How to Choose a Car Rack

There’s nothing better than going on a riding adventure to new places and exploring new trails. But it’s important that your pride and joy gets there in one piece. Choosing a bike rack can seem like an overwhelming process but keep reading as we go through how to choose the car rack that’s right for you.

There are a few important questions to ask yourself to begin with:

• How many bikes am I carrying?

• What type of bikes do I need to carry?

• Does my car already have a tow bar or roof rack crossbars?

• Will I only carry my bikes on one car or multiple vehicles?

Types of Car Racks

Below we’ve listed the different mounting styles car racks can have to ensure they’re securely fastened to your vehicle. Choosing the best option for your vehicle will be a combination of what's already compatible along with how many and what styles of bikes you’re carrying.

Tow Ball: One of the most common styles of rack attachments, a tow ball rack provides a strong secure mounting point for both larger racks with heavier loads along with quick mounting lightweight options. It’s important to note some more basic models may block access to your boot/rear door. When using larger tow ball racks it can be useful to use an anti sway bar to help prevent the rack from pivoting on the tow ball.

Square Hitch Racks: Sliding into a square towbar hitch receiver these racks offer an extremely strong mounting option for if you’re carrying larger, heavier loads. Again some more basic models may block access to your boot/rear door.

Boot Racks: Great for if you don’t have a towbar, boot mounted racks use a number of straps and rubber coated hooks which clip onto the edges of your boot. These racks are usually cheaper than other options however they’re not suitable for larger, heavier loads and are usually slower to install making them better for occasional use. Care must be taken to ensure that this style of rack is suitable for your car as vehicles fitted with rear spoilers above the rear window often will not work with this style of rack. Boot racks will also generally block access to your boot/rear door.

Spare Wheel Racks: Similar to a boot rack a spare wheel rack hooks over the spare wheel on the back door of four wheel drives. These racks are usually limited to a capacity of two bikes.

Roof Racks: Great for regular use when you don’t want to be constantly taking your rack on and off your vehicle. Roof racks leave easy access to your boot or rear door however they can be more difficult to use for some people due to lifting your bike overhead. As such they’re generally more suitable for lighter bikes and can be more expensive than other options. It’s important to remember underground carparks and some other low clearance areas may not be accessible with bikes mounted. Due to the additional wind resistance caused some wind noise can often occur along with an increase in fuel economy.

If your car doesn’t have a towbar, roof racks or another suitable mounting option you can often install a towbar or roof rack cross bars however this is an extra cost to take into consideration.

Car Racks Styles

Once you’ve figured out which type of rack mount will best suit your car you’ll need to work out what style of rack will best work with your bikes.

Hanging Racks: The most common style of car rack, hanging racks offer one of the more cost-effective options and are usually relatively compact. Bikes are mounted to the rack via their frame top tube which they hang off. These are a great option for the growing family offering the convenience of carrying 2 - 4 bikes at a time. Due to their hanging nature bikes can swing when mounted to these racks so it’s always a good idea to use a strap to reduce the chance of movement or bikes touching. It’s also important to remember as these racks are mounted on the rear of your vehicle there will be an increase in length which may limit parking options when fitted. Some smaller kids bikes (usually 16” and under) or step through frames which don’t have a top tube may require an adaptor bar. Carbon fibre frames aren’t compatible with hanging racks. These racks don’t usually come fitted with light bars as standard but can be added to increase safety greatly, particularly when transporting larger number of bikes.

Platform Racks: Available for tow ball or square hitch tow bars, platform racks are great for larger, heavier loads and are compatible with more frame shapes and sizes than a hanging rack. They’re a great option for carbon fibre framed bikes, dual suspension mountain bikes, step through framed bikes and E-Bikes. Bikes are mounted in wheel trays reducing the chance of contact between bikes while additional arms hold the frame in place. Typically more expensive than hanging racks, platform racks are available in 2 – 4 bike models. Vehicle length will also increase similar to when using a hanging rack. Popular features to look for with this style of rack is the ability to tilt the rack away from the rear of the car when fully loaded, making it easy to pack those last minute items without having to remove the bikes from the rack. It’s important to consider the number of bikes and the distance in which you are travelling as some of these racks will included light bars while others will not. Having a platform rack with a light bar will ensure that your bikes and your vehicle are easily seen when travelling in traffic. Some platform racks will include the ability to be folded for storage which can be a huge benefit due to their large size.

Boot Racks: Available in 2 or 3 bike options, bike frames are mounted via the top tube similar to a hanging rack. It’s important to consider boot racks cannot be mounted to cars that have a plastic spoiler and cannot carry carbon frame bikes.

Roof Racks: Some racks will require you to remove the front wheel and mount via the front fork however most options secure both wheels with many options also including additional frame support.

E-Bike Specific Racks : Due to their heavier weight E-Bikes will often need specific heavy duty platform style racks which have a higher load capacity. Mounting via the towbar, both square hitch and tow ball options are available. Some extra options can include ramps to roll the bike onto the rack rather than lifting. These racks can also still be used for traditional bikes.

Other Features & Considerations

Below we’re included a few other key features that you may want to look for and remember when purchasing a bike carrier.

• Locking Racks: Racks can include two types of locks, the ability to lock to rack to the car and the ability to lock your bike to the rack.

• Boot Access: Another common feature that makes life much easier is the ability for tow bar racks to tilt. This then provides easy access to your boot without removing your rack and/or bikes.

• Number Plate: In Victoria your vehicles number plate must still be clearly visible when using a bike rack. If your number plate is obscured by the bike rack you must obtain a bike rack number plate from VicRoads or attach the rear number plate from your vehicle to the bike rack and return it to the vehicle after use.

• Always consult your vehicle owners manual to check the load capacity of your roof if installing roof racks or tow bar if installing a rear mounted rack.

Have a question about what car rack’s right for you? Get in touch with us here.