How to Choose the Best Bike Rack for You
Posted: August 23, 2023
Categories: Buying Guides & Reviews
How to Choose the Best Bike Rack for You
Choosing the best bike rack is a little like choosing the best campsite – there are a whole lot of options, and if you’re not careful, each one starts to look exactly the same. But there’s a gem out there, make no mistake, and we’re here to help you find it.
In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about choosing the best bike rack for your lifestyle, crew, vehicle and preferences. We’ll show you several different types of bike racks and ask the right questions to help you make a fully informed buying decision.
Tap below to jump to a specific topic:
- Defining "Bike Rack"
- Parts of a Bike Rack
- Advantages of a Hitch Bike Rack
- Questions When Choosing a Rack
- Bike Rack Characteristics to Consider
- Key Features to Look for in Your Bike Rack
- Comparing Pros & Cons of Different Models
- Best Bike Rack by Vehicle Type
- Installation Considerations
- Essential Accessories
- Buying Replacement Parts
Wait, What Is a Bike Rack?
Before we dive into nitty-gritty details of each type of bike rack, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page. This guide is about choosing the best hitch bike rack. When we talk about bike rack, we’re referring to the hitch accessory that attaches to the back (or front, actually) of your vehicle, using your trailer hitch receiver.
Now, that doesn’t mean we won’t talk about a few other kinds, such as roof-mounted options, hitchless alternatives and RV bike racks. However, the main focus of this article is hitch-mounted bike racks. We’re talking about a solid, easy-to-use, load-it-and-haul-it, tow-behind bike rack. Like this:
Oh, and in case there’s any confusion, we’re not referring to a floor bike rack, like they have down on Main street or at your local library or at the park. That would just be silly.
An Overview of Bike Rack Types
A hitch-mounted bike rack is any bike rack that attaches to the vehicle using the receiver hitch.
A hanging-style bike rack is loaded by hanging the bike by its frame using arms or brackets.
A tray or platform bike rack is loaded by placing the bike tires on a platform or loop-like cradles.
A trailer bike rack attaches to the tongue area of a trailer frame, suspending bikes above the coupler.
A clamp-on bike rack attaches to the vehicle by clamping onto the ball mount shank.
An RV bike rack is a bike rack specifically designed to mount on the back of a motorhome or class B RV.
There are no doubt a few other types of bike racks out there – like truck-bed bike racks and spare tire bike racks – and the exciting thing is that passionate people innovate. Who knows what kind of unique bike rack will appear next – a bike rack that hovers behind your vehicle? A bike rack that also holds your dog? A bike rack that serves lattes?
When you’re shopping around for the one that best serves your needs, the list above covers your basic options. Some may have a few different bells and whistles, but they all fall into one of those categories.
Parts of a Hitch Bike Rack
As you research different options, it’s important to know the terminology. You might come across a few unfamiliar terms, and knowing what in the world the manufacturer (or forum or review or YouTube video) is talking about will help you make a confident buying decision.
In the bike rack diagram below, we’ve outlined all of the basic features that any given hitch bike rack might share.
- Horizontal arms
The horizontal arms on a bike rack are the primary hanging apparatus, providing an attachment point between bike frame and bike rack. The longer the arms, the more bikes the rack can hold. Horizontal arms are typically only found on hanging-style bike racks.
The cradles on a bike rack refer to the loops that hold the bikes in place. These loops take several different forms and may be constructed from rubber, metal, plastic or a combination of materials. Most cradles are adjustable to fit different size bikes. They may be positioned toward the top of the bike rack, gripping the bike by its frame, or they can be in a tray-style at the bottom of the rack, holding the bike by its wheels.
- Vertical arm(s)
The vertical arm or arms of the bike rack provide the vertical structure to support and accommodate the bike rack frame. On hanging-style racks, the vertical arm helps elevate the bikes off the ground. On tray-style racks, the vertical arm provides an adjustable clamp-like structure that holds the bikes in place and can be adjusted to various heights for different bike sizes.
The shank is the horizontal tube that inserts into the vehicle’s receiver hitch and provides the direct connection point for the bike rack to the tow vehicle. On many models, the shank serves as the base structure to which all of the other components attach.
Bike rack trays are a type of platform-like base, used for holding the bike in place while it is on the rack. Trays lie horizontal at the bottom of the rack, providing a place to set the bike’s tires. Trays can be open loops or troughs and are typically constructed from metal.
Advantages of a Hitch Bike Rack
As you begin to peruse the plethora of bike rack options out there, some questions may arise: "Do I really need this? Why am I shopping for a bike rack anyway? Why don’t I just throw my bikes in the trunk and be done with it?"
Is a bike rack really necessary?
We would argue yes, a bike rack is totally necessary! Hitch bike racks provide loads of advantages over other forms of bike transportation. Here are a few:
- They’re less hassle.
You could finagle your bikes into the trunk of your SUV or the back seat of your car, but why go through the hassle? Usually there’s not enough room anyway, and you know what that means: you’re taking off the front tire, lowering the seat, untangling the pedals from the seatbelts, etc.
And that’s just with one bike! Throw a couple more bikes in, and you’ve got a real jigsaw puzzle on your hands.
- They hold more bikes.
Even if you could sneak one partially disassembled bike into the second row of your SUV, what happens when you want to go biking with a friend or the rest of the family? Hitch bike racks easily hold three, four or even five bikes at a time with ease. No disassembly required!
- They’re less messy.
Bike transportation is a dirty job. Think we’re exaggerating? Greasy chains, dusty tires, not to mention if you bike off-road – these are just some of the messy elements you’ll be bringing inside your vehicle if you choose to transport your bikes this way.
A hitch bike rack provides a better solution because it always keeps all of that grime and mess outside where it belongs.
- They require less time.
Loading most bike racks is a fairly painless process. In fact, it’s darn easy. With a hitch bike rack, your bikes are loaded up in minutes and you’re on your way. It takes a fraction of the time versus jamming your bike into the back seat of your car. And if you’re thinking, "I don’t own a car, I own a truck with a spacious truck bed," read on to the next point.
- They keep your bikes safer.
Yes, you could toss your bike into your truck bed, or chuck it in the back of your trailer, or even ratchet strap it down to your cargo carrier (we don’t recommend any of these ideas, by the way). But, chances are your bike wasn’t cheap, and even if it was on the lower end, you want to take care of your stuff.
A bike rack is designed to do just that. It literally cradles your bike to keep if from getting scuffs or scratches, and there are options to add a key-operated lock or just a classic bike lock to make things road-ready and theft-resistant.
- They add cargo space.
This one is obvious, but it’s important to observe that a hitch bike rack will add cargo space to your vehicle that wasn’t there before. This is especially important for longer trips. With the rack holding all of your bikes, everything else -- your trunk, third row or backseat – will be free to hold a cooler, duffle bag, grill, pillows, board games – all the essentials for a great adventure.
But It’s So Bulky and Awkward, Right?
One disadvantage that some might level against using a bike rack is that they seem big, bulky and awkward.
Not necessarily true!
Some hitch bike racks are bulky and heavy, yes. However, did you know that most come with a folding frame or multiple folding points to remain compact and convenient for storage or when not in use? Oftentimes, the arms and shank of the bike rack will fold up, allowing it to maintain a low profile.
Plus, did you know that there are aluminum bike rack options for lightweight, hassle-free carrying?
Bike Rack vs. Cargo Carrier – What’s the Difference?
Hitch bike racks and hitch cargo carriers are sometimes confused. Not only are they similar in their effect; they also have a lot of overlap in what people call them: cargo rack, hitch carrier, hitch bike carrier, bike hitch rack, rack hitch bike carrier cargo…
Very simply, a cargo carrier is a tray or basket used for transporting cargo. It mounts onto a hitch receiver, using a shank (there are also roof-mounted options), and provides a platform to hold gear, supplies, luggage, recreational equipment, even wild game.
A bike rack is a similar device, only instead of holding various types of cargo, it is designed to hold only bicycles. Cargo carriers and bike racks also obviously look very different.
While similar in their purpose, a bike rack is a far superior option for transporting bikes with your vehicle versus a cargo carrier. Cargo carriers are typically much too small to properly hold the bike without disassembling it. And even then, cargo carriers don’t provide the same level of custom-tailored security that bike racks can offer.
So, if you’re considering whether or not you can simply use your hitch cargo carrier as a bike rack, better reconsider.
1. What type of vehicle do you drive?
Start by thinking about the vehicle you drive. The bike rack you choose must be complementary to its size and capacity.
The right bike rack for an SUV might be entirely wrong for a hatchback coupe. And vice versa.
If you have car or crossover, you likely won’t need or want a big, elaborate bike rack. Something small and more manageable will work better.
If you drive a minivan or SUV, you’ll probably want a larger bike rack that can accommodate the number of passengers you’re able to carry.
We’ll discuss this in more detail later on.
2. Does your vehicle have a receiver hitch?
The next step for choosing a bike rack is to consider what your vehicle is equipped with. Does it have a rear-mounted receiver hitch? If not, your options for choosing a bike rack may be somewhat limited.
Many bike racks are designed to attach directly to a hitch receiver.
It is key to remember the standard hitch receiver sizes: 1-1/4", 2" and 2-1/2". Most bike racks have a 1-1/4" or 2" shank. Some fit both.
If your vehicle doesn't have the correct receiver size, don’t worry! You can use a hitch adapter to ensure the right fit.
3. How many bikes will you be transporting?
Answering this question is critical! Aim too high and your bike rack will consistently have wasted space. Aim too low and you might be forced to leave some bikes at home.
Bike racks are available to carry anywhere from one to six bikes. If you have a family or group of friends you’re planning to road trip with, select a bike rack that has a higher capacity.
If it’s just you and a buddy, a two-bike or three-bike model that’s easier to carry, set up and load will be more enjoyable.
Just remember to think ahead. Maybe it’s just you and your spouse hitting the trails for now, but what about next weekend? Or in two months? Will friends or family be joining you for the ride?
4. What types of bikes will you be transporting?
Most bike racks can accept road bikes, mountain bikes and others that have a horizontal top tube. However, not all of them are quite so accommodating to women’s bikes, kids’ bikes, BMX bikes and fat-tire bikes.
Tray-style or platform bike racks are able to carry virtually any style of bike. They have adjustable cradles and arms to be adaptable to different configurations. Some also have a fat-tire option.
For transporting kids’ bikes, be sure to consider the span between the hanger arms. Some racks might have arms that are spaced too wide. Other racks are engineered to accommodate both adult and kids’ bikes, featuring tapered arms. The wider span of the arms fits adult bike frames, while the narrower span is specifically designed to fit children’s bike frames.
5. Where will you be driving?
Where you plan to drive with your bike rack loaded up should inform your decision about which style to choose.
Your bike rack should be well-suited for your environment.
For a tangible example, consider navigating through the city in heavy traffic. In this setting, you may prefer a bike rack that’s more compact. You don’t want your bike rack accidentally getting clipped by another car or preventing your ability to park in tighter spaces.
On the other hand, consider off-roading. An off-road trail is full of bumps, dips and uneven terrain. A bike rack with a higher level of security and stability will be better suited. Lockable bike racks with ratcheting arms are a great option for this, keeping them firmly locked in placed for travel.
6. How will you protect your bikes?
If your vehicle and loaded bike rack are left unattended, how will you protect your bikes from being tampered with or stolen?
Some racks are better at this than others. For example, the CURT aluminum tray-style bike rack has a built-in security system in the form of key-operated shank. The lockable shank deters the entire rack from being stolen right off your vehicle, and the integrated cables in the arms secure the individual bikes.
For other bike rack styles, a multi-use cable lock or bike lock can be used to add extra security. The cable lock can be looped around the bike rack and bike frames.
For any and all bike racks, a hitch lock or anti-rattle lock can be used to ensure maximum security, keeping the rack locked into the hitch receiver.
7. How much do you want to spend?
Bike racks vary greatly in cost – anywhere from less than $50 to well over $1,000. Just remember, you get what you pay for.
Now, this doesn’t mean all less-expensive bike racks are terrible quality; quality can range. What it does mean is that some cheaper bike racks might not come with all the bells and whistles that more expensive models have.
A bike rack isn’t just an investment in itself. You’re entrusting this piece of equipment with the value of your bicycles and with the safety of your fellow drivers around you.
Don’t skimp and settle for something that just barely gets the job done. Make a list of your needs and preferences, compare your options and invest wisely for the long-term.
1. Bike Rack Construction
Material: Steel vs. Aluminum
Bike racks come in all shapes and sizes, but something they have in common is a metal construction. Yes, they have other components like plastic or rubber, but primarily, your two material options for the frame of your bike rack are steel or aluminum.
Steel bike racks are generally stronger and less expensive. The weight capacities for steel racks may be higher than their aluminum counterparts but not significantly. The bigger advantage is lower cost. Steel is cheaper than aluminum, and that’s reflected in the final price.
Aluminum has two key advantages over steel. First, it is lighter weight. An aluminum frame will weigh as much as one-third the weight of the same frame made out of steel.
Secondly, aluminum is naturally corrosion-resistant. Being an outdoor accessory, this makes aluminum the preferred choice for a bike rack, especially when it’s commonly exposed to rain, dirt and even snow.
If you decide to buy a steel rack, just be sure it has a high-quality powder coat finish.
Finish: Color, Sheen & Quality
Most bike racks come in black or gray. Some feature accent colors like yellow, blue or red on key components, such as the straps, but this is largely for aesthetics. Think about this: when your bikes are all loaded on and you’re cruising down the highway, what difference will it make if the straps are blue or black? In any case, it shouldn’t sway your decision, especially if the colored-accent model costs significantly more. Look for functionality and quality instead.
Bike racks also come with different sheens. Some are gloss black for a shiny look. Others are matte black to help hide scuffs and grime. Again, like color, sheen shouldn’t be a major factor in your decision and should come down to your personal preference.
Finally, quality is the most important aspect to look for in a bike rack finish. Yes, they’re practically all black. But, not all finishes are the same. Look for models with a durable powder coat finish. If the manufacturer doesn’t specify or describes a painted finish, reconsider.
2. Bike Rack Weight: Light vs. Heavy
The weight of a bike rack depends mostly on its construction – steel vs. aluminum, as we noted above.
If you’re the type of person who bikes every weekend and likes to stay active, a lightweight model is preferrable. Overall weight should be a more significant buying factor for you than extra features.
Obviously, no one seeks out the heaviest bike rack they can find, but if you need more capacity or need to stay on a tighter budget, a heavier model may be acceptable. If you’re a family of four and you need the extra capacity, overall weight should be less of a factor.
Also, if you don’t plan to use your bike rack all that often, weight may not be as important. Afterall, the majority of the time the rack will be mounted on your trailer hitch or sitting in storage.
Don’t Forget about Vehicle & Hitch Weight Capacity
On the topic of bike rack weight, one thing to note is your vehicle’s weight ratings. A bike rack mounted on your receiver hitch will place a certain amount of weight on the hitch and rear of your vehicle. Most hitches are perfectly qualified to handle such weight. However, don’t assume.
Before buying a bike rack, check your vehicle’s weight ratings and hitch weight ratings to ensure you have adequate capacity. These ratings may be referred to as tongue weight or max load.
Also, keep in mind that larger bike racks can create greater leverage on your hitch system. A four-bike model, for example, can extend several feet out from the receiver. The further out you get, the more significant of a factor this weight becomes.
Don’t have a trailer hitch yet? Here’s a helpful video about choosing the right one.
3. Bike Rack Capacity
Number of Bikes
There are two factors to consider when it comes to bike rack capacity. The first is the maximum number of bikes the rack can hold.
Consider the number of people in your household or friend group. If you, your spouse and the two kids will be taking the bikes along to the campground, a four-bike rack will serve you best, providing space to transport each individual bike safely and conveniently.
If it’s only you or occasionally you plus a buddy, a two-bike model will be sufficient. Remember, you’ll need to install and uninstall your bike rack with each adventure, so choosing the option that’s easiest to manage will make things less of a hassle.
Bike Rack Weight Capacity
Typically, each bike rack comes with a weight capacity that corresponds to the number of bikes it can hold. If you’re considering a bike rack without this information, you may want to look elsewhere.
The more bikes a rack has room for, the higher its weight capacity should be. However, don’t assume it will hold your specific bicycles.
For example, you may wish to transport e-bikes. E-bikes tend to be on the heavier side because of the onboard battery and motor. A four-bike rack may be tested to carry four regular bikes, but it may not have the capacity for four electric bikes.
Just be sure to check the weight capacity before you buy and compare it to the total weight of the bikes you plan to haul.
4. Loading Style: Tray vs. Hanging
When it comes to hitch-mounted bike racks, there are basically two styles: tray-style and hanging-style.
As you might guess, tray-style or platform bike racks have trays that the bike tires rest on top of. The bike is placed on the trays, and typically a support arm holds the bike secure for travel. Tray-style bike racks can come with hoop-like trays or a long, trough-like platform.
Tray bike racks tend to have the advantage in security, keeping the bikes more stable during travel and better protected when parked. If you own more expensive bikes, you may wish to invest in a tray rack.
They are also a little more user-friendly to all bike types, particularly women’s bikes and kids’ bikes. The adjustable trays and vertical arms can be adapted quickly and easily to most bike sizes, unlike many hanging-style. There are also fat-tire options.
The other main style of hitch bike racks is hanging-style. This type of bike rack has horizontal arms with cradles that hold the bike frame. The bike hangs from the arms, held up by its frame (usually by the top tube) and secured by straps on the cradles.
Hanging bike racks tend to have the advantage in compactness, ease of loading and overall less weight. With their fairly simple design of a shank, vertical post and arms, hanger bike racks are easy to handle and can usually be folded up for optimal storage. Most hanging-style racks are also easier to load, simply lift the bike onto the arms.
One caveat is that the bikes are usually "stacked;" that is, they must be loaded and unloaded in sequential order. You can’t unload the bike in the very back until all the others are unloaded.
Why does this matter?
If you get to your campsite and want to take your bike out for a quick spin but it was loaded on first (closest to the vehicle), you won’t be able to get to it without unloading the other bikes.
To avoid this issue, an underslung bike rack is a special hanger-style that allows bikes to be unloaded from underneath in virtually any order.
5. Convenience: Ease of Use vs. Extra Security
What’s more important to your lifestyle – loading up your bike rack in under two minutes or locking down your bikes like Fort Knox? Maybe you need a happy medium?
Whatever your lifestyle and preferences, you will need to consider the balance between ease of use and extra security when selecting a bike rack.
Some bike racks, such as hanging bike racks, are more lightweight and made to be installed and loaded quickly to get on the road as fast as possible.
Other bike racks, like tray-style bike racks, are heavier and more difficult to move out of storage, but they have a more elaborate construction to promote enhanced stability and security.
6. Frequency of Use: Biking Lifestyle vs. Casual Rider
If you plan to bike every other weekend in a new location, you want something that can be carried with ease, mounted on your vehicle in a few seconds, loaded up with little to no hassle, unloaded again at a moment’s notice, folded up and stored in a tight corner of the garage.
A hanging-style bike rack will probably be best-suited for this level of use. Speed and ease-of-use are key for the active cyclist, and many hang-style options provide these benefits better than a platform bike rack. The CURT Ultra bike rack with underslung cradles is particularly optimized for such a lifestyle, featuring a quick-release shank that allows the rack to be snapped onto the vehicle literally in seconds.
An aluminum tray-style bike rack is also a great option for this level of frequency, offering a lightweight alternative with enhanced stability.
If you only go biking occasionally and you’re not planning to go out every weekend, you don’t need to worry about convenience and speed quite as much. It might make more sense to seek something more economical, as long as it fits your other needs relating to capacity, overall weight, etc.
7. Shank Size: 1-1/4", 2" or 2-1/2"?
There are only a handful of standard hitch receiver sizes available for any given vehicle, and therefore, hitch bike racks only come with a handful of shank size options. Typically, these options are 1-1/4", 2" or both.
It's very important to check the receiver size of your vehicle before purchasing a bike rack or any accessories to make sure it's a good fit!
1-1/4" x 1-1/4" is the smallest shank size for a hitch-mount bike rack. It fits standard class 1 and class 2 receiver hitches, which are reserved for smaller passenger vehicles: compact cars, sedans and some crossovers and minivans. However, some of these vehicles may come with a 2" receiver instead.
2" x 2" is the most common hitch size and is likely the most common bike rack shank size by default. A 2" shank will fit standard class 3, class 4 and most class 5 receiver hitches. These types of receivers are found on everything from minivans and crossovers to SUVs and pickup trucks.
Some bike racks come with an adaptable shank or shank adapter. This is usually in the form of a complementary sleeve that attaches to the shank, allowing it to fit different receiver sizes. To hitch onto a 1-1/4" receiver, the bike rack is used without the shank adapter. To hitch up to a 2" receiver instead, the shank adapter is added back on.
This is a very helpful option for multi-vehicle owners who plan to switch between vehicles with two different receiver sizes.
What about 2-1/2"?
Not many bike racks come with a 2-1/2" shank. Even though this is a standard receiver option on many vehicles today, it is rare to find a bike rack with that size shank. This is because the 2-1/2" receiver is reserved for the largest of automotive vehicles – we're talking 1-ton pickups and flatbed trucks. These types of vehicles either already have cargo space for bicycles, such as a truck bed, or they’re used for towing much larger cargo than bikes.
Never to worry! If you do own a vehicle with a 2-1/2" hitch and you still want to haul a hitch-mounted bike rack, you can always use a separate hitch adapter or reducer sleeve to enable the bike rack shank to fit. Another great option in this scenario is a trailer-mounted bike rack.
8. Types of Cycling
The type of cycling you’ll be doing can have a big effect on the type of bike rack you choose. This has less to do with frequency and more about the destinations and terrain. Afterall, one cyclist might hit the BMX track every weekend, while another might bike down country roads every weekend. Both ride often, but they need very different racks.
- Road Biking
If you’re a road biker, a lightweight and more compact bike rack will likely suit you best. Road bikes are generally lighter than other types of bikes, and having something more manageable, such as a hanging-style or an aluminum platform bike rack will keep you agile and quick to pack up, load up and enjoy more of the adventure. Consider the ActiveLink Ultra or anything from ActiveLink with its quick-release shank system.
- Mountain Biking
If you're a mountain biker, you may want to consider a bike rack that's more on the heavy-duty end and weather-resistant. Mountain bikes tend to be heavier and as they get built up with mud and dirt, you’ll want a bike rack that can be frequently exposed without much fuss. A platform bike rack, such as the CURT aluminum tray-style bike rack, is well suited for the job, and offers a great amount of adjustability to accommodate larger bikes.
- Family Biking
If you'll frequently be biking with the family, prioritize capacity and adjustability. A tray-style bike rack is the obvious choice, but you'll need a rack that can hold more than just two bikes. If you'd prefer something a little more compact and lightweight, the CURT 5-bike hanging-style rack is perfect for families. The tapered arms are great for adding a few kids' bikes. Just keep in mind, you might need to add an adjustable bike beam if you go the hang-style route.
- Fat-Tire Biking
Platform and tray-style bike racks are ideal for fat-tire biking. They're heavier-duty and are accommodating to wider tires. The CURT aluminum tray-style bike rack can accept tires up to 4" wide, and its aluminum construction is ideal for exposure to ice and snow, a popular terrain element for fat-tire bikes.
Electric bikes are heavy, so if you’ll be doing some e-biking, you’ll want a bike rack that’s specifically called out to accommodate such bike types. Again, the CURT tray-style bike rack is one such model, featuring a maximum weight capacity of 130 pounds. This will help put your mind at ease every time you go to load up your e-bikes, knowing that your rack is fit to carry the weight and keep your bikes secure for travel.
If you enjoy riding the BMX track, you can likely go with something lighter-duty. BMX bikes aren't particularly heavy, and so you'll want to prioritize ease of use and convenience. An aluminum tray-style bike rack may seem like overkill, but it's adaptability will allow for full compatibility with the unique BMX frame, and the aluminum construction and foldability make it lightweight and easier to store.
Key Bike Rack Features to Consider
Now let’s explore some of the key features to look for when choosing your bike rack. Not all of these will be important to you, so it’s a good idea to order them in some kind of prioritized list. Are you more concerned with security or convenience? Safety on the road or easy storage?
Many bike racks will come with several of these features, so it’s okay to have more than one priority. Pick your non-negotiables, write them down and choose a bike rack that hits all of your top priorities.
For vehicles with a rear door or hatch, a hitch bike rack can create an obstruction when trying to access the cargo or trunk area. This applies to minivans, crossovers, SUVs and others. When you need to get something out of the back, imagine having to unload and uninstall your entire bike rack just to open the door. Yikes.
The tilt-away feature in a bike rack means that the base or shank of the rack has a built-in pivot point. This pivot point allows the rack – bikes and all – to be tilted away from the vehicle, clearing the path for the rear door to open. When you’re done, the rack can be tilted back up and secured with a safety pin for travel.
A fold-up or folding frame is particularly beneficial when storing your bike rack. Racks can fold up in all kinds of ways, and some are more efficient than others. Perhaps the arms fold up or down to be in line with the main frame. Perhaps the shank folds in parallel with the vertical bar. On others, the vertical bar might fold in half.
The idea is to allow the bike rack to become more compact, taking up less precious space in your garage or shed. A folded-up bike rack is also easier to carry and less awkward to handle. The folding feature also provides some benefit when the rack is mounted on the vehicle but not loaded with bikes, allowing it to have a reduced footprint for travel or parking.
Vibrating, rattling, shaking, road noise – it isn’t just annoying to the ears (although it is that!). If your bicycles are exposed to the vibrations of highway travel long enough, it can lead to loosened components, lost parts and damage to the finish.
Some hitch bike racks come with built-in anti-rattle measures to help combat this noise and movement. Again, some are more sophisticated than others. At a minimum, you want your bike rack to keep your bikes safe, meaning they won’t be jostling around while you’re driving down the road potentially causing damage or worse.
Rubber cradles provide some anti-rattle, helping to avoid scuffs and scratches, unlike webbed straps with clips. An anti-rattle hitch pin keeps the bike rack shank from vibrating in the hitch receiver. On tray-style bike racks, padded ratcheting arms keep a tight hold on the bike frame to keep it from swaying or vibrating.
Having your bikes stolen right off your vehicle is one of the worst feelings. It’s a violation of your personal property and space, not to mention the cost of replacement. This is why a comprehensive security system is important for your bike rack when you’re on the road.
A basic cable-style bike lock can be beneficial and should be used when transporting bikes with your vehicle. However, integrated locks can be even better and far more consistent and convenient. If security is one of your top priorities, look for a tray-style bike rack with key-operated, lockable arms.
Also, in the way of comprehensive security, don’t forget about your hitch connection. A thief could just as well remove your entire bike rack – bikes and all – from your vehicle and carry it off with help from an accomplice. To protect against this kind of a scenario, a bike rack with a key-operated shank is best. You can also lock up more bike racks and hitch accessories with a hitch lock.
Bumper pads on a bike rack are less about anti-rattle and more in the vein of bike protection. Like rubber cradles and straps, the pads are meant to protect the bike’s paint from getting dinged or scuffed while you’re loading it onto the rack or driving down the road.
With hanging bike racks, some bike movement is inevitable, and this can lead the inward-most bike (closest to the vehicle) to knock against the main, vertical post of the rack. A bumper pad mounted on the main post will prevent this knocking from causing any serious harm.
Bike racks generally aren’t terribly heavy (although some can be heftier than others), but they can be awkward to pick up and tricky to mount on the vehicle. Lining up the shank with the receiver is especially nitpicky work (check out the ActiveLink system to avoid this completely).
A carrying handle built into the bike rack makes this step much easier. The handle should be positioned in such a way that it makes the rack easier and more ergonomic to lift, whether you’re installing it onto the vehicle or toting it into the garage.
A bike rack should be an obvious addition to your vehicle, easily spotted by other drivers, but that’s not always the case. Afterall, some drivers are more attentive and observant than others. To add visibility, many bike racks come with safety reflectors. They can range from small to large, in all different shapes, but the end goal is to call attention to your bike rack (and subsequently your bicycles), so other drivers are more likely to notice it and keep their respective distance.
If you own more than one vehicle with different size receivers, and you're intending to haul your bikes with either/or vehicle on any given day, you’ll want a bike rack with a hitch adapter. A hitch adapter is like a sleeve that fits over the bike rack shank, allowing it to fit different receivers, typically 1-1/4" or 2".
Keep in mind, this feature isn’t necessary for all multi-vehicle cyclists. Check your receiver sizes beforehand. If they’re the same, obviously you won’t need the adapter option. Additionally, if one of your vehicles has a 2-1/2" receiver, such as your pickup truck, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a bike rack with that size adapter. You’d be better off using a separate hitch reducer sleeve to make up the difference.
If you wish to purchase a bike rack with a shank that’s too big for your existing receiver hitch, the easiest option is to buy a separate hitch adapter. With a hitch adapter you can make larger accessories fit a smaller receiver tube or vice versa. Just make sure you don’t exceed the weight capacities for your vehicle or accessories.
Additional Features to Compare between Models
Clamp-Down Arms vs. Straps
Some bike racks, particularly tray-style bike racks, use a vertical arm to clamp down onto the top tube of the bike frame, holding it in place and keeping the tires firmly held in the bottom cradles. The advantages of this holding method are wider compatibility with virtually all kinds of bikes and increased security.
Other bike racks, usually hanging-style, have straps made of rubber or nylon webbing that wrap around the top tube. The bike rests in a set of cradles, and the straps keep it in place. While the straps can be adjusted to fit most tube sizes, this mounting method doesn’t offer the security and flexible fitment that a clamp-down arm does.
The disadvantage of the clamp-down arm is that it’s bulkier. Straps are small, lightweight and easy to replace if needed. Vertical arms are long, more complicated and trickier to replace.
Ratcheting vs. Non-Ratcheting Arms
Most platform bike racks come with vertical clamp-down arms to keep the bikes secure, but not all arms are created equal. The premium option for these adjustable arms is a ratcheting mechanism. The arms are equipped with teeth along the edge, enabling regulated, incremental adjustment of the padded, crook-like arm piece. The piece can be pressed firmly down onto the top tube of the bike, clicking into place for extra security, thanks to the ratchet. A release lever allows the arm to be raised up again.
Lower-quality models of platform bike racks don’t have this ratcheting mechanism. Instead, they use a setscrew or knob. While these methods still allow for flexible adjustment, the lack of ratcheting teeth opens the vertical arm up to slippage, something you absolutely don’t want while you’re cruising down the road. Unfortunately, this type of mechanism can become loose, leading to vibrations, movement and even catastrophic dislodging of your bicycles.
Top Hanger Cradles vs. Underslung Cradles
Finally, consider the differences between the two types of hanger arms. Most hanging-style bike racks have a vertical arm to elevate the bikes off the ground, as well as a horizontal arm or arms that extend out away from the vehicle, equipped with cradles to hold the bikes by their top tubes.
Almost all hanger bike racks on the market have top-side cradles in which these cradles are mounted on the top side of the arms. Note that in this approach the horizontal arms pass through the bike frame, inside the opening created by the top tube, the seat tube and the down tube.
Top-side cradles work well enough for transporting bikes from point A to B, but when it comes to loading and unloading, they have a disadvantage. Because the arms pass through the frame, it’s like the bikes are threaded onto a needle. They must be loaded in sequential order (e.g. A, B, C and lastly D), and you can’t unload one from the middle of the order until you’ve unloaded the ones in front of it. Suffice it to say, it can be a hassle.
Underslung cradles completely bypass this problem. Mounted underneath the arms instead of on top means the arms don’t pass through the bike frame. In other words, no threading of the needle and therefore no sequential order required.
Bike Rack Comparison Chart
We’ve already referenced a number of specific bike rack models, but when shopping for the right fit, it’s helpful to have a side-by-side comparison. Let’s compare a number of bike racks by their key features.
Basic Hanging-Style Bike Racks
The basic hanging-style bike rack is a great entry-level model. In general, this style of bike rack will be your cheapest option if you're just looking for something to get the job done. It may come with extra bells and whistles, such as integrated locks or added stability, but it’s important to keep an eye on quality. If it's particularly cheap, don’t expect it to last like a higher-quality unit.
CURT's basic hanging bike racks are available in two-bike or four-bike models. They can be purchased with a 1-1/4" or 2" shank or with an adapter to fit both. These basic bike racks also feature a tilt-away frame for easy access to the trunk, a fold-up frame for easier handling and storage and built-in anti-rattle for a quieter ride, depending on the model.
Clamp-On Hanging-Style Bike Racks
The clamp-on bike rack is a unique variation of the basic hitch-mounted model. It attaches to the towing system by clamping onto the shank of a ball mount or other hitch accessory. The main advantage of a clamp-on bike rack is its compactness and ability to be used while the vehicle is also towing a trailer. Everything on the rack is able to fold up, allowing the entire unit to be reduced to an easy-to-carry, easy-to-store accessory.
The CURT clamp-on bike rack can hold up to three bikes and is available to mount onto a 2" shank. Although it doesn’t have a tilt-away frame, built-in anti-rattle or integrated security features, the clamp-on rack does fold up to a very compact size relative to other bike racks.
Adaptable Hanging-Style Bike Racks
Adaptable bike racks are all about versatility in the number of bikes they can haul. If it's just you and a friend for the day, this type of bike rack can be adapted to hang just two bikes, either by flipping up the holder arms or featuring a quick disconnect. If the whole family will be tagging along for the ride, you can adapt the rack back to its 4-bike capacity.
The CURT ActiveLink Ultra also carries the unique benefit of a flip-back arm, making it easier to load the first two bikes on without the full length of the arms getting in the way.
CURT adaptable or extendable bike racks are available to fit 1-1/4" or 2" hitch receivers and use cradles and straps to secure the bikes for travel. Most feature a tilt-away for trunk access and a fold-up frame for small-footprint storage.
Tapered Hanging-Style Bike Racks
This hanging-style hitch bike rack is ideal for families, particularly those with younger children. The reason is that the holder arms of this rack are tapered. The cradles positioned on the wider span of the arms provide a better fit for adult bikes, while the cradles at the narrower span can be used to hold kids' bikes. Because of their smaller frame and shorter top tube, kids’ bikes don’t always fit onto a vehicle bike rack. The tapered-style provides a helpful solution.
CURT tapered-arm bike racks or family bike racks, specifically the hanger-type, have larger capacities, holding up to four or five bikes at a time. They require a 2" shank, but they come with tilt-away for trunk access, a fold-up frame for storage convenience and built-in anti-rattle for a more comfortable ride for the whole family.
Underslung Hanging-Style Bike Racks
The underslung style is worth calling out on its own because it’s such an innovative approach to the standard bike rack design. Underslung refers to the cradles and how they connect to the hanger arms. Instead of being mounted on top of the arms, they are positioned below.
What advantage does this offer? It means you can selectively unload any bike from the rack at any time. Seems too simple, right? It's actually a huge boost in ergonomics and convenience. With traditional bike racks, you literally have to unload each bike in sequential order. You can't unload the rear-most bike until the one in front of it is unloaded. And you can't unload that bike until the one in front of it is unloaded, and so on.
The underslung bike rack eliminates that problem, giving you easy access to any bike of your choosing, whenever you need it.
Loop Tray-Style Bike Racks
Loop tray-style bike racks are a very popular choice among cyclists because of their stability and adaptability. Instead of hanging the bikes by their frame, this type of rack supports the entire bike more securely by allowing its tires to be placed into loops at the bottom while a vertical arm clamps down onto the top tube to hold everything in place. The loops can be adjusted in or out to fit different wheelbases, and the vertical arm adjusts up or down to fit virtually any size bike.
Quality can certainly vary among different tray-style bike racks, but perhaps their main disadvantage compared to hanging-style is overall weight and size. There are simply more components to a tray-style rack, more material and larger pieces. This adds weight and some awkwardness when mounting the rack on your hitch or finding a place to store it in the garage.
Loop-style tray bike racks can be purchased in 2-bike or 4-bike capacities, and they can fit 1-1/4” or 2” receivers, depending on the model. They come with a tilt-away feature for easier trunk access, built-in anti-rattle components and more elaborate, integrated locking options for enhanced bike security on your adventures.
Platform Tray-Style Bike Racks
The platform tray-style bike rack, particularly aluminum models, are the ultimate combination of security and adaptability in a relatively lightweight package. Instead of loops, this type of bike rack has formed cradles for the wheels, as well as an adjustable strap to fit a variety of tire diameters. It uses vertically adjustable arms to clamp down on the top tube of the bike frame, keeping it securely held in place. The aluminum construction keeps this bike rack from being excessively heavy and allows it to naturally resist corrosion from the outdoor elements.
The CURT platform bike rack holds up to two bikes and fits 2" receivers. It has a tilt-away frame for rear trunk access, fold-up arms for flatter storage with less of a footprint, as well as built-in anti-rattle and key-operated locks integrated with the shank and vertical arms.
Best Hitch Bike Racks by Vehicle Type
Another dimension to consider when choosing the right bike rack is the type of vehicle you drive. Things like capacity and functionality are obviously higher on the priority list, but oftentimes there are multiple racks that meet these needs, and thinking about how your bike rack will complement your vehicle will help narrow down the decision.
Best Car Bike Rack
For a car, a lightweight and more compact bike rack is best. It should complement the number of passengers, dimensions of the receiver hitch and overall size of the vehicle.
If you can only transport two people in your car, you probably don’t need a bike rack that can hold four bicycles. In terms of receiver hitch size, cars tend to have smaller receivers, that is, a 1-1/4" x 1-1/4" opening. This means a 2" bike rack shank won't fit unless you have an adapter. Finally, think about weight capacity.
Generally, the smaller the vehicle, the less weight it can handle. This means a big, heavy bike rack might not be the best fit.
A 2-bike rack, whether hanging or tray-style, is the recommended choice as a hatchback bike rack, coupe bike rack and even a sedan bike rack.
Best Crossover Bike Rack
Crossover vehicles or CUVs are some of the most popular on the road today, partially because they're more fuel-efficient and compact than an SUV and partially because they still pack a punch in terms of all-wheel drive and off-road capabilities. You'll want a bike rack that can keep up.
We recommend anything from the CURT ActiveLink series. This line of bike racks and other cargo management products is built around the concept of a quick-release shank. Instead of requiring you crawl down underneath the bumper to line up your hitch, ActiveLink has an easy-access, snap-in system that allows you to install or swap out accessories in a moment. You can choose a 2-bike model or go with the 4-bike unit to accommodate the whole family.
Because the CUV is such a versatile vehicle, you’re afforded a wide arrangement of bike rack options. If you’d prefer to go the tray-style route instead of the hanging-style, another great crossover bike rack is the aluminum platform-style rack. It’s ergonomic to load, stable on all road types and corrosion-resistant in the face of myriad outdoor elements. Plus, it offers integrated security measures for protecting your bikes when your vehicle is left unattended.
Best Minivan Bike Rack
Assuming your minivan or even full-size van is being used as a family vehicle, the best van bike rack is a tapered hanging-style bike rack. It is uniquely designed with tapered arms, allowing it to easily accept adult bikes and children’s bikes at the same time.
These bike racks are also available in larger capacities, making them a solid solution for families. Choose from a 4-bike or even 5-bike configuration.
One thing to note, tapered-arm bike racks require a 2" receiver. While this is a popular option on today’s minivans, there are plenty of vans out there with the smaller 1-1/4" receiver size. Before purchasing a bike rack, measure your receiver tube and supplement with a hitch adapter if needed.
Best SUV Bike Rack
Sport utility vehicles (SUVs) are highly versatile, being part-truck, part-people-mover. They’re as much a family vehicle as they are a choice for off-roading. As such, choosing the best hitch bike rack for an SUV will depend on your lifestyle.
If you’re the adventurous SUV owner planning to travel, camp and explore some trails, a tray-style bike rack will provide more stability and security over uneven terrain. They will also provide more theft-deterrence than a hang-style bike rack when you leave your vehicle parked in a remote location. A 4-bike model is the preferred option to match the vehicle’s larger capacity.
On the other hand, if your SUV is more just a family vehicle and you won't be doing any crazy off-roading any time soon, a hanging-style bike rack is recommended. Hanging-style racks are easier to lift, install and store with their more compact design, and yet they are able to accommodate families with 4-bike and 5-bike models.
Best Jeep Bike Rack
The best hitch bike rack for a Jeep is one that can keep up with the fun, free spirit of this vehicle type and its owners. Jeeps are notorious off-road, adventure-loving vehicles, and so a bike rack with more stability is the obvious choice. We recommend a tray-style bike rack, particularly one with aluminum construction and integrated security features. The three-point holding system will keep your bikes from jostling around when you go off the beaten path, and an aluminum construction makes the rack better suited to face the outdoor elements.
One additional option to consider is the CURT ActiveLink system. This quick-release cargo management solution is specifically designed for active, outdoor lifestyles, enabling you to switch between accessories quickly, depending on the day’s adventure. Pop the bike rack on if you’re taking the cycles out on the trails. Swap it for the cargo carrier if you need some extra packing space. ActiveLink bike racks also have built-in bumper pads to protect your bikes from metal-on-metal contact when roads get rough.
Best Truck Bike Rack
The best pickup truck bike rack may be a trailer-mounted model. This option hasn't been discussed at length in this article, but when thinking about a bike rack for your truck, it's important to consider how you’ll be using your truck. Namely, will you be towing a trailer frequently?
If you plan to tow a trailer as often as you bring along your bikes, a trailer-mounted rack makes things easier. Because it's attached to your trailer tongue / frame, it frees up your receiver hitch to couple to your trailer. You can choose a tube-mounted model for basic trailers or a jack-mounted model for travel trailers.
Best Hitch Bike Racks by Bike Type
If you’d prefer to shop for a bike rack based on the types of bikes you own, consider the options below.
The CURT ActiveLink SE 2-bike rack #18410 is ideal for road bikes. With their narrowed tires, the option to hang the bike by its frame is preferrable to setting the bike in a pair of cradles, as with tray-style racks.
An aluminum platform hitch bike rack is perfect for most mountain bikes. Its stability and natural weather resistance make it ideal for off-road settings, and the adjustability and lightweight frame allow for easy moving, installing and loading. The cradles also provide plenty of room for larger, wider tires.
Women’s Bike (Step-Through)
For women’s bikes, also known as step-through bikes, a tray-style bike rack is ideal. The adjustability of the vertical arm makes it easier to load and secure the bikes. It’s especially helpful if you’re transporting both men’s and women’s bikes. If you prefer the hanging-style, a bike beam may be needed for proper loading.
The best bike rack for kids' bikes is a tapered-arm, hanging-style rack. It’s made for families. The tapered arms allow for both adult and kids' bikes to be loaded and transported with ease, and the strap-type cradles are easily adjustable to fit a variety of bike frame sizes.
With their smaller frames, the best hitch-mount bike rack for BMX bikes is an aluminum tray-style bike rack. Its adjustability and resilience to dirt and moisture make it well-suited to accept BMX bikes. The cradles and arms can be adjusted to fit the smaller frame size to keep the bikes secure.
The best bike rack for a folding bike is a tray-style bike rack. Folding bikes have a particularly low top tube. Hanging-style bike racks use the top tube to hang the bike, and with the tube so low on the bike compared to other styles, mounting the bike on a hanging-style rack can make for an awkward fit.
For city bikes or vintage bikes with a deep-angled crossbar, a tray-style bike rack is preferable. The adjustable cradles and arms accommodate virtually any bike frame. However, if you prefer a hanger-style bike rack, it is possible to accommodate a city bike, but it may require the addition of a bike beam.
Many bike racks can accept bikes with fat tires, but our top recommendation is a tray-style rack. The CURT tray-style bike rack is built to handle the extra weight, and the fat tire cradles fit tires up to 4" wide.
Best Bike Racks by Number of Bikes
Best 1-Bike Rack
If you're only interested in transporting one bicycle, we recommend something compact and easy to use. Most bike racks are designed to hold at least two bikes, but these models still maintain a small footprint. The CURT ActiveLink SE bike rack #18410 is the ideal choice.
Best 2-Bike Rack
The best 2-bike rack is the CURT aluminum tray-style bike rack #18088. It has a highly adjustable design to accept almost any type of bike, and its three-point contact system keeps your bikes very secure for travel. The aluminum construction also keeps weight relatively low.
Best 3-Bike Rack
The best 3-bike rack is the CURT clamp-on bike rack #18013. This highly portable bike rack folds out and clamps onto any standard 2" x 2" shank. It holds up to three bikes with a maximum weight capacity of 135 pounds, and it features adjustable straps on the cradles to fit virtually any tube size.
Best 4-Bike Rack
The best bike rack for four bikes is the CURT ActiveLink Ultra bike rack #18412. Its innovative underslung cradles and fold-back arm make loading and unloading bikes easier than ever before. It also features CURT's innovative quick-release ActiveLink system for faster, no-hassle hitch-up.
Best 5-Bike Rack
The best bike rack for hauling five bikes is the CURT premium bike rack #18065. It's ideal for families, able to accept both kids' and adult bikes with ease. The premium bike rack comes with a 2" shank to fit most class 3, 4 and 5 receiver hitches.
Considerations for Bike Rack Installation & Loading
At this point, you're no doubt zeroing in on which bike rack makes the most sense for your lifestyle. Before buying, however, another aspect to think through is installation and use. Different bike racks install on the vehicle in different ways, and this can play a decisive role in which one you choose to buy.
In general, tray-style bike racks require a little more setup than hanger-style. Note some of the distinctives of each as we walk through the following steps.
Installing a Bike Rack Step by Step
Step 1: Unfold the shank
After taking your bike rack out of storage, the first step is to prep the shank to be inserted into the hitch receiver on your vehicle. Most tray-style and hanging-style bike racks come with a fold-up shank, so you'll need to unfold the shank regardless and make sure it’s secured with the included safety pin or retainer piece.
Step 2: Attach the rack to the hitch
Carry the bike rack to the back of the vehicle, and lift it up so the shank is at a level height with the hitch receiver. Tray-style racks are generally heavier and bulkier than hanging-style, so have a friend help if needed. Line the shank up with the receiver and slide it in. You may need to wiggle the rack up and down to get the shank to slide in all the way.
Step 3: Insert the hitch pin
Line up the hole in the side of the bike rack shank with the hole in the side of receiver tube. You will likely need to make minor adjustments in or out to get the holes to line up perfectly. Once aligned, insert the hitch pin, hitch lock and / or anti-rattle device to secure the bike on the vehicle.
Step 4: Unfold the bike rack
This step can vary in complexity depending on the rack. For hanging-style bike racks, all you’ll need to do is pivot the hanger arms up into the horizontal position. For tray-style bike racks, you may need to fold down the trays into the horizontal position, fold the vertical arm up into the upright position, adjust each cradle in or out and raise the vertical arms to allow bikes to be loaded. Some of these steps may only be necessary during the initial setup when you first buy the rack. At the same time, they might all be necessary, depending on how you store it.
Finally, be sure to apply all pins and retainer mechanisms to lock everything in place.
Step 5: Load your bikes
Lift your bikes onto the rack one by one. If you have a hanging-style rack, place the top tube into the cradles, making sure the bike rests evenly. If you have a tray-style bike rack, place the wheels into the lower cradles. As you load, you may wish to alternate the direction each bike is facing. For example, the first bike would face the driver side, the second bike the passenger side, the third the driver side again, and so on. This can help distribute the weight and keep pedals and handlebars from obstructing one another.
Step 6: Secure your bikes
As you load each bike onto the rack, you’ll need to secure it for the road ahead. Hanging racks typically have adjustable straps that wrap over the cradles. Tray-style racks usually have a vertical arm that presses down over the top tube. Tighten whichever mechanism you have so the bike is snuggly held in place and secure for travel per the manufacturer’s specifications. This is also the time to apply extra security, such as a bike cable lock.
Step 7: Visually inspect everything before travel
Before hitting the road, a visual inspection is recommended. Make sure your straps and / or ratchets are firmly clasped and won't come loose over bumps and dips. Make sure your pins and locks are properly fixed with the appropriate safety retainer or clip. Make sure all bike accessories – mirrors, lights, drinking bottles, saddle bags, GPS, odometers, baskets, bells, etc. – are removed or fully secure for the road. They're about to be subjected to vibrations, high winds, bugs, debris, rain and more. You don't want to incur unnecessary damage or loss.
Essential Accessories for Hitching up a Bike Rack
When shopping around for a bike rack, inevitably you'll need to think about accessories, not merely as add-ons to your purchase, but what will be required to make your bike rack fully functional. Some bike racks are going to require more than others, and it's in the best interest of your wallet, time and peace of mind to find the right balance. If you're willing to invest a little more up front in your bike rack, you can save money in the long run, not having to purchase a bunch of extra items.
Bike Cable Lock
Security is essential on the road, and a cable-style bike lock is a great way to promote peace of mind, deter theft and keep your bikes secure while left unattended. The cable can be passed through multiple bike frames at once, keeping them fairly secure, although individual accessories on the bike (the seat, a GPS, a light) could still be swiped by a determined thief.
Bike racks like the CURT steel tray-style rack come with an integrated locking device in the vertical arms, taking the place of a separate cable lock.
If you're going to lock your bikes to your bike rack, you should take the extra measure to lock your bike rack into your hitch. A hitch lock is a pin-style lock that passes through the hitch receiver tube and bike rack shank, taking the place of a hitch pin. A key-operated barrel or padlock on one end keeps the connection secure.
Some bike racks, such as the CURT aluminum tray-style rack, come with an integrated shank lock, eliminating the need for this accessory.
Anti-Rattle Hitch Device
If your bike rack isn't installed with an anti-rattle device, it probably won't take long before you wish it was. Rattling and vibrations are common in any towing situation, and they not only create obnoxious noise, but they can also make the drive more uncomfortable and lead to parts loosening. That's when things can get dangerous.
Virtually all CURT bike racks come with integrated anti-rattle measures, such as a threaded hitch pin, rubber cradles and straps, padded arms and strategically placed bumpers.
If your bike rack of choice doesn't come with an anti-rattle or you'd prefer to supplement, choose an anti-rattle pin or clamp to make your journey safer and more enjoyable.
Hitch Accessory Wall Mount
Owning a bike rack means you need to consider storage. Where will you keep this new piece of equipment? Many bike racks are able to be folded up into a more compact form for easier storage, but it can still be a nuisance finding an out-of-the-way spot in the garage.
A hitch accessory wall mount is basically a receiver tube that can be bolted onto the wall in your garage, shed, workshop or wherever you prefer. You can then attach your bike rack to the wall mount, conveniently keeping it up and out of the way for storage.
As mentioned previously, your bike rack should fit your existing receiver hitch. Some bike racks come with an adapter built into the shank to fit different size receivers. However, if you're selecting a bike rack that won't fit your existing receiver tube, make sure you buy the right size hitch adapter or reducer sleeve. You can't tow a bike rack with a mismatched shank size.
A hitch extender is different from a hitch adapter. It is designed to increase or extend the distance between the vehicle and the bike rack or whichever accessory you have hitched up. Even though hitches are designed with adequate spacing in mind, there might be a rear spare tire, a particularly large bumper or some other accessory that sticks out the back, obstructing the bike rack.
When this happens, a hitch extender can be used to move the bike rack rearward by a few inches, avoiding the obstruction.
Hanging-style bike racks can handle a lot, but their Achilles’ heel is the steep-angle top tube. This is common on step-through bikes and women’s bikes. If you try to set the bike onto the cradles, using the top tube of the frame, the steep angle makes for an awkward and imbalanced mount.
This is where a bike beam can be used. It hooks onto the seat post and handlebar post or head tube, creating a temporary top tube that sits more horizontally. Bike beams are adjustable, so they fit a variety of bike sizes.
A bike rack needs to be stable without wobbling or swaying to keep your bikes safe as you cruise down the road. To add stability, some bike racks require the addition of a support strap, a nylon-webbed strap that connects from the rack to the back of your vehicle. Usually, it’s reserved for models that install on a 1-1/4" receiver tube, and if a strap is required, it should be included in the box.
On larger bike racks, meaning those that install onto a 2" receiver, a support strap generally isn’t necessary. However, take a look at the manufacturer’s instructions before you buy any rack, making sure the strap is included with your purchase or that one isn’t necessary for your unit.
Specialized Ball Mount
If you want to simultaneously install a hitch bike rack and tow a trailer, you’ll need a specialized solution. Your bike rack shank and ball mount shank can’t occupy the space in your receiver tube at the same time. So, to solve this problem, you can add a specialized ball mount that provides two connection points. Choose a dual-receiver ball mount, a multi-use ball mount with an extra receiver or a towable bike rack shank (this last option is not compatible with every bike rack model).
Additionally, if you’re planning to tow a trailer and bring your bicycles, your best option may be a trailer-mounted bike rack, such as the Hitch-It bike carrier from Let’s Go Aero.
The Final Word on Bike Rack Replacement Parts
The last thing you should think about when buying a new bike rack is having to replace parts. But the reality is, you should give it some thought!
Like it or not, no matter which bike rack you go with, something will eventually wear out, break or get lost. A car might back into your rack by accident in a parking lot. A trim cap might rattle loose on a particularly rough road. A strap might get stretched too far and break. You might lose your keys to the lockable arms.
When these things unfortunately happen, you have two options: you can buy a replacement part and be back on the road in no time, or you can go through the painful process of needing to purchase an entirely new bike rack.
Obviously, the first option is cheaper and generally preferred, but it’s not always a viable option. If you go with the cheapest possible bike rack from an obscure provider, saving on upfront costs, replacement parts probably won’t be readily available.
The good news is, there are many reputable bike rack brands that do offer replacement parts for their products. Before you buy, do some quick research to find out if your bike rack supplier will provide you with the parts you need when the time comes.
Here are some from CURT:
Disclaimer: These photographs, recommendations, and approximations are intended for demonstration purposes only and do not reflect the specifications of any particular tow vehicle, recreational vehicle, or trailer. Always consult the manufacturer’s Owner's Manual.