Loading and unloading bikes into the bed of a truck or the cargo area of an SUV isn’t always ideal. Though mountain bikes or road cycles often fit, they can get scratched and need to be secured. There’s not always an easy way to do that.
Hauling several bikes becomes a real hassle. The better solution is to invest in a bike rack. This simplifies transport and frees valuable interior space for gear and passengers. Before buying, it’s important to understand the variety of bike racks available and what is or isn’t compatible with your vehicle.
TYPES OF BIKE RACKS
Trucks, vans and SUVs have four options for hauling bikes: Roof- and hitch-mounted racks, roof baskets and truck bed racks.
Some crossovers are also compatible with hatch- or trunk-mounted racks, but compatibility varies. These are often less stable during transit. The bikes are more likely to knock against each other. Some racks affix to rear-mounted spare tires, though these are much rarer.
CONSIDERATIONS BEFORE BUYING
Which rack to buy mostly comes down to vehicle compatibility. For instance, if your vehicle doesn’t have a standard tow hitch, a hitch-mounted rack won’t be an option. Vehicles without crossbars or side rails aren’t compatible with most roof racks unless you install rails.
Keep in mind the height of your vehicle, too. Taller SUVs, trucks or vans make the use of roof-mounted racks or baskets more difficult. Even with the use of a ladder, it’s not easy to lean over tall vehicles with wide roofs.
Also consider a rack’s capacity. Some manufacturers offer variations of the same rack depending on bike capacity. Accessories like rack adapters or add-on blocks also increase load capacity. Many rack systems also require the removal of a bike’s front wheel before mounting.
Before buying, reference your vehicle’s owner’s manual for hitch sizes, side rail and crossbar compatibility or truck bed dimensions. Roof rack buyers should familiarize themselves with how much height the rack adds. You don’t want to end up smashing your bike into your garage.
BIKE RACK BUYER’S GUIDE
KUAT SHERPA 2.0 ($498)
Why we picked it: The Kuat Sherpa 2.0 has a low-profile design and lightweight construction and comes in three colors. Its $498 price tag undercuts competitive racks from brands like Thule and Yakima.
The rack has a foot-activated lever for hands-free access and comes with integrated cable locks for security. It carries up to two 40-pound bikes and features 14 inches of space between each bike to avoid damage.
The Sherpa 2.0 holds bikes with wheelbases up to 47 inches and accommodates tires up to 3 inches. It’s available in two hitch sizes of 2 inches or 1.25 inches.
YAKIMA FORKLIFT ($189)
Why we picked it: Yakima’s Forklift is an affordable way to attach bikes to a vehicle’s roof. It offers tool-free installation, weighs only 7 pounds and carries one bike weighing up to 35 pounds. Its adjustable slide wheel works with a variety of bike lengths and sizes.
The rack installs on a vehicle’s existing crossbars and works with bars spaced from 16 inches to 42 inches wide. It also requires the removal of the bike’s front wheel before mounting.
Since the rack affixes to the vehicle’s roof, owners of taller SUVs or vans may want to opt for an easier system. It’s the least expensive rack on our list at $189 and comes with Yakima’s limited lifetime warranty.
KUAT VAGABOND X ($489)
Why we picked it: Trucks.com tested the Kuat Vagabond X on a recent adventure drive using a 2019 Honda Passport and a 2019 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk. It’s unique among rooftop baskets for its handy dual bike fork mounts. The basket carries two bikes but also leaves room for securing other outdoor gear.
Assembling the rack takes less than an hour. It uses four mounts that grip a vehicle’s crossbars. The mounts work with most factory and aftermarket crossbars. Two of the mounts feature locks for security.
The weight of the basket is a drawback. At 43 pounds, it’s difficult to hoist above the shoulders to mount on a vehicle roof. We recommend a second person help lift and secure it.
Mounting the basket is tricky, too. This requires leaving the mounts loose and unsecured on the crossbars before lowering the basket on top. The mount’s lower and upper pieces then fit around the bars to secure it. Despite its flaws, the Vagabond X is an effective product that stands out in the space.
Truck bed rack
THULE BED RIDER ($249)
Why we picked it: Thule’s Bed Rider requires no bolting or drilling in the bed of a truck for use. The telescoping bar attaches to either side of the bed, and its rubber feet extend to the floor of the bed for stability.
The standard Bed Rider comes standard with attachments for two bikes. Thule’s separately sold Locking Bed Rider Add-On Block increases capacity to four bikes. The rack carries each bike without the front tire attached.
Locking mechanisms secure the bikes to the rack, and the rack locks into the bed of the truck. The locks aren’t universal; each uses its own key. The rack works with full-size and smaller truck beds, as well as most aftermarket truck bed liners.
This article updates a previous story to include additional gear and explain Trucks.com’s recommendations.
Editor’s note: Trucks.com compiles information about vehicles, gear and gadgets, often through testing and interviews with experts. Our recommendations are made independent of the advertising being sold by our business development team. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.