How To: Picking the Right Bicycle Carrier

We’ve all seen it a hundred times: The family roadster tooling down the highway, fishing boat in tow, stuffed full of everything but the kitchen sink, including a pile of mish-mashedbicycles that are so entangled, you wonder how they’ll ever get unsnarled. Instant trailer, right? Not so fast. Throwing bikes into a boat to take up north can be damaging to the bikes AND an expensive boat, too. With a good bicycle carrier, though, transporting bikes can be quick, easy and safe.

Most bicycle carriers can be classified by their design for securing the bike (by the frame, wheel mount or fork mount) and also by the way in which the carrier itself attaches to your vehicle. There are multitudes of different styles and sizes of bike carriers on the market, so it can be tough to figure out which will work best for you. Here are a few questions to get you thinking about what style and features best suit your needs.

What type of bike(s) are you hauling, and what kind of biking do you do?

If you are fairly hardcore about your biking or even at a competitive level and invest a lot of time and money into your bikes, chances are, you’re going to want to invest in a top quality bike carrier like a Thule or Yakima. A high-end carbon frame bike or a mountain bike, for example, may be best transported using a rooftop, fork mounted carrier for the greatest stability. If, on the other hand, your greater need is to carry enough bikes for the entire family as you’re headed for a camping weekend, there are economical, multi-bike cradle-style carriers like some of the styles by Rage Powersports that have extensions to accommodate more bicycles. Similarly, a wheel mount model is ideal for mountain bikes or bicycles with a step-through frame (a “women’s” bike), but you also have the option of the cradle-style if you use a special bike frame adapter that creates a horizontal tie-down point across the frame.

What type of vehicle do you drive? Is it an SUV, car, truck or camper? Does the vehicle have two doors, four doors or a rear hatch?

Your vehicle often determines which bike carrier will work for you based on the carrier’s mounting system. Here is a list of some popular “categories” of bicycle carriers based on how they attach to a vehicle:

  • Hitch Mount
  • Roof Mount / Upright
  • Hatchback / Trunk
  • Towing
  • Spare Tire
  • Ball Mount
  • Truck Bed
  • Tow Behind
  • Bumper Mount (for campers / RVs)

In looking at these categories, the rooftop bike carrier is a great solution for cars and SUVs, unless lifting a bike to that height is an issue. The hatchback / trunk style is ideal for people who aren’t hitting the road with their bikes super-frequently because it’s so easy to install and remove; yet, if you need access to the trunk, it might not be the most convenient alternative.

Does your vehicle have a hitch? If so, what size is the receiver?

There are lots of options here, in terms of how the bikes are secured, whether by wheel mount, fork mount or a cradle that holds the frame. Most hitch mount bicycle carriers will fit either a 1-1/4” or 2” receiver, but you should double check the specs of the model you are considering. As a bonus, many of these have a tilt-down feature that gives access to the trunk space or will fold up when not in use.

Does your vehicle have a roof rack or bars on it? Is there a sun roof or anything else mounted on top?

This is a question for people considering a roof mount style of carrier; you’ll need those to secure the carrier. If, however, your vehicle doesn’t already have some type of racking on it, separate cargo bars are also available. A sunroof, on the other hand, could interfere with some styles of rooftop bike carriers.

What other features are important to you?

There are tons of accessory items out there for bike racks that don’t already come with the features that you want. Do you want to be able to lock your bikes onto the carrier? Or maybe a rooftop carrier suits you, but the reach is just a little too much. Locking cables, wheels steps, hitch adapters, locking hitch pins, frame adapters, an anti-tilt device for the hitch receiver – all available to make your bike carrier perfectly suited to your needs.

Enjoy the cycling season this year, and keep your bikes in good shape with a proper bicycle carrier. Where are you headed next with your bikes in tow?