At some point we all give into the lure of riding outside of our own neighborhoods. To do so, we need a way to transport our bikes to our chosen start point. Unless you live in an area with superb public transportation, that means putting them in our cars, trucks or vans. While you could just stick your bike in any old way, itís much more convenient to have a bike rack, not to mention that youíll be less likely to damage your bike.
The rack you choose is greatly dependent on the type of vehicle you have. There are five basic types that are differentiated by where they mount on the vehicle: roof, trunk, hitch, spare tire, or truck bed.
As you might suspect from the name, roof racks mount on the roof of your car and hold bikes upright above the car. Some styles require that you remove the front wheel of the bike to secure it in place; others allow you to leave the wheel on. An advantage to roof racks is that they allow you unimpeded access to all of the doors and trunk of the car. Depending on your vehicle (and your height), a disadvantage may be difficulty in reaching high enough to get the bikes secured on the rack. You can likely carry one to three bikes this way, but, of course, the closer to the middle of your car the mount is the more difficult it will be to secure your bike in place.
If you donít want your bikes on top of your car, you might opt for a rack that straps to the trunk lid. These racks position the bikes behind the car and have cradles into which the top tube fits. They normally hold one to three bikes. You donít have to take your front wheel off, and it may be easier to get the bikes into the rack since you donít have to lift them overhead. It can be more difficult, however, to nest multiple bikes onto a trunk rack: the pedals and handlebars have to be situated just right for more than one bike to fit without them scratching each other. You also have to be aware of the additional length of your vehicle so that you donít accidently back into something and crush your bikes. It will also be very difficult to access your trunk if you have bikes on the rack.
Hitch racks cradle your bikes in a manner similar to trunk racks, but are mounted into a receiver hitch on the back of your vehicle. These racks are a good option for trucks and SUVs which may be too tall to conveniently use a roof rack. They can be purchased in models that hold two to four bikes, and are usually very easy to use. I own this type of rack, and I have been very happy with it. The vertical bar (on which the bikes rest), folds down when Iím not using it, and the whole thing will fold down away from my truck so I can easily access the bed without removing the rack.
Spare Tire Racks
If your vehicle carries a spare tire mounted vertically on the back, a spare tire rack will allow you to mount a one or two bikes to the spare tire. The rack holds the bikeís top tube, essentially in the same way as trunk and hitch racks. As with any other rack that mounts the bikes on the rear of your vehicle, be careful when you are driving in reverse.
Truck Bed Racks
If you drive a pickup, a truck bed rack might be the right option for you. These racks come in a variety of styles, with differences in how they attach to the truck bed as well as in how they hold the bikes. Some work just like a schoolyard bike rack, while others require you remove the front wheel to secure the bike. None of the ones I looked at required you to drill into the truck bed to mount the rack, but some older styles might. If your truck bed is easily accessible and you donít have a lot of other cargo, this might be the right option for you.
There are many options within each of these basic styles of racks. Consider your vehicle type, the number of bikes you want to be able to carry, and your own physical limitations (how high you can lift a bike) before you start shopping. Ask friends and bike shop employees what they use and what theyíve found to be advantages and disadvantages before you make your decision.
Now, get out there, ride safe, and have fun!