasn’t the case, it just required a fair bit of pressure to clamp down securely. Most tow bars are a standard 50mm (around 2 inches).

A little padlock goes through a small hole which means a thief would have to break that to get the bikes (as long as they too are secured to the rack with a lock). It’s not perfect security, but it’s better than nothing.

The Thule Xpress also comes in a 3 bike rack option. Be conscious with the maximum weight recommended with your tow bar.

There are of course plenty more tow bar options, though do expect to spend in the region of £300 to £500. Thule have a handy list on their website.

Yes, I have one of those roof rack thingies

Great! Aside from holding your breath every time you drive under a low bridge and the strength required to reach up and place your bikes on the car, roof racks are a great option.

Similar to tow bar bike racks, both Thule and Saris are recommended options.

Roof racks can be a little fiddly to install and you want to make sure you get it right. Halfords sell the Thule ProBike which is a very popular option for around £90. The upside of buying from Halfords is that they’ll also install the rack for you, for free. This gives good peace of mind and is the reason a lot of people get these things from Halfords.

The Thule ProBike carrier is lockable, which means you’ll feel a little more at ease each time your bike is out of sight.

No, I don’t have a tow bar or a roof rack

It’s easy to despair if your bike doesn’t have a roof rack or tow bar. It’s easy to think – what’s the point any more? How can I go on?

But don’t fear – there are actually a ton of great boot bike rack options for the many of us in this situation.

Many of these boot racks are billed as “universal” but cars and bikes comes in many shapes and sizes, so it’s best to do your homework first and check if it will fit your car.

Both Thule and Saris are two options I’ve tried and recommend.

On the Thule website, you are able to pick your car model along with how many you want to carry and Thule will list the compatible options. Saris have the same tool on their website. I recommend starting there.

Failing that – it’s a trip to the nearest Halfords. As they help with installation, it’s a popular choice for those of us who are new to the bike car rack game.

Here’s a useful checklist of questions to have in mind as you shop around:

  • How many bikes am I going to need to transport?
  • Will I use it often enough to justify the cost?
  • Is it a bike that doesn’t fit the typical dimensions? E.g. a ladies step over frame bike
  • Check your car manual – do they recommend only a certain type of rack or a maximum load?
  • Will you be using the bike rack on different cars or just one?
  • Do you already have a rack on your roof that you can attach additional components to?
  • Check how high you can lift your bike – you don’t want something that will go on the roof if you won’t be able to reach.
  • How much space do you have to store the rack when it’s not in use? Do you need something that packs down to a small size?

This guide was updated in July 2017. Our original roof rack guide was published in 2013.


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12 Responses to Choosing the right bike rack

  1. Mark 16/04/2013 at 8:50 am #

    You forgot to mention light boards – if your rear bike rack and/or bike obstructs the lights or number plate of the car at all you NEED a light board.

  2. PaulR 16/04/2013 at 11:37 am #

    Nice article – really good to have the main considerations listed out. I spent ages looking for a bike rack and it took quite a while and a lot of looking to figure out what I actually needed.

    In the end went for the rather unusual looking Saris Gran Fondo

    My main concern was that I would need to be able to use the rack on a number of different cars. This rack can fit a huge variety of vehicles (even the back door of a van works) due to the way it attaches and it only takes a few seconds to put it on or take it off. The lights and number plate a fully visible when using the rack so you don’t need a light board (which you would need with almost all other rear racks on at least one of the cars that I use this rack with).

    It’s expensive, there’s no getting past that (although I didn’t pay anywhere near list price and you can usually find them heavily discounted). It only holds two bikes, but that’s all I ever need. If you had solid metal mudguards then it might not work so well (it cups the wheel/tyre to hold the bike), but it works fine with the Crud Road Racer Guards on my road bike (which are very tight fitting and flexible).

    It’s definitely not going to be the rack that suits everyone, but for me it’s perfect.

  3. Steve@Tern 20/05/2013 at 3:30 pm #

    Useful article, thanks.
    I once made the mistake of “investing” in a budget rear-door carrier which, although designed for 3 bikes, needed such tension in the straps that it put dents in the hatchback panel. I found a towbar-mounted solution much better, and more secure as well.

  4. Alex 10/06/2014 at 11:07 am #

    I am doing some research on bike racks at the moment and from what I gather a lot of people are avoiding the roof racks. Reasons being as you mentioned that it is more difficult to reach the bikes and strangely enough the people using them seem to forget that their bikes are roof mounted and end up causing damage to their vehicle and bike.

    I am leaning toward the the tow bar mounted models at the moment and just need to find one that offers decent security while allowing easy access to the rear of my vehicle.

    • Mark 16/03/2015 at 12:22 pm #

      I recommend getting a hitch mounted bike rack, it’s the one that works best for me; is really easy to access, mount and take off.

  5. Cathie 14/07/2017 at 10:38 am #

    We have a Thule Euroway 921 which is currently (only) £280 in Decathlon, plus the cost of an extra numberplate. It is towbar mounted, for 2 bikes, and folds to fit in the boot when not in use. The difference between this and other bike racks we have had in the past is as night and day. It is easy to set up the first time to fit the towbar, and then it is the work of minutes to unfold and load the bikes. The same key locks the rack onto the towbar and the bikes onto the rack. The only irritation is that it beeps continually whenever you indicate, not sure that was necessary. I really recommend it.

  6. John Holiday 14/07/2017 at 4:12 pm #

    I am still using a Paddy Hopkirk ball mounted scissor type rack that I bought 20years ago.
    Always keep it in boot. One of the best £18.00 worth ever!

  7. Dinsmore 14/07/2017 at 4:32 pm #

    I once owned a Thule roof rack and it served me well for 15 years. When It was time for a new car my wife and I decided that we would prefer to lodge the bikes inside the car away from the elements. I bought a Kia Rondo and now place the bikes inside the car side by side supported with dropout supports attached to a wooden plank with the front wheels off. This leaves us with ample room for luggage besides the bikes for our trip. Better than any rack idea.

  8. Pedalpusher1969 14/07/2017 at 8:08 pm #

    Nobody seems to have mentioned the Seasucker vacuum mounted bike carriers. Will fit any vehicle and quick to get on and off.

    Disadvantages are that, if you want to leave your bike-laden vehicle unattended, you will need a locking cable of some variety (and length), and you need to take your front wheel off.

  9. WGG 18/07/2017 at 8:57 am #

    ^^ Agreed – I just came back from a 1,200 mile round trip to Verbier with 2 bikes on the roof using SeaSucker mounts. They survived a lot of enthusiastic driving and inclement weather. Highly recommend. Can be mounted to any clean, flat(ish) surface of any car. Absolutely awesome!

  10. Trevor 19/07/2017 at 12:41 pm #

    You probably should also mention the need to use a llighting/numberplate board if your chosen rack obscures the plate and lights on the car. As things stand your photograph of your car and rack isn’t road legal.

  11. Michael Broadbent 04/08/2017 at 3:10 pm #

    Your wheels look a bit close to the ground in the picture. I would recommend a minimum of 12” and probably a bit more if you have a long rear overhang or if you are going off road.
    Hanger type racks are fine if you don’t mind spending time adding foam and lots of straps to avoid any rubbing.
    However, for faster loading and no frame rubbing you can now get.

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