Finding ways to transport your mountain bike can sometimes be a challenge. But having the right bike rack opens up a world of possibilities. You can head out on new adventures without worrying about how to get your bike there. Or securely stow your ride while driving to local trails. The freedom that comes from properly carrying your off-road steed makes every excursion even more enjoyable.
Several key factors go into picking the ideal MTB rack. You’ll want one that keeps your bike stable and protected during travels. It also needs to fit properly on your vehicle. And be easy for you to load and unload without hassles. The best options deliver on all these fronts with a minimum of fuss. Allowing you to focus on the two-wheeled excitement waiting down the trail.
I’ve tested my fair share of bike carriers over many miles. Certain models stand out for their unmatched performance hauling mountain bikes. Here’s an in-depth look at the top racks that will transport your off-road ride in comfort and security.
Hitch Racks – The Most Popular and Convenient Option
Without a doubt, hitch-mounted bike racks dominate the market. Attaching to a trailer hitch on your vehicle’s rear gives them a super sturdy and secure mounting point. This style also carries your bikes clear of the rear of your car or truck. Allowing complete access to liftgates and tailgates without the need to unload.
The best hitch racks come in two main categories – hanging and platform. Each has their advantages for ease of use and bike security.
Hanging hitch racks cradle your mountain bike suspended by its top tube/frame. Models like the Kuat Sherpa 2.0, Thule Helium Aero, and Yakima HangOver feature coated aluminum cradles. These protect your bike’s delicate finish from scratches while providing serious hold strength. Wide, padded trays on premium carriers further increase frame protection for even greater peace of mind against damage.
Hanging hitch carriers hold bikes very snugly thanks to adjustable rubber straps. Most also allow some movement front-to-back to handle frames of multiple sizes. Although very secure, the bike does wobble some during transport.
In contrast, platform hitch racks support your mountain bike by its wheels instead of the frame. Examples such as the Kuat NV 2.0, Thule T2 Pro, and Saris SuperClamp EX provide molded wheel trays. These keep your tires stationary to eliminate bike movement altogether.
Platform racks allow much easier bike loading since you don’t need to lift up and over into hanging cradles. You simply roll the bike into position. The low loading height also makes compatibility better for kids’ bikes with small frames.
However, platform racks come with a notable downside. Since bikes sit closer together, handlebar overlap can be an issue on some models. This often limits carrying capacity to two or three mountain bikes.
Hitch racks accommodate anywhere from two to five bikes depending on configuration. Swing-down/tilt lever designs allow easy access to the rear without needing to remove bikes. These are much more convenient for vehicles with hatchbacks versus models that only tilt back.
All quality hitch carriers fold down when not hauling bikes. Allowing complete access to the receiver hitch itself for other accessories like cargo carriers. Premium models even feature integrated cable locks to securely lock the rack to your vehicle.
Keep in mind proper matching of your vehicle’s hitch class rating and the rack’s tongue weight capacity. Making sure you don’t go over the recommended limits for safe use. This information should be clearly listed in specifications from the manufacturer.
Roof Racks – The Best Option for Truck Beds or Tall Vehicles
If you’re looking to carry mountain bikes on a truck, SUV, or van getting bikes up and over tall sidewalls can be tricky. This is where roof racks have a distinct advantage. Once installed, simply placing bikes on the roof is much easier than trying to lift them over towering bed sides or rear cargo areas.
Roof bike racks also provide secure bike transport with complete clearance for those with campers, RVs, or other accessories installed in their vehicle’s hitch receiver. Models like the Yakima FrontLoader, INNO Wedge 659, and Thule ProRide boast premium construction and easy mounting. Dual-side frame cradles fully support your bike from above rather than hanging loosely from a single contact point. This prevents frame damage while keeping your tires rotating safely in the breeze.
All quality roof racks feature lockable mounting clamps paired with coated metal trays. Ensuring a tight grip free from paint scuffs. They also make proper bolt-tightening tool-free in most cases for fast installation.
Lower profile designs like the RockyMounts BrassKnuckles minimize wind drag and noise compared to older, bulkier carriers. Streamlined looks also give your vehicle a sleek customized appearance.
The biggest caveat for roof racks comes in ease of use. Loading and unloading bikes requires more physical effort. You’ll be lifting bikes over your head instead of simply rolling them into a hitch rack. This also usually means needing a large enough vehicle to allow you to stand fully inside with the tailgate down for access. Otherwise, you’ll need a step stool which is less convenient.
Make sure your roof rack doesn’t exceed your vehicle’s rated dynamic carrying capacity. Overloading can affect vehicle handling and lead to racks bent or broken free under load. Again, refer back to your owner’s manual or contact the manufacturer if unsure.
Spare Tire Racks – Great for Jeeps and Small SUVs
The always-available spare tire makes an ideal place to mount bike racks on smaller SUVs. Especially handy for Jeep owners already outfitting their vehicles for adventure. Versatile options like the StageRoad SR-911 secure to the spare with heavy-duty steel straps that won’t slide loose. Meanwhile, your bikes ride safely on padded aluminum trays that adjust to fit most wheel sizes.
Spare racks carry up to two mountain bikes clears of the rear. Allowing you to swing open tailgates or use hitch carriers simultaneously for MAXIMUM cargo flexibility. While not quite as robust as heavier hitch racks, the slim profiles of spare tire mounts create minimal wind resistance/turbulence when transporting bikes. Limiting bike movement for greater security and protection during long hauls.
Just remember that access to your spare tire will be blocked when bikes are mounted in place. Be sure to remove racking before attempting to change a flat tire roadside or in an emergency situation. Testing install and fit ahead of time also ensures your particular tire size allows needed bike-to-vehicle clearance all around. Preventing accidental damage from pedals or handlebars bumping the sides of your SUV during loading/unloading.
Trunk/Hatch Racks – Best for Quick Bike Security on Smaller Cars
If your ride doesn’t allow for hitch, roof, or spare tire racks what other options exist? Enter the trunk or hatch mount bike carrier. Compact designs like the Allen Sports Deluxe fit sedan trunks and hatchbacks equally well. Meanwhile, the Thule Raceway offers greater protection and security for more frequent bike travel.
Both trunk and hatch rack models utilize foam-lined aluminum trays or vinyl-coated cradles you simply set your bike into. Rubber-coated steel or alloy mounting straps then fasten the wheels and frame firmly in place to prevent movement. Available designs hold up to three mountain bikes in relative comfort thanks to ample frame/wheel spacing and padding.
The small size lends itself perfectly to quick bike transport without much setup. Simply open the hatch or trunk, set your bike in the cradle, fasten the retention straps, and take off in minutes. Far simpler than hauling a rack out of the garage every trip. Then needing to bolt it on and adjust sizing for proper bike fit after each use.
Do keep capacity constraints of these racks in mind, however. Smaller vehicle rears often lack needed real estate to carry more than two adult mountain bikes safely. Compact cars can sometimes struggle to manage even a single large frame without bumping trunk lids. So measure carefully before purchase and test compatibility first whenever possible.
You’ll also sacrifice rear visibility given bike placement dead center on most hatchback designs. Be extra vigilant with frequent mirror checks. And give yourself plenty of room for longer backing maneuvers just to be safe.
Truck Bed Bike Mounts – Ideal for Short Jaunts Around Town
The final option for toting your treasured trail bike is a simple truck bed bike carrier. Affordable mounts like the IKURAM Quad or LT Sport clamp securely over the sides of pickup bed walls. Letting you stand bikes upright behind the cab for compact storage that takes zero bed space when not holding bikes.
Rubberized clamp pads and adjustable aluminum uprights allow these vertical mounts to grip everything from slender road bike tubing to husky downhill frames without the worry of slipping or scratches. The customizable nature also provides solid compatibility across multiple makes and models of trucks both new and old. Simply slide clamps in or out to align with bed rail height and width. Then dial in cushioned braces snug to your bike’s frame diameter.
Truck mounts work great for quick trips across town before and after hitting the trailhead just minutes away. The open sides of a pickup bed easily facilitate loading and securing bikes for fast transport. Just avoid highway speeds or extended drives. The upright design sees bikes catching plenty of wind, which can lead to front wheel wobble or handling issues driving down the road. Plus, opportunities for trails debris to fly up and stick into spokes goes way up.
Security is also minimal for truck bed carriers given their exposure to prying eyes instead of being shielded inside a vehicle. So remove bikes once your adventures wrap up rather than leaving unattended for long stretches. Or explore adding bike covers for low-key protection that deters potential thieves scoping for quick grabs.
While convenient for impromptu rides, truck mounts work best as supplemental options alongside a primary rack like a hitch or roof carrier. The latter keeps bikes safer at speed while also protecting from the elements when parked. Use the bed setup for zipping the crew over to that sweet new single track right in your backyard. Then break out the big guns rocketing bikes deep into the backcountry worry-free.
Find Your Perfect Rack and Transport Your Bike Anywhere
Choosing how to transport your mountain bike comes down to a mix of vehicle compatibility, budget, and intended use scenarios. Narrow options by looking at which racks physically work with your car, truck, or SUV first. This eliminates impractical selections that simply won’t interface properly right off the bat.
From there, consider costs not just for purchase but long term ownership as well. Premium racks often carry higher initial pricing but make up for it thanks to greater durability and higher resale value after years of service. Cheaper equipment frequently doesn’t last or lacks Versatility to expand hauling capacity as your quiver of bikes inevitably grows.
Finally, match prospective racks’ strengths to how and where you drive with bikes most often. Frequent long hauls call for rock solid stability and security that keeps bikes completely protected across states. Quick jaunts mean valuing lightweight portability and fast setup/breakdown. Finding the model meeting your specific transportation profile prevents wasting money on excess capabilities that sound nice in theory but go unused in reality.
Drop that dream bike rack right into your world and enjoy unrestrained adventure anywhere trails call. No more wondering how to wrangle multiple bikes for friends and family when group rides come together last minute. Just load up and take off with total confidence in your gear and the freedom to roam unfettered by logistics and limitations holding you back. Here’s to many more happy miles headed to fresh horizons!