You install a hitch bike rack to save your trunk, and suddenly you can’t access the trunk anyway. Carrying your bike on a road trip will not be easy until you discover the right carrying rack.
We will tell you all you need to know about hitch bike racks, their benefits, installation, and disadvantages. That way, you will not have to suffer the indignity of having to pull apart your bicycle just so it can fit in the aforementioned trunk.
What Are Hitch Bike Racks
A hitch bike rack is a rear-mounted type of bicycle carrier that slides onto the receiver of the trailer hitch on your car, hence the name. They are one of the most popular ways for cycling enthusiasts to bring their bikes with them on adventures.
Because they fit onto the hitch, such bike racks are compatible with a wide range of vehicles ranging from public service buses to SUVs and sedans. They are highly convenient, simple to use, and secure.
There isn’t much information about bike racks, but some of the biggest manufactures such as Thule were selling them as early as 1984. However, the concept is relatively simple.
How Hitch Bike Racks Work
Mounting a bike rack to the tow hitch of a car is an ingenious idea, as amazing now as it must have been when it was invented. Such a device places the bicycle close to the ground, distributes its weight to the car chassis, and keeps it away from the bodywork.
The rack slides into the receiver of the trailer hitch, which many cars have. It can also be installed easily and cheaply without any invasive procedures. It has a bottom tray rack that projects out a few inches away from the car with positioning for one or more bikes.
You place your bike on this tray rack by its wheels, then secure them with straps. Additional vertical support is added by securing the top bar or saddle to the rack as well.
When not in use, most of these racks can usually fold or swing out of the way to allow access to the trunk. The racks themselves can vary in size but usually carry 2-6 bikes.
Alternatives to Hitch Bike Racks
Other types of bicycle carrier racks also exist. They are all classified according to the type and position of car attachment used.
- Roof mount bike racks: These are one of the most popular options, which latch onto existing roof racks and have straps or other devices to secure your bike.
- Spare wheel racks: for those with SUVs or Jeeps, a type of rack is available that will fit the rear wheel without compromising the mountings or trunk access.
- Trunk mount bike racks: if your car does not have any of these mounting options, trunk-mounted bike racks are available that lock around the edges of your trunk’s door.
- Truck bed bike racks: These racks help you to secure your bike to your truck bed and work just like roadside bike racks.
Types of Hitch Bike Racks
Hitch racks for bikes all work in the same basic way, but they come in different types. That is because different types of bikes need slightly different racks.
Children’s bikes, recumbent bikes, mountain bikes, and commuter bikes all have different sizes and design configurations. There is a type of bike carrier for each of these.
Platform Hitch Racks
The bike will rest on a tray or platform and secured by its wheels. This way, they offer more support and resist sway. They can carry 2-4 bikes and even heavier bikes like the electric ones.
There are two types of platform-style hitch racks. Frame-clamp style hitch racks have cradles on which the tires rest. Hooks then clamp onto the frame to provide security and stability. They also help to eliminate sway.
Wheel clamp racks latch onto the wheels instead of the frame, preventing chances of damaging the paintwork on both. They are also great for bikes with suspension because they don’t push down on them.
Hanging/Mast Style Hitch Racks
This is a type of hitch rack that has support arms (masts) that carry the bikes by the frame’s top bar. They are compact and cheaper to buy, but they don’t support a wide range of bikes.
However, bikes have different frame designs including step-through and diamond frames. To cater to alternative frames, some racks feature rotating arms.
Mast-style bike racks can be further divided into single-arm, dual-arm, or wheel-only-mount racks.
- Single-arm – They have one central mast or cradle support onto which a bike hangs.
- Dual-arm racks have two cradles and support bikes from two positions for additional support. The arm spacing can vary to hold larger bikes, but smaller ones like children’s bikes may not fit.
- Wheel-only-mount racks – these are a type of dual-arm racks that support a bike by its wheels using a dual V-shaped configuration. They can carry a wide range of bike sizes because they use the wheels rather than the frames. They also prevent metal-metal contact to avoid paint chipping.
Pros and Cons of Hitch Bike Racks
Hitch style bike racks are arguably the most popular option for any informed cyclist. It’s not just about whether or not you want to access your car, but rather about how well you want to carry your bike.
Advantages of Hitch Bike Racks
- By latching onto the tow hitch’s receiver bar or groove, they give you a much greater bike carrying potential due to the firmness and stability available.
- They make a great option for tall cars or situations where a roof rack would cause problems with clearance. You can easily get in and out of garage doors with this rack mounted on your car.
- Hitch racks carry your bikes more securely. They have firm support structures unlike roof racks or truck racks.
- They are convenient. Once the rack itself is mounted, getting bikes on and off takes just seconds.
- Hitch bike racks can also feature anti-theft options such as locking mechanisms.
- They keep the bikes well away from your car’s bodywork, preventing the possibility of chipping and bumping.
Disadvantages of Hitch Bike Racks
There are also a few cons associated with hitch-style bike racks.
- Because they carry the bike so close to the ground, the chains tend to gather a lot of dirt.
- The initial installation of the rack to the tow hitch can be expensive.
- The bike racks themselves are quite expensive.
- They impede rear access to the car’s trunk.
- Your rear view is obstructed when carrying more than one bike. They also affect the car’s total width on the road.
- When not in use, hitch racks are a pain. You might need to unmount them from your car for storage, which takes time.
Choosing the Right Hitch Bike Racks
Choosing the right hitch rack to carry your bicycles can be a long and challenging process. Since bike racks are all about functionality, what you need to think about are the features you want to see on your rack.
The process involved in choosing the right bike rack for you involves a lot of questions.
- Which type of bike do you want to carry? Platform bikes will carry most standard bikes, but hanging ones require either standard frames or a special bar. Fat tire bikes would need adjustable trays, while the heavier electric bikes need a heavy-duty rack.
- What type of car do you want to install it on? Some SUVs have rear-mounted spare wheels that your rack has to clear. Other cars have low ground clearance, which could cause the rack to drag on inclines. For such, a rack with a rise would be desirable.
- How many bikes do you want to carry? Most hitches carry one or two bikes comfortably, but there are options for carrying even six bikes at a go.
- Do you have a hitch on your car? If so, what kind is it? There are different hitch sizes available, and you will have to determine which size will fit your car.
Most hitches have a standard 2” x 2” or 1 ¼” x 1 ¼” receiver opening. They are also classed by carrying capacity, where Class II hitches can carry more weight (up to 350 pounds) than Class I types (200 pounds). If you don’t know the class, simply read off the maximum weight capacity on your rack.
Special features are also available. Do you still want rear access to your car? Some high-end racks tilt to clear the way. Others can fold up when not in use. For security, some racks also have integrated locking mechanisms.
How to Install Hitch Racks
Installing a hitch rack is easy and can be done at home. However, you will first have to determine if your car has a hitch receiver already installed. If there is one, you’re good to go. If not, you may need to have a professional do it for you.
Here are the instructions to install your bike rack, if the receiver is already there:
- Slide the bike rack arm into the vehicle’s hitch mount.
- Line up the hole in the receiver with the hole in the hitch mount.
- Take the bolt, making sure that it has a lock washer and flat washer, and secure the rack to the hitch. Tighten the bolt with a wrench.
- Insert the pin into the bolt to lock it into place.
Are hitch bike racks safe?
Yes. Hitch racks secure to the hitch receiver on your car and add negligible weight and size to your car. They also have minimal effect on vehicle drivability, while keeping your bike firmly secured. If you’re worried about theft, some racks feature inbuilt locking mechanisms.
Can hitch bike racks damage your car?
If you mount a hitch rack properly, it will not damage your car. Because hitch racks keep your bike away from the car’s body, they protect it from a collision, scratching, and chipping caused by swaying and mounting/dismounting efforts.
How much does a hitch bike rack cost?
Hitch racks are quite expensive, especially the more elaborate types. You can expect to pay anything from $100 for a high-quality rack.
Will my bike fit on a hitch bike rack?
You will have to determine whether your bike will fit on your rack by looking at the bike’s dimensions and configuration. Then, check that the rack design and size will allow your bike to fit easily. There are usually adapter bars that you can use for problematic bikes, but it’s always better to go with a rack that fits without modifications.
Which is the best hitch mounted bike rack?
Many manufacturers produce hitch bike racks. However, there are two companies known for the best quality racks: Thule and Yakima. If you’re looking for the most high-end options available, either of these will be more than sufficient.
Which is the best type of hitch mounted bike racks?
Platform hitch racks have solid advantages compared to mast-style racks. They carry a wider variety of bikes, are more stable, and only connect with the bike through the tires. However, for frequent removal of the rack from the vehicle, a hanging rack offers more convenience.
Can you open your trunk with a bike rack on it?
Some high-end racks allow you to open your truck even when you have a rack already mounted. They include swinging racks, tilted racks, folding racks, among others.
Hitch-mounted bike racks are a great option to use when you will be carrying your bike(s) to and from the trail. They are convenient, easy to install and offer many exciting features.
This type of rack compares favorably with others such as roof racks and trunk racks. That is because they offer more versatility, carry your bikes securely, and have a larger maximum payload.
There are, however, different types of hitch roof racks available. Platform racks have trays on which your bike stands and can secure them either by the wheels or the frame.
Hanging or mast-style racks suspend the bike by its frame, usually by the top bar. They can have a single or dual-arm configuration, with V-mounts designed as wheel-only-mount hanging racks.
Special racks are also available with features such as bike locking and folding capabilities. When it comes to choosing the right bike rack for your car, you need to think about the car type, the type of bike to carry, and the hitch specifications.
Like all other types of bike racks, hitch racks have their pros and cons. At the end of the day, you have to decide what works for you.
This low down on hitch bike racks has exposed you to all you need to make an informed decision. So, get yours, latch on, and let’s move ahead to the next adventure.