Best Bike Rack for Your Hitch

When I was a kid, my dad took my brother and I on a camping/ mountain bike trip.  We had our Ford Explorer packed with camping gear and our bikes were strapped to the roof rack.  Shortly after leaving home my brother got sick in the back seat and my dad, in a panic, decided to take us to a self serve car wash to hose us and the car off, a typical dad decision.  While pulling into the car wash, my dad had forgotten about the bikes on the roof and crashed into the clearance sign destroying the bikes, the rack and the sign.  In the end my brother and I  got power washed, my dad payed for the sign and soon after decided to buy a hitch bike rack.

Hitch Bike Rack
Hitch Bike Rack

Bike racks for your hitch are a convenient way to transport your bicycles without the hassle of using a roof rack, taking your bikes apart, or having the bikes take up space in or on your vehicle.  They are simple to install provided you have a hitch receiver. Compared to a roof rack, they are easy to use because they are lower to the ground than a roof rack and have adjustable components to fit different bike sizes and frame shapes.  As an avid mountain biker I’ve found that the hitch bike racks allow you to pack the car with people and gear instead of bike parts,  and many racks fit up to 4 or 5 bikes whereas a roof rack typically can only fit 2 or 3.   Hitch bike racks also do not discriminate against vehicle types whereas roof racks are specific to each vehicle.  The same hitch bike rack can fit on multiple vehicles provided the vehicles have the same size hitch receiver which is typically 1.25″ or 2″.

While there are many benefits to using a hitch bike rack, choosing one can be a far bigger task than using one.  There are many different designs to choose from that offer different features such as low weight, swing arms, tilt, wheel trays, locking, etc. Here are a  few key features of popular models:

Twin Arms vs. Wheel Trays
Twin Arms vs. Wheel Trays

Twin Arms vs. Wheel Trays: 

These two hitch rack styles are probably the most commonly used.  The twin arm style holds the bikes by the bicycle top tube and allows the wheels to hang.  Benefits to the Twin arms are easy bike mounting, convenient strap placement, and can fit multiple bikes with minimal hardware.  Some considerations with the twin arms would be bike wheel movement, the bikes may be touching in transit,  small bikes or bikes without a top tube may be difficult to mount or need a top tube adapter.  The wheel tray design allows the bike tires to sit in trays rather than hang.  This can provide stability and allow a wide variety of bike sizes and frame shapes to fit.  Some wheel tray designs have limits on bike tire width so fat tires beware.

Tilt Feature
Tilt Feature

Tilt and Swing:

Many hitch bike racks have a tilt or swing away feature to allow access to the back of your car or SUV.  Without it,  it may be difficult or impossible to get to your belongings in the back of your car due to the rack being in the way of the door.  Luckily the majority of hitch bike racks have a tilt feature and some have a swing feature which allows the entire rack to swing to the side of the door allowing access to the back door and room to sit on the bumper or tailgate.  Popular bike rack models with the tilt feature include the Thule Apex 4, Rola 2 and 4 Bike Hitch Mount, and the Swagman XP.  The Thule Vertex Swing 4 is also a popular rack with the swing away feature.

Highland Sportwing (2) Bike Rack
Highland Sportwing (2) Bike Rack

Other features and designs: While many hitch bike racks are made from steel, there are some light weight options such as the Thule 9043 Helium Aero 3 which is half the weight of most hitch racks due to using ultra light aluminum.  The Highland Sportwing 2 bike rack is also made from aluminum and features a unique support arm design which holds the bikes up by the tires.

With these tips, you’ll be ready to buy a bike rack for your hitch and have fun on your future biking adventures!

Do you have experience using hitch bike racks and would like to share your experiences with our readers?  Please share below in the comments.