Family bike rides can be great fun, especially if you get the chance to explore somewhere new. 

If you’re planning a cycling adventure a bit further away from home, what is the best way to take your bikes with you? 

Thankfully, there are plenty of different types of bike racks to choose from. In fact, you’ll be spoilt for choice.

But, before you go looking, here are a few questions to consider:

  1. What type of car do you have? Bear in mind that not every bike rack fits every car, so it’s important to check before you buy. It may also be worth checking to see if the manufacturer of your car already offers a bike rack designed to fit it.  
  2. How much are you willing to spend? Broadly, rear mounted bike racks are the cheapest, followed by roof-mounted and then tow bar mounted. Autotrader advises spending as much as you can on a bike rack, especially if your bikes are expensive. 
  3. Will you need regular access to your boot? A rear rack will make this tricky, for example.
  4. How many bikes do you want to take with you? Some bike racks can carry more bikes than others.
  5. How often do you plan to use your bike rack? Consider which bike carrier looks the easiest to fit and use.
  6. Could you fit your bikes in the boot? If you have a large car and only need to transport one bike or a couple of kids’ bikes, then this may be the simplest and cheapest option.

Now you know a little more about what you need from a bike rack, here’s a run-down of the three main types available.

Rear mounted bike racks

A rear mounted bike rack can be considered an entry level option. They’re cost-effective and relatively simple to use. They normally have a set of straps which attach to the back of your car, and don’t require special fittings to attach to.

It’s wort taking some time to practice fitting the rack and attaching your bikes securely. It’s also a good idea to use padding between bikes to prevent damage.

Pros

  • They tend to be the simplest and cheapest option.
  • They are easy to use and attach.

Things to consider

  • Some cars might not be compatible with some rear mounted racks. Check your manufacturer’s guidelines.
  • They generally carry a maximum of three bikes. So, if you’re going on a family bike ride, you might need to put your kids’ bikes in the boot.
  • Bikes can poke out either side when loaded on the rack, meaning you’re driving a wider vehicle. So, you need to drive carefully, especially when reversing.
  • You won’t be able to access the boot while the rack and bikes are attached and need to ensure your rear number plate and lights aren’t obscured.
  • They can be a distraction in your rear-view mirror, especially as bikes can wobble, even if secured well. 

Best of the bunch

While you can find rear bike carriers for as little as £30, according to Expert Reviews in September 2020, the Saris Super Bones 3 (£315) is the best on the market. 

Roof mounted bike racks

Roof mounted bike racks are mounted on roof bars on the top of your car. They tend to cost more than rear mounted racks, but are generally more stable and you may find them easier to use.

Pros

  • Stable and secure.
  • You can fit up to a maximum of about four bikes, depending on the size of your car.
  • They’re quick to install and you can get bikes down quickly, as long as you can reach them easily and pick them up safely.
  • You can still access your boot and your rear view won’t be obscured.

Things to consider

  • You need to be tall enough the reach the bike rack and some physical strength is required.
  • They add a lot of height to your car; an important thing to remember when entering height-restricted car parks or going under low bridges, for example.
  • Some require you to remove the front wheels of your bikes, which can be a hassle.
  • They can reduce fuel economy by causing drag.
  • If you also use a roof box, then check there's still space for your bike rack.

Best of the bunch

According to Expert Reviews in September 2020, the Thule ProRide 598 (£100) is the best roof carrier for a single bike.

Tow bar mounted bike racks

Tow bar mounted bike racks attach to the tow bar of your car. 

As well as needing a tow bar, you may need to get an electrical point for a number plate lighting board.

Pros

  • A simple solution if you’ve got a tow bar or are happy to add one.
  • They’re stable and offer easy access to your bikes.
  • They keep bikes secure, both while driving and when parked.

 Things to consider

  • They tend to be more expensive.
  • You’ll need a tow bar fitted to your car.
  • You’ll need to ensure that your rear number plate and lights are visible, and you may need a number plate lighting board.
  • They can prevent access to your boot, although many recent models now tilt.

Best of the bunch

According to Expert Reviews in September 2020, the Thule RideOn 9502 (£175) is the best tow bar carrier priced under £200. 

What about my e-bike?

Electric bikes generally weigh a lot more than regular pedal bikes. So, as car bike racks have maximum weight ratings, you may need to consider a dedicated e-bike rack.

There is no one type of bike rack that is always best for everyone. But finding a way to safely and securely take your bikes around can be well worth the time and investment.

For more motoring tips, go to Solved.