The best car racks for carrying mountain bikes will depend largely on what fits your car, but here are some features to look out for and some recommendations of the best products we've tested
It can be nice to just get out and ride from your front door, but there’s no doubt that at some point you’re going to want to take your bike further afield. There are a few options for transporting your bike while maximising space inside and keeping your interior looking showroom fresh. Below are a few of the best bike racks for cars and vans that we’ve tested, including both roof and tow bar mounted options.
Light and easy to install/remove
Axles: 15 and 20mm bolt-thru, Boost and non-Boost | Max bike weight: 17kg | Max wheelbase: 1,160mm (Thule’s figure – we’ve used it up to 1,275mm with no issues) | Rating: 8/10
Pros: Sophisticated design
Cons: Expensive. Doesn’t work well with stepped (butted) axles. Not rated for e-bikes.
If speed and convenience are your number one priorities, then the Thule Thruride’s sophisticated refinement and tool-free clamp will be irresistible. Thule uses a wedged clamp that can be adjusted to suit different diameter axles, and closes with a large plastic lever that locks into place. The rear wheel sits in a tray that can be slid along the alloy carrier depending on the wheelbase of your bike. It’s long enough to accommodate most modern MTBs, although it won’t work if you have seriously progressive geometry (think Pole or Geometron). Uses T-track mounting system to attach to roof bars. If you can live with a more awkward mount, but want to carry your bike in a similar way, there’s also Pendle’s Ergorack, below.
Excellent fork-mount option
Axle size: 15mm Boost, 15mm non-boost, 20mm thru-axle, 12mm thru-axle and QR | Max bike weight: 23kg | Max wheelbase: 1,350mm | Rating: 9/10
Pros: Clever design. Sturdy construction. Very stable, even with an e-bike fitted. Accepts even long wheelbase bikes.
Cons: Wheel tray bends easily if you don’t route the strap under the tray. Takes slightly longer to fit the bike than a Thule rack.
If you’re not a fan of roof racks that clamp the down tube, there is another option. Fork-mount racks, like this British-made Pendle, fasten the dropouts securely using the fork’s own 15mm (or 20mm) thru-axle, coupled with a simple strap at the rear wheel. Simple and safe, they’re very stable and there’s less risk of damage to the frame than some roof racks. At £200, the Ergorack is a similar price to Thule’s offerings, but it feels much burlier and better built. It’s simple, stable and well thought out. Our only minor criticism is that the wheel tray bends slightly when you add tension to the wheel strap. But this doesn’t really affect the performance in any way. And the fact that it doesn’t look like a bike rack, and it’s super easy to remove, means you’re not advertising the fact that you might have expensive bikes in the house when you’re parked outside.
Suckers stick like glue
Axles: 9mm QR (thru-axle adapters available) | Max bike weight: 20kg | Rating: 8/10
Pros: No roof bars or towball? No problem!
Cons: Versatile and easy to use
Due to the unique set-up of this bike carrier, it was very hard not to worry about our precious cargo when using the SeaSucker Talon QR-1 roof rack. Yet the extremely effective sucker pads stuck like glue, so even though when trundling down the motorway it was always in the back of our mind that the bikes weren’t being held in place by traditional, sturdy nuts and bolts, we needn’t have worried. As such the Sea Sucker is a fantastic option for cars that don’t readily accept standard roof bars – coupes and sports cars for example. The fact that it’s so easy to remove the Sea Sucker after use is an extra bonus.
A worthwhile investment for frequent users
Weight: 18.4kg | Bike capacity: 3 (4 with separate adapter) | Rating: 8/10
Pros: The best towball rack out there
Cons: Not exactly cheap. Takes up a lot of room both on and off the car.
The VeloCompact differs from its predecessors by being smaller and lighter. The wheel trays and lights slide inboard by 30cm when not in use, meaning it’s more convenient to carry and store. Yes, there are less expensive tow bar racks out there, but you’ll only buy a rack like this once, so it’s worth the investment.
Perfect for vans or people carriers
Options: Two or four bike versions | Rating: 10/10
Pros: Easy to use, saves bike from wear while transporting, and house/vehicle from scuffs, can take up to 3in tyres, holds bike securely
Cons: No proper handles, awkward to fit central bikes
Lack of space is not normally a problem if you have a van or a people carrier. Often it’s too much space that’s the issue, with bikes falling over and getting damaged during transit, even with an elaborate web of straps and copious blankets. Step forward the BikeStow Original, a simple but ingenious folding A-frame stand that holds multiple bikes securely upright without getting tangled up with each other. Choose from two or four-bike versions depending on your vehicle and the simple construction means you’ll be up and running in seconds. We’ve been running a couple of different BikeStows for a while now and they’ve been a revelation. It’s an investment, even for the two bike rack, but if you want to keep your toys and interior looking like new and eliminate faff, it’s a small price to pay.
One of the easiest and quickest roof racks
Max. bike weight: 20kg | Max tyre size: 3.0in | Rating: 9/10
Pros: Less faff means it’s a joy to use
Cons: More fuel-draggy than other racks
Thule’s ProRide is one of the easiest and quickest roof racks to get your bike into, and while this second generation version might look almost exactly like the old 591 it replaces, it has a couple of worthwhile improvements.
What to look out for with best bike racks:
There are two main mounting systems for the best mountain bike racks – roof bar and tow bar – each of which comes with its own pros and cons.
Roof mount: These are probably our favourite option as they don’t obstruct any doors and we reckon they’re a bit more secure. However, you should be careful under low gantries and underground car parks. They require more effort and strength to mount the bike in place and they will have a negative effect on your fuel economy.
Tow bar mount: These racks are strong and secure but you will need a tow bar to be able to fit one and they tend to be more expensive. Fitting a tow bar is also a pricy job if your car doesn’t have one as standard.
What about strap mount? Strap bike racks are probably the most universal design so if you’re struggling to find a rack that will fit they can be worth a look. These racks tend to be the cheapest, however we’ve never been convinced by their security from bumps on the road or potential thieves.
Ease of mounting
Ideally you want the process of fitting a bike to your rack to be as easy as possible. It may seem intuitive in a dry car park but will it be as easy with a slippery, muddy bike in the middle of winter after a long, hard ride? Tow bar mounts are a clear winner here, as you don’t need to lift them as high and you can keep the wheels on.
This can mean two things, how securely your bike is attached to the car and how secure it is from thieves.
No bike racks will have zero play in them but you want the bike to move around as little as possible. It can be very disconcerting driving around country roads with it swaying around on top of you. Fork mounts are the most secure in our view as they literally bolt the bike to the rack. Yes, you have to remove the front wheel, so it takes a bit longer, but your bike will be super safe as a result (and you can wedge your front wheel between a pedal and the handlebars so you don’t need to carry it inside the car).
Similarly no bike rack can ever be thief-proof, but a securing bar is definitely going to be more of a deterrent than some fabric straps. It’s worth saying that we recommend you keep your bike in your sight at all times if its on the bike rack.