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Best bicycle car racks

Cyclist magazine
19 May 2021

With something to suit all pockets, here are the best options out there for safely transporting your bike by car

Did someone say road trip? With many of us likely to be staying closer to home for the time being, this isn’t all bad. For one thing, a more grounded cycling holiday at least has the benefit of avoiding the hassle of transporting your bike by plane. 

However, having once squished three riders, three bikes, plus kit into an elderly Nissan Micra for a journey between London and Snowdonia, I can confirm the first ingredient for any successful expedition of this kind is a decent bike rack. 

Helping you avoid the discomfort of spending multiple hours being jabbed by a badly positioned handlebar, we’ve rounded up a selection of our favourite bike racks. 

Encompassing different styles – from roof racks to towbar carriers – and weighing up their pros and cons, we’d be happy to trust any to transport our beloved bicycles.

Which style of bike rack to choose?  

Below we’ve listed a few of our favourite examples of each common style of rack, along with a list of pros and cons. Of course, the options available to you might be limited by your style of car. Rear-mounted strap-on racks tend to be fairly universal, as do roof bars, which are generally easy to fit yourself.

By comparison, tow ball racks are extremely secure. However, if your car doesn’t already have a tow ball, installation can be pricey (Halfords offers a fitting service from £350 – see halfordsautocentres.com).

Also, when buying a car rack, don’t forget to factor in other potential costs too – if your rack obscures your number plate, you’ll need to add a lighting board to stay on the right side of the law, while roof and tow ball mounted carriers may require extra hardware to be fitted to your car.

Here are the best bike racks for cars

Best towbar-mounted strap-on racks  
Best towbar-mounted platform racks  
Best rear-mounted bike racks  
Best roof-mounted racks  

 

Towbar mounted conventional racks

Pros: Easy to fit and remove • Secure • Low position of the bikes gives a good view out the rear window

Cons: Won't let you tow a trailer at the same time• Moderate weight limits not ideal for multiple bikes or heavier e-bikes

Thule Xpress Pro 970 towbar-mounted bike rack

Buy now from Tredz for £75.99

Thule is a behemoth in the world of car bike racks and this entry-level solution is proof of why it is such a popular brand.

The Xpress Pro 970 is a simple towbar mounted solution that has capacity for two bikes of most frame sizes with a maximum load capacity of 30kg. That's plenty if you’re looking to transport your road or mountain bikes.

The rubber-coated holders not only keep the bike in place but protect your frame from dinks and dents while a pair of reflecting caps will help keep the rack seen by traffic from the rear.

The rack also folds down flat meaning you can also neatly store it in the boot of the car or that cupboard under the stairs when not in use.

Buy now from Tredz for £75.99

 

Towbar-mounted platform racks

Pros: Bikes are supported by their wheels – very safe and secure and doesn't matter about shape or style of frame • Often has integrated number plate and lighting board – which is handy • The towbar supports the weight of bikes and carrier rather than your car's bodywork • Many models tilt or slide to allow access to the boot

Cons: Generally speaking these are the most expensive choice • Towbars can be expensive to fit and aren't a DIY option

Halfords four bike towbar-mounted rack

Buy now from Halfords for £199

Catering to both the car and bike markets, it comes as no surprise that Halfords offers plenty of bike carrying solutions for your car. We like the four bike towbar mounted rack because it’s sturdy, stable and carries, well, four bikes.

The rack will fit any standard 50mm towbar ball as well as flange and swan neck tow bars, too. Once on, you’ll be able to slot four bikes onto the rack with the adjustable wheel holders to keep the bikes secure while padded support will offer protection against your frames.

The total load capacity is 60kg, so more than enough to carry four road or mountain bikes, however, do note that you will need an additional number plate fitted to the rear of this carrier, something that Halfords can supply for you in-store.

Buy now from Halfords for £199

Thule Euroway 923 3 bike towbar car rack

Buy now from Decathlon for £449.99

Swedish transportation wizard Thule is always one to consider when it comes to hauling your bike around on the back (or top) of your car. The Euroway is quite expensive but is equally light, practical and stable.

Able to take three bikes at one time, the rack fits neatly on the towbar ball and can accept up to a sizable 51kg of weight. Thule also provides a lock for the bikes to ramp up security while the micro-clip buckle ensures it’s easy to remove your bikes when needed.

Thule has also built in a considerable amount of tilt to the rack so you can access the boot without removing the rack while its positioning on the car also negates the need for an additional registration number. With built-in lighting at the rear, just ensure you buy the version with the correct number of pins to work with your vehicle's tow bar power plug. 

Buy now from Decathlon for £449.99

Rear-mounted strap-on racks

Pros: Generally the cheapest and simplest option • No special fittings required on car • Can be removed easily when not needed • Easy to mount and remove bikes

Cons: May not be compatible with some boot/tailgate designs • Can be hard to fit small bikes or those without a horizontal top tube • Pads and retention clips can damage your car's paintwork • Usually prevents access to boot • Separate number plate and lighting board may be required

Btwin 300 rear car bike rack

Buy now from Decthlon for £69.99

Yes, this is a very cheap option but it’s not because of lack of quality of security. I should know because I’ve used this very rack myself to ferry bikes to both Paris-Roubaix and the French Alps.

While quite basic, offering no integrated locks, it does the job keeping up to three bikes securely fastened to the rear of your car thanks to adjustable rubber slots that keep your stead still while also offering ample protection. It can also take a 45kg load meaning it’ll take pretty much any road or mountain bike, too.

Unfortunately, due to the rack relying on straps attached to the car's boot, you cannot open the tailgate while the rack is in use, something that is certainly worth noting.

Buy now from Decthlon for £69.99

Saris Bones 3 bike rack

Buy now from Halfords for £225

If you’re going to strap your bike to the back of your car and go barreling off down the motorway, it’s reassuring if the fixtures on your rack don’t feel like crud. Luckily there’s no mistaking the Saris Bones rack for anything other than a quality unit.

Coming in two-bike or three-bike versions, this is one of the nicest trunk racks you can buy. With the angle of the rack’s distinctive arms easily adjustable, this helps ensure both rack and bicycles sit agreeably. Held solidly in place around the central joist about which everything rotates, this trait also lets the rack sit relatively flat for storage.

Elsewhere the rest of the fixings, from the ratcheting straps that lock the bikes into place, to the metal-buckled compression straps that fit the rack to the car, all are equally tough and easy to adjust. Given the level of quality, the whole package isn’t too expensive either.

Buy now from Halfords for £225

 

Roof-mounted racks

Pros: Keeps the bike well clear of rear tailgate for easy access • Won't obscure numberplates or your car's lights • Won't prevent access to the boot • Reasonably priced

Cons: May be difficult to lift the bike high enough to mount it • Leaves the bike very exposed to the elements • Least aerodynamics option – increases car fuel consumption • Requires roof bars fitted to the car • Beware of height-restricted car park entrances!

Seasucker Mini Bomber

Buy now from Tredz for £389

The Mini Bomber is expensive for sure, but you do save on the cost of fitting roof bars because it attaches using four 6-inch suction cups. This also means it can be quickly and easily swapped between vehicles, and can even be used on some cars that won’t take roof bars.

If the idea of attaching your bike using suction cups sounds a bit scary, you’ll appreciate the reassuring Power Band indicator that lets you know when they are securely attached.

The Mini Bomber accommodates two bikes, secured by the fork after removing the front wheel (standard quick-release is the default option but an adapter is available for thru-axles), while a separate mount keeps the rear wheel securely in place.

Buy now from Tredz for £389

Thule Proride 598 Bike Rack

Buy now from Halfords for £199.99

We’re big fans of this superb roof carrier from Swedish bike transport specialist Thule, which has historically proved a favourite for road cyclists. The wheels slot neatly into a single tray and are secured by adjustable straps, each of which has an integrated keyed lock to deter opportunist thieves.

A vertical arm clamps to your frame to keep the bike upright – it uses a ratcheting mechanism for easy single-handed operation, and a torque limiter ensures there’s no danger of over-tightening and damaging delicate carbon frames. Of course, while ease of mounting and aesthetics are the big appeal with the Thule 598, the trade-off is fuel efficiency compared to rear-mounted options.

When not in use, the arm folds away neatly for compact storage. A simple but highly effective design.


Buy now from Halfords for £119.99

How do I choose?

With so many different options on the market, picking the bike carrier to best suit your needs can be tricky. We spoke to the specialists at The Roofbox Company (roofbox.co.uk), to ask for some expert pointers...

‘Deciding what type of bike carrier to buy depends on how many bikes you want to carry, what they weigh, how tall you are, and what type of car you have.

‘Lifting any weight of bike onto a car roof could be out of the question if you’re of average height and driving a big SUV or 4x4.

‘There are two places to carry bikes: (1) on the car roof, (2) behind the car, either on a tow ball, or strapped to the boot or tailgate.

‘Strap-on racks used to be thought of as “universal fitting”, but nowadays have very specific vehicle application lists due to the design of modern car tailgates; in any event the risk of car damage is relatively high, most offer little in the way of theft deterrence, and they usually require a lighting board.

‘Tow-bar mounted carriers are becoming increasingly popular, because they are so quick and easy to fit and load.

‘There are “platform racks”, where the bikes stand on their wheels, and there are generally cheaper “hang-on” racks, where the bikes hang by their top tube.

‘Tow bar carriers can take two to four bikes, depending on the model, but check the maximum weight your tow ball can carry.’

Best towbar-mounted strap-on racks  
Best towbar-mounted platform racks  
Best rear-mounted bike racks  
Best roof-mounted racks  

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