Bike Hitch Racks- Convenient? Aero? Plentiful?

hitch mount bike rack

Not everyone wants to hang their bikes from the top tubes, but it works well for some cyclists.

Not too long ago, when you were considering bike hitch racks, the only hitch rack available would leave your bikes hanging by their proverbial top tubes.

That worked for a lot of riders, some road cyclists with expensive carbon fiber frames, or mountain bikers with top tubes at crazy angles had to look elsewhere.

The next generation of hitch mounted bike racks, like the Saris Thelma, or the Kuat NV are made so that the bike sits upright, supported by its wheels. For the serious cyclist, this is a lot easier on the bike.  It’s also easier on the bike transporter since getting the bike onto and off of the bike necessitates less lifting and struggling.

kuat nv on car

The Kuat NV supports the bike by its wheels.

There are more bike hitch racks on the market than in any other category. You can pick from the inexpensive Allen Deluxe…and up to the premium Kuat or Saris lines.

I alluded to it previously, but the bike hitch racks are probably the easiest on you when it comes to lifting the bike onto the rack…as well as getting the bike off of the rack when you get to your destination. This convenience may seem like a small issue, but when you compare it to the awkwardness of getting a bike up onto a bike roof rack without it tipping over, you’ll really appreciate this benefit.

Speaking of roof racks…bikes carried up on the roof where they catch a lot of air have an effect on gas mileage.  With the cost of gas being so high, it helps to keep your vehicle as streamline as possible.  Bike hitch racks keeps your bikes out of the wind.

Tell Me More About Wheel-Mount Racks

There are a couple ways that manufacturers use to secure bikes onto their wheel-mount racks.  The Kuat secures the rear wheel with a strap and ‘sucks’ the front wheel down onto the rack with an arm that goes up over the front tire.  You can see the system in the photo above.

Swagman hitch rack

The Swagman secures the bike by pulling down on the top bar…this may defeat your purposes for choosing a hitch mount bike rack.

The second way frequently used to hold a bike in bike hitch racks is to put a brace over the top bar and pull the bike down into the wheel holders.  If you’ve chosen to get a wheel mount rack so that there’s nothing contacting your frame (carbon fiber road bikes), or because your top bar is at a crazy angle (mountain bikes), this pretty much defeats the purpose.

When it comes to being easy to unload and load, the wheel mounts are at the top of the heap. Just lift the bike up a foot or two and then secure it.

The wheel mount style also eliminates the irritating swaying that you can get when your bikes are hanging from their top bars.

There Are Two Types Of ‘Hanger’ Bike Hitch Racks

two arm hitch mount

Two Arm Hitch Mount

It isn’t too complicated…there are ‘hanger’ bike hitch racks that have two arms, and there are some that have only one arm.

Obviously, the two arm style is more stable since it’s supporting your bike with a broader base.  If your bike has a traditional frame, the two-arm bike hitch racks are what you’re looking for. But with all of the odd-ball shaped frames out there in the cycling world, the two arm frame isn’t without its pitfalls.

If you put a sloped framed bike on a two arm mount, you may find one of the wheels of your bike scraping the pavement…and just because all looks well when your car’s sitting in the driveway, don’t forget that geometry changes when your car is going over a curb.

Makers of bike hitch racks make a variety of adapters, so if things aren’t riding well, see if there’s an adapter to level out the load.

Speaking of extra doo-dads, there are anti-sway straps, as well as other devices that are designed to keep the bikes more stable when on the road.  The anti-sway straps also keep the bikes from rubbing on each other.

It’s bad enough having the kids rubbing on each other’s nerves…you don’t need the bikes doing it too.

Bike hitch racks with a single arm do a lot better at accommodating a variety of frame shapes.  Small, big, sloped, horizontal…the single arm bike hitch racks don’t care.  Oh, wait a minute…if you have a frame that’s mega-large, you may have to get an adapter. I suppose there are no absolutes in the bike world.

There are a few ways for single arm bike hitch racks to secure your bike.

  • There are cradles that rotate so that you can configure them to keep your bike level. Each of these cradles are independent of each other because what’s good for one bike, may not be the answer for the bike riding next to it.
  • The cheaper models won’t have as much variation to offer.  It’s ‘all for one, and one for all’.  The cradles don’t rotate, and there are individual Velcro straps to secure the bike frames.  Horizontal, sloped, big-frame, small-frame…this style handles them all the same.
  • Another style is to have a single cradle with slots for each bike, and a single top plate that secures them all down.  Like with the style above, there’s no accommodation for uneven top bars…meaning some bikes may be dangerously close to scraping the ground.

Your Bicycle Hitch Rack Had Better Get Out Of The Way

There are various ways for bike hitch racks to get out of the way.  Some of them tilt down unceremoniously, some tilt down and remain parallel to the ground, and some of them swing out of the way.

Imagine this fiasco with bikes still attached!

Imagine this fiasco with bikes still attached!

And then there are the cheap ones that just sit there…making it necessary to either remove all of the bikes from the rack in order to get into the vehicle, or not get into it at all. You cheap suckers (bike hitch racks…not esteemed readers of know who you are, and you’ve been exposed.

Let’s start with the next to worst ones, the racks that swing down, but don’t remain parallel to the ground.  For the faint of heart, it’s necessary to remove the bikes from the rack before you tilt the rack down.  For the brave-hearted, you can leave the bikes on the rack and struggle and strain to keep everything from falling off the bike hitch rack while you put your groceries into the back of the SUV.

The parallelogram style allows decent access.

The parallelogram style allows decent access.

Then there are the bike hitch racks that tilt outward from the vehicle while keeping the the bike cradling arm parallel to the ground.  This type is a significant improvement over the previously mentioned style since the bikes are swinging around like a troop of baboons when you lower the rack out of the way.

There is still the drawback of the rack being directly in the path between you and the vehicle.

swing away bike hitch rack

The swing-away style allows unrestricted access…but don’t smack your shins Into the rack.

The most convenient category of hitch mounted bike racks is the group that swings around to the side when it’s necessary to get the bikes out of the way. Once you do the swinging, the whole back of the vehicle is your oyster, available for unrestricted grocery loading and unloading.

This swing-away feature is tremendous since it keeps getting into the trunk or a car or into the back of an SUV from being the sole domain of contortionists.

Will A Bicycle Hitch Rack Fit My Car?

Small to Large hitch adapter

Small to Large hitch adapter

Maybe we should have tackled this issue first and foremost…does one of these bike hitch racks even fit my vehicle to begin with.  It goes without saying that you’ll need a hitch receiver. Some receivers are 2″ and some are 1-¼”.

If you get a rack that necessitates the receiver that you don’t happen to have, don’t despair…there are adapters.

I suppose your receiver may be too puny (a class 1, which can handle up 200 lbs) to handle all the bikes you can load onto a rack, but that seems like a long stretch.  Most receivers are more than stout enough to handle bike hitch racks…and all the bikes you can load onto them.

It’s more likely that you’ll be on the receiving end of trouble at the hands of a sedan with a suspension so soft that you pop a wheelie with six bikes on the rear. The soft suspension is most troublesome when you’re going up a driveway, or curb.  Scrape-ola!

Another obstacle to overcome would be a rear mounted spare tire…and the overcoming is accomplished by buying (there we go again with that ‘buying’ nonsense) an extender to put the rack further out from the vehicle.  Keep an eye on this type of arrangement, since you don’t want your bikes following along so far back that they travel in a different zip code.

How ‘Friendly’ Is The Rack?

Storage:  In this era of too many toys in the garage, something to consider is how much space the rack takes up when it’s off your vehicle and functioning as a space-occupying garage ornament. A few of my racks fold up nicely, and/or hang up neatly on the wall.

And then there’s the cheap Hollywood bike hitch rack that I got at a swap sale.  It’s very awkward, won’t fold up, and rivals a boat anchor (the lead type) in the weight department.

I don’t like it. It needs to be sold at a swap sale.

Weight: Which brings us to another ‘friendly’ attribute. How heavy is the beast?  I know that when I think of ferrying that Hollywood rack around the garage to get it out of the way of the latest project, I dread lifting it.  Not that I’m a girly-man or anything. And then there’s the issue of trying to hold the thing steady when I’m lining it up with the receiver when I’m trying to put it on the 4-runner.

Feature Convenience: Like a lot of modern day toys, bike hitch racks can be loaded with features…and with features there’s the need to activate the feature or put it to bed.  On bike hitch racks this usually means a pin/clip combination, or some type of lever.  The lever style is nice since there are fewer loose parts to be keeping track of.

twist knob on bike rack

Convenient knob tightens to eliminate rattling.

What’s That Sound? I don’t know about you, but little annoying car sounds get on my nerves.  This would also apply to sounds that bike hitch racks make if the rack isn’t ‘tight’ in the receiver.  There are two main ways that hitch bike rack manufacturers tighten up the racks.

  1. The most convenient method is a knob that you twist.  Your twisting pulls a wedge-shaped part of the shaft that goes into the receiver up against the inside wall of the receiver.  This snugs them together and you effectively eliminate any rattle. This is a very convenient method.
  2. Other bike hitch racks use a tightening bolt instead of a retaining pin to keep the hitch rack secure in the receiver.  The bolt snugs it up nicely, but isn’t nearly as convenient as the twist knob.

Hitch Rack Security: It could really get a guy down in the mouth to come out of his favorite coffee grinding house to find that his bike rack has been denuded of all bikes. Because of this, some bike hitch racks have an integrated cable lock that stores in the rack.  When needed it is pulled out to secure the bikes to the rack.  Other bike hitch racks have a security bar that goes across all of the bike frames to keep them secure.

Of course you don’t have to have an integrated system to keep them secure…you can supply your own cable lock.

If you want to see some real grief, look toward the cyclist who comes out of the cafe to find that his entire rack (and bikes) have been removed.  Because of this, it’s wise to use a locking pin to hold the rack into the receiver.

There Are Plenty Of Bike Hitch Racks Available

Hollywood, Allen, Saris, Swagman, Yakima, and Thule all make plenty of bike hitch racks.

Of course good ole Amazon has all different types…and most of them are discounted to some extent.

What do you know about the other four types of bike racks?

Bicycle racks Wiki article
Bicycle hitch rack ehow article
Homepage from Bicycle hitch rack
Bicycle hitch rack

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *