This guide covers everything you need to know about transporting bikes on hitch bike racks. Knowing what kind of hitch bike rack is best can seem like an overwhelming task. There are a lot of different options out there. This guide does not cover bike racks that mount to your bike for the purposes of additional on-bike storage. I will release a guide on trunk bags, panniers and more eventually, but for now we are talking about bike racks that mount to your vehicle.
This guide goes over all the different bike rack options you have. It will also cover what you need to look for in a bike rack. If you are hauling your bikes on an RV, or taking kids bikes with you, those will be important factors in your bike rack decision. Let’s dive into why.
Tray Style Bike Hitch Racks (Platform Racks)
The best hitch bike rack to transport your bike safely, without damage, is a tray style rack, or platform bike rack. What makes tray style bike hitch racks so great is their ability to space the bikes apart to prevent scratching. Nothing is worse than arriving to your location only to find your bike is scratched from the pedal of the bike next to yours.
Taking your pedals on and off to safely haul your bike is not very convenient. Its something you will never have to do with most tray style bike hitch racks. With hanging racks, which I’ll cover in a moment, the spacing requires removal of the pedals. This makes them incredibly convenient.
Tray style bike racks also carry kids bikes better than the competition. Many racks have arms that extend and retract to the appropriate length needed to match your bike’s wheel size. Small wheels are no problem because you simply retract the arm lower. Those designs that don’t allow the arm to retract that far will usually include an adapter to make them fit.
Hanging Bike Hitch Racks
The second most common type of hitch bike rack is the hanging rack. These racks have two arms that extend out, then you hang your bike by placing the top tube of your bike on top of the arms. These racks work well for bikes with extremely large triangles. Kids bikes, full suspension mountain bikes, and lowstep (step-through) bikes are a problem.
There are adapters for hanging bikes called bike beams. With a bike beam you install below your handlebars and saddle. Then you hang your bike from the beam instead of the top tube. I’ve never been a fan of parts rubbing on my stem. In fact, using a bike beam on my carbon fiber enduro mountain bike was the entire reason I made the switch to a platform rack.
Knowing what kind of hitch bike rack is best will depend entirely on many factors. If price is a factor for you, most hanging bike racks will be much cheaper than tray style hitch racks. Removing your pedals will make hauling multiple bikes much easier on a hanging rack, and it is the only way to ensure no damage from miles of road vibrations.
What Brand of Bike Rack Is Best?
Stick with any of the major manufacturers offering lifetime warranties on their products. Companies like Kuat, Saris, Thule and Yakima all come to mind. There are also several online direct to consumer brands worth considering, like 1Up USA Racks.
I would avoid ‘too good to be true’ deals. Often times they are poorly made and dealing with warranty issues will be a nightmare. That doesn’t mean you can’t find a deal. Racks will go on sale from time to time. Also, many bike shops offer discounts with purchase of a new bike so packaging your rack and bike purchase at the same time will save you a few bucks.
RV Approved and E-Bike Rated Bike Racks
An awesome way to experience popular travel destinations is on a bike. It’s even better on an E-Bike because you can see and do more without breaking a sweat. You can also see and do more in a much more affordable way by traveling in an RV. This is why RV approved bike racks are so popular, along with E-Bike rated bike racks.
I use the Kuat NV 2.0 to transport all my bikes. Its an e-bike rated tray style rack. From the kids bikes to my wife’s E-Bike, they all fit comfortably. (Read: Kuat NV 2.0 Review.) This rack is NOT RV approved, which seems crazy considering it is so well built.