Planning to take your bike on holiday or driving out to the start of a cycling event? A bike rack for your car will allow you to transport your two-wheeled pride and joy safely and securely, without needing to squeeze it in the boot of your car or risk damaging the interior.
Car bike racks can typically be mounted in one of three positions: on the roof, on the rear hatch or via a tow ball. Each has its pros and cons, and we’ll run through the advantages and disadvantages to find the best bike rack for your car.
However, if you’re looking for our pick of the bunch, then the Thule ProRide Roof Car Bike Rack gets our seal of approval: easy to use, secure and good value.
How to buy the best bike rack for you
When buying a car bike rack, the first thing you need to decide is where you want to mount it on your car. As we’ve already mentioned, you’ve got three options and choosing the right one depends on your budget, how many bikes you want to transport, how much those bikes weigh, how tall you are and the type of car you have.
Roof and hatch-mounted racks are more common than tow-mounted racks, which require a tow ball. You’ll need to make a trip to the garage for that, unless your car already has one in place - significantly increasing the damage to your wallet before you’ve even considered buying a rack.
Hatch-mounted bike racks
Hatch-mounted racks, which fit to the boot of your car via a series of straps and ratchets, are normally the cheapest option and generally don’t require any additional hardware, although you may need a separate number plate and lighting board if the rack sits particular low on your car.
The positives? It’s easy to load heavy bikes as they don’t have to be lifted very high and, because the rack is largely hidden behind the car and out of the wind, a hatch-mounted rack has less effect on fuel consumption than a roof rack.
On the flip side, you’ll need to make sure the rack is compatible with your boot design and most hatch-mounted racks are limited to a maximum of two or three bikes. You’ll also need to be careful not to damage your car’s paintwork, while access to the boot will often be restricted.
All things considered, the Saris Bones Ex 3-Bike is our pick of the bunch for hatch-mounted racks.
Roof-mounted bike racks
Roof racks are great for keeping your bike(s) clear of expensive paintwork and provide unrestricted access to the boot. You can normally carry four bikes at a time (depending on the rack design) and roof bars can also be used to carry a bunch of other stuff, including, of course, roof boxes.
However, those roof bars will cost around £100 before you get started and it can be tricky to load bikes onto a roof rack, particularly on taller vehicles. That’s compounded if you’re short and/or your bikes are particularly heavy. Roof racks are also the least aerodynamic option (reducing your motor’s fuel economy) - oh, and watch out for height-restricted car park entrances!
If a roof rack sounds like the best option for you, we recommend the Thule ProRide, but the SeaSucker Talon comes a close second as an innovative (if pricey) alternative that doesn’t require roof bars.
Tow-mounted bike racks
Finally, let’s take a look at tow-mounted racks. Here you have the option of a platform rack, which supports your bike by its wheels, and a hang-on rack, which carries the bike by its toptube. Either way, tow-mounted racks are very easy to load, have the lowest impact on fuel consumption and shouldn’t damage your car’s paint or bodywork because all the weight is supported by the tow ball.
Cost is the main drawback, particularly when you factor in tow ball installation. You’ll also need a number plate and lighting board, and some models restrict access to the boot. The Thule VeloCompact 2 is our favourite tow-mounted bike rack.
The best car bike racks to buy
Thule is one of the leading names in the world of bike racks and the ProRide is a very good roof-mounted option that won’t break the bank.
It’s easy to use, with a frame holder and wheel trays in which to position your bike, although like all roof-mounted systems, life becomes difficult if you’re trying to lift a heavy bike onto a tall car. That aside, the ProRide does a good job at holding your machine securely in place via the central clamp and wheel ratchets. The ProRide also includes a lock, providing peace of mind at motorway services, but the carbon frame protector is an added extra.
The rack has a load capacity of 20kg and is compatible with most bikes, with Thule even offering a fat bike adapter for super-chunky tyres. The ProRide can only carry a single bike but that helps keep the price down, plus you can mount more than one on your roof bars if required.
Of course, those roof bars are required for installation and the ProRide won’t do wonders for your fuel consumption (something to consider if you’re planning long road trips), but as a safe, secure and affordable bike rack, this is our pick of the bunch.
The Saris Bones is an absolute classic in bike rack circles (is that a thing?), having been launched way back in 1996. The original has been updated several times since and the Bones Ex 3-Bike is the latest design from the American firm.
The Bones Ex takes the standard design and increases vehicle compatibility by 20 per cent. With an updated design that avoids interference with the plastic spoilers found on some cars, the Bones Ex can be mounted to 89 per cent of leading vehicles, according to Saris.
Otherwise, the rack can accommodate three bikes and includes many of the features that have made the Bones so popular, including a rock solid frame, rubber feet and a tried-and-tested ratchet design.
The increased compatibility of the Bones Ex 3-Bike has pushed the price up, but the standard Bones is still available (in 2-Bike and 3-Bike variations).
Tow-mounted bike racks have a number of advantages over roof or hatch-mounted alternatives, including ease of use (no faffing about with ratchet straps or heaving your bike onto the roof) and improved fuel economy. However, there’s no getting away from the fact that they are expensive, especially if you need to get a tow ball installed.
Thule’s VeloCompact 2 is a mid-range option that does everything you need it to. This particular model has capacity for two bikes and mounting your machines is an absolute breeze, thanks to the extendable wheel trays, micro-adjustable ratchets and detachable clamping arms. The more expensive VeloCompact 3 has room for, you guessed it, three bikes.
The tilting design means you can still access the boot - ideal for loading the car up ahead of a two-wheeled adventure - and it’s fully lockable (you can lock the bikes to the rack and the rack to the tow bar), although like any rack, we wouldn’t recommend leaving it unattended for extended periods.
Sure, it’s not cheap, but if you’re planning on making regular road trips with your bikes in tow, the Thule VeloCompact 2 is a solid long-term investment.
Not all cars can take a boot-mounted rack or roof bars, while some petrol heads wouldn’t be seen dead in a car with a tow ball. That’s where the SeaSucker Talon comes in.
SeaSucker’s innovative design uses rubber vacuum suction cups to fix your bike to the roof or rear window. If the idea of driving down the motorway without a single nut, bolt or ratchet strap in sight makes your palms sweaty, then fear not - each cup has a pump to remove air and an indicator to show when a rock-solid seal has been achieved. SeaSucker says each cup is pull-rated to 210lbs, so they’re not going anywhere.
The Talon is SeaSucker’s single-bike design and is super-quick to install. It also takes up very little space when not in use. SeaSucker also provides the Mini Bomber (for two bikes) and Bomber (for three bikes).
The B’Twin 320 comes from the in-house brand of sports mega-retailer Decathlon and is an affordable rear rack capable of carrying up to three bikes.
The raised design ensures the rack leaves your number plate and rear lights visible. It also folds away when not in use, ready to store in the garage or shed.
While the rack has a little rubber protection to help prevent damage to your car, extra padding wouldn’t go amiss (pipe lagging will do the job for your bike) and you’ll also need to buy B’Twin’s frame adapter for some women’s or children’s bikes.