Biking is not only a great way to become and stay fit, but it can be relaxing and freeing as you ride for miles and miles on the open road with the wind blowing past you. To get to the wide-open spaces, however, you need a way to transport your bicycle. Of course, you may want to be super hardcore and bike for miles and miles through the busy city until you get to your biking trail destination. But for most people, the more convenient route is to pack their bike in their car or trunk and drive to the trail before starting to bike. It can be tricky to maneuver your bike around back seats or in your truck bed. If you go out on the road or trails a lot, having a bike rack hitch can make your life so much easier as you safely secure your bicycle.
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Platform Bike Racks vs. Hanging Model Bike Racks
Bike racks typically come in two different categories depending on the kind of vehicle or trailer hitch you have. There are hanging racks and platform models that you can transport your bicycles with.
A hanging rack is an excellent option to transport your road bikes or lightweight bicycles without having to lift them over your head and maneuver the bulky piece of equipment onto your car's roof rack. If you plan on regularly attaching and removing your hitch mounted rack, then the hanging rack's lightweight and compact design is ideal for you. They typically weigh under 15 pounds, making them easy to store in your garage or truck bed when you need to keep them out of the way. Your bicycle may bump up against other bikes that are on the hitch and sway a bit while driving, but they are securely tied down with plastic or rubber straps around the frame. This is perfect for transporting heavier bikes, like cruisers or electric bikes, since they are secured by the frame and not just the wheel and should have padded cradles to minimize scratching or bumping against the bike frame.
A platform hitch bike rack is compatible with a wide range of bike styles, including ones with unique frames like a step-through bike or full-suspension mountain bikes. It sits low to the ground, so it is easily accessible for lifting your bicycle onto the hitch. They are typically very sturdy, with two attachment points: a ratcheting arm that keeps the front wheel in place and an adjustable strap that secures the rear wheel. Since the hitch rack design is straightforward and practical, it makes it easy to load and unload your bicycle quickly. The platform bike rack is designed to minimize any side-to-side movement or wobbling while driving to your destination. A platform rack is also extremely gentle on your bike since it usually only touches your tire or wheel with rubber cradles and isn't secured to the painted bike's frame, which could scratch it.
A platform bike carrier is generally on the heavier side and tends to be quite bulky. If you plan on frequently taking your hitch mount on and off your car or truck, you'll want to be mindful of the hitch's weight. Some of the platform racks can weigh 50 pounds or more. Platform-style hitch racks are usually one of the more expensive options out there, with some of them costing over $500, but it is well worth the security and ease of use to attach and detach your trail or mountain bike.
As you can see, there are benefits with either kind of bike rack hitch, depending on your type of bike and the way you want to secure it. A hanging model is cheaper, lightweight, and attaches to the bike by wrapping straps around the frame, while a platform rack is more expensive, heavier, and ties down your bike by securing both wheels.
What Special Features Should I Look For In My Bike Rack?
Once you've decided on the kind of bike rack you want to purchase, you'll want to consider several other features to ensure that you find the perfect fit for you to transport your bike.
Number of Bikes You Want to Carry
A hanging bike rack can carry anywhere from two to five bicycles, while a platform bike rack can hold one to four bikes with extension pieces. Most cyclists stick with a design that can fit two bikes, but people who like to travel in groups or cycles as a family should look at a hanging model or a platform with added wheel tray slots that can accommodate the bicycles of all of the riders.
Tilting vs. Swing-Away Rack
The "tilt" and "swing-away" refer to how you can adjust the rack to access your trunk or rear door. Tilting will enable you to open your hatchback or drop the tailgate so you can grab your supplies or spare tire if need be by pulling a lever that moves the rack far enough down so that it's out of the way. You'll want to be sure that it tilts far enough for you to easily open the door wide with the bikes still attached so you can slide a big cooler in or out if you wanted to while camping and biking. A swing-away rack is generally a feature of hanging racks and moves the bike rack away from your car or trailer by releasing a pin that moves like an arm, pivoting the entire bicycle rack to the side of your vehicle. This gives you even more access to the back of your car, so you can easily slide things in and out of the trunk or rear of your vehicle while the bikes are securely out of the way.
Locking or Mounting Systems
Mounting systems are the way that you secure and lock your bicycle on the mounted bike rack. The most common type of mounting system is straps to secure your bike. With a platform bike rack model, the ratcheting or elastic strap wraps around your bike's wheels. With a hanging bike rack hitch, it wraps around the frame.
Another way to lock your bike in place is called a shepherd's hook, which is most often used in a platform mounted bike rack design. It uses an arm that swings down and ratchets onto your bike's tires to lock them onto the platform. They are also usually reinforced with straps around the wheels' bottoms, so your bike doesn't get jostled around when driving on bumpy roads.
To prevent your bicycle or bike rack from being stolen while you are out on the trail or sitting in your driveway, be sure to get a bike rack with a locking hitch mount. This means that it is impossible to unscrew the bike rack from your hitch when it is engaged. And to prevent your bicycles from being stolen, an integrated cable lock should do the trick to lock bicycles in place on the bike hitch. Most hitch mounted bike rack styles will come with an integrated lock. If it doesn't, make sure that your bike rack has pre-drilled holes for you to thread the cable lock through when you put your bike up and buy a bike mount lock separately.
Wheel Size and Tire Width
There's nothing worse than doing a bunch of research to get the bicycle carrier that is the right fit for your car, only not to have it fit your bike or its wheel size. If you are getting a hanging rack, you won't have to worry about the wheel size's compatibility with your mount bike rack since it is secured by the frame. However, it can be nearly impossible to hang a BMX bike, step-through bike frame, or full-suspension mountain bike, so if you have one of those kinds of bikes, you should look at a platform rack.
Since a platform rack secures your bicycle by the wheels, you'll need to measure the wheel size, tire width, and wheelbase. Some platform racks are designed to fit a wide variety of bike sizes, excluding some fat bikes, extra-wide wheelbases, and 29-inch wheel outliers. Make sure that the listed specifications of the platform rack fit your bike style and size.
Bike Weight Capacity
If you are carrying heavier bikes or multiple bicycles, you'll want to ensure that your bike cargo carrier can bear the weight. Hanging racks can typically hold 35 pounds per bicycle, while some platform bike racks can hold up to 150 or 200 pounds total. If your bicycle is on the bulkier side, it's worth the extra cost to get something that you are confident will hold it since you don't want to break your rack, destroy your bike, or cause accidents on the road.
One of the more technical things you'll want to consider before purchasing your new bike rack is the clearance between the rack, the bike, and your car. If your bicycle is too close, you won't be able to open your van doors, the handlebars can push against the windows of your SUV, or your pickup's tailgate won't be able to be lowered. One way to test to ensure proper clearance is by looking at the distance from the center of the hitch pin to the first tray since this shows how close the rack will be to the back of your car. You can then measure your bike's handlebars to ensure that they won't be banging against your rearview windows.
As you can see, owning a bike rack hitch makes your cycling adventures easier and safer. With Bikemunk's research team's help, you are armed with the knowledge to know what kind of bike rack fits your biking needs. So go on out, get a bike rack today, and enjoy traveling to your favorite cycling trails in style!