Bike racks generally fall into two categories – those intended for storage or display (i.e. in the home or garage) and those intended to secure bikes for transport on a car or other vehicle.
For many keen cyclists the latter is essential – either for shuttling bikes to distant trails, races and events or for bringing bikes big and small on family holidays and trips.
Meanwhile the demands of an increasing bike collection – or limited space at home – may mean that a sturdy home bike rack can offer more intelligent storage options that the old “leaning up in the shed” option. The best home bike racks offer secure, space-saving storage while still allowing easy access to your bike come ride time.
If you don’t want to read our in-depth guide on bike racks, you can go directly to the relevant product pages via the links below:
Read on to find out more about the different types of storage and transport bike racks, and to decide which on is right for you.
For home storage of your bike, a few options are available – depending largely on the space you want to dedicate to your bike(s) and the money you want to spend.
If space is no object for your bike or bike collection, a simple display stand that secures the rear wheel of your steed is probably the most straightforward and inexpensive option on the market. There are various designs on the market for single or multiple bikes but all do exactly what they say on the tin – sit bike in, pull bike out, simples.
A handy way to maximise space in smaller living or storage areas is to get your bikes up off the floor, either using a simple wall-mounted frame or wheel hook or a specially-designed storage stand.
Bike hooks can range from the staggeringly simple bit of bent metal threaded at one end (ideally with a plastic coating so it doesn’t scratch your frame) to more ‘bike-specific’ designs that cost a bit more but are made to cradle your bike with loving care. Whichever you choose, be confident that you have the ability (or permission!) to affix them securely to the wall of your garage or storage room (another option is the ceiling-mounted rack, to take space-saving to the extreme!).
If you don’t want to drill holes in your wall, a free-standing storage stand may give you the option of stacking two bikes on top of each other, while still being portable in the event that you are rearranging rooms or moving house.
There is a huge range of bike racks and transport systems on the market to suit all kinds of budgets, with a number of distinct categories – roof-mounted, towbar-mounted and rear boot racks being the most common.
The ideal rack is one that will safely carry the amount of bikes you need, securely fit your vehicle, be easy to use and fit your budget.
Bike racks can be picked up relatively cheaply, but beware of false economy. Budget racks are best suited to light use – carrying one or two bikes only – and you may run the risk of damaging bikes or cars with cheap, ill-fitting hardware and unstable mounting systems.
If you are a regular biker planning to frequently transport more than one bike, it makes sense to invest in the best system you can afford, making sure of course that it will securely fit your vehicle and remain compliant with the law.
You may want to consider:
– Stability: Some bike rack designs (roof, towbar) are inherently more stable than others (boot-mounted). This is not such an issue with light use (one to two bikes) but if you are carrying the weight of three or four bikes you need to ensure that they will be rock solid.
– Fuel economy: Some racks when loaded can significantly affect the aerodynamics of your car. Roof racks are estimated to cut fuel efficiency by up to 30% and some high-mounted boot racks, if they are not in the lee of the car, can have a similar effect.
– Price: Boot-mounted racks are generally the least expensive, but are not regarded as the most stable. Roof-mounted and towbar-mounted racks can be good value if you already have the means to attach them. Factoring in the cost of decent roof bars or a towbar will increase the price significantly.
– Security: It’s highly inadvisable to leave two or three top-dollar bikes lashed to a rack on a parked car, but sometimes it may be unavoidable. Can bikes be locked securely to the rack, or the rack to the vehicle?
– Safety: Some boot-mounted racks, when loaded, obscure the view from the rear-view mirror, which is obviously not ideal. Care must also be taken when reversing with rear-mounted racks.
– Legality: It is illegal to have your number plate or lights obscured, so if this is the case when your rack is loaded you will have to fit a separate lighting board; another expense to factor in. Obviously this is not a problem with roof racks, while some ‘high’ boot-mounted racks are designed to overcome this problem (sometimes at the expense of stability or fuel efficiency).
There are three main types of bike rack – roof racks, boot racks and towbar-mounted racks.
Roof racks: A roof rack is a secure and stable way to carry up to four bikes out of the way, enabling easy access to the boot at all times and eliminating the need for the fitting and unfitting that can be tiresome with other racks.
Roof racks are highly secure, holding one or two of the bike’s wheels in a shallow horizontal tray. The bike is then fixed to the rack with an upright metal arm which attaches to the frame, or by removing the front wheel and bolting the front fork dropouts to a matching mount (adaptors are available to fit MTB thru-axle fork standards and unique fork models such as Mavericks and Cannondale Lefties).
However roof racks do have some disadvantages, with the extra drag of bikes on board cutting fuel economy. A full system of roof bars and bike racks can be expensive, while hoisting heavy bikes up onto the roof in the first place can be tough at the end of a long day in the saddle.
Boot racks: Boot-mounted racks consist of foldable frames which secure onto the boot of a vehicle – normally with a system of straps – carrying typically three bikes that hang on two extending arms.
Boot racks are hugely popular due to their relatively inexpensive price and versatility (they can be used on different vehicles) but they can be less stable than other types of racks and prevent access to the boot. With four or six separate securing straps they can also be less convenient to fit and remove than other types.
Spare wheel racks are an option for SUVs, 4x4s and other vehicles with a spare wheel on the back, while custom racks or tailgate pads are also available for open-bed pickup trucks.
NOTE: It is important to ensure that your boot rack does not obscure your rear vision or number plate, with the latter case requiring the addition of a lighting board.
It is also vital to check that a boot rack will fit the type of car you are driving as many vehicle designs don’t permit it, especially hatchbacks or coupes with sloped rear windows. Most rack manufacturers or racks will have a comprehensive list of compatible cars, so check that yours is on it.
Towbar racks: Towbar-mounted racks are regarded as the most stable so if your car is already equipped with a towbar consider these first – models are also available that sit behind the actual towbar ball to leave it free for towing a trailer or caravan. Even if your car does not have a towbar the extra expense of having one fitted may be worth considering if you intend to frequently transport more than two bikes, as the optimum fuel economy and ease of use will all count in your favour.
Towbar racks come in two flavours – simple ‘v’-shaped vertical racks that clamp directly onto or behind the bar ball for carrying two or even three bikes, or more advanced horizontal ‘rack’-type units that also secure under the car and are typically fitted with built-in lighting boards – ideal for safe and secure storage of three or four bikes. The latter ‘rack’ type uses adjustable wheel trays to secure bikes, rather than hanging them on extended arms, so many users find it easier to secure modern full-suspension bikes that don’t have the traditional ‘diamond’ frame design. Also, owners of expensive carbon-framed bikes may find more peace of mind in having the wheels as the main points of attachment, rather than the frame, as road bumps, impacts or incorrect securing may result in such frames being scratched or cracked.
Finally, a less common type of bike rack is the new ‘Seasucker’ type – which isn’t really a rack at all. This uses vacuum mounts to provide temporary anchor points for your front fork and rear wheel and enables you to attach your bike (just one per mount) to the roof/rear window of your car without needing a ‘traditional’ rack. It’s expensive, but we like the idea a lot…