There’s a parallel universe where the Ultimate You doesn’t own a car. You travel everywhere by foot, public transportation, a piggyback ride from a buddy, or bike. But, like most bicycle owners in this incarnation of ourselves we call reality, you probably drive your bike to the ride. Don’t get us wrong, cars can undoubtedly enrich your life; convenient long-distance travel, an emergency sleeping shelter, and the ability to carry home kegs and not just 12-packs are a few of the benefits to the indentured servitude of car ownership. Modern life makes owning a car, or at least having a car payment, accessible to many. This necessitates extra income, making schedule optimization crucial. Thus, giving your bike a lift to the ride with your car makes perfect sense. So, what’s the best way to carry your bike—and possibly several of your friend’s bikes—to the trailhead or coffee shop? Thanks for asking. We have a few suggestions…
Hitch-Mount—Fitting into the empty trailer hitch at the rear of your car, hitch-mount racks offer many advantages. They are the most aerodynamic hitch style, tucking out of the wind behind your vehicle. Lifting bikes onto them requires less effort than roof-mounted racks. And they conveniently swing or tilt out of the way to allow access to the rear of your vehicle.
There are two types of hitch-racks: platform and mast. Platform racks provide a base which supports bikes by the wheels. Mast-style racks have top tube-supporting arms attached to a center “mast.” The trade-off between platform and mast racks is weight, size, and ease of use. Mast racks are lighter and take up less space, but require a good deal more “maneuvering” when installing bikes. Platform racks are more secure and easier to mount bikes on, but take up more space than mast racks. Platform racks also prevent bike-to-bike contact, which is nice if you like to keep your bikes pristine.
Thule’s T2 platform rack is easy to use and sits very low, requiring only a slight hoist to mount your bike in the rack. Thule offers some great mast-style racks as well, including the Thule Apex 5, Thule Helium Aero 3, and Thule Vertex 2. These mounts save on space, but require a slightly higher lift to get the bike over the rack’s arms, and cannot completely prevent mounted bikes from swinging a little bit.
Wheels don’t have to be removed on either platform or mast style racks. Axle standards and brake type are not a concern for mounting to a hitch rack, as bikes are secured by the wheels. Finally, hitch-mount racks are easily installed or removed from the vehicle with one bolt.
Roof-Mount—Roof rack carriers, or trays, are light, more or less permanently attached, and can be installed as densely as your roof has room for. Setup is more involved than with a hitch-mount rack, but the roof rack is completely out-of-the-way once it’s in place. Depending on whether your car has factory-installed crossbars, installation may be quick or time-consuming. If your car’s roof is bare (no factory crossbars), you’ll need to install a base system; this consists of crossbars, a “foot pack,” and the interface between vehicle and “feet,” called a Fit Kit. If your car is already equipped with crossbars, most racks will fit right out of the box, or at the most require an adapter for each crossbar.
Before you settle on a roof rack, you need to consider your vehicle’s size, because getting your bike onto the rack obviously requires lifting them onto the roof of your car. Most roof carriers hold the bike with a strap at the rear wheel, and a clamp in the front fork dropouts, requiring the removal of the front wheel. If your bike uses a front through axle, an adapter may be needed between fork and mount. Thule’s Sprint T-Track carrier has an integrated torque sensor for perfect clamping force every time. After taking off the front wheel, either throw it in the back of the car or clamp it into a Thule Wheel Carrier up on the roof. If taking off the front wheel seems unnecessary, Thule’s Sidearm XT carrier attaches to both wheels, reducing the mounting process by one step. Wheel-mounting also makes the Sidearm compatible with all past, present, and future axle standards and brake designs.
Roof racks typically generate noise—although the aero-shaped crossbars are remarkably quieter—and require the addition of a fairing if you ever want to drive with the sun roof open. If you are having trouble justifying the cost of a roof rack base system, remember, once installed, the cross bars can be used to carry surfboards, mattresses, Christmas trees, and many other items, boosting their value.
Trunk-Mount—Hitch-mount and roof-mount racks are great if you can afford them, but they can be expensive. Some people just don’t want a roof system always sitting on top of their car either. If you’re looking to save some money on your bike carrying set-up, or just want something a little simpler, a trunk-mounted rack may be right for you. Trunk-mounted racks rest on your vehicle’s rear bumper, and attach via hooks and cables to the edges of the trunk or hatchback lid. Bike support is usually provided by two arms with cradles for the bike’s top tube. Trunk racks range from value offerings like the Thule Passage XT Trunk Rack, to the full-featured, platform-style Thule Raceway 9003PRO. Trunk racks are very versatile, setting up and breaking down easily—and when they’re not in use, they fit easily inside your car. While arm-only trunk racks allow mounted bikes to move a bit, higher-end versions are more secure.
Truck Bed—If you own a truck, you may be thinking, “Why do I need a rack? That’s what my truck bed is for.” While that’s true, if you want to load up anywhere from three to a lot of bikes quickly and safely, you need something like the Thule Gate Mate Tailgate Pad. No intricate tie-down threading, no bike stacking, and no damage to your vehicle—or the bikes. Just slot the bikes in and drive off. If you like the safety of upright bike positioning but don’t appreciate the effort of using and storing tie-downs, check out the Thule Insta-Gater.
In selecting the best mode of bike transport, the biggest factors to consider are the options available to you (even if you want a hitch-mount rack, do you have a trailer hitch? If not, how much will one cost?) and your budget. By weighing those two factors, you’ll be able to select a type and model of bicycle carrier that best suits your needs. Finally, if nothing at all makes the cut, there’s always the option of just getting creative and making it work: