The best bike racks for cars make transporting your ride less of a chore and are an absolute essential if you can’t squeeze everything inside your vehicle. There are multiple bike rack styles available at a range of budgets, and this guide covers everything you need to know when you’re deciding which one suits your needs.
Keep reading for a full explanation of roof racks, boot or trunk-mounted racks, and hitch or towbar-mounted racks, with reviews of those that scored highest when rated by our expert team of testers.
The best bike racks for cars in 2019 as rated by our expert testers
The following racks scored four or more stars out of five in our tests:
Thule ProRide 598: £115 / $199.95 / AU$299
RockyMounts TomaHawk roof rack: $149.95
SeaSucker Mini Bomber roof rack: £349 / $440 / AU$639
Seasucker Talon: £329.99 / $299 / AU$499
Yakima Highroad: £175 / $249 / AU349
Thule RaceWay 3 992 / RaceWay PRO 3: £340 / $379.95 / AU$539
Thule FreeWay 3: £100
Thule Raceway Platform Pro 2 (North America only): $449.95
RockyMounts SplitRail hitch rack: $399.95
Thule VeloCompact 927 towbar rack: £480
Thule VeloSpace XT 3 towbar bike rack: £575 / $N/A / AU$1249 / EU: From €709 — region dependent
What type of bike rack do I need?
The first question is: how far and how frequently do you need to carry bikes? Then what type of bikes, and how many bikes you need to carry. Which vehicle — or vehicles — do you have, and will you be taking a mixture of bikes? Are they heavy, do they have thru-axles, and will they be getting dirty?
The next question is how do you want to carry the bikes? On top of the vehicle? Off the back? Does your vehicle have a receiver hitch? Bike’s front wheel on or off? Another thing to consider is if you want or need to carry other sporting equipment.
Bikes vary widely in cost, style, size and weight too, all of which should be factors when looking for a means of transporting them. You probably won’t want to risk carrying your expensive super bike on a rack that costs less than one of its ultra-light tires.
Also consider practicality: whether the rack will suit your needs now and in the future; ease of use — how easy it is to fit to the vehicle and load; security — whether it holds the bikes safely and locks the bikes and to the vehicle; and how much storage space it will take up when not in use.
The main types of bike rack are roof mounted, boot or trunk mounted and towbar or hitch mounted. Plus there are options for truck beds and speciality racks for unique situations.
Roof-mounted bike racks
Conventional roof-mounted bike racks require a factory roof rack or aftermarket base bar system. Matthew Allen / Immediate Media
Most roof racks consist of feet that attach to your vehicle’s roof, and cross bars that the accessories attach to. Bike racks for roof racks vary between ones that require front wheel removal and racks that allow both wheels to remain on the bike.
Front wheel removal keeps the bike lower (great for tall SUVs), can be easier and lighter to load, and is the classic way of hauling bikes up top.
Bike racks that keep both wheels on the bike are taller, generally cost more, and can be less stable.
Either option likely uses integrated locks to lock your bike to the rack. And, of course, the rack is locked to the bars and the bars are locked to your vehicle.
There are more simple roof-mounted bike racks available that don’t require a dedicated base bar set up, such as the Sea Sucker rack (shown below), which uses suction cups to attach to your car, and roof-mounted bike racks that attach to your vehicle’s factory-installed roof rack.
Roof-mounted bike racks can also be simple and much less involved. Sea Sucker
While not permanent, roof racks generally stay on your vehicle all the time because they are hugely versatile — being able to add and remove sport-specific accessories lets you carry bikes, kayaks, skis, SUP boards, cargo boxes, etc.
Basically, any big, bulky item is fair game for a roof rack, even ladders, lumber and other non-sports items.
Roof racks can be used for a huge variety of gear-hauling duties. Yakima
Pros: Super versatile for all kinds of gear hauling; one of the most secure racks available; doesn’t hinder access to any doors/boot/hatch/tailgate.
Cons: Drive under something low if you’ve forgotten about your bikes and you could wreck all your bikes and damage your vehicle; you’re also adding aero-drag to your vehicle, so fuel consumption will likely increase.
Best roof racks for bikes
Thule ProRide 598
The Thule ProRide 598 is a brilliant roof rack as long as you don’t mind clamping directly onto the frame. David Rome / Immediate Media
- £115 / $199.95 / AU$299
- Holds one bike
- 20kg maximum load
- Holds bike by its wheels and clamps onto down tube with large, soft jaws
- Requires roof bars
The Thule ProRide 598 is a benchmark for roof racks and a great all-round choice as long as you’re happy to clamp directly onto the down tube of your bike (the jaws are designed in such a way as to minimise the risk of damage).
The 598 is ideal if you want to transport bikes with mudguards/fenders because, unlike those that hold the bike by its wheels only, the rack won’t interfere with them.
RockyMounts TomaHawk roof rack
RockyMounts’ TomaHawk is one of the most versatile roof-mounted bike racks we’ve used. Russell Eich / Immediate Media
- Hauls one bike
- Requires a base bar system or factory roof rails
If you have a Thule, Yakima or other base bar system, or if your vehicle is equipped with factory crossbars, RockyMounts’ versatile TomaHawk upright bike rack is impressive.
The TomaHawk’s biggest attribute is its ability to haul all sorts of bikes, from road bikes to 20in kids’ bikes, and fat bikes to 29ers.
Loading a bike is relatively easy since RockyMounts includes tabs to keep the rack’s wheel straps out of the way.
The rack itself can lock to the base rack, and even though the rack has a lock for the bike it’s not a top scorer in security.
Without a bike loaded, it folds down decently small.
If your bike-hauling duties run the gamut from time trial aero machines to full-squish fatties with all stops in between, but there’s only one bike rack on your car’s roof, this is a great choice.
SeaSucker Mini Bomber roof rack
Suction cup power! SeaSucker’s Mini Bomber is unique in all the right ways. Courtesy SeaSucker
- £349 / $440 / AU$639
- Hauls up to two bikes
- Fork mount bike attachment
SeaSucker’s Mini Bomber is unlike any other bike rack and attaches by way of suction cups. It may sound kooky, but each 15.24cm / 6in suction cup produces up to 210lbs of pull strength, and there are six cups — it’s rock solid.
Like other roof rack bike carriers, the Mini Bomber rack holds bikes through the bike’s front fork. SeaSucker offers a range of accessories to work with whatever axle your front wheel uses.
Back to the suction cups, the SeaSucker can be mounted to all sorts of vehicles and in a variety of ways: on the roof, half on the rear hatch glass, half on the trunk. The options are numerous.
Another highlight of the Mini Bomber is its small size. When it’s not needed, it can easily be stashed in most cars.
While SeaSucker does offer a lock and cable for security, it’s not as elegant as some of the other racks’ built-in solutions.
Seasucker’s Talon roof holds a single bike and attaches to your car using suction cups. Russell Burton
- £329.99 / $299 / AU$499
- Holds one bike
- 45lbs / 20kg maximum load
- Fork-mount bike attachment
Much like the Mini Bomber, the Talon attaches to your car using suction cups. Designed to hold one bike with its front wheel removed — adapters are available to suit all common axle types.
The Talon is very expensive for a single rack, but if you’re determined to carry a bike on a sports car or any vehicle that isn’t suited to conventional racks, it’s an effective solution.
The Yakima Highroad is a very refined design that protects your frame by only touching the bike’s wheels. Matthew Allen / Immediate Media
- £175 / $249 / AU349
- Holds one bike by its wheels only, no contact with frame
- Accepts wheels from 26in to 29in
- 20kg max bike weight
- Not compatible with front mudguards
The Yakima Highroad mounts on virtually any roof bars and is an ideal choice if you’re worried about scratching your frame, because it holds your bike by its wheels only.
Mounting a bike on the Highroad is particularly easy, with no need to adjust the front wheel hoops for different sized rims and tyres. A built-in cable lock adds a bit of security, although you’ll need to pay extra for the lock barrel.
It’s a sleek design that’s fairly unobtrusive when folded flat. The only major downside is that racks like this are completely incompatible with full-length front mudguards.
Atera Giro AF+ (3 stars): Read our review
Boot, hatch or trunk-mounted bike racks
Trunk-mounted racks tend to be the least expensive option, and the least secure. The main thing holding them to your vehicle is a bunch of straps that hook around the lip of your vehicle’s trunk/hatchback/bumper.
Such racks are usually highly adjustable, so you can fit them to the rear of almost any vehicle. Rubber or foam ‘feet’ grip the vehicle, with the whole unit pulled taught and secured by the straps. This is the most affordable style of rack, but relies heavily on it being fitted properly, and the hooks that hold the straps to the vehicle can sometimes damage paintwork.
Low-end trunk racks typically don’t have a way to lock your bike, or a way to be locked to your vehicle, so they’re also relatively easy to steal.
Trunk racks vary greatly in quality, spending a bit more is worth it. Yakima
Pros: Easy to fit and usually the least expensive option; easy to remove, small and fold for easy storage.
Cons: Least secure way to haul bikes; prone to damaging paintwork; if you don’t fit it right you can lose the lot when driving, and the bikes are easy to steal.
Best boot/trunk racks for bikes
Thule RaceWay 3 992 / RaceWay PRO 3
The Thule RaceWay 3 is a simple concept, well executed. Thule
- £340 / $379.95 / AU$539
- Holds three bikes (a two-bike RaceWay 2 is also available, product code: 991)
- 45kg maximum load
Thule’s version of the ubiquitous boot/trunk rack is quite pricey but works well.
Its arms have a soft coating to protect your paint and, unlike most such racks, it can be locked to the car (and the bikes locked to the rack), although it’s debatable how secure this really is.
Thule FreeWay 3
The FreeWay 3 is simple but effective and at £100 it isn’t going to break the bank. Alex Evans
- Holds up to three bikes
- Maximum load capacity of 45kg
- Fits most hatchbacks and saloons/sedans
The FreeWay 3 is Thule’s cheapest bike rack and it fits most saloons/sedans and hatchbacks. It attaches to your car using straps and hooks with a soft plastic coating while four rubber feet rest against the car, aiming to minimise the risk of damage to your paint.
If you want a rear-mounted rack and can’t afford a towbar mounted one (or don’t have the option of fitting a towbar), the FreeWay 3 is a solid option — just make sure you keep the straps tight.
Thule Raceway Platform Pro 2 (North America only)
Thule’s Raceway Platform Pro 2 is a trunk rack doing its best impersonation of a hitch rack. Russell Eich / Immediate Media
- Hauls up to two bikes
- Fits most wheel sizes and tyre widths
Even though Thule’s Raceway Platform Pro 2 attaches like a trunk rack, it thinks it’s a hitch rack. And that’s a good thing.
Unlike other strap-on racks that dangle bikes from their top tubes with the wheels wobbling to and fro, the Raceway secures bike wheels as well as the frame.
Attachment to the vehicle is by steel braided cables instead of the usual nylon webbing. It features ratchets for snugging the rack to the car, and the rack can be locked to the vehicle and the bikes locked to the rack.
Loading bikes can be a bit tricky mainly because the outer bike clamp has to pass either over or through the inner bike’s frame. Seat to handlebar contact must also be considered, as it is on nearly every rack.
Once loaded, the bikes roll down the road as solid, quiet and stable as a top-tier hitch rack.
But like its hitch-mount idols, the Raceway is expensive, especially for a trunk rack. And even though it folds up, it’s not nearly as small as other trunk racks.
Hitch or towbar mounted bike racks
Towbar or hitch mounted bike racks aren’t cheap but they can be a great option if they work with your car. James Huang / Future Publishing
Towbar or hitch mounted bike racks connect to a 1 1/4in or 2in receiver hitch that is mounted to your vehicle. They’re usually more expensive than other bike rack styles, but the ease of loading and unloading bikes, and not having to lift bikes onto the vehicle’s roof, make them a popular option.
Most feature locks that secure the bike to the rack and the rack to the vehicle. Clever designs enable almost one-handed fitting, while hinged load sections provide access to the boot/tailgate of the vehicle without having to remove the bikes.
As a basic rule, the more features a rack has, such as built-in locks, repair stands, lightweight materials, etc., the more it costs. You also need a towbar/hitch on your vehicle, which can be an extra expense if you don’t already have one, and some vehicles are only compatible with 1 1/4in hitches, which typically limit the rack to two bikes instead of four or five bikes as with a 2in hitch.
Hitch-mounted racks most commonly hold bikes by their wheels with an arm securing the front wheel (as shown above) or by hanging from their top tubes (image below).
Hitch-mounted racks can carry from one to five bikes. Yakima
Pros: Good ones are strong, and, as they’re behind the vehicle and out of the way of the main airflow, fuel consumption doesn’t suffer too much; loading and unloading bikes is super simple; security can be very good.
Cons: You need a towbar or hitch; with the bikes off, reversing can yield some rather horrifying results if you forget about the rack; may necessitate an accessory number plate in some territories.
A note for our Australian readers: if your hitch mount rack obscures the view of your number plate you’ll also need an illuminated accessory number plate. While the name varies from state to state, you’ll need an official road authorities plate and can be fined for a cardboard, photocopied or handwritten version. The cost of bike rack number plates varies depending on where you live but cost less that AU$50 and can be purchased from your local RTA office.
If you plan to drive in poor light conditions or at night, the bike rack plates will also need to be illuminated so they are visible from a distance of 20 metres, accessory light boards are available for most hitch mount racks. Finally, you may also be fined for driving around with an empty hitch rack on your car.
Best towbar or hitch racks for bikes
RockyMounts SplitRail hitch rack
RockyMounts’ SplitRail hitch rack is solid, easy to load and simple to live with, all hallmarks of a great bike rack. Russell Eich / Immediate Media
- Hauls up to three bikes (with additional tray)
- Fits 20 to 29in wheels up to 3in tyres
Most hitch racks share a lot in common with one another. A bar clamps up and over the front wheel and a ratcheting strap secures the rear wheel.
It’s the little and not-so-little details that set the RockyMounts’ SplitRail apart.
Raising and lowering the rack to load bikes, or to simply access the rear of the vehicle, occurs almost daily, which means having an easy-to-use handle for tilting the rack can be a make or break deal. The SplitRail has one of the best and it’s easy to access and works well too.
Loading bikes is, of course, another primary concern. The SplitRail helps with this task by using tabs that keep the rear wheel straps out of the way. It sounds minor, but in use it’s brilliant.
The rack hauls nearly every wheel size, from small to large, skinny to mid-fat, but full-on fat bikes aren’t compatible, says RockyMounts.
Even storage off the vehicle is handled smartly. The SplitRail comes with a wall-mounted rack holder that keeps the rack off the floor and tucked closely against the wall.
Thule VeloCompact 927 towbar rack
The Thule VeloCompact 927 fits onto a standard towball and is designed to carry three bikes. David Rome / Immediate Media
- Holds three bikes, or four with an additional holder available as an extra
- Bikes attached using wheel straps plus arms that hold them upright
- Foot pedal tilt for easy boot/trunk access
- Maximum load of 60kg
Thule’s premium towbar mount rear rack takes three bikes and has the option to add a holder for a fourth. It’s expensive, but it does include a full set of tail lights and a number plate holder to keep things legal.
A clever foot pedal controlled system lets you tilt the bikes out the way to gain access to your boot/trunk.
Thule VeloSpace XT 3 towbar bike rack
Thule’s VeloSpace XT 3 is a sturdy rack with a large load capacity. Andy Lloyd
- £575 / $N/A / AU$1249 / EU: From €709 — region dependent
- Load capacity of up to four bikes
- Extra-long wheel trays for bikes with up to a 1,300mm wheelbase
- Wheel ratchets can take up to 4.7in tyres
- Detachable bike arms with AcuTight torque limiters
- Towbar coupling tightness adjuster
- Foot-pedal actuated tilt mechanism
- Combine with a Thule BackSpace XT to turn it into a storage carrier with 300 litres of capacity
The VeloSpace XT 3 bike rack is an impressively capable rack that can carry up to 60kg of bike spread over three loading locations.
It’s well made and exceptionally easy to use, and is very sturdy even on the bumpiest of roads — the bikes barely move and are secured very well.
The only pitfalls are its size which means storage can an issue and its rather cumbersome weight that can make it hard to lift around. It also has unproven locking features that should be treated as a last resort. These niggles mean it loses out on a full five-star rating.
Don’t let that put you off, though — the stability offered for your bikes is second to none.
Companies make bike racks for virtually every type of vehicle: from pickup truck beds to SUVs with a spare tyre on the back door, there’s a way to safely and conveniently carry your bike.
Almost every vehicle can be fitted with a bike rack. Saris
One solution you’ve probably seen on trucks at the local trailhead/trail centre is the tailgate pad.
Fancy versions have hook and loop tie downs to keep bikes separated and secure, while homemade versions, such as old blankets or a couple of bike boxes folded over, are quite a bit less sophisticated.
Tailgate pads are simple and very popular with mountain biking truck owners. Dakine
Just like the bike you ride, lots of thought and engineering has gone into the racks designed to carry your bikes on your vehicle. So figure out what your needs are and what style best suits your lifestyle, and transport your bikes easier and faster than ever.