Boot or hatchback mounted, roof mounted, towball or towbar mounted, we bring you five easy steps to choosing the right car rack..
Of course it’s a wonderful feeling to step outside the front door and start pedalling. But sometimes the search for cycling excitement will take you and your bike to places beyond pedalling distance. Assuming you forego public transport, heading away with a bicycle will require a cycle carrier for your vehicle. So here are five simple steps to help you buy the right car rack.
Step 1: Know which racks are suitable for your vehicle
There’s no point buying any cycle carrier if it isn’t compatible with your car. Essentially, there are three main types of rack to choose from:
These are racks that need to be mounted on roof bars fitted to the car.
These are racks that are mounted to a towbar or towball fitted to the car.
These are racks that are mounted using a system of straps and hooks around the car’s rear opening. Not all boot or hatchback-mounted racks fit every vehicle, so make sure the particular rack you intend to buy will fit your specific car model.
There are also other slightly unusual car rack options, such as Sea Sucker’s unique vacuum mounting system, spare wheel-mounted racks for 4×4 vehicles, or load-bay racks that are specific bike racks for vans and trucks.
Step 2: Know how many bikes you intend to carry
Let’s assume you have both a towing point and roof bars on your car or you intend to fit them (roof bars can cost from around £100, while towing points and all the necessary accompanying electrics are significantly more). That means the car rack world is your oyster. The next stage is to decide how many bikes you are likely to carry.
1, 2 or 3 bikes
If you’re only planning to carry up to three bikes, all three of our car rack options is as suitable as any other, subject to other criteria that we’ll come onto later.
4 or more bikes
Beyond three bikes, things start getting tricky. Four bikes hanging from a boot or hatchback-mounted rack is possible, but can appear unsteady and overladen. Similarly, large cars may be able to squeeze four bikes positioned nose-to-tail on roof-mounted racks, but it’ll be tight and a tall person might be needed to reach the two central racks. Towbar and towball-mounted racks are the best option for carrying four or five bikes. If you need to transport more than five bikes, you’ll either have to use a combination of racks, or buy a trailer.
Step 3: Recognise how nervous/competent you are
It might seem like a stupid consideration, but if you’re a nervy driver, watching three bikes swaying on a hatchback-mounted rack in your rear view mirror won’t do you any good. By the same token you might fret about bikes mounted on the roof — although you’ll quickly forget about them, which means there is then the chance you’ll absentmindedly drive into a height restriction. In contrast, towbar and towball-mounted racks are secure and won’t cause any unnecessary or unpleasant distractions, although you will have to remember that your total vehicle length is a tad longer than normal.
Step 4: Recognise any special requirements or hindrances
Think about how you’ll be using the rack and where you’ll be driving. For example, if you think you’ll need to open your boot at rest stops on the drive — say, to let the dog out for a walk or to reach supplies — a boot or hatchback-mounted rack is a poor option as you’ll need to remove all the bikes and the rack itself every time. Roof racks don’t have this problem and many towbar or towball-mounted racks have a tipping function to allow you to access the boot.
Alternatively, if you think you’ll need to use public car parks en route, roof-mounted racks will have to be cleared of bikes to pass through height barriers. Also, if you’re ‘vertically challenged’ and not very strong, roof racks might simply be impractical for you to use.
Finally, think about storage off the car. Roof racks are thin and light. Boot and hatchback-mounted racks can be folded to quite compact dimensions. Towbar and towball-mounted racks might be quite bulky.
Step 5: Know your budget
Despite everything we’ve said so far, ultimately money talks. So far towbar or towball-mounted racks have come out tops, but here’s where the argument for them hits a big speed bump. As well as the significant cost of having a towbar or towball fitted in the first place, towbar and towball-mounted racks tend to be slightly more expensive than other options. However, models such as this Maxx Raxx Discovery 4 bike rack are very sturdy, practical and can take multiple bikes.
If you need to carry three bikes as simply and cheaply as possible, a boot or hatchback-mounted rack is the obvious entry-level option. Pick a model from a reputable brand, such as this market-leading Saris Bones 3 rack and it will be both a reliable and sensible place to start transporting your bikes by car.
Finally, don’t discount roof-mounted racks. If you’re tall and strong enough to use them, they are safe, secure, inexpensive and, because products such as this Thule ProRide 598 are available individually, you only need to buy and fit as many as you need with no excess capacity.
Finally, one last word of warning: if you end up using a boot, hatchback, towbar or towball-mounted rack, remember that other road users must be able to see your vehicle’s rear lights and number plate. This might require buying a lighting board and extra number plate, so factor that into your budget.