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How to Choose a Bike Rack for an SUV

An SUV is an excellent vehicle for going on adventures, both on and off the road. There’s plenty of space to bring along people and equipment. Adding a bike rack is a great way to bring your and your fellow travellers’ bikes along for the journey. But how do you choose the right one for an SUV? Well, there isn’t a single answer to this question. In this article, you will learn about the different types of racks, their pros and cons, and what you should consider before buying one.

Types of Racks for SUVs

Hitch Racks

The great thing about SUVs is that almost all of them come with a trailer hitch. Therefore, hitch racks are a great option and are ideal for frequent use. There are two types of hitch racks. One type is called a mast-type or a hanging bike rack. These have arms and/or clamps that support bikes by their frames. They are relatively more compact and less expensive than the second type, which are known as tray/platform-style racks. These have trays which support the wheels of the bikes. A large clamp holds onto the front wheel which keeps the frame safe from any possible damage.

Pros

  • Solid and sturdy attachment
  • Some can hold up to 6 bikes
  • Simple installation and removal
  • Loading and unloading bikes is easy
  • No contact with vehicle body
  • Does not create extra drag
  • Some models can swing to allow access to the rear

Cons

  • Installation of hitch required if not available
  • Can be expensive, especially swing-away models
  • Cheaper models restrict access to rear of the vehicle
  • Extends length of the vehicle
  • May obstruct view of license plate and taillights
  • Suspended bikes could sway
Hitch rack
Hitch rack

Roof Racks

Roof racks are also a good choice since many SUVs have built-in crossbars in the roof. Hence, you can save money again by having to buy only the rack. Roof racks can support a bike in one of three ways. There are ones that clamp onto the frame, others that clamp onto the front wheel, and some that use a fork mount where the front wheel has to be removed. A special kind of roof rack is a vacuum mounted rack. It makes use of suction cups to firmly hold onto the surface of the roof. The advantage with this type is that you don’t need any crossbars.

Pros

  • Secure and stable attachment
  • Highly versatile
  • Can be used for other types of cargo
  • Free access to the rear of the vehicle
  • Easy installation and removal

Cons

  • Loading and unloading bikes can be difficult
  • Crossbars need to be installed if not available
  • Only one bike per rack
  • Reduces fuel economy due to increased drag
  • Prevents vehicle from going through low clearance places
Roof rack
Roof rack

Trunk Racks

Just like hitch racks, trunk racks attach to the rear of the SUV. However, they are installed using a number of straps to the trunk. They tend to be less secure and most usually cannot hold more than 2-3 bikes. But they are significantly cheaper. Trunk racks are an economical choice for those who do only need to use bike racks occasionally.

Pros

  • No extra equipment like a hitch or crossbars are needed
  • Most affordable option
  • Compact and portable
  • Loading and unloading bikes is easy
  • Can be used on different vehicles
  • Does not create extra drag

Cons

  • Not as secure, prone to theft
  • Could damage vehicle if not careful
  • Installation can be difficult and time consuming
  • Restrict access to rear of the vehicle
  • May obstruct view of license plate and taillights
  • Bikes could sway
Trunk rack
Trunk rack | Source: YouTube

Spare Tire Racks

Many SUVs have a spare tire on the outside of the vehicle. Due to this, a trunk rack cannot be used. Instead you can get a spare tire rack which attaches to the spare tire. Similar to trunk racks, they can be a great choice for occasional use and for those on a budget.

Pros

  • Less expensive
  • Does not completely block access to rear door
  • No extra equipment are needed to be installed
  • Loading and unloading bikes is easy
  • Does not create extra drag
  • No damage to vehicle

Cons

  • When spare tire is needed the rack has to be removed
  • Installation is not so easy
  • Bikes could sway
  • Tire covers have to be removed
  • May obstruct view of license plate and taillights
Spare tire rack
Spare tire rack | Source: YouTube

Guide to Buying Bike Racks for SUVs

Number of bikes

The very first thing you need to consider before getting a bike rack is the number of bikes you will be transporting. The majority of trunk racks and spare tire racks can carry a maximum of 2 or 3 bikes. However, some hitch racks can accommodate up to 6 bikes. On the roof you might be able to place up to 4 bikes, but you will need a separate rack for each bike. Also, you should check the weight capacity of your SUV’s roof in the owner’s manual to make sure you do not exceed it..

Stability and durability

To avoid damage to either the bike or the vehicle, a bike rack needs to be stable enough. The bikes and the rack should be firmly attached and should have minimal movement when driving. Other than with roof racks, you will get some swaying of the bikes. However, it should not be so much that the bikes contact each other or the vehicle. The rack itself should be sturdy and durable. However, the stronger a rack the more it weighs. A decent rack should also have a rust and corrosion resistant coating.

Access to rear

If you need easy and frequent access to the rear of the vehicle, trunk racks are not an option while roof racks are the best option. With hitch racks and spare tire racks, you can sometimes get to the trunk depending on the design of the rack and the SUV. You could always get a hitch rack that can swing out of the way.

Compatibility

In very rare cases, you will find a bike that cannot be loaded onto a rack, especially with fat bikes or e-bikes. Therefore, it’s a good idea to check if your bike will fit before buying. Issues with compatibility also arise at times with trunk racks and spare tire racks. Not all of these racks can be installed on all vehicles. There should be a list of compatible vehicles included. If not, ask the seller about your vehicle. When it comes to hitch racks, the size of the SUV’s hitch will vary slightly among different makes and models. Fortunately, there are adapters you can buy to ensure a proper fit.

Security

Bike theft is not uncommon and is a matter of concern for many. Well, you can always use a bike lock to secure the bike with the rack itself. The problem is that a thief might be able to just detach the rack and carry the whole thing away. To prevent this, some racks have built-in locking systems that make them very difficult to remove from the vehicle. These racks will cost a bit more, but it is worth protecting your expensive bikes. Unfortunately, trunk racks never have such features.

Storage space

When a bike rack is not in use, you will probably want to store it somewhere at home or in the garage. Trunk racks, spare tire racks, and roof racks are compact and/or foldable for easy storage. Hitch racks can be quite bulky and will need more room. Some racks are designed to fold even while being attached to the vehicle. This creates a smaller profile and reduces aerodynamic drag.

Budget

Budget is a very important factor for most people. If you search enough you will find plenty of great options that are quite affordable. But of course, the more you spend the better the quality of the rack will be. We advise not being too cheap when it comes to bike racks. After all, damaging your bikes will turn out to be costlier. If needed, you should wait and save up for a good quality rack.

F. A. Q.s

Q1. Can you put a bike inside an SUV?

Ans.: With little luggage and few passengers, you can definitely fit a bike inside an SUV. You might only have to take off the front wheel before doing so. In some cases, it is possible to fit multiple bikes. Most people don’t realize that carrying a bike inside a vehicle is often the best method for transporting it. Your bike stays safe from minor accidents, vibrations, bad weather, and theft. Moreover, it’s free since you already have the bike and the car. Be sure to secure the bike well and lay down some blankets/towels to avoid any scratches.

Q2. What other items can you carry with bike racks?

Ans.: With most types of bike racks you can only carry bikes. However, if you get crossbars installed on the roof of your SUV or any other car, you will be able to haul a lot more items. Cargo boxes are a great example. They allow you to carry various things that you would need for a trip. You can also buy racks to carry other equipment such as snowboards, surfboards, canoes, kayaks, etc.

SUV carrying various equipment
SUV carrying various equipment | Source: https://unsplash.com/photos/v_P7u1rgGU4

Conclusion

When looking for a bike rack to mount on your SUV, you will find a myriad of options. But now you know what each kind of rack offers and what drawbacks they have. All you have to do is consider what your requirements are, and make a decision based on that. A suitable bike rack will allow you to ride your bike on new trails and make your trips more enjoyable than ever before.


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Dion Lewis
My name is Dion Lewis.

I’ve been cycling from my childhood. When I was in high school, I started racing in our local competitions.

At my college life, I took a part time job in a bicycle shop and I learned how to repair and maintain bicycles professionally.

Though I love racing, mountain biking is another thing I do frequently. My friends, neighbors, and colleagues treat me as an avid rider and take my suggestions while they plan for a new bike or a bike gear.

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