After researching more than 100 bike racks of five different types, testing 31 of them, consulting with experts, and surveying a couple hundred cyclists from across the country, we’ve found that there’s no one “best” bike rack for every rider. The right one for you depends on your budget, vehicle, bike, and personal priorities. That said, we recommend the Saris Bones trunk rack as the best overall value, and the best choice for cyclists who want to easily transport their bikes on almost any vehicle and don’t want to spend a lot of money. For riders who want a rack that’s easier to mount or designed to provide more protection for the bike and the vehicle, and who can afford a higher price, we have other great picks below.
The Saris Bones stood out in our testing because it’s solidly built, ultralight, easy to mount and store, and affordably priced. That’s a combination that no other rack we tested can match. Made of lightweight molded plastic, the Bones weighs only about half as much as other trunk racks and a mere fifth or less of some hitch racks. As a result, it’s easier to lift onto the back of a vehicle and strap on than any other trunk rack we tested. Even so, in our tests it was sturdy and stable during our driving, even at higher speeds and with quick stops. The fully adjustable curved arms fit over all but the most massive rear trunk spoilers, and the whole contraption folds nearly flat for compact storage. The Bones also garnered one of the highest ratings from bike owners in a survey we fielded to more than 20 bike clubs across the country. We tested the Bones 2-Bike, but a Bones 3-Bike model is also available.
Although any of the seven tray-style hitch racks we tested will hold your bikes securely, we recommend the Kuat Sherpa 2.0 as the best of the bunch. It’s the lightest of the racks we tested, so it’s especially easy to install into a hitch receiver. And you need only turn a knob to tighten it securely, a much simpler and quicker process than with most other models. The Sherpa 2.0 also has the lowest lift height, for easier loading, and the most space between bikes, minimizing the chances that two bikes could make contact. Like all of the tray racks we tested, the Sherpa 2.0 holds bikes by the wheels, eliminating any contact with the frame. It has integrated locks for the hitch and bikes, and it tilts down to let you access the rear of the vehicle. Most important, in our tests our bikes remained rock solid with minimal side-to-side movement. Although the Sherpa 2.0 costs a lot more than the Saris Bones trunk rack, it’s reasonably priced for a top-notch tray-style rack and average for the models we tested. Trade-offs? The Sherpa 2.0 holds two mainstream bikes, but it can’t expand to hold more. And, of course, you will need a tow hitch for your vehicle. (While almost any car will accept a hitch, the addition may reduce its ground clearance. If in doubt, check with a pro installer about what’s best for your vehicle.)
The Thule Helium Aero is our top choice among hanging-style hitch racks. This design holds your bikes by the frame tubes, in a fashion similar to trunk racks. Available in two- and three-bike versions, the Helium Aero has a light weight, which makes it easy to mount on the vehicle. It offers a truly tool-free installation—a seeming rarity for hitch racks—and a rock-solid ride. It’s also reasonably priced for a hitch rack. The Helium Aero is heavier than the Saris Bones trunk rack, and it doesn’t fold down for flat storage, but it’s so easy to pop into place that we’d gladly find a corner to keep it in when we aren’t using it. While this model is more than twice the price of the Saris Bones at this writing, it’s less than most of the tray-style hitch racks we tested. The Helium Aero fits 1¼-inch and 2-inch tow hitches.
In our tests the Yakima HighRoad was the easiest to work with, both in mounting it on the vehicle and in loading bikes. It holds a bike by the front wheel, eliminating any contact with the frame, and we found that it held a wide variety of bikes more solidly than even some of the fork-mount designs we tested. A benefit of the wheel-mount design is that you don’t have to take the bike’s front wheel off and find a separate place to carry it as you travel. The HighRoad comes with bike locks, and it allows you to lock it to the vehicle’s roof, unlike several of the other roof racks we tested. Like all roof bicycle carriers, it requires mounting to a base roof-rack system, which many vehicles come with; if yours doesn’t, usually you can add one.
People who drive pickups would do well with the Inno Velo Gripper, our favorite among several smartly designed bike holders for use in pickup beds. The Velo Gripper installs easily, and unlike the other pickup carriers we tested, it holds the bikes out of the driver’s line of sight against the side of the bed. It’s also compact enough that you can simply toss it in a toolbox when you aren’t using it. If we had to find a fault, we’d note that, as with all three of the pickup-bed carriers we compared, you can’t secure this rack to the truck—someone walking by could just unscrew the Velo Gripper from the side of the bed.
Why you should trust us
Kristen Hall-Geisler has been testing cars and their gadgets since 2002. She lives in Portland, Oregon, which Bicycling picked in 2016 as the third-best bike city in the US. Kristen is a regular cyclist with lots of experience with bike racks on her own cars, from a custom in-bed fork-mount rack for a Subaru Baja to a roof rack on a Jeep Renegade. In addition to testing 14 rack models while writing our first version of this guide, Kristen consulted with the staff of Portland’s Rack Attack about the ins and outs (and ups and downs) of every type of bike rack. And to get a broader perspective, she reached out to East Burke Sports in East Burke, Vermont; Chile Pepper Bike Shop in the mountain-biking mecca, Moab, Utah; Backcountry Bike & Ski in the wilds of Wasilla, Alaska; and Roscoe Village Bikes in Chicago, one of the best urban shops in the country.
Rik Paul was the automotive editor for Consumer Reports for 14 years, where he edited all of the publication’s auto-accessory tests. Prior to that, he was the senior feature editor for Motor Trend, where he wrote a monthly column about car care and related accessories. For our latest test of tray-style hitch racks, Rik talked to experts in several bike shops and REI, fielded a survey to more than 20 bike clubs across the country, and spent a Sunday morning chatting with the avid riders gathered at a favorite local cyclist stop-over, The Runcible Spoon in Nyack, New York. He also assembled, mounted, and test-drove seven popular rack models, using a Toyota 4Runner SUV and a Honda Ridgeline pickup truck.
Eric Evarts has been an avid cyclist since childhood, often preferring to explore new areas by bike rather than car. He once spent 11 days biking and camping along California’s Pacific Coast Highway, from San Francisco to Santa Barbara. As an automotive reviewer, he has driven and tested more than 2,000 cars over the past 20 years, and his road tests have appeared on Cars.com, the Christian Science Monitor, Consumer Reports, U.S. News & World Report, and elsewhere. For our latest update on bicycle roof racks, he assembled, mounted, and test-drove 10 roof racks, using four base systems and three different bikes. Now, he’s ready to convert from a tried-and-true fork-mount roof rack to a modern wheel-mounted model.
Types of bike racks
You can find a rack for every vehicle, each with its own pros and cons. We tested trunk, hitch, and roof racks, as well as bike carriers for pickup trucks.
You can find five main types of bike racks: trunk racks, which strap to the back of most vehicles; tray-style hitch racks, which slot into standard tow hitches and support the bikes from underneath; hanging-style hitch racks, which support bikes from under the frame; roof racks, which attach to the top of the vehicle; and various options for pickups that let you carry bikes in the bed.
Trunk racks: These fit a wide range of vehicles, can carry multiple bikes, and typically cost less than other types of racks. As Tyler Carlson of Rack Attack in Portland put it, “Trunk racks are cheaper, lighter, simpler, and fit more cars.” They’re often the choice for riders who don’t want to spend a lot of money, and more than a third of the cyclists who responded to our survey said they used this type.
A trunk rack rests on a vehicle’s trunk or hatchback; holding it in place are straps that attach to the top of the trunk or rear hatch and to the lower lip of the trunk or hatch (or to something metal under the bumper). For extra stability, many trunk racks also have side straps, for attaching to the sides of the trunk or hatch. The three trunk racks we tested ranged from $50 to $150, but other models can cost more than $300. The downside to these racks is that no matter how powder-coated or well-designed the contact points with the car may be, they can leave marks on your vehicle over time. As we’ve experienced, it’s easier to scratch your car accidentally when mounting the rack or bikes. The upper straps can put a lot of weight on a vehicle’s rear roof spoiler. The rack can block the view out the rear window or on a rearview camera. Also, when the rack is mounted on the car, you can’t open the car’s trunk or hatchback, so you lose access to its cargo area; you’ll probably want to remove it when you’re not using it.
Trunk racks aren’t the best choice for holding heavier bikes or carrying bigger loads—such as four full-size bikes—because of the weight they put on the car’s parts. Our top pick, the Saris Bones, can carry (depending on the model) two or three bikes that weigh up to 35 pounds. A trunk rack can also be a bit of a pain to install on the car, as you juggle the rack and the straps, especially if the car’s trunk or rear hatch needs to be open while you position the straps because they won’t fit into the gaps when it’s closed (the situation varies from vehicle to vehicle). But if you need to carry only one or two mainstream bikes and you’re watching your budget, a trunk rack can work well.
Hitch racks: Experts we talked to agreed that hitch racks offered the sturdiest way to transport bikes. If you’re planning on hauling multiple heavy bikes—say, downhill mountain bikes, or electric bikes—a hitch rack is a good, secure choice. This style also positions the bikes low enough that a shorter person can load such bikes onto a vehicle, a task that might not be easily accomplished with other types of racks. A hitch rack holds the bikes securely and away from the back of the vehicle, where they are less likely to accidentally scratch the paint or trim. Hitch racks are heavy compared with other types, however, and depending on the model and person, they can be hard to maneuver into the car’s hitch receiver a foot off the ground. Once they’re in place, people often leave them there for the duration of the riding season. The better models can tilt down or swing to the side to let you access the vehicle’s trunk or rear cargo area, even when bikes are loaded. If you already have a standard 1¼-inch or 2-inch hitch, these racks are some of the best. They’re also some of the most expensive, with prices ranging from about $150 to more than $600.
Like trunk racks, hitch racks can interfere with the view out the rear window or on a backup camera. And if you don’t already have a tow hitch on your vehicle, you’ll need to budget another $200 to $300 to have one installed. If you have a small car, check with a pro installer to make sure that installation is advisable. Tow hitches can reduce a vehicle’s ground clearance, causing it to scrape on the ground sometimes. You can also check the websites of U-Haul, Curt Manufacturing, or Amazon to see if tow hitches are available for your vehicle. And keep in mind that many small cars aren’t designed to tow, so the receiver hitch could work only for carrying bikes. Check your owner manual to be sure.
You’ll encounter two types of hitch racks. With tray- or platform-style racks, the bike’s wheels sit in a tray or wheel holders, and the rack supports the bike with clamps either on the wheels or on the frame. The former design is becoming more popular and is often the preferred style for owners of bikes with expensive frames. Because tray racks are lower to the ground, lifting bikes into place is easier. And typically these racks can hold a wide variety of bikes, although adapters are sometimes needed for more niche models. Serious riders who don’t mind investing more money in their bikes and racks often prefer tray racks; three-quarters of the riders in our survey who said they owned tray racks told us they considered themselves serious cyclists or racers. “Generally speaking, the more expensive the bike, the more likely the user is to want a tray-style rack,” said Courtney Gearhart of REI’s Public Affairs department. “Tray racks also accept a wider range of frame configurations, such as full-suspension bikes, that won’t fit on hanging bike racks.” Referencing their growing popularity, Ian Grall of Rack Attack said, “We’re selling more tray-style than any other hitch racks, or roof racks. They’re really taking off.”
With hanging-style hitch racks, the bike’s frame hangs from padded bars, similar to those of a trunk rack. Generally, hanging hitch racks tend to be less expensive than tray racks; they also tend to be lighter, which makes them easier to install and to take off the vehicle. But typically you have to lift the bikes higher to mount them. As with trunk racks, a lot of casual riders choose hanging hitch racks because of their lighter weight and lower cost, although our survey shows that a lot of serious riders also like them. Hanging hitch racks might not be the best choice for riders with carbon fiber or other expensive frames (many owners of pricey bikes prefer racks that support them by the wheels or fork), and they’re typically not designed for carrying heavier bikes; 35 pounds per bike is a typical maximum.
Half of the respondents to our survey told us they used a hitch rack, with the group almost evenly divided between tray- and hanging-style models. Interestingly, in our survey, a much higher percentage of tray-rack owners—almost 70 percent—gave their racks a rating of five, the highest, compared with owners of other rack types. Only a quarter to a third of the owners of other types of racks chose that lofty figure.
Be sure to get a hitch rack that fits the receiver on your vehicle. Many racks are designed to fit either a 1¼-inch or 2-inch receiver, although some will work with both. If you don’t have a tow hitch on your vehicle, we recommend choosing the rack you want first and then having the appropriate receiver installed, because smaller, 1¼-inch receivers can limit your choices. (That said, many smaller cars can’t accommodate 2-inch receivers.)
Roof racks: These racks are popular among many riders because they allow a vehicle to carry several bikes, usually give you full access to a vehicle’s trunk or rear hatch, and don’t block the view of a car’s backup camera. Most of today’s designs also secure the bike without touching the frame, which makes them an attractive alternative to a more expensive tray-style hitch rack for cyclists with expensive bikes. Roof racks typically cost more than trunk racks—the 10 models we tested ranged from a little over $100 to about $300—but less than many hitch racks.
A downside is that getting the bikes on top of the vehicle takes more effort, especially if you are short or if you drive an SUV. Ian Graff of Portland’s Rack Attack said, “Vehicles are getting taller, and people don’t want to lift their bikes that high. They’re more for sedans and other shorter vehicles.” Rack Attack’s Tyler Carlson also noted, “A roof rack is the only way you can hurt yourself, the bike, and the car all at once.” This style is definitely not a good choice for heavier bikes. Our expert in Moab, Utah, the off-road-biking capital, told us she had even seen rails snap from the torque of swaying bikes on the roof. And as The Wirecutter’s outdoor editor can attest, there’s always the possibility of forgetting that your bike is on the roof while you’re entering a garage or pulling up to a fast-food drive-through window. Oops. That said, many riders believe that the advantages of a roof rack outweigh the disadvantages. While only about 10 percent of the riders in our survey told us they owned a roof rack, about eight in 10 of them said they considered themselves serious cyclists.
Companies sell three types of bicycle roof racks—fork-, frame-, and wheel-mount—each with its own advantages. Fork-mount designs are noted for providing a secure mount, and because you remove the front wheel, the bike is lighter and easier to lift onto the roof. But you’ll have to stow the wheel in your vehicle or with a separate roof attachment. With frame- and wheel-mount designs, you lift the entire bike onto the rack and secure it either with a clamp that holds onto the frame or, on many newer models, a ratcheting arm or locking hoop system that secures the bike by the front wheel without frame contact (as is becoming more common with tray-style hitch racks). In our testing, we were pleasantly surprised to see how securely our wheel-mounted racks held our bikes, with our top pick beating even the fork-mount designs.
Not having to remove your front wheel means you don’t have to worry about what type of latch your wheel uses, whether it’s a relatively old-fashioned skewer mount or a modern thru-axle, in any of several different sizes. You also won’t have to worry about forgetting to re-cinch your bike’s front brakes before you hop on the trail—a significant safety advantage.
A key consideration is making sure the rack you’re considering is compatible with the crossbars on your vehicle or the add-on base system you’ll be buying. Thule and Yakima sell several types of add-on crossbars and mounts. Still, it’s worthwhile to check the fit guide on the rack manufacturer’s website or to talk to a bike-shop representative to avoid several minutes of cursing in the driveway.
Pickup truck carriers: This type of carrier presents a whole different problem: You have plenty of space in a truck’s bed for a few bikes, but how do you keep them from banging together? You’ll encounter lots of options, from inexpensive padded tailgate covers (which protect the trunk more than they do the bikes) to clever in-bed bike stands that protect expensive frames on the way to the trailhead. Given the many styles, you’ll find many prices, too—a tailgate pad will be less than $100, while an in-bed stand, which is a more complicated design, will be nearly twice the price. If you have a pickup truck and typically carry only one or two mainstream bikes, one of these carriers might work well for both your bikes and your budget. Otherwise, a hitch rack will probably be a better choice.
How we picked
To get a good take on the pros and cons of different types of racks and to zero in on which models people found most helpful, we first talked to the experts at Portland’s Rack Attack, a shop specialized in attaching all kinds of racks to all kinds of vehicles. We then checked in with the knowledgeable staff at some of the best bike shops in the country: East Burke Sports in East Burke, Vermont; Chile Pepper Bike Shop in Moab, Utah; Backcountry Bike & Ski in Wasilla, Alaska; and Roscoe Village Bikes in Chicago. We asked them which types of racks were better for different types of people, which ones were the easiest to mount and use, and lots more. When you’re choosing a bike rack, the ease of installation, the ability to work on various types of vehicles, and the ability to carry a range of different bikes are key considerations.
We then did a thorough scan of the models available from all of the major manufacturers, looking for those that were highly recommended and rated by both experts and owners, so that we could choose only the most promising for our hands-on evaluations. When we sought out racks for pickup-truck beds, we gave preference to those that didn’t require drilling or making any alterations to the truck, as that could hit the truck’s resale value.
We also considered pricing, which varies from one type of rack to another; during our research, the highest-priced hitch rack, for example, cost nearly 10 times as much as the lowest-priced trunk rack. Within each type, we chose models of various prices to see how much of a difference that made. But we kept an eye on value, wanting to find the racks that provided the most utility for the money. Keep in mind that, in addition to the price of the rack, if you need to install roof bars or a tow hitch, you should plan on spending about $200 to $300 extra, according to our experts.
How we tested
For this guide, including our two major updates, we’ve tested more than 30 bike racks. With each model, we went through the whole ownership experience of unboxing the rack, assembling it, mounting it on one or more vehicles, loading bikes, and driving around to check how securely the rack and bikes remained and if they needed any additional adjustments. Then we removed the bikes and rack, checked for any marks or damage on either, and folded the rack (if possible) for storage. We even included a metric for the number of swear words uttered—or shouted—during each rack’s test.
When assembling the racks, we noted whether the necessary tools were included and how easy the instructions were to follow (most directions needed more help). For each round of testing, we checked how securely the rack was mounted and how solidly it held our bikes by driving the same route, covering highway driving, curvy two-lane back roads, rough pavement, and quick stops and sharp turns. Our test vehicles included hatchbacks, SUVs, and pickup trucks.
For our testing of tray-style hitch racks, we borrowed a Toyota 4Runner SUV and a Honda Ridgeline pickup, both of which came with a 2-inch receiver hitch.
When testing tray-style hitch racks (the heaviest type), we weighed each one before mounting it on a Toyota 4Runner SUV and a Honda Ridgeline pickup, both of which came with a 2-inch hitch receiver, noting the ease or difficulty of getting each rack in the hitch receiver and tightened. We also measured the racks’ lift heights—how high you need to lift the bikes to load them—and how far out from the vehicle the racks extended, both when down and when folded up. We also put each rack through its paces by tilting it down and up (when possible), gauging how easy this was to do and evaluating our access to the rear cargo areas of our vehicles.
For our latest update on roof racks, we put a lot of weight on how easy it was to mount a rack and remove it from the vehicle. We considered this a priority, because we recommend taking a roof rack off your car when you don’t have a trip planned; leaving it on just makes a lot of wind noise and cuts your vehicle’s fuel economy significantly. In our tests, when we drove through one stretch of twisty road, we intentionally exaggerated turns to make sure the bikes held tight as we pitched the car hard. (They all did, more or less.) We tried each rack with a big mountain bike, a smaller mountain bike with an awkwardly shaped frame, and a road bike with racing tires. Then we pulled the racks off and repeated the whole process with each of four sets of crossbars, including the factory bars on our Toyota RAV4 as well as a Thule AeroBlade Edge system and a Yakima JetStream system. Some racks required almost complete disassembly and reassembly to attach to different types of crossbars, especially when we were going between slotted aero bars and more old-fashioned factory or square Thule bars. All but one rack, the Thule ProRide, could simply clamp around any crossbar; another, the Swagman Race Ready, required us to reconfigure it to mount it in the slots in the crossbars.
The Saris Bones is very lightweight and easy to install, and it holds most standard bikes securely, even large frames.
The Saris Bones stood out in our testing because it offered a balance of versatility, affordability, and ease of use that no other rack could match. Hands down, it’s the best choice for cyclists who want to easily transport their bikes on almost any vehicle and don’t want to spend a lot of money. The Bones comes in two- and three-bike versions, with the Bones 3-Bike available in a variety of colors and a portion of the sales of some colors going to charities.
Like all trunk racks, the Bones can work on nearly any kind of vehicle (pickups being the exception) without needing extra hardware, as roof and hitch racks do. As it’s the lightest trunk rack we tested, getting it onto the back of a vehicle was easy peasy for us. The straps connecting the rack to the car are simple to pull tight, and the hold-downs that keep the bikes in place are coated to protect the frames. Once mounted, the Bones is sturdy and stable; it also provides three points of contact with the bike for less sway, and the curved arms clear most trunk-mounted spoilers. Finally, when you’re done biking, it’s easy to fold nearly flat for storage.
The experts at Rack Attack, Roscoe Village Bikes, and Backcountry Bike & Ski all named the Saris Bones as a best seller at their shops and one they recommended. This model was also one of the highest-rated racks of any type in our survey. The Bones lived up to its reputation when we put it head to head with other trunk racks, as any models, such as the Allen Sports Deluxe Two Bike we tested, are set in one position, which can keep them from fitting over a spoiler on the trunk. Even if they are adjustable, the legs on other racks aren’t curved in a way that will clear a spoiler. In addition, the Bones’s third point of contact with the bike, unique among the trunk racks we tested, is a cradle for the bike’s seat tube. Strapping the bike down near the front fork, at the seat, and also around the vertical tube holds it in place with less swing.
Adjusting the legs’ position is especially easy. You unscrew an adjustment knob, slide the leg off the toothy ring, move it to where you want it, and then retighten the knob. It takes longer to explain how to do it than to do it.
The Bones is made of injection-molded plastic, which makes it both light and very strong; other racks are usually made of aluminum. Although aluminum seems light, trust us—after spending days lifting racks onto vehicles, we can confirm that 9 pounds of plastic is lighter. One leg of the Bones extends upward onto the trunk or hatch, and the other two extend down to sit on or against the bumper. All three legs end in huge, pivoting rubber feet (similar to those found on the Yakima KingJoe), which help protect the car and provide serious grip. Other trunk racks, like the less expensive Allen Sports Deluxe Two Bike, have smaller rubber pads cushioning the rack and protecting the car.
The big rubber feet provide solid contact while being kind to your vehicle, and adjusting them is easy with the locking knobs.
The innovative design of the Bones makes the rack’s legs crazy adjustable for any vehicle. The legs hold on to the central tube with toothed rings. A plastic knob allows you to loosen the legs’ grip on the toothy part of the tube and slide it over to a smooth section, where you can freely spin the leg to the perfect position. Then you just slide it back onto the toothy section and tighten the knob. In our tests, getting the rack set up and onto the car took four and a half minutes, less than half the time it took for some other trunk racks.
The arms on the Bones fold down conveniently for tight urban parking spaces. The rack doesn’t fold perfectly flat for storage, but it’s compact enough to store in the trunk or under a bed.
The straps that hold the rack to the car feed through that central tube, which means you can place the anchors at the top, sides, and bottom of the car and pull on both sides at once for a tight, even fit. The other trunk racks we tested required that we tighten each strap individually, but when we stepped back, those racks were typically lopsided against the car and in need of fixing. With the Bones, we grabbed the straps, gave them a couple of good yanks, and voilà—the rack was on straight and tight.
In our tests, the straps that held the bike in the cradles were new and therefore a bit stiff, so they were hard for us to maneuver. But the straps were coated on the underside to protect the bike’s finish, and the stabilizer strap that held the tube under the seat moved quite a bit to accommodate different sizes and styles of bikes. The curve of the arms also spaces out multiple bikes along the arc to keep them from knocking into one another as you drive. Speaking of which, once the bikes are on the rack, we recommend giving the straps that attach to the car another good tug so that you don’t have to pull over in two minutes to tighten them up.
Folding the Bones up is easy, and the curved arms and legs collapse until the rack is nearly flat. If you want to leave the rack on the car, the arms fold all the way down and out of the way.
Of the three trunk racks we tested, the Bones is the most expensive, although its price puts it right in the middle of the seven trunk racks we considered. The fact that mounting your rack isn’t an arm workout every time you want to take your bike somewhere is worth the extra dollars, and the straps and rubber feet are as solid and secure as those on racks costing twice as much.
We do have a couple of, ahem, bones to pick with this Saris model. When you’re adjusting the arms, be careful not to loosen the knob that holds the legs to the center tube all the way, or the nut on the other end of its screw will fall to the ground and you’ll find yourself on your hands and knees searching the driveway or parking lot for a little black nut. Once you find the nut (or a same-size replacement from your toolbox), it is easy to slide back into place.
Another minor annoyance is that when the rack is folded up and you’re carrying it to the garage for storage, those long straps can slide around like eels in the tube. You can wrangle them with rubber bands or twist ties.
Trunk racks of all kinds have one unavoidable flaw: They make contact with the finish on your car. Over time, the contact points are likely to cause some scratches. Tyler Carlson of Rack Attack told us he recommended putting small patches of ClearBra (or a similar protective substance) on the car where the rack attaches; when you’re ready to sell the car, you just peel off the ClearBra to reveal unscratched paint. An Amazon customer in one review we read also recommended cleaning off any debris between the rubber feet and your bumper to avoid scratches there.
The Allen Sports Deluxe Two Bike trunk rack is less expensive, sturdy, and easy to set up, though it’s not as light and versatile as the Saris Bones.
If price is your number-one criterion when you’re buying a trunk rack, you may prefer the Allen Sports Deluxe Two Bike trunk rack, which usually sells for less than $50. Though it’s made of aluminum rather than plastic, it doesn’t weigh much more than our top pick, and in our tests it was very stable on the back of our vehicles. We found it a little hard to set up, though; it’s not nearly as easy to work with as the Saris Bones. The rack’s frame has only one setting, and getting the arms that brace the bike frame in place can be difficult.
The best tray-style hitch rack
The Kuat Sherpa 2.0 was the lightest and easiest to install of the tray-style hitch racks we tested. It also held our bikes solidly, with minimal side-to-side movement.
For most cyclists who need to tote around one or two bikes, the Kuat Sherpa 2.0provides the best combo of performance, features, and price of any of the tray racks we tested. It held our bikes securely by the wheels, with minimal side-to-side movement and no contact with the frame. Weighing less than 32 pounds, the Sherpa 2.0 is the lightest of the tray racks we tested (most others ranged from 45 to 56 pounds), so it’s easy to carry around and mount. It’s also easy to use. As with the pricier Kuat NV 2.0 and Thule T2 Pro XT, you simply turn a knob to tighten the rack in the receiver hitch; no need to crouch down near the hitch to work a bolt through. It’s easy to tilt up or down, too, and when it’s up, you can lower it just by stepping on a foot release.
The lightweight Kuat Sherpa 2.0 tray-style hitch rack is secure and easy to use. You can tilt it down to access the rear of your vehicle and easily tilt it up when it’s empty.
The Sherpa 2.0 also has the lowest lift height we measured: 26½ inches, compared with 29 or more for most of the others, so you don’t have to lift your bikes as high to load them. And it has the most space between bikes: 12 inches, versus 7 to 10½ for the others. This spacing minimizes the chances of bikes contacting and possibly damaging each other. Like most of the racks we tested, the Sherpa 2.0 also has integrated locks for the hitch and bikes. It’s beautifully finished with a metallic powder-coated frame. And it has a reasonable price that’s almost exactly the average figure for our test group.
To tighten the Sherpa 2.0 in a receiver hitch, you simply turn a knob. When it’s folded up, you can easily lower it with a foot release, another handy feature.
The Sherpa 2.0 comes with clearly written and illustrated directions, which is something we can’t say about any non-Kuat models. In our tests, assembly was relatively easy, except for a problem bolt that wouldn’t easily fit because of slightly misaligned holes. After mounting the rack and wiggling it a bit, we were able to get the bolt through thanks to a few light taps with a rubber mallet. The shipping box doubles as a platform for assembly. Nice. Trade-offs? For starters, the Sherpa 2.0 can’t expand to hold more than two bikes (not a major drawback, though, considering that almost 70 percent of our survey respondents told us they carried only two bikes). Also, it holds bikes only up to a maximum of 40 pounds each (most other racks can hold 60-pound bikes), so it’s not suitable for some specialty and electric bikes.
If you want a tray rack that can carry more than two bikes, or heavier ones, and you’re willing to spend more money, we recommend the Thule T2 Pro XT. It matches many of the easy-to-use features of the Kuat Sherpa 2.0 and can carry bikes up to 60 pounds each. It can also expand to carry four bikes with an add-on attachment. You tighten the T2 Pro XT in the receiver hitch with an easy-to-turn knob. And it has the simplest method for tilting: At the rear of the rack is a handle that you can easily access and pull while standing. At 53 pounds, it’s about 21 pounds heavier than the Sherpa 2.0, and its price is almost $100 higher currently. At some retailers, you can still buy (at a significant discount) the slightly older Thule T2 Pro, which has a similar design.
For less money, the Thule T2 Classic provides the same capabilities as the T2 Pro XT, but it isn’t as easy to use. You secure the rack to the hitch with a bolt.
If you want to save money, you can get most of the T2 Pro XT’s advantages with the Thule T2 Classic, but that model isn’t as easy to use as the T2 Pro XT or the Sherpa 2.0. To secure this rack, you need to go old-school and screw a bolt through the hitch receiver, instead of simply turning a knob. And the T2 Classic doesn’t have the T2 Pro XT’s handy pull-handle tilting system. But at this writing, the T2 Classic is about $150 less than the T2 Pro XT and about $50 less than the Sherpa 2.0.
The best hanging hitch rack
Setting up and installing the versatile Thule Helium Aero is intuitive, requiring no tools and almost no thought.
If you already have a tow hitch on your vehicle and you want a great, no-fuss, affordably priced rack, the Thule Helium Aero (we tested the three-bike version) was by far the simplest hanging-style hitch rack we tried. From pulling it out of the box to having it hitched and ready for a bike, we took all of three and a half minutes. It is truly tool-free—you won’t find a single thing to assemble on this rack. In our tests, the Helium Aero was easy to secure in the hitch, and it remained rock solid while we were driving. It is a bit heavier than our top pick, the Saris Bones (although it’s lighter than most tray racks), and it doesn’t really fold up for storage as the Bones does. But those are trade-offs we’ll take for its ease of use over similar hitch racks.
A few turns of the knob create a tight, lockable fit in the hitch. And flipping up the lever lets you lower the bikes to get to things in the vehicle.
The Helium Aero’s real magic is in an adjustment knob that makes fitting it to a hitch especially easy. After you slide the rack into the hitch, you simply turn the knob on the rack to find the perfect fit. No shims, no swearing—just a few turns of the knob. Once you’ve secured the rack as tightly as possible, you use a locking mechanism to keep thieves from stealing the rack. A quick lift of a lever near the arms of the rack allows you to tip it forward for access to the rear of the vehicle, particularly if your car is an SUV with a rear window that you can open separately. As with many hanging-style hitch racks, the Helium Aero’s arms are a bit high for lifting bikes onto the rack. And because it doesn’t fold down in any meaningful way, you can store it in the off-season only by leaning it against a wall or shoving it under a workbench.
The best roof rack
In our tests of 10 roof racks, the Yakima HighRoad was the easiest to install on the car, as well as the easiest to mount bikes on. It also held our bikes solidly. We tried our racks on the Thule AeroBlade Edge and Yakima JetStream crossbar systems.
If you want to carry your bike out of the way on the roof of your vehicle, you’ll find no easier way to do so than with the Yakima HighRoad. We found it to be the simplest of all the roof racks we tested, both to install on the vehicle and to load bikes. It secures a bike by the front wheel, avoiding any contact with the frame, and in our tests it held a variety of bikes solidly, even more so than some fork-mount roof racks, which people often consider to be the most secure type.
To mount a bike on the Yakima HighRoad, you first insert the bike’s front wheel into the front hoop. This piece steadies the bike while you raise the second hoop and turn the knob to tighten the whole thing down. Easy peasy.
The HighRoad’s design overcomes the biggest challenge with roof racks: how to hold the bike in place—often above your head—while you attach it to the rack. The HighRoad makes the task simple, with two hoops that clamp securely onto either side of the front wheel. You raise the forward hoop, hoist your bike up, and slide the front wheel into it. This hoop steadies the bike enough to free up a hand so that you can easily close the rear hoop and then tighten the adjustment by turning a knob on the rack until it clicks. It’s harder to explain it than to do it. Afterward, you can quickly secure the rear wheel with a strap. During our test-drives, this setup held a variety of bikes rock steady through bumps and swerves, and more tightly than any other rack we tested. Several other models, especially among the wheel- and frame-mount racks, left our bike wobbling left to right over every bump and around curves—sometimes even when we were just driving along in a straight line.
The HighRoad folds flat when not in use (left) and includes an integrated cable that you can pull out of the frame for locking the bike to the rack.
We also found the HighRoad to be one of the quickest and easiest racks to mount to the vehicle, and to remove when you don’t have a bike trip planned. Whereas other racks require you to fiddle with brackets and Allen screws, the HighRoad uses three rubber straps that slide under any type of crossbar. Flip a tab and adjust the tension, and the rack grips your roof rails firmly. And all three connection points (two on the front and one on the rear) work the same way; some other models give you a strap to attach to the front crossbar but have a more tedious design for the rear one. For security, the HighRoad has locking covers that prevent the tabs from being lifted, so thieves can’t remove your bike rack from the vehicle; some other models that use a similar system are not lockable. The HighRoad also comes with a built-in lock cable to secure your bike to the rack.
The HighRoad holds most road and mountain bikes with 26- to 29-inch wheels and up to 3¼-inch-width tires. This means the wheels on kids bikes may be too small for the wheel hoops to grip securely, and fat-bike tires may be too wide. At 18 pounds, the HighRoad is also one of the heavier racks we tested.
The RockyMounts TomaHawk is a good choice for carrying smaller bikes and fat bikes, and it costs less than the Yakima HighRoad. But in our tests it wasn’t quite as easy to use.
If you want a wheel-mount rack that can carry kids bikes (20 to 29 inches) or fat bikes (with tires up to 5 inches thick), we recommend the RockyMounts TomaHawk, which does everything well and costs less than the Yakima HighRoad. It’s not quite as easy to use as the HighRoad, though, nor did it hold our bikes quite as solidly. But overall, it’s a great alternative. With the TomaHawk, it’s a little harder to hold the bike while you swing the wheel arm up and close the clamp, and mounting the TomaHawk is a little fussier, requiring U-bolts and Allen nuts. A cover over the front arm assembly locks out access to the front U-bolts so thieves can’t remove them, and the rack includes a lock in the wheel clamp for securing the bike. On our choppy local roads, the bikes rocked around a little but were much more stable than in some other racks.
The RockyMounts SwitchHitter was our favorite among fork-mount roof racks. It held our bikes solidly, it’s easy to install, and it works well with either thru-axle or quick-release fork designs.
If you want the advantages of a fork-mount roof rack—mainly less weight to lift up once you’ve removed the bicycle’s front wheel, as well as a lower-profile rack on your car’s roof—we recommend the RockyMounts SwitchHitter. In our tests, this model was easy to install and held our bikes solidly. It accepts thru-axle designs, and RockyMounts claims that it fits all styles of crossbars. The SwitchHitter can lock to the vehicle, and it has an integrated cable for securing the bike to the rack, although you have to buy optional lock cores to do that. Switching out the fork skewer mount for a thru-axle is pretty easy, and it has a cutout for a disc brake caliper. It even comes in a rainbow of fun colors; ours was bright blue.
The best bike carrier for pickup trucks
The Inno Velo Gripper holds bikes against the side of the bed, allowing excellent rearward visibility for the vehicle’s driver. Getting the clamps in the right spots takes a bit of measuring, but they hold the frame like a champ.
The pickup category turned out to be a difficult one to judge, as all the carriers we tested had their charms and uses. But the Inno Velo Gripper was the best all around. It’s compact, lightweight, and easy to set up. In our tests, it held our bike securely and off to the side of the bed, where it didn’t interfere with our rear vision. The Velo Gripper is the least expensive of the three pickup-bed carriers we tried, too.
If you order the Velo Gripper online, you might be surprised to see it arrive in a little box. The two grippers are smaller than a person’s fists, making storage a no-brainer. They could fit in a junk drawer.
Our installation of the Velo Gripper took a little longer than with the other pickup racks, because getting the grippers in the right place on the truck bed required some measuring. Each gripper clamps onto the side of the bed and then holds onto the frame however you like. Because it holds the bikes against the side of the bed, you can carry two bikes out of the driver’s line of sight. The Velo Gripper worked so well that we forgot to check on it constantly during our test-drive. We had nothing to check—no sway, no noise, no scraping, nothing. Removing the bike and grippers took all of 40 seconds.
If you need a pickup-bed bike rack that doesn’t touch the frame of your bike, the Velo Gripper is not the rack for you—touching the bike is right in this rack’s name. The Thule Insta-Gater 501, which costs about twice as much as the Velo Gripper at this writing, holds a bike by the wheel.
Tray-style hitch racks
All of the tray racks we tested can do the job of securely carrying your bike from point A to point B, but some are easier to use than others. All of them have modern designs that hold bikes by their wheels and don’t contact the frame. And in our tests, each one, except the 1up USA model, required assembly. (Most come with all the tools you need, but check before you settle in to mount your rack.)
The Kuat NV 2.0 is one of the best overall racks we tested, but also the most expensive. One nifty feature is its integrated Trail Doc work stand, which attaches to the rear of the rack. With the rack folded up, the Trail Doc extends upward to support a bike for maintenance or repair in the field.
Offering a gorgeous metallic powder-coated finish with anodized accents, very solid construction, and some handy features, the Kuat NV 2.0 is the Mercedes-Benz of bike racks. The respondents to our survey rated it highly. As with the Sherpa 2.0, you tighten this rack in the hitch receiver simply by turning a knob, and when it’s raised, you can easily tilt the rack up or down either by hand or with your foot. Separate locking cables are integrated into the rack for each bike. And the NV 2.0 includes an integrated work stand, the Trail Doc, for supporting your bike while you do work in the field. Kuat’s assembly instructions are the best—very clear and well illustrated (which helped, because the NV 2.0 was the most difficult tray rack to assemble in our tests). But the NV 2.0 is also Mercedes-like in its price and heft, topping the group at more than $600 currently and weighing a substantial 56 pounds, which deterred us from naming it a top pick.
The well-made 1up USA Double Bicycle Quik Rack held our bikes securely. But it’s a little more cumbersome when you’re unloading bikes, because you need to lift the red handle as you slide the clamping arm back and support the bike (which would make having three hands ideal).
1up USA’s Double Bicycle Quik Rack is visually impressive. It’s a work of art in metal machining, looking as if it came straight from a master craftsman’s shop. And it was one of the highest-rated racks in our survey. But it lacks some of the convenient touches of the best models. One unique feature: It comes preassembled and just needs to be “unfolded” from its box and installed in the receiver hitch. In our tests, however, doing this for the first time took longer than necessary because of unclear instructions. It also folds back into its shipping box for storage, minimizing the space it takes up. The rack held our bikes securely, but releasing the clamping arms was a little trickier than with other racks. Tightening and untightening the rack in the hitch receiver requires a special Allen wrench (which also acts as a lock), but this process isn’t as easy as using the knobs on the Kuat models and Thule T2 Pro XT. This rack has no integrated way to lock bikes to it, and the release lever for tilting the rack is hidden underneath, less accessible than those on other racks. At more than $500 currently, it’s also pricier than our top pick, the Kuat Sherpa 2.0.
The Saris Freedom SuperClamp held our bikes tightly and is one of the lightest and least expensive racks we tested. But its overall design left us unimpressed. It can’t tilt up when it’s empty or tilt down to give you access to a vehicle’s rear area. The mounting bar is thinner than on the other racks we tried, which allowed the rack to sway more than competitors. And during our test-drive, the clamps on the rear wheels of both bikes loosened, requiring us to retighten them. The second time around, they stayed tighter. Saris just released an upgraded version, called the SuperClamp EX, that does tilt down and fold up, and it accepts wider tires. We’ll be testing it soon.
The Yakima HoldUp has some nice features and is the least expensive of the tray racks we tested. But it exhibited some shortcomings in our testing that made us look elsewhere for a top pick. First, the bolt that secured the rack in the hitch receiver wouldn’t screw in because of stripped threads in the mounting bar. Fortunately, we had a tap-and-die set on hand that allowed us to clean out the threads and get the bolt through, but many people would have likely had to send the rack back. Second, although the HoldUp tilts down, the rear door of our Toyota 4Runner still hit the handlebars of the front bike, preventing us from opening it all the way. That may not happen on vehicles with smaller rear doors, but you should try before you buy (the HoldUp did allow us to lower the tailgate on our Honda Ridgeline pickup). And while it held the bikes securely, they wiggled side to side more than on the other racks, due to less rigid clamping arms. One handy feature: This rack has an integrated bottle opener at the rear for popping open your favorite beverages after a long ride.
Hanging hitch racks
When we started assembling and mounting our hanging-style hitch racks, we were surprised by the least expensive rack in the category, the Allen Sports Deluxe Two Bike hitch-mount rack (not to be confused with the Allen Sports Deluxe Two Bike trunk rack that we recommend as a less expensive alternative to the Saris Bones). It was simple to set up, and we took less than a minute to get it mounted in the hitch and ready for bikes. Once in the hitch, however, it was a bit wiggly; shims would help the fit. If you wanted to store this rack, you would need to disassemble it completely, but then it’s flat enough to go anywhere.
We tried testing the Yakima RidgeBack, a model that several experts, including those at Rack Attack, recommended. They mentioned the “zip strips” that Yakima uses to hold the bikes in the rack as a big plus, since the strips are easy to tighten and release. And there’s zero assembly required, another plus. But we couldn’t get the RidgeBack to fit in either of the 2-inch hitches we used during testing. We contacted the company, and a rep suggested that we might need to tip the rack at an angle during installation to get it to fit. That didn’t work for us, but reviewers on Amazon say they found success by tipping the rack and using two people to maneuver it into the hitch. If the RidgeBack had been our own rack, we might have gotten down and dirty with some metal files to force it to fit, but it wasn’t, so we didn’t.
The Thule Sprint XT is the replacement for the Thule Sprint 528, which was our original roof-rack pick until the company recalled it last year because its clamping mechanism could allow the bike to come loose. In our tests, the Sprint XT was by far the easiest fork-mount rack to secure a bike on. In the front, a tightening knob clicks when you’ve reached the right pressure for securing the forks, and the rear section slides out to fit the rear wheel. The Sprint XT was also easy to mount on our vehicle, requiring no assembly, but we could never get the locking mechanisms to engage on the roof straps for securing the rack to the vehicle. At this writing, the Sprint XT is the second most expensive roof rack we tested, too, and you’ll need to buy a $55 adapter to mount thru-axle bikes.
The Kuat Trio is another fork-mount rack that’s very similar in design to the RockyMounts SwitchHitter. It held our bikes securely during our test-drives and was easy enough to mount on the vehicle, although not quite as easy as the SwitchHitter. The Trio seems like it’s mainly designed for thru-axle bikes, and we found the process of switching to a fork skewer a bit cumbersome; making the swap took several more steps than with the SwitchHitter (and the skewer badly pinched our tester’s finger as he fiddled with the tension to latch it).
Although the Yakima HighSpeed is a fine fork-mount rack, it’s nothing compelling for the price. It uses a clamp in front to hold either a fork skewer or a thru-axle tube; the piece is easy to tighten with a knob and makes switching between the two extremely simple. But you’ll have to take the skewer or tube with you, because you get no way to lock them to the rack. Putting this assembly together every time you mount and dismount the bike seems cumbersome, as well, and on the road in our tests, the HighSpeed didn’t hold our bikes as solidly as some of the other racks.
The SeaSucker Talon is a unique fork-mount rack that attaches to the roof of most vehicles with heavy-duty vacuum mounts (large suction cups). Several local cyclists recommended the Talon to us, and although it’s the priciest of the racks we tested, it doesn’t require you to have a base roof-rack system with crossbars, so it could end up being cheaper overall. The Talon couldn’t be easier to attach and remove: You place each of the four vacuum mounts on your vehicle’s roof (or hatchback) and repeatedly press a small plunger to pump the air out until a colored indicator shows that it’s secure enough. The cups are also easy to detach and to store in a vehicle’s trunk or cargo area. Despite the Talon’s advertised flexibility, though, we couldn’t use it on the Toyota RAV4 we used for the other roof racks we tested. The suction cups were too wide to fit between the raised strakes of the SUV’s roof, and we had no single, solid, smooth surface on the tailgate to stick the rear-wheel suction cup. Instead we used our tester’s Mazda3 hatchback and found the Talon to be remarkably stable and secure, even on an extended test-drive. There’s a potential downside, though: The suction cups hold so tightly that if the bike sways from side to side, it causes the car’s roof to flex underneath. This is a concern we saw echoed in an Amazon review, as well. You also have no way to lock the whole setup to the vehicle.
The Thule ProRide is the only frame-mount rack we tested. You secure a bike by swinging up the frame-holder bar and clamping it around the diagonal tube. To minimize the possibility of damage to the frame, the clamp includes large soft pads, and a torque limiter dial helps you find the right amount of clamping force. The ProRide was the only rack, however, that wouldn’t clamp around big, modern aero crossbars. (You can disassemble the mounts and attach the rack to the slots in Thule’s AeroBlade bars instead, but both tasks proved difficult for us.) When we tried lifting a bike up, the tilt of the front wheel tray kept pushing the bike back toward us, making us wish for a third hand to steady the bike while we maneuvered the clamp over the frame and tightened it. Even then, the bikes wobbled a lot during our test-drive.
The Swagman Race Ready is a beefy extruded-aluminum wheel-mount rack with a ratcheting arm, similar to those used on many tray-style hitch racks, that clamps over the front wheel to secure the bike with no frame contact. Six simple thumbscrews hold the rack to the crossbars, but although you can lock the bikes to the rack, you have no way to lock the rack to the vehicle. In our test-drives the Race Ready didn’t hold the bikes as securely as the Yakima HighRoad and RockyMounts TomaHawk did.
The Thule Sidearm 594XT was our least favorite roof rack overall. Like the Swagman Race Ready, it’s a wheel-mount design that secures the bike with a ratcheting arm, with no frame contact. But it needed much more assembly than others in our tests, often requiring three hands and hampered by instructions that were missing steps. Moreover, in our test-drives, the bikes wobbled more than with any other wheel-mount design we tried.
Pickup truck carriers
The rack models we tested for pickup beds were wildly different in design, but they each performed brilliantly in their own way. The Yakima CrashPad was a favorite at bike shops with a lot of off-road and mountain-bike clientele. It couldn’t be any simpler: It’s a padded cover for your tailgate. You just throw your bikes in the back with the front wheel hanging over the pad. Bumpers on the ends of the CrashPad keep the bikes from sliding too far, and a flap in the front allows access to the tailgate release. It’s not as kind to bikes as our pick, the Inno Velo Gripper, and the handlebars end up in the driver’s line of sight. But the CrashPad also doesn’t require you to touch your bike’s filthy, trail-ridden frame any more than absolutely necessary. Zero fiddling here for a good price.
The Thule Insta-Gater 501 is a good choice if you have a carbon-frame bike, or if you just want to protect your bike more than the CrashPad or Velo Gripper allows. The rack stays held in place due to the tailgate itself—more securely than you might imagine, thanks to ratcheting straps—and it holds the bike by the front wheel. At more than $150, the Insta-Gater 501 is far more expensive than other racks in this category, but it may be worth the investment for more expensive bike frames.
- Rack Attack, Portland, Oregon, interview, June 2015 ,
- Rack Attack, Portland, Oregon, phone interview, May 2016 ,
- East Burke Sports, East Burke, Vermont, phone interview, June 2015 ,
- Chile Pepper Bike Shop, Moab, Utah, phone interview, June 2015 ,
- Backcountry Bike & Ski, Wasilla, Alaska, phone interview, June 2015 ,
- Roscoe Village Bikes, Chicago, Illinois, phone interview, June 2015 ,
- The Best Bike Racks for Hitches, Cars, and SUVs, OutdoorGearLab, May 20,2017 ,
- The Best Trunk Mounted Bike Racks, Trails.com ,
- The Best Bike Racks for Your Ride, Gear Patrol, March 27, 2015 ,
- public affairs, REI, email interview, May 2016 ,
(KRISTEN HALL-GEISLER, RIK PAUL, ERIC C. EVARTS)