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Bike racks make going almost anywhere with your bike easier and safer. With so many diverse options it is not hard to find a rack that fits your needs and adds some convenience and style while doing it. Roof Racks, Receiver Hitch Mounted, Trunk Mounts and Tailgate Pads they all have their time and place and what you choose will depend on what you drive and how you want your bike carried on your vehicle.
What do you want though? With so many choices it can be overwhelming to decide what works best for you. Make no mistake about it bike racks are an investment and if you choose one that doesn’t do what you need it can be an expensive mistake.
So first thing, before you even start shopping around for that new Thule roof rack you want or Kuat hitch mount rack, make sure you know what your bikes need. For some racks you will just need to know what tire and rim sizes you want to be able to carry, for others you will need to consider frame attachment points and axle size/ spacing. Knowing the relevant specs ahead of time will save you time and potential aggravation.
Racks that can be mounted on your car without a receiver hitch or hardpoint mounting a roof rack come in various types. The old style trunk mount rack has seen some updates but with cars increasingly seamless many just don’t work well. One exception is a different take on temporarily mounting. Using suction cups SeaSucker makes mounts that can be used on all vehicle types. They have an interesting take on how to do this and years of positive reviews, but their radical style makes them an acquired taste. If you want a high end roof rack that you can switch between cars seamlessly this might be the choice for you.
Multipurpose roof rack systems from companies like Thule and Yakima have been around for generations. They can be configured to carry many different load types, and most importantly can be set up to carry two or even three bikes in some cases. They are stable at high speeds and over long distances. Even though they hold your bike up high it tend to be a safe place, that is unless you forget about your bike and drive into your garage. Imagine totalling your bike and your car, thankfully for me when I made that mistake I was riding BMX that day and only tore a grip and scratched my brake lever perch.
Receiver Hitch Mounted Racks come in many shapes and sizes. The most popular of these in recent years have been the tray style ones where the bike’s wheels stay on and are tensioned into place by a bar that goes over the top of the wheel. Tray style racks can often hold a wide range of tire widths and rim sizes. One of the benefits of this style is also its ability to hold many different frame types. As suspension frames have gotten more complex it can be difficult to mount them to any style of rack that attaches to the frame. With increased use of carbon fiber there is even more reason to not want to be clamping frame tubes.
One of the main drawbacks for receiver hitch mounted racks is that they stick out behind your vehicle. Any accident from behind is likely to mean that your bikes are totaled, but roof racks have problems too as we’ve discussed, so it is always important to remember that your bike is there.
The last style “rack” I want to cover is the tailgate pad. A lot of riders might look down on the tailgate pad as basic, but if you have a truck it doesn’t get much better. Downhiller have used tailgate pads for years for shuttle runs and transporting their heavy rigs. A good tailgate pad will keep your bike secure and organized even when driving through rough backcountry, while also working just as well on long highway trips. Tailgate pads can even provide unexpected security if you can mount some anchor points in your truck for and anti theft chain or cable.
No rack is really secure though. It is best not to trust security to a rack. If you need to leave your vehicle unattended your best bet is to put your bikes in the vehicle, take them with you, or find somewhere else to secure them indoors. Bike thieves can act quickly and with the increasing value of today’s bikes, they unfortunately have more incentive than ever before.
Hopefully this gives you an idea of what racks are out there and their relative benefit. If I had to pick one I’d probably say that even after years of having roof racks, I would seriously consider a receiver hitch mount rack like a Kuat.