Car racks

A guide to car bike racks

Need help choosing the best car rack for transporting your bike? We take a look at the four main types and assess the pros and cons, so you can select the best option to suit your needs.


Wouldn't it be great to live at the bottom of an awesome mountain trail, or have the pick of the season's sportive within riding distance of your front door? Sadly, this isn't reality for most of us and sometimes, you just have to use the car. You could put your bike in the boot, but unless you've got a nice big estate car (that you don't mind getting mud- and grease-stained), that's not an option. And once you've factored in the family's bikes too, it's time to look at car racks. Car racks can make the task of lugging family and friends' wheels around a lot simpler and below is a guide to help you decide which is the best car rack system for your car.

Boot mounted car rack

Boot-mounted bike racks

Boot-mounted car racks tend to be the most cost-effective way of loading the car up with bikes. They consist of a frame assembly, made from either an alloy or moulded plastic, with strong webbing straps that hook onto the edge of the boot door. These are adjusted and pulled taught to hold the rack in place. The frame itself usually has rubber feet mounted to it, to prevent damage to either the window or paint surface of the car. The rack can then be loaded with bikes, within the number and weight limit recommended by the manufacturer. They can vary as to how many bikes they carry, with options for single, double or triple.


Pro's of boot-mounted bike racks -

  • Highly adjustable - will fit to almost any car
  • A boot-mounted rack is the quickest and most cost-effective way to carry bikes on your car

Con's of boot-mounted bike racks -

  • If you have a rear spoiler on your car boot door, you need to be cautious about placing a load-bearing strap over it, as the weight of a fully-loaded rack could cause it to break
  • Boot-mounted rear racks will probably have to be unloaded when you want to open the boot door, as the shift in weight from the bicycles moving as they are tipped could cause them to collide with the car paintwork
  • Bikes are easier to steal
  • When a boot-mounted rack is fully loaded with bikes, the car number plate could be obstructed, making your vehicle illegal. Some manufacturers make a rack with height adjustment, lifting the bikes clear, but cannot take into account all car designs. A separate light and number plate board may need to be purchased to avoid police attention whilst driving to a family holiday
  • Bikes with a step-through frame (such as the Specialized Ariel ladies bike) may require an adapter to allow them to fit onto the rack. This adapter is a bar that hooks under the steering stem and saddle of the bicycle, creating a virtual cross bar that can rest and be strapped onto the rack
Roof rack
Bike roof rack

Roof racks

If you have a spoiler and no tow bar, then a roof rack could be the way forward. These are bars designed to adapt and fit to almost every car on the market and once you have the roof bars fitted, there is a wide range of equipment that you can fit to them. Bike carriers are available, as well as carriers for skis, kayaks, and roof boxes - just make sure that you order the correct components for your specific model of rack and car. Other options, such as wing bars to improve fuel efficiency by reducing the drag of the roof rack, are also available.


Pro's of roof racks -

  • Cheaper than having a tow bar fitted to your car
  • Don't hinder access to any part of the car
  • One of the most secure racks available
  • Are versatile and the bars can be used for other applications

Con's of roof racks -

  • Not as easy to take on and off as other options
  • If you have a high car such as an MPV, you may struggle to reach onto the top of the car to secure your bike
  • With the cargo out of sight, it can be easy to forget that items are on the roof of the vehicle, which can make height barriers a danger
  • Fuel consumption suffers from the extra air drag
tow bar bike rack

Tow bar bike racks

Tow bar racks, as the name suggests, are designed to fit onto a vehicle's tow bar. They connect either to a standard tow ball, or bolt to the tow ball mounting plate. Tow bar mounted racks typically come fitted with a light board. While all models share the same sort of mounting, they can vary widely in features and in price.


A basic tow bar rack tends to be fitted with a spanner-like tool, whilst another pair of hands holds it steady. The bikes on a basic rack are typically secured in place with webbing straps attached to the bikes and around part of the rack.


Higher-end models tend to be fitted by means of a simple lever mechanism, meaning they can easily be fitted by one person. The bikes are usually held in place with clamps and ratchet straps, making the load more secure.


Pro's of Tow bar mounted bike racks -

  • Simpler to fit, depending on model purchased
  • Better quality and load-carrying abilities than a rear rack
  • Higher-end models have a locking mechanism, to keep your bikes and rack safe from theft
  • Higher models can tilt forward, even when loaded, to give easy access to the boot
  • Less impact on fuel consumption than other types of rack, as they're behind the car and out of the way of the main airflow
  • Most models come with a light board, keeping you within the law

Con's of Tow bar mounted bike racks -

  • More expensive than a simple rear rack, especially if you don't already have a tow bar fitted
  • Will take more room to store when not in use


Will Crump