*Able Camper is supported by its audience. When you buy via links on this site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

A bike rack is a handy piece of gear for taking your bicycles from A to B. There are many types of bike racks, but the most common are hitch racks and trunk-mounted racks. Either will enable you to transport a bike without cramming it onto the back seat.

Buying a bike rack is simple. But choosing a bike rack that fits your car, doesn’t damage your bike, is suitable for your type of usage, and that’s right for your budget, takes a bit more thought. To save you some time, we’ve researched bike racks for you. Below are our recommendations for the best five bike racks for cars.

Types of Bike Racks:
Hitch Racks

Hitch racks are suitable for cars with a trailer hitch as this is where it attaches to the vehicle. This type of bike rack tends to be stronger; it’s usually made from steel or aluminium. Most hitch racks fit standard size trailer hitches and manufacturers may offer versions for 1.25″ hitches or 2″ hitches.

Often hitch racks also come with one or more hitch pins or a pivot system that lets you lower the rack while loaded and access the trunk. Alternativly, some swing to one side. The disadvantage is that most hitch racks will block your licence plate and taillights.

There are two main types of hitch rack:

Tray Hitch Racks

Tray racks attach to the trailer hitch and the bike sits in a tray. Wheel straps, folding arms, or adjustable height hooks hold the frame in place. With this style, it’s possible to take out the inner bike without unloading the outer ones. Tray racks fit most bike frames and wheel sizes but you’ll need to check the measurements if you have a fat tyre bike or an extra-long bike.

Hanging Hitch Racks

Similar to trunk-mounted racks, hanging hitch racks can hold multiple bikes. They usually have two folding arms with cradles that you hang the bike racks from. This simple system works well with standard-sized bikes and frames, but you may need an adapter for women’s frames, Y-frames, or kid’s bikes.

Trunk-Mounted Racks

These are ideal for cars without a trailer hitch or anyone looking for a cheaper alternative. Trunk mounted racks have folding frames that rest on the rear window and above the licence plate. Adjustable straps (usually eight straps) attach to each side of the trunk and door. The bikes are then loaded onto cradles on the arms and secured with ties. If fitted correctly, this system is secure but you may need an adapter for some bike frames. Additionally, you can’t open the trunk.

Top 5 Best Bike Racks

Available in two, four, or five bike versions the Thule Apex XT is one of the best bike racks on the market.

You don’t need to worry about bikes knocking together because the Apex XT has anti-sway cradles that lock each bike in place and maintain a 5.5-inch gap between bikes.

For security, this bike rack comes with an integrated heavy-duty cable lock. This retracts inside the main arm when not in use, so it doesn’t get in the way when loading and unloading. The arms also fold down to save space when not in use.

Furthermore, the Apex XT features a clever hitch system that pivots via a lever, allowing access to the trunk. It also comes with a built-in lock that secures the bike rack to the car and, thanks to the tool-free installation feature, it’s a breeze to attach or remove from a vehicle.

pros
  • Very stable
  • Easy to install
  • Built-in anti-theft features
  • Available in 2, 4, or 5-bike versions
cons
  • Takes longer to load than other models
  • You may need a frame adapter for some bikes

Another leading bike rack manufacturer is Kuat Racks and the Sherpa 2.0 is one of their lightest hitch racks. It’s made from high-quality aluminium that’s strong enough to take the weight of two bikes, up to 40 lbs.

The Sherpa 2.0 boasts a handful of features that make it super easy to load and unload bikes. This includes a foot-friendly pivot system that allows you to fold the tray up or down when your hands are full. The pivoting tray is handy when the bikes are off, and your parking spaces are tight. Two ratchet arms adjust with a button; you can hold a bicycle in place with one hand and adjust the arm with the other.

Additionally, ee also like that the Sherpa 2.0 fits most bikes. It has a 47-inch wheelbase and fits tyres up to 3 inches wide.

pros
  • Fits most bikes
  • Easy to adjust one-handed
  • Includes a semi-integrated security cable
  • Lifetime warranty
cons
  • Expensive

If you’re looking for a trailer hitch bike rack with an easy setup and a reasonable price, the Swagman XC2 might meet your needs. Its setup is similar to the Sherpa 2.0 in that it attaches to a trailer hitch, holds two bikes, and folds flat for easy storage.

With the Swagman XC2, the central arm folds down to allow access to the trunk. Meanwhile, sturdy ratchet arms adjust to fit various bike frames and slots in the tyre tray keep the bikes from shifting.

Although it doesn’t have as many features as the Sherpa 2.0 or the Apex XT, the Swagman XC2 is a reliable and sturdy bike rack for a fraction of the price. The bike rack has security features, but you’ll need to purchase a locking hitch pin and security cable separately. That’s something to remember when you weigh up the total costs.

pros
  • Highly adjustable
  • Fits various bike sizes (20″ to 29″ wheels)
  • Reasonable price
  • Easy to install and remove
  • Lightweight (32 lbs)
cons
  • Poor setup instructions
  • Security features are not included

If you’re looking for a lightweight adjustable trunk-mounted rack, then the Saris Bones is a reasonably priced bike rack that’s worth considering.

What makes this trunk rack stand out from others is the manufacturer’s attention to detail. Rubber feet and coated hooks, prevent movement and protect the paint on your car.

Equally, rubber straps hold each bike in place without scratching the frame. The arc-design should fit most cars. The rack is also highly adjustable without tools although it does take slightly longer to fit than typical hitch racks.

Another bonus is that this rack is made from 100% recycled materials that are resistant to rust. It may not be as durable as the metal racks on our list; however, the Saris Bones Trunk Rack does have sturdy mould-injected arms and legs. It’s strong enough to carry 35 lbs (two-bike version).

pros
  • Easy to adjust and install
  • Made from 100% recycled materials
  • Fits most common hatchbacks, SUVs, sedans and minivans
  • Available in 2 or 3 bike versions
cons
  • Doesn’t fit all bike frames
  • No security features

For anyone looking for a budget bike rack, the Allen Sports Deluxe Bike Rack offers excellent value for money. Coming in under $50, this is by far one of the cheapest 2-bike trunk racks on the market.

Despite this, the Allen Sports Deluxe is both secure and strong. It has a sturdy steel frame, tie-downs and cradles to secure each bike and a foam-padded frame that protects your vehicle.

Like the Saris Bones Trunk Bike Rack, it should fit most sedans, minivans, SUVs, and hatchbacks. You may also need an adapter for certain bike frames. Like most bike racks, the Allen Sports Deluxe folds flat.

It won’t take up much space when it’s not in use and should fit easily inside the trunk. The critical difference is that the frame’s arms and legs are not adjustable, and it may not be the best fit for uncommonly shaped cars.

pros
  • Easy to install
  • Very light (8 lbs)
  • Fits most cars
  • Folds down small
cons
  • May not fit all bike frames
  • No security features
  • Not adjustable

Frequently Asked Questions:

DO YOU NEED A NUMBER PLATE ON YOUR BIKE RACK?

That depends on your state’s licence plate laws. In most states, if your bike rack blocks your licence plate, you should put an auxiliary licence plate on your bike rack.

CAN YOU KEEP A BIKE RACK ON YOUR CAR IF IT’S NOT IN USE?

Again, the law varies between states and you should check with your local authority to avoid any problems. In some states, it is illegal to drive with an empty bike rack. If you’re not sure, it’s best to remove your bike rack when it’s not in use. This shouldn’t be an issue as most will fold flat.

CAN ANY BIKE RACK FIT ANY CAR?

No, not every bike rack will fit every car. It’s important to check for compatibility in the product description. The most obvious thing to note is that a hitch rack will only fit a vehicle with a trailer hitch and you’ll also need to check the hitch diameter. Likewise, you should read the manufacturer’s recommendations for truck-mounted bike racks.

DO BIKE RACKS DAMAGE YOUR CAR?

If fitted correctly, a bike rack won’t damage your car but it could if installed incorrectly. Damage is most common with trunk-mounted bike racks as there is more chance of friction. To avoid this, look out for trunk-mounted bike racks with rubber feet and foam padding and make sure it’s fitted properly. Also, avoid placing the bike rack on a dirty or dusty surface before fitting it because accumulated dirt can cause scratches.

ARE BIKE RACKS LEGAL?

Using bike racks is legal as long as you comply with the laws regarding the use of bike racks. You may get pulled over in many states if your bike rack is incorrectly fitted and poses a risk to other drivers or if the rack blocks your taillights and license plate. However, state license plate laws vary from state to state and some are stricter than others, so it’s best to check with your local authority.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Riding a bike is one of the most joyful ways to spend time outdoors. Whether you’re taking your bike on your next camping trip or driving to your favourite mountain biking trail, a bike rack that fits your car and secures your bike will let you take your two-wheeled friend anywhere.