Bike racks: Types, their advantages and disadvantages and factors to consider before choosing a rack
Also known as bike carriers, bicycle racks are devices fixed on automobiles to transport bikes. Bike racks can be attached to different parts of vehicles depending on the needs of the owner, vehicle type and personal preference.
Types of bicycle racks and their pros and cons
Strap-on trunk-mounted racks. The frame of the rack has straps that attach to the car's rear bumper, trunk or hatchback. These are inexpensive, durable, and easy to install and store. Thus, they are very portable and can be used on any car. On the downside, they can easily damage the vehicle as the weight of the bike and rack rests on the car. The straps wear off, become loose and can snap. Thieves can also easily cut them. Your trunk cannot open when the rack is installed, and strap-ons can obstruct your taillights, license plate, and driver side rear window view.
Hitch-mounted racks. Their sizes vary depending on the class of hitch a vehicle falls under and the number of bikes one needs to transport. Small cars often fall under class I hitches, while trucks and pickups fall under class III. Hitch racks come with mounting trays or straps for securing the bikes. These are easy to install, and chances of damaging the car are minimal. However, one might need to buy a trailer hitch if the vehicle does not already have one, and drilling into the car chassis might be necessary. The bikes can back into things or get hit from behind.
Roof-mounted carriers. These are fixed onto existing roof cross bars and racks or on the car's top door frame/rain gutters using mounting clips and feet, and it's cheaper if your vehicle already has a roof top rack. Roof racks are multipurpose as they are spacious and can carry different objects like canoes and skis among other things. They are more secure and can support many bike models. On the flip side, their installation is complicated, and lifting bikes to the top of a car is cumbersome. Cars cannot access parking zones or structures with little head clearance, wind resistance is increased and center of gravity tampered with.
Trunk Bike Racks. If your vehicle lacks a hitch, you can only use a trunk bike rack. They are very simple to install, are very lightweight, and as far as bike racks go, aren't too expensive. They are fastened to the vehicle with hooks and nylon straps; the only liabilities to the trunk bike rack are that you won't be able to open the back of your car with the bike rack attached and that due to their light weight, they may struggle with holding heavier bikes. Beyond those two liabilities, trunk bike racks are an excellent way to go.
Factors to consider
Number of bikes to be transported
Frequency of use
Type of bikes to be carried
Type of vehicle or if the car is rented/leased
Activities you engage in that might need a rack
Car height and how high you can lift a bike with one hand and hold it
If the frame will be shifting from vehicle to vehicle
Distance to be traveled
Parking zones and rack storage space.