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.

As this is a big purchase, it’s a good idea to ask ahead and get advice from the company selling them. They’ll be able to answer questions about compatibility.

Fortunately, many of the best bike racks and trailers out there have a lot of build in flexibility, so they should be able to adjust most vehicle designs.

Aside from compatibility, when shopping around you should also look for:

  • Scratch free surfaces: You don’t want your car or, heaven forbid, your bike getting scratched. Look for bike racks that feature this kind of protection.
  • Security of the bikes: If you are going to be away from your bike for even a short period of time you want to be sure someone can’t just run away with it.

When shopping around for a suitable solution for transporting your bike ask yourself:

  • 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. tandem?
  • 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.
  • Will the rack have multiple uses? Are you using it only to transport a bike or will it have other uses.
  • 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?

Types of racks

Rear car door carriers

These fix on to the back of cars. Although they are often promoted as “universal”, that’s not always the case so it’s best to check whether it will fit your car.


  • Can typically fit between 2 to 3 bikes
  • Affordable
  • Easy access to your bike – you don’t have to reach too far
  • Doesn’t take up too much space when not in use


  • Can be a little fiddly to install the first couple of times

Tow bar mounted

For cars with a tow bar this is an excellent option. A 4×4 is likely to be able to carry more bikes than a typical car. It’s useful to know the tow bar nose weight of your car when shopping around. This will tell you the maximum number of bikes you can carry.


  • Can find models that fit up to 5 bikes


  • Only for cars with a tow bar

Roof mounted carriers

These carriers fit on to your roof racks if your car has them. If not then you’ll need to fit roof racks first and then choose a bike carrier to attach.


  • Can typically fit up to 4 bikes but can find models that fit up to 6
  • Secure option if you use a lock


  • It can be strenuous to reach up on the roof of the car
  • Need to be careful to avoid low bridges and multi-storey car parks

Indespension sell the type of racks I’ve discussed in this post.

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5 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.

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