The roof rack & hitch rack stuff is pretty much complete,
but there is still a lot of work to do on the trunk racks.

Choosing a Bicycle Rack for Your Vehicle

by Steven M. Scharf--One of Earth's Leading Authorities on Vehicle Racks

Questions, Comments, Complaints, Missing Links: e-mail to rackexpert@hotmail.com
(due to the large amount of e-mail this site generates I have created a unique e-mail address)

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Last Updated on: April 16, 2001

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Table of Contents

Introduction

Choosing a car for your rack

Roof Racks

Crossbar Shapes

Mounting the Rack to the Car

Rain Gutter Roof Mount

Non-Rain Gutter Roof Mount

Factory Rack Channels

TUV and the GS Mark

Mixing accessories and crossbars from different manufacturers

Crossbar Manufacturers

Flex

Bicycle Mounts

Upright Single

Fork Single

Upright Tandem

Fork Tandem

Fork and Frame Tandem

Triples and Recumbents

Building Your Own Tandem Rack

Alternatives to Tandem Racks (or single racks)

Issues with Roof Racks

Height

Spread

Wind Resistance

Wind Noise

Lateral Forces

Headset Bearing Fretting

Bugs

Wind and Lubrication

Hitch Racks

What to Look for In a Hitch Rack

Weeding out the Junk and Making an Intelligent Choice

Bases (Thule)

Horizontal Top Tube Single

Horizontal Fork Single

Vertical Wheel

Horizontal Upright Single with Frame Arm

Vertical Upright Single without Frame Arm

Horizontal Wheel Single

Crankset & One Wheel

Horizontal Fork Single

Horizontal Fork Tandem

Vertical Fork Tandem

Other Hitch Racks

Issues with Hitch Racks

Spare Tire Racks

Issues with Spare Tire Racks

Trunk Racks

Issues with Trunk Racks

Pickup Truck Racks

Issues with Pickup Truck Racks

Bumper Racks

Issues with Bumper Racks

Summary

Introduction

I've been advising people on roof and hitch racks for many years on Usenet (and well before). After a recent thread on the tandem reflector I realized how much misinformation was being promulgated (often by manufacturers of rack components) and decided to publish some of my wisdom. This site contains many of my valued and informed opinions (never humble opinions) formed over the years by personal experience, observation, and investigation. Your own opinions (be they informed or uninformed) may be different. I'm always happy to make changes to my recommendations based on well-referenced, factual information. If you are going to insist that I send you $5000 so that you can do research into why I am wrong about something then you are probably wasting your time; tell me in a calm, lucid manner why I'm full of it. I'm don't sell any of this stuff and have no stock in any of these companies.

I decided not to include many pictures in this site because many people are still using dial-up connections. There are hundreds of products here and it would quickly become as bad as my old folding bicycle site in terms of download speeds. There are links to the manufacturer or to retailers that have pictures.

What surprised me the most while putting together this page, is the proliferation and variety of hitch mount racks, including several very nice Thule models that aren't sold in the U.S. Unfortunately, the design of most of the hitch racks leaves a lot to be desired (out of about sixty models only about four have all the best features, and the most expensive ones are not always best).

Choosing a vehicle for your rack
Most people don't think about racks too much when they are selecting a vehicle. If you're into a sport like canoeing, kayaking, wind-surfing, bicycling, etc., then you should investigate the ways to carry your equipment when you are selecting a vehicle. You wouldn't buy a car that couldn't use tire chains if you were an avid skier, and you wouldn't buy a roadster convertible if you want to carry a canoe.

Roof Rack Checklist

1. Factory rack load capacity.

2. Available aftermarket (Thule, Yakima, etc.) crossbars for the factory rack.

3. Available fit kits, from Yakima and Thule, for the vehicle, and the load capacity when using them.

4. Maximum spread of the crossbars, both when on the factory rack and when mounted to the roof with a fit kit. Also look at the possibility of combining a crossbar on the factory rack and a crossbar with a fit kit. Watch out for cars with very curved roof lines as these cars are hard to rack.

5. Accessibility when a long item (canoe, cargo box, etc.) is on the rack. For example, the rear hatch may hit the item when fully open.

6. How hard will it be to put items onto the rack. For example, on a tall SUV you may need to carry a step stool to get bikes on and off. However accessories such as running boards may obviate the need for a stool.

Hitch Rack Checklist

1. Which class of hitch can the vehicle use (or can it use a hitch at all)? Most cars, and car based SUVs, can only use a class 1 hitch which has a 1.25" opening. On unibody vehicles (most cars and car based SUVs are unibody) the hitch has no frame to attach to, it attaches to sheet metal of the unibody floor.

2. What is the maximum tongue weight that the vehicle manufacturer specifies for hitches. You could buy a class 1 hitch with a maximum tongue weight of 200 lbs., but the vehicle manufacture may specify a limit of 100 lbs. (this is the case on many vehicles). The tongue weight will determine how much stuff you can carry.

3. Will any part of the hitch extend out past the bumper? This is an invitation to expensive damage if someone rear ends you, as the hitch, instead of the bumper will take the hit and transmit it to parts of the vehicle not intended to absorb any impact.

4. Do you need to clear a rear mounted spare tire? This limits the selection of hitch racks and lowers the tongue weight (the further out from the hitch the load is placed, the lower the weight can be).

See a good description of hitches at: http://www.hitchmen.com/class1.htm

Roof Racks

Crossbar Shapes
Crossbars come in oval, round, and rectangular shapes. The shape is not important, though there are a couple of advantages to the round Yakima crossbars. The Yakima bars are better on vehicles with sharply curved roof lines because the attachments can always be installed level. Also on Yakima racks it is easy to fold down attachments like ski racks to lower wind resistance and noise.

Mounting the Rack to the Car

Rain Gutter Mounts
Not many vehicles are still built with structural steel rain gutters but a few higher end SUVs and vans still have them. Any crossbars with strong, solid rain gutter clamps are fine

Non-rain gutter Mounts
Most newer vehicles are built without rain gutters. You'll want to stick with Thule or Yakima for the crossbars because they have spent a great deal of effort manufacturing custom mounting solutions for hundred of different vehicles. Thule is always an excellent choice, but most of the time Yakima is just as good. There are some vehicles where the Yakima mounts are inferior, but I am not aware of any cases where the Thule mounts are inferior. For example, I was racking someone's 1991 Acura Integra and the Yakima mounts went over the rubber molding, crushing and deforming it. The Thule mounts went between the molding and the roof and their were even indicators stamped into the metal under the molding that the proper position for the mounts. On the A2 VW Jetta and Golf, Thule had a custom rack which required nothing resting on the roof but Yakima's solution had pads on the roof. Thule works closely with vehicle manufacturers, especially those in Europe, but also with those in other countries.

As one guy wrote at http://www.mtbr.com/reviews/Bike_Rack/product_19972.shtml

Duration Product Used: Less than 1 month
Price Paid: $300
Purchased At: Agees
Strengths: Appears to be well made. Parts looked very nice on the floor.
Weaknesses: Yakima doesn't fit many cars.
Similar Products Tried: Trunk rank, Thule.
Bottom Line: Bought the rank after confirming with the Yakima web site that it would fit my car. After spending a half-hour trying to force the moulding off the door frame, battered and bruised, I called Yakima for help. Not open on the weekend. On Monday I called, got a very disinterested person who said "Oh, no, it won't fit on your car." I asked why the web site said it would fit, and what should I do. All she said was "Oh." So, for a web site that is wrong, for support people who don't care and are no help, that's what I'm giving Yakima, a big O.

His wording on "weaknesses" is misleading. Yakima does fit many cars, it fits most cars. It's just that there are a lot more cars that Yakima doesn't fit than cars that Thule doesn't fit, and there are some cars that Yakima fits but not as well as Thule fits.

Factory Luggage Rack Channels versus Direct Attach
Using crossbars in the factory luggage rack channels is a risky proposition for heavier items. You need to pay close attention your vehicle's maximum weight capacity for the rack, while also realizing that it is not just weight that determines a safe installation. You also need to worry about how wind will exert forces on the accessories.

You may want to forgo the use of the factory rack channels and mount the crossbars to the roof of the vehicle using the Thule or Yakima system. For a couple of single bikes, or skis, you'll probably be okay with the factory rack, but you need to be careful to follow the guidelines set forth by both the vehicle manufacturer and the rack manufacturer. Unfortunately, you often will not find out about the rack manufacturer's restrictions until you read the instructions in the package. For example, The Thule TK1 fit kit had a long list of vehicles and states that several of them are limited to: "bikes, skis, snowboards, kayaks, and canoes." Yet on their web site they don't list this restriction when they present the list of ways that you can rack a specific vehicle. I use a cargo box on the roof of one of these vehicles and it weighs less than a canoe, but weight may not have been the only factor they used when they determined this restriction. In all likelihood, when they did TUV testing with a fully loaded cargo box it was too heavy for the roof, but with a couple of pairs of skis and boots it would be okay (a cargo box weighs a lot less than a canoe). In some cases you may want to combine crossbars mounted in the factory channels with crossbars secured to the roof over the doors (which is what I am doing in order to not worry). I'm adding a third crossbar and adding a set of hardware to secure the cargo box over the bar).

On long vehicles the factory rack is toward the back. If you mount the Thule or other crossbars to these tracks then everything will be toward the rear of the vehicle. If you forego the factory tracks and mount crossbars over the doors then everything will be toward the front of the vehicle.

In short, if you want maximum carrying capacity and flexibility for long items like tandems and cargo boxes then there are cases where you may want to combine using crossbars mounted factory rack and crossbars directly on the roof. Of course this costs a lot more money, but the goal here is to carry stuff as safely and securely as possible, not to save $150.

TUV and the GS Mark
Sportrack's Frontier and Modular series, as well as Thule's racks, are tested by the German safety agency, TUV (similar to the U.S.'s UL but they do a wider variety of products) and have been certified with the German Safety Mark (GS Mark). This provides some assurance that the whole rack won't go flying off the vehicle at 100Mph. Saris, Mondial, and Yakima lack this certification, as do most of the third party attachments.

Do not confuse ISO 900X certification with safety agency certification. ISO looks at your manufacturing and research and development systems and infrastructure while the safety agencies actually test products. A while back I saw someone from an automotive electronics company claiming that the fact that his company had obtained ISO 900X certification proved that the quality of his company's products was good. He was misinformed. But even if his products were TUV, UL, or CSA certified it would not have guaranteed that they were any good, just that they were safe. Do not extrapolate the safety of a product into other aspects of a products quality or design. It is completely possible to design a crappy product that is very safe. However in my experience, the engineering discipline necessary to do a design that can earn the GS mark often carries over into other areas of the product's design (besides safety).

Mixing accessories and crossbars from different manufacturers.
Usually this does not present a problem. Thule and Yakima have ways to use each other's accessories. It's a bit inconvenient when it comes to locks since you lose the ability to have a single key system. In most cases there is no reason to mix accessories and crossbars since the accessories from each manufacturer are similar in design and in price, but sometimes it makes sense. For example, many people want to use the Yakima tandem mount on Thule crossbars. It may be that they have one of those vehicles where the Thule bars are a better fit.

Crossbar Manufacturers
Frontier (Sportrack) (TUV approved)
Modular (Sportrack) (TUV approved)
Mondial (Sportrack) (not TUV approved)
Saris (not TUV approved)
Thule (TUV approved)
Yakima (not TUV approved)

Flex
Someone got extremely upset about me saying that upright mounts are designed to flex. He complained to the administrator of a tandem reflector that this was statement "unsubstantiated." The fact is that they do flex and everyone that has bothered to look at a bike on a roof rack has seen this. It isn't just the upright mounts that flex either, the crossbars and fork mounts flex too, just not as much. Whether they were designed to flex, or whether the flex is an unintended result of the design, is open to discussion. By using much thicker tubing and by eliminating the hinge mechanism, the rack manufacturer could eliminate most of the flex, but there is no compelling reason to do so and there are drawbacks (besides cost) in doing this. There are often concerns voiced about how unsteady the bikes appear to be in an upright mount. It used to make me nervous when I would look up through the sunroof and see the bikes not being held rock steady in the mount as the bike was being buffeted by the wind and by road shocks being transmitted to the rack. It really isn't a concern as long as the frame clamps and the wheels are securely attached; the bike is not going anywhere. I have had a frame support on an upright mount bend slightly in very high wind but was glad that it was the tubing bending and not the frame of my bike. I was more worried about the entire rack flying off the car.

I found a few references about flex on the web:

From: http://www.mtbr.com/techtalks/general/messages/248861.shtml
"Yakima is essencially a pipe and they flex - they don't break and things aren't going to fly around and hit your car, but they do flex."

From: http://www.audifans.com/archives/1996/08/msg02147.html
"..............I heard that the Thule's cross-bars (because they are rectangular) flex under high speed, or under extreme conditions."

From: http://www.sbclub.org/bike_rack.htm
"Too much flex and play with only 1 receptacle"

From: http://mtbr.com/reviews/Bike_Rack/product_19962.shtml
"I do like the rack a lot but the Velo-Vise fork mount doesn't hold the bike as securely as I would like. It flexes, creaks, squeeks , and really makes me worry when I see my sweet ride shaking all over the place. The bike shop where I bought it from said that Thule has made the fork mounts out of some material the will flex some but will not break. I just hope it doesn't break.... I'd go ballistic if I was cruising down the road and suddenly saw my Klein bouncing down the road behind me---- I just would like it to be a lot more stable and secure. One of the reviews below says that the 98-99 rack is better."

Bicycle Mounts

Upright Single
If the bicycle frame is steel or strong aluminum then I advise going with the upright mount that holds the frame. It has several advantages. First and foremost, it holds the bicycle in place by he strongest part, the frame, while all of the weight of the bike is on the wheels (just like when you are riding). Second, it prevents the problem of bearing wear (fretting) in the headset, which is a potential problem with fork mounts. Third, in gusty winds the whole bike sways, rather than the frame exerting forces on the headset and dropouts as occurs with a fork mount. Fourth, you don't have to remove the front wheel and store it somewhere

The big disadvantage of the upright mount is that it typically costs more than the fork mount, though not a great deal more (there are some aftermarket ones available now). Another disadvantage is that it is harder to place the bicycle in the rack if you are short, or if you have a tall vehicle. This is because the lever or knob to close the jaws or clamp on the frame is higher than the lever to clamp the fork dropouts onto a fork mount rack.

Frontier (Sportrack) A882 (TUV approved)

Performance 00-9194D (cross-bars and two upright mounts $230) (TUV status unknown)

Proline Products 64720 ($50), 64720-3 ($60) (TUV status unknown)

JC Whitney 5718 ($50) (TUV status unknown)

Saris 911 (not TUV approved)

Thule 599xt (TUV approved)

Thule 899xt (TUV approved-but the crossbars you use may not be)

Thule 525 (TUV approved)

Yakima 2037 (not TUV approved)

Newsport Bike Lift (no longer made, but it's so cool that I had to include it)

Fork Single
If the frame is carbon fiber then you should not use a mount that clamps the frame. The carbon fiber tubing can be deformed by the clamp. A fork mount (or a crank-arm mount) is a good choice in this case. Another advantage of fork mounts is that they are slightly less expensive than the upright mounts. A third advantage is that it is easier to place the bicycle in the rack if you are short, or if you have a tall vehicle. For lightweight single bikes the fork mounts are probably just fine despite their disadvantages.

If you don't want to spend the money on upright mounts, or if you like the way the fork mount racks look, then go for it. Just be certain to securely clamp the fork to the rack. I've seen the quick-release levers come loose on a fork mount rack and one side of the fork come out and the bike literally hanging by one dropout. The owner was blissfully unaware of this as he drove across the Golden Gate Bridge (with me honking at him!).

ATOC BT-45 (not TUV approved)

Mondial A829 (TUV approved)

Performance 00-9193B (TUV status unknown)

Proline Products 64710 ($40) (TUV status unknown)

Saris 920 (not TUV approved)

Saris 921 (not TUV approved)

Thule 589 (TUV approved)

Thule 595 (TUV approved)

Thule 889 (for non-Thule cross bars) (TUV approved-but the crossbars you use may not be)

Yakima 2045 (not TUV approved)

Yakima 2064 (not TUV approved)

Yakima 2065 (not TUV approved)

Crankarm Single
Yakima has a mount that holds the bicycle by the crankarm rather than by the frame. This is a good choice if you have a carbon-fiber frame but want to avoid the problems associated with fork mounts. Since this mount holds the bike at a lower point there will be more sway, but the sway is not a big problem. Fretting of the crank-set bearings will not be much of a problem because the weight of the bicycle is being borne by the wheels, the mount on the crank-set is just holding the bicycle upright.

Yakima 2063 (not TUV approved)

Tandem Mounts
Tandems present special problems. A tandem is much heavier and much longer than a single bicycle. A single upright will not provide sufficient support. The uprights that most manufacturers use on their single mounts can't be used in pairs. A fork mount similar to a single bike fork mount will work but is not advisable because the fork dropouts and the headset are being subjected to a lot more lateral forces, but nevertheless, both Thule and ATOC have adopted this approach. The head of ATOC is adamant that the additional headset wear, if any, is trivial, but of course there has never been a study of this subject as it relates to roof racks (see the section on fretting below). Headset bearing fretting will be worse than with a single bike because of the greater weight of the tandem. Yakima solved this problem by supporting the bottom tube of the frame, Tandems East solved it on their deluxe model by supporting the bottom bracket. The bottom tube or bottom bracket on these latter designs bear a large proportion of the weight reducing the amount of weight on the fork. The upright mounts on the Saris rack are the only ones that have been adapted for use in a pair for a tandem. The Saris rack is probably the least elegant design, but it is also the most secure and the gentlest on the bike.

There has been a lot of debate about the fork only tandem mounts. You have to ask yourself, 'if indeed a tandem can be safely and securely carried, without damage, on a rack that doesn't support the frame anywhere in the middle, then why did a company like Yakima add all that cost to their product with the bottom tube support?' Of course the flip side to the question is 'why did Thule not put any frame support in?' I think the answer to the latter question is two-fold. First, it would be harder to do a pivoting design if they supported the frame in the middle, and second, it's just not a good design (I talked to a Thule rep once at the Cupertino, CA REI who admitted to me that indeed the Yakima tandem mount was a better design).

There is another consideration as well when choosing a tandem mount. With the fork mount, and fork and frame mount, the fork attachment needs to be at, or close to, the front crossbar. On a short roof line vehicle this can be a big problem. There are ways you can modify the rack, such as using some thick aluminum plate that extends out from the front crossbar to where the fork attachment is, but this is an expensive and time consuming modification. On the Saris rack you can (and should) center the rack over the crossbars. The uprights swivel and you can grab the frame anywhere that the upright mount can reach.

Fork Tandem
The ATOC pivoting rack ($365) and the Thule 558p ($338) are the easiest racks to load. If you must have a pivoting tandem rack then I'd advise going with the Thule since it is TUV approved and since it is a little cheaper ($338 is the total price including shipping from http://www.bicycle-source.com/thulracac.html) and because you can keep it single-keyed with the rest of your Thule system. I found the ATOC Tandem Topper for sale on-line at http://www.gtgtandems.com/parts.html for $365 plus shipping (I requested shipping charge information but never received a response from them). The fork mount pivots so you can clamp the front wheel in while the rear wheel is on the ground, then you can lift the rear of the bike up into the tray. Reportedly Yakima is also coming out with a pivoting tandem rack; if they keep the bottom frame support then Yakima will have the ultimate tandem rack. ATOC also manufactures a less expensive non-pivoting rack, as does Tandems East.

ATOC: Pivot: TT-STD ($365), TT-DV ($380), TT-321 ($460 triplets), TT-Dplx ($475 Ryan Duplex) (not TUV approved)

ATOC Non-Pivot: BT-84C ($240) (not TUV approved)

Rocky Mounts (not TUV approved)

Tandems East Economy (not TUV approved)

Thule 558p ($338) (TUV approved)

Fork and Frame Tandem
These two racks, and the upright Saris, are the best in terms of supporting the weight of the tandem. The Yakima holds the bottom tube and the Tandems East Deluxe supports the bottom bracket (The Tandems East economy lacks this support, it is more like the non-pivoting ATOC). Neither the Yakima or the Tandems East Deluxe have the pivot feature, but as stated above, rumor has it that Yakima will add this to their tandem mount (and hopefully not remove the bottom tube support). I must say that, while I am very impressed with the value of the Tandems East Deluxe, it really is un-cool that the way they promote it on their own web site. They list the Thule 558p for $475. This price, way more than MSRP, is a price that no one would pay; they just do that to make their own rack look like a super deal (which it is anyway).
Yakima 2030 (not TUV approved)

Tandems East Deluxe (not TUV approved)

Upright Tandem
Saris 924/925 ($190) (not TUV approved) This is a very good rack but it is designed for the Saris slotted cross-bars and there are no adapters available to use it on Thule, Yakima or other cross-bars. It is not that difficult to fabricate an adapter from some pieces of flat aluminum. It's basically forming a slot for the tabs (and the set screw) on the Saris mount to slide into then fastening the slot to the crossbars. The bill of materials is to make two attachment plates, one for each mount. The tabs and set screw go into the holes in the back plate then the two 3/4" flats go into the slotted part of the tabs and under the set screw. Use stainless steel hardware as indicated.

The aluminum to build this is available from www.onlinemetals.com . The hardware is available from www.mcmaster.com

Newsport Bike Lift (no longer made, but it's so cool that I had to include it).
This is a great tandem rack which lifted the whole bicycle up by the frame via a pivoting arm with a pneumatic cylinder. I first saw it at Interbike and I saved the brochure. Alas, by the time I was ready to order some they were no longer available. Both wheels stayed on and the frame was clamped once the wheels were in the tray. It was a good deal too, at least at the dealer price. I don't know what it retailed for.

I'm waiting for a picture of the no-longer-available Tandemover.

Note that these tandem mounts are all quite expensive. If you just look at the materials that go into them (especially the fork mount racks) then you might think that these racks are a real rip-off. But the quantities that they sell are so small that when they price them at a level where they can recoup their development and tooling costs and make a profit, the prices end up being very high (or maybe they've just figured out that people that buy tandems are usually pretty well off). The mark-up on rack products is very high. The first time I bought Thule stuff it was from a guy who manufactured bicycle products in Marin County California and was selling Thule on the side out of his garage. He sold to me at 40% off the suggested retail price and he was still making a profit of about 10% (so he said). I'm sure Yakima has similar margins, especially now that they moved their manufacturing to Mexico (though when you look at their web site they make a big deal about being located in Arcata California).

Triplets, Recumbents, Duplex Mounts
ATOC also has racks for triplets, recumbents (see below) and the Ryan Duplex. ATOC BT-63, BT-76C: (not TUV approved)

Building Your Own Tandem Rack
Many people look at the prices of tandem racks in horror and then go off and try to build their own. It isn't hard to build a secure, but crude, rack that is custom fit for your tandem, a lot of the work involved in designing in manufacturing tandem racks is to make them fit a wide variety of crossbars, bikes, and cars. Building your own may not be as cheap as you think. You're going to be buying all the pieces at retail prices in small quantities. For aluminum angle and channel check out http://www.onlinemetals.com.
For a wide variety of fasteners and clamps check out McMaster at http://www.mcmaster.com. You can adapt a single fork mount to be a tandem rack pretty easily.


The basic design of these racks is generally a length of 1/4" (thicker if the crossbar spread on your vehicle is short) thick aluminum channel that is long enough for both wheels of the tandem to sit in. Two short pieces of flat aluminum go under the crossbars and bolt through the bottom of the channel to secure it around the crossbars (this is cleaner than using U bolts and distributes the stress over a wider area of the crossbars). The wheels are strapped to the rack with some velcro cinching straps. The hard part is making the frame supports. Typically they are bent aluminum or steel tubing. Tubing is cheap, and easy to find, but the tools to bend it into shape are not cheap. By the time you're done you'll have spent as much as a pre-made upright rack, like the Saris, costs.

Also see: http://arapaho.nsuok.edu/~rosener/misc/tandem-carrier/ and http://home.att.net/~thetandemlink/articles/cartopping.html

Alternatives to Tandem Racks (or single racks)
As an alternative to cumbersome tandem racks, consider ordering your tandem with S&S Torque Couplings. What a beautiful piece of engineering! http://www.sandsmachine.com/
. You can also have your existing tandem retrofitted by an authorized frame builder (they don't sell their products direct to end users but are you really ready to saw your tandem in half?). I've met the designer and manufacturer (Steve Smilanick) several times on the San Francisco Folding Bike Rides and at various Bike Shows and he is a really good guy and dedicated to the cause. These don't work on oval tubes (obviously). There are also some folding tandems available (Montague and, bikefriday) but these are not high end tandems. All this applies to single bikes as well.

Issues with Roof Racks

Height
With a roof rack you need to be very careful about where you drive. Of course you can't drive into your garage with your bike on the roof (though many people have done this). You also need to watch out for parking garages, trees with low branches, car washes, fast food drive-throughs with awnings, etc. Someone e-mailed me saying that 'everyone' with a roof rack has driven under an overhand or into a garage with the bikes on the roof. Knock on wood, but in twenty years of using roof racks I've never done this.

Spread
The crossbars need to be a minimum distance a part to carry some longer items like tandem bicycles. There are ways to get around the minimum (a little anyway) that I've seen (but there are no guarantees of the wisdom of doing this). It isn't just the length restriction for the attachments, it's how secure the rack is held onto the roof when the crossbars are close together. If the restriction is due only to the distance between the crossbars then you can often reinforce the attachment. For example, on bike mounts where the short roofline causes the wheel tray to extend too far, you could reinforce the wheel tray with aluminum angle which eliminates the flex (the tray is made of thin stamped steel) and adds support. Check http://www.onlinemetals.com for aluminum angle. Doing this sort of thing is entirely at your own risk.

Wind Resistance
Roof racks, even when they are empty, create a lot of wind resistance. There will be a measurable, non-trivial, reduction in fuel economy with a roof rack.

Wind Noise
Since a roof rack and its accessories are not smooth, the wind going across them will create noise. Sometimes pieces of the rack will go into oscillation causing hum. A fairing can be used to direct air over the rack but the fairings are often incompatible with the other accessories.

Lateral Forces
High cross winds can exert tremendous forces on roof rack accessories. Ensure that your rack is securely mounted to the vehicle. Bicycles in fork mounts are putting a lot of stress on the fork dropouts. Be sure that the clamps that secure the dropouts are very tight and that they can't pop open.

Headset Bearing Fretting
When the vehicle is in motion shock from the road is transmitted up to the roof rack. When a bicycle is clamped by the fork, into a fork mount, the fork and headset are held rigidly in place. As the vehicle goes down the road the headset will be constantly absorbing small shocks. This would not be a problem if the headset were also turning, because the lubricant inside would be distributed by the rolling of the bearings. But the headset is not turning and therein lies the problem.
From: http://draco.acs.uci.edu/rbfaq/FAQ/128.html: "The damage occurs when these small motions occur when there are no steering motions to replenish lubricant while the bearing balls fret in place. Fretting breaks down the lubricant film on which the balls normally roll and without which they weld to the races and tear out tiny particles." This was written by Jobst Brandt, a well known and well respected engineer and author of The Bicycle Wheel.

On upright mounts the wheels are absorbing the shock from the road but on fork mounts the shock is being absorbed by the headset though it is unknown how much extra wear occurs because of fretting. For obvious reasons some people claim that the extra wear is trivial, though they have no way of quantifying it.

Bugs
Enough said.

Wind and Lubrication
Jay Hardcastle wrote: "The biggest risk to bike on a roof rack (aside from overhangs) is the wind forcing moisture in and lubricants out. (Handlebar tape and saddles also take a beating.) A Lycra or Neoprene transport cover (bike bra, or Xport) can help with either; plus no bugs to clean-off!" This is good advice.

Hitch Racks

Hitch racks are popular because they securely attach to the vehicle without touching any painted surfaces, they are easy to load, they hold the bicycles securely, and they do not materially affect gas mileage because they do not add wind resistance. Hitch racks are available with frame mounts, fork mounts, and upright mounts. You can carry from one to five bicycles on a hitch rack. The limitation is based on the maximum tongue weight that the hitch and the vehicle can bear, but with lightweight bicycles (25 pounds or so) even a class 1 hitch (1.25") can manage three bicycles. There are also tandem mounts available. The main problem with hitch racks is that if someone hits you, even lightly, in the rear (of the car, that is) both the bikes and the car will sustain a lot of damage. Even with the bikes off, if someone hits you in the rear then your vehicle can sustain thousands of dollars worth of damage because the impact is not going into the bumper; I know, it happened to me!

Until I did this web site I was not aware of the proliferation of companies building these racks. Why are there so many? Look at what goes into manufacturing one and what they sell for! Once you have paid for the development and tooling, the incremental cost of manufacturing each unit is very small, it's just some tubing that they bend, drill, and paint, then add some clamps to. Unlike roof racks, you don't have the endless proliferation of new cars with new roofs that require the costly development and tooling to manufacture new fit kits.

Several of the best racks (from Thule and Bell) are not available in North America. What is very strange is to look at the European Thule web site and see the offerings. All but one of the hitch racks are ones where both wheels are in trays and the frame is secured. Most have lights built in because the bikes can obscure the cars rear lights.

What to Look for in a Hitch Rack
Spread. If the rack holds the top tube with two arms, how far apart are the arms? You want them far apart enough to provide good support, but close together enough so that short frame bicycles can be carried. Avoid hitch racks where the frame is held by a narrow clamp of six inches or less; they have compromised the design to avoid the cost of two separate arms.

Do the arms fold? When you park, or if you keep the rack attached all the time (a bad idea), you'll want to be able to not have the arm(s) sticking several feet out toward the back of your vehicle. An injury could invite a nasty lawsuit. Thule's, Rhodegear's Interstate series, and Yakima's RimRoc all have folding arms.

Rear access. Does the rack fold down or pivot out far enough for you to open the back of your van or SUV. The more expensive racks that pivot let you gain access to the rear even with bicycles on the rack while the fold down racks require that you remove the bicycles first. The cheapest ones neither pivot or fold down.

Spare tire clearance. If you have a vehicle with a spare tire mounted on the back be sure that the rack clears it.

Wobble. If you use a standard hitch pin to secure the rack then it will wobble and rattle. There are several systems designed to eliminate wobble, from a collar with set screws to the use of a threaded bolt that secures the rack to the hitch rather than a pin.

Hold Downs. Some of the cheaper racks just have some hooks, you have to use bungee cords or other tie-downs to hold the bike. The better ones have cushioned rubber pads with straps. Unfortunately the only ones that have integral locking are the poorly designed single arm racks; with the others you have to use a cable lock.

Security. How is the rack locked to the hitch? How are the bikes locked to the rack? The advantage of the single arm racks with a solid mounting hold down plate over the top tube is that it it make the rack lockable, but the disadvantage of the single arm rack is so great that I would not use one just for this reason; you can just use a heavy cable lock.

Swinging. On the racks that hold the bike by the top tube, the bike can swing back and forth while on the car. Some of the more expensive top tube mount racks have a bottom support bar sticking out down near the wheels for you to secure the bottom of the bike.

Removeability. How fast and easy is it to remove the whole rack? Some of the RhodeGear racks are easy to partially remove but they leave the base sticking out beyond the bumper which is a very bad idea.

Storeability. How easy is it to store. The racks with arms that don't fold down, and/or masts that don't fold, are a pain to store because you can't store them flat. The pivoting masts are also a pain to store, but you gain the advantage of easier access to the rear of the vehicle.

Odd frames and Children's Frames. A lot of the hitch racks that hold the bikes by the top tube have a problem with odd frames, mixte ("ladies") frames, and children's frames. The racks that hold the bike by the wheels and crankarm will be easier to use with these. There are attachments to create a fake top-tube to use the top tube racks with mixte frames. On the top tube racks with dual arms you may be able to put children's bikes on them by hanging the bike by the wheels.

Other accessories. Many hitch racks have attachments available for skis.

Weeding out the Junk and Making an Intelligent Choice

The reality is that most of the hitch racks are not well designed and it's easy to weed out the bad ones. IMVAIO, on the hitch racks with top tube mounts you should look for:

For a 4 bike, 2" hitch model, this would narrow down the choices to:

1. Hollywood Road Runner 4 (note that some older ones are subject to a recall)
2. Thule 994 Expressway Hitch Carrier

These each cost right around $200 (street price). I personally would (and did) choose the Thule because of Thule's reputation for good engineering. I'm not sure if the hitch racks are TUV approved or not. Beware that apparently there was a batch of the 994's that were boxed up with the Snug-Tite-Lock missing (this part is standard on this rack and is very expensive to buy by itself.

The wheel mount and the fork mount racks have less of these issues because there is no mast to fold-down, though some of the bases can fold up.

Hitch Rack Bike Mounts
Bike mounts for hitch racks now come in an amazing variety. Vertical, horizontal, frame mount, fork mount, crank mount, wheel mount, and tandem mount.

Bases (Thule)

Thule 920 Space Station Base 1.25" fold-down base

Thule 921 Space Station Base 2" fold-down base

Thule 922 Space Station Base 2" fold-down base (4" extra length to clear rear spare tire)

Thule 931 Space Station Swing-Away Base 2"

Horizontal Top Tube Single

Dual Folding Arms with bottom support (this is the preferred type of hitch rack IMVAIO (in my valued and informed opinion); holds the bike well and the arms fold down out of the way when parked or when the rack is not in use (but the rack should be removed when not in use anyway))

Hollywood Road Runner 3 3 bike

Hollywood Road Runner 4 4 bike

Thule 993 Expressway Hitch Carrier, 4 bike, fold-down mast1.25"

Thule 994 Expressway Hitch Carrier, 4 bike, fold-down mast, 2"

Dual Folding (or removable) Arms without bottom support (still good, but the lack of bottom support means that the bikes are subject to hitting each other as they swing)

Advantage Glideaway 2010 Sports Rack, 4 bike  Pivot-out mast, $350 ($184.99 Costco.com and at Costco stores)

Advantage V-Rack Two Bike Carrier Ball, fold-down mast, Model #1011,  $150

Advantage V-Rack Two Bike Carrier 2", fold-down mast, Model #1010, $150 ($85, Costco.com)

Graber T-RAX 2 Bike

Graber T-RAX 4 Bike

Graber T-RAX 5 Bike

Hollywood Destination 5 5 Bike (and Destination 5GS which has a gas shock to assist in tilting)

RhodeGear Interstate 4 (4 Bike, 2")

RhodeGear Interstate 3 (3 Bike, 2")

RhodeGear Interstate 2 (2 Bike, 1.25")

RhodeGear Interstate 2 (2 Bike, Ball)

Thule Hang On 970-3 3 bike, non-fold-down mast, not available in North America

Dual Stationary Arms (holds the bike well, but a real pain in the butt to have the arms sticking way the hell out when not in use)

Advantage ASR-24 2", Model #3011 2 bike, fold-down mast, $125

Advantage ASR-24 1.25", Model #3012 2 bike,  fold-down mast, $150

Advantage ASR-24,  2", Model #3014 4 bike,  fold-down mast, $150

Graber Hitchhiker 2 Bike, fold-down mast, 1.25" or 2"

Graber Hitchhiker 3 Bike fold-down mast, 1.25" or 2"

Graber Hitchhiker 4 Bike fold-down mast, 1.25" or 2"

Hollywood Traveler 3 3 bike

Hollywood Traveler 4 4 Bike

Hollywood Tow 'N Go 2/3 2-3 bikes, non-fold-down mast, unknown number of arms

RhodeGear Highway Receiver 2 Bike

RhodeGear Highway Receiver 4 Bike

Thule 939 Switchback 4 bike, pivot mast

Thule 944 4 Bike Hitching Post, fold-down mast, 2"

Thule 945 4 Bike Hitching Post, fold-down mast, 1.25"

Thule 946 2 Bike Hitching Post, non-fold-down mast, 2"

Thule 947 2 Bike Hitching Post, non-fold-down mast, 1.25"

Thule 984 4 Bike Hitching Post, fold-down mast, 2"

Thule 985 4 Bike Hitching Post, fold-down mast, 1.25"

Thule 980 2 Bike Hitching Post fold-down mast, 1.25"

Thule 981 2 Bike Hitching Post non-folding arm, fold-down mast, 2"

Thule 983 Ball Mount / Draw Bar Bike Carrier 2 bike, fold-down mast

Yakima Big Horn 4 4 bike, fold-down mast

Yakima Prong Horn 2 stationary mast

Single Folding Arm

OSI Swing Away Bike Rack 3 or 4 bikes, pivoting mast $190-250

Single Stationary Arm (doesn't hold the bike well and a real pain in the butt to have the arms sticking way the hell out when not in use, but cheap to manufacture!).

BVG Revolution 2 or 4 bike, pivoting mast, optional anti-wobble arm

BVG Evolution 2 or 4 bike, fold-down mast, optional anti-wobble arm

Hollywood Boomer 2 2 bike, fold-down mast

Hollywood Boomer 4 4 bike, fold-down mast

Nashbar Rapid Transit 3 (search for rapid transit) 3, bike, hitch ball, non-fold-down mast

OSI Fold Down Bike Rack 3-4 bike, ball (3 bike only) or 2" hitch, fold-down mast $133-135

OSI Standard Bike Rack 4 bike (2"), 3 bike (ball or 1.25") non-fold-down mast $110-135

OSI Slide Over Bike Rack 3 bike, 2", non-fold-down mast, gives you a ball hitch $115

Performance XPORT Passage 4-Bike Hitch Rack 2" Receiver, fold-down mast, $239.99

Performance XPORT Traveler 3 Bike Hitch Rack- 1.25" Receiver, fold-down mast, $149.99

Performance XPORT Traveler 3 Bike Hitch Rack- 2" Receiver, fold-down mast, $149.99

Performance XPORT Traveler 3 Bike Hitch Rack- Ball Mount, fold-down mast, $149.99

Performance XPORT Traveler 2 Bike Hitch Rack- 1.25" Receiver, fold-down mast, $99.99

Performance XPORT Traveler 2 Bike Hitch Rack- 2" Receiver, fold-down mast, $99.99

Performance XPORT Traveler 2 Bike Hitch Rack- Ball Mount, fold-down mast, $99.99

Saris B.A.T. 3 (2") $170

Saris B.A.T. 3 (1.25") $175

Saris B.A.T. 4 Regular $210 (4 bike, 2", expandable to 5 bikes)

Saris B.A.T. 4 Deluxe $260 (4 bike, 2", expandable to 5 bikes)

Sportrack Hitch and Drive

Sportrack Hitch and Drive 700

Thule 923 Rak-N-Loc Bike Module 2 bike, non-folding arm, use with a Space Station Base

Thule 924 Rak-N-Loc 2 Bike Add-on 2 bike add-on for 923

Thule 938 Rak-N-Loc Classic 2 bike, non-folding arm, fold-down mast

Yakima Roc'N Gate 4 bike, Swing-away mast

Yakima Terragate 2 2 bike, Swing-away mast

Yakima Super Roc 4 bike, Fold-down mast

Yakima Terrafirma 4 bike, Fold-down mast

Yakima ROC 4 4 bike, Fold-down mast

Yakima ROC 2 2 bike, Fold-down mast

Vertical Fork Single

Draftmaster

Vertical Wheel Single

Badger Vertical Single 1-4 bikes

Horizontal Upright Single with frame arm

Hollywood Team Rider 2/3 2-3 bike, fold down

Hollywood Team Rider 4 4 bike, fold down

Hollywood E-Rack 1-2 Electric Bicycles

Masterbuilt Hitch Haul HBS2 ($40 per bike)

OSI Swing Away Pedal Mount Bike Rack 2 bike, pivoting base (no mast) $227

Thule EuroClassic 4-bike, 989-44 (not available in North America)

Thule EuroClassic 910 (not available in North America)

Thule EuroClassic 910 (not available in North America)

Horizontal Upright Single without frame arm

Masterbuilt Hitch Haul HBD125 (2 bike, 1.25" hitch, $120)

Masterbuilt Hitch Haul HBD2 (2 bike, 2" hitch, $120)

Masterbuilt Hitch Haul HBT125 (3 bike, 1.25" hitch, $130)

Masterbuilt Hitch Haul HBT2 (3 bike, 2" hitch, $130)

Note that these four racks are less expensive at JC Whitney: http://www.jcwhitney.com/productnoitem.jhtml?CATID=76445

Horizontal Wheel, Dual Folding Arms, Single

Yakima Rim Roc 3 bike, Arms fold, not sure if mast folds

Crankset & One Wheel, Single

Badger Horizontal Single 1-4 bikes, 2"

Thule 925 Docking Station Module (use with Space Station Base)

Thule 926 Docking Station Add-on, 2 bike add-on for 925

Horizontal Fork Single

Graber Backpacker 4000/4001/4002 (2 or 4 bike)

Hollywood Pro Rider 2 2 bike, fold-down bottom

Performance XPORT Horizon 2-Bike Hitch Rack $159.99

Performance XPORT Horizon 2 bike Add-On $99.99

Thule 927 Fork Mount Module, 2 bike, fork mount (use with Space Station Base)

Thule 928 Fork Mount Add-on, 2 bike add-on for 927

Horizontal Fork Tandem

Badger

Vertical Fork, Tandem

Draftmaster

Other Hitch Racks

SteelHorse
An interesting system with options for bicycles, picnic table with umbrella, fishing pole holder, and vise. See it at http://www.steelhorseautomotive.com/Pages/pg_trvl2.htm .Not enough information about the bike racks to classify them, but they have 2 and 4 bike models with a non-fold-down mast.

Bell SportRack
Not available in the U.S., but some interesting racks, especially the Sportrack Euroracer, the only hitch rack I've seen that holds the bikes horizontal, parallel with the sides of the car, with the fork over the trunk.
http://www.siwatts.force9.co.uk/noframes/bell.htm

RR33; Bell Sportrack Adventure 2 bike carrier. Ave price 69.95
Specialist rack to suit 4X4 vehicles with spare tyre mounted onto rear door. Max weight 30Kg. Special feature allows fitment to 4X4's even with offset spare wheel.

RR34; Bell Sportrack Voyager 3 bike carrier. Ave price 89.95
Specialist rack to fit onto the towing plate of any vehicle. The upright can be hinged downward to allow access to boot, and the arms can be folded down when cycles are not loaded. Complete with elastic securing straps to hold cycles in place whilst on the move.

RR34A; Bell Sportrack Voyager to suit "swan neck style tow balls.

RR35; Bell Sportrack Euroracer 2 bike carrier.

Peashooter Rack for VW Cabrio
Technically not a hitch rack, this rack bolts directly to the frame. http://www.birdautomotive.com/Bike%20Rack%20VW%20Cabrio.htm

Issues with Hitch Racks

Rear End Collisions
When the hitch rack is installed on your vehicle the bumper is not functional. If someone bumps into the back of your vehicle, with the rack installed, it can cause thousands of dollars worth of damage even if it is only a very low speed collision. I speak from personal experience here. Someone ran into the back of my car hitting the hitch rack. The hitch rack pushed a hole up through the floor of the car causing nearly $3000 of damage. Had the rack not been installed I probably would have only needed a new bumper cover at a cost of about $300. Remove your hitch rack when not in use!

Non-folding arms stick out too far
This is an issue only with racks whose arms don't fold down. On racks with folding arms you should take the time to fol

Bicycle Damage
If someone rear-ends your car then all of the bikes will probably be a total loss.

Width (only an issue with horizontal tandem racks)
The tandem can be wider than the vehicle on the horizontal tandem racks. You probably will want to remove the front wheel to save a foot or so. Just be careful not to hit anything with the bike (including other cars on either side of you on a multi-lane road).

Exhaust Pipes
Be certain that hot exhaust is not blowing directly on the bicycle. This is a common problem if the bikes are installed onto the rack incorrectly. It the bike is such that one wheel is lower on the rack then put the bike on so the lower wheel is on the side of the car without the exhaust pipe.

Ground Clearance
Be sure that the bicycles are high enough off the ground (the wheels shouldn't be lower than the bumper). If the rear wheels went into a shallow dip or over a high speed bump, the wheels could hit the ground and be damaged. This is usually not a problem, but some hitch racks have height adjustable masts and if the mast is adjusted too low then the bike wheels could be too low.

Spare Tire Mount Racks

Advantage Spare Tire Rack Item #7010 3 bike $139.95

Graber Spare Tire Rack (2 bikes)

Hollywood Spare Tire Rack

OSI Spare Tire Bike Rack 3 bikes $117

Rhode Gear Spare Tire Shuttle (2 bikes)

Rhode Gear Spare Tire Bolt on Shuttle (2 bikes)

Saris 996 Spare B.A.T. Rack (2 bikes)

Thule Raider Bike 992 (not available in North America)

Thule 943 Spare Me Spare Tire Carrier, 2 bike

Yakima Spare Roc 2 bike, single non-folding arm, stationary mast

Issues with Spare Tire Racks
These racks are usually a bad idea because on most vehicles the spare tire holder is not mounted to the vehicle frame, it is mounted to the thin sheet metal of the rear door i.e. the Honda CR-V. Also the hinges of the rear door were not designed for the seventy or so pounds of extra weight that the rack plus two bikes add to it. If your vehicle has a tubular steel, frame mounted, spare tire holder then these racks are okay. There are ski attachments available as well..


Trunk Racks

Saris Bones Rack (3 bike)

Saris Bone Rack (2 bike)

Issues with Trunk Racks
These are probably about the worst option for carrying bikes (and also the cheapest), Find one that puts most of the weight on the bumper with a wide padded tube. Avoid the ones that put most of the weight on the sheet metal of the trunk.


Pickup Truck Racks

Hollywood Truck Rack

Hollywood Fork Block

Graber Kool Rack

Graber Single Track

Graber Triple Track

Nashbar Truck Rack (search for truck rack) $75

Rhode Gear Truck Shuttle

Yakima Beddy Jo 2 bike

Yakima Bed Head 1 bike

Yakima Locking Bed Head 1 bike

Yakima Block Head 1 bike

Yakima Locking Block Head 1 bike

Issues with Pickup Truck Racks
The same issues with fork mount carries on a roof rack, except that the lateral forces will be less because the bikes are closer to the ground. I have not seen any upright pickup truck mount bike carriers.


Bumper Racks
Yep, these throwbacks to the twentieth century still exist, but there are very few vehicles that can still use them (older cars as well as vans and RVs may be able to use them). They require a strong steel bumper to mount to. http://www.jcwhitney.com/product.jhtml?CATID=14940

Advantage ASR-24, Model #3013 2 bike Bumper, $125

HollywoodF6 Expedition

Hollywood F1B Original

Hollywood F4 Heavy Duty

Hollywood F9 Express

Hollywood F18 Escape


Issues with Bumper Racks

Rear End Collisions
If someone rear-ends your car then all of the bikes will probably be a total loss.

Exhaust Pipes
Be certain that hot exhaust is not blowing directly on the bicycle. This is a common problem if the bikes are installed onto the rack incorrectly. It the bike is such that one wheel is lower on the rack then put the bike on so the lower wheel is on the side of the car without the exhaust pipe.

Ground Clearance
Be sure that the bicycles are high enough off the ground (the wheels shouldn't be lower than the bumper). If the rear wheels went into a shallow dip or over a high speed bump, the wheels could hit the ground and be damaged.

Summary
Now you're probably more confused about what to buy than when you first came to this site. But at least you now have informed opinions about the pros and cons of the various types of racks and accessories.

Check out the other bicycle related web sites created by Steven M. Scharf at http://www.nordicgroup.us

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