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Types of Hitch Bike Racks: Know everything

Among all the types of bike racks available, there is a reason why the hitch mounted rack is so popular among cyclists.

It is the all-roundedness of the features that they offer.

Be it security, safety, capacity or good design, the hitch mounted bike rack has it all.

To further distinguish these racks from all others is the availability of ways it can carry your bike. In other words, we have two completely different designs of the hitch bike rack for its various target users. They are:

  • The Hanging Style
  • The Platform Style

In this article we will be differentiating between the two, and discussing their advantages and disadvantages compared to other bike racks and also themselves. Also, we will be looking at which types of users or bikes fit well to either design.

Types of Hitch Bike Racks
Source: YouTube

But first, as mentioned previously, let us get to know the general features that you are likely to find on either type of hitch bike rack.

General Features

If we are thinking of positive aspects, these racks have a lot to offer:

  • Very easy to load and unload bikes.
  • Some can be folded up to save space when bikes are not loaded.
  • Some can be folded down to give access to the trunk.
  • Can fit most hitches/tows: 1.25×1.25 inches and 2×2 inches
  • Very secure. Many offer multiple locks.

But…

  • More expensive than other types of bike racks.
  • Adds a lot of space behind the vehicle, especially the platform style.

Hanging (Bar or Mast) Hitch Mounted Rack

Hanging
Source: YouTube

Pros

+ Can carry more than 2 bikes (max 5).
+ Low weight, especially compared to the platform style rack.
+ Low cost.
+ Good security.

Cons

May require adapters for certain types of bikes.

This type of hitch rack is more similar to trunk mounted racks in design. The only differentiating point is, of course, that they are on the hitch or tow bar at the rear of the car. It adds more integrity to its ability to carry heavier or more bikes at a time.

Fold Hang
Can be folded to give access to the hatch | Source: YouTube

Much like the truck rack, these carry the bike by utilizing their frames. The bike hangs from the top tube. This requires the bike to have a standard horizontal top tube. For other models of bikes, an adapter may be required.

Few models support the bike by their wheels, eliminating the need to have a standard horizontal top tube. But this might make some people nervous, and rightly so, for putting pressure on the wheels.

Hang, Lots of bikes
You can hang a lot of bikes

Swaying can be a problem with hanging style racks, it can damage the frame of your car or the other bikes that are also loaded on the rack. Though some racks do come with anti-sway cradles to remedy this problem. If not, you may need to invest in some straps for added safety, if you are carrying more than one bike.

What type of bike?

If we are talking about what types of bike it can carry, we have to be a little more specific than the platform style. Since it relies heavily on the top tube of the bike, anything other than the standard road or mountain bike may find a difficult adjustment to these racks. Which means that you will need an adapter for bikes with a step-through frame or the ones with suspension.

It may also not be a very good idea to hang your carbon fiber bikes, or bikes whose frame you don’t want to scratch, on these, especially in the long run. Unless you have invested into a higher grade of a hanging style hitch rack, clamps on the masts/bars of most models might wear down on the carbon frame.

Platform (Tray) Hitch Mounted Rack

Platform

Pros

+ Makes minimal contact with the frame of the bike.
+ Provides great stability, no matter how many bikes are loaded.
+ Can hold almost all types of bikes with ease.
+ Very easy to load and unload bikes.

Cons

Adds a lot of space at the back of the vehicle

The platform style hitch rack draws similarities from roof mounted bike racks. The bikes are anchored to the rack at the wheels and clamped down securely by either the frame or the wheels or both.

One of the biggest advantages of the platform style rack is its ability to carry any type of bike on it. Except maybe fat tired MTBs, for which you may need a special model of hitch mounted rack.

The next plus point is its stability, on top of being extremely easy to load and unload your bikes on them.

Since the racks are supported around the bike’s wheels, the amount of wobble that the bike experiences on a journey is little to none. This is because, by design, there are two very secure straps tied around each wheel, while a ratcheting arm secures the wheel or the frame to keep it in place.

What Type of Bike?

As mentioned previously, any type of bike can be loaded onto these racks, the only thing you have got to watch out for is the wheel size and width. Carbon fiber bike frames will also be spared a lot of wear and tear since the clamps are usually around the wheel and not around the frame.

Typically these racks can carry around two bikes at a time and have a max capacity of 60 lb. But higher quality racks are sturdier and can carry up to 100 or more lbs., even heavy e-bikes. On top of that, extensions can be added to allow it to carry more bikes, up to a maximum of 4.

Even without extensions, these racks still eat up a lot of space behind your vehicle, making them the bulkiest bike rack out there.

Platform Setup

F.A.Qs

Q1) How can I determine the fit of my hitch rack to my vehicle?

Ans.: It is quite easy once you have understood the fundamentals. In general, hitch receiver sizes come in two types: 1.25×1.25 inches and 2×2 inches (the latter is more popular for newer models of hitch mounted racks).

The 2×2 receiver can work with any hitch rack that is made for the 2×2.

However, for the 1.25×1.25 receiver you have to determine the class of the receiver. There are 2:

  • Class I
  • Class II

To summarize, Class II can carry more weight. This makes Class I hitches better suited to the hanging style hitch rack and the Class II for the platform style.

To determine which class of hitch you have, you need not look further than a sticker that should be attached to the hitch.

Q2) What kind of racks can I get for a specialty bike?

Ans.: There are hitch racks for:

  • Recumbent Bikes
  • Trikes (3-wheelers)
  • Fat Tires
  • Electric Bikes

Most of these have a platform design to accommodate the uniqueness.

Final Words

Before we end this article, we’d like to leave you all with some tips that might help you out along the way. These are aimed at buyers, new and old, looking to upgrade, change or get a new rack altogether.

Know your vehicle better. Whether you are driving a sedan, hatchback or a pickup truck, it is good to be knowledgeable on the ins and outs of your vehicle. Especially when it comes to getting yourself a new bike rack. You need to take into consideration things like capacity and ability, cargo space and trunk door clearance space, so on and so forth.

Try the racks out. Before straight up buying a rack, especially if you are new to this, test some racks out with your bike. Test the fit, the weight and even the height of the rack if possible. Bikes come in many different shapes and sizes, make sure your rack can accommodate it.

Extra security goes a long way, particularly for trunk and hitch mounted racks. While it is easy for you to load your bike on to them, thieves, or even a hard jerk, can unload your bike just as easily. While many hitch racks have great security options, nothing can put a price on the peace of mind you will get after investing on extra straps and locks.

That said, we hope that the knowledge we have provided throughout discussion is able to answer all the burning questions you might have had before.

To summarize, a quick rundown of the two types of hitch racks:

Happy Riding!


Resources:

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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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