The Best Bike Rack

The bicycle may be the most efficient means of transportation ever created, but if you are like us, you likely use your bike for recreation as well. Our wanderlust has driven us to load up ours, by any means necessary, and head off in search of the next epic ride. So after years of traveling with bikes, we asked ourselves what is the best way to get them from one place to another? To find out we took 14 of the best roof, trunk and hitch-mounted bike racks on the market and tested them over a 12-month period. Using multiple vehicles and bikes of every variety, we loaded, unloaded and drove thousands of miles on highways, dirt roads, and everything in between in a quest to find the perfect one for you. Check out our full review below to see how the competitors stacked up, and find out which one is right for your needs.
You might also want to check out our Dream Bike Gear List.

Read the full review below >

Review by: ⋅ Review Editor, OutdoorGearLab

Top Ranked Bike Racks Displaying 1 - 5 of 14 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Kuat NV
Kuat NV
Read the Review
Video video review
Thule T2
Thule T2
Read the Review
Yakima ForkLift
Yakima ForkLift
Read the Review
Video video review
RockyMounts PitchFork
RockyMounts PitchFork
Read the Review
Video video review
Yakima HighRoller
Yakima HighRoller
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award    Top Pick Award  Best Buy Award   
Street Price Varies $529 - $549
Compare at 5 sellers
Varies $330 - $450
Compare at 4 sellers
Varies $111 - $159
Compare at 6 sellers
Varies $95 - $110
Compare at 2 sellers
$199
Compare at 2 sellers
Overall Score 
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User Rating Be the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate it
Pros Ergonomic, versatile, high weight capacity, good security features, easy to assemble.Versatile, Ergonomic, High weight capacitySecure, stable in wind, versatile, will clamp to any type of crossbar, easy to assemble.Inexpensive, simple, versatile, stable and secure.No contact with bike frame, versatile, no need to remove front wheel, stable
Cons Expensive, heavy.HeavyLock cores not included, will not hold bikes with 15mm or 20mm through axels without purchasing adaptors.Will not work with factory crossbars, requires an adaptor to carry bikes with 15mm or 20mm through axel forks, 35lb weight limit.Difficult to load on tall vehicles or with heavy bikes, short cable lock assembly, lacks security, high profile
Best Uses Transporting nearly any type of bike, excellent choice for heavy downhill, freeride and trail bikes, great for car shuttling gravity runs.transporting nearly any type of bike, a particularly excellent option for heavy downhill bikes, shuttle runsBest on vehicles with low roof height, transporting road, mountain, and other bikes with standard 9mm quick release dropouts.Best on vehicles with low roof height, transporting road, mountain, and other bikes with standard 9mm quick release dropoutsCarrying full suspension bikes, carrying bikes with through axle front forks, best on cars with low roof heights
Date Reviewed Sep 20, 2013Dec 18, 2013Sep 19, 2013Sep 20, 2013Sep 19, 2013
Weighted Scores Kuat NV Thule T2 Yakima ForkLift RockyMounts PitchFork Yakima HighRoller
Versatility - 20%
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Ease Of Assembly - 20%
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Ease Of Use - 30%
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Durability - 10%
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Security - 20%
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Product Specs Kuat NV Thule T2 Yakima ForkLift RockyMounts PitchFork Yakima HighRoller
Style Hitch (Tray) Hitch (Tray) Roof Roof Roof
Bike Capacity 2 2 1 1 1
Other Sizes available? Yes, 1.25" receiver. Yes, 2" receiver no no no
Weight 50.3lbs 56.1lbs 6.6lbs 4.4lbs 16.1lbs
Cross Bar Compatibility N/A NA Round, Square, Most Factory Round, Square Round Bars Only
Lock? yes Yes yes, available yes, available yes, available

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


  • Review Photos
  • Editors' Choice Winners
  • All Reviewed Products
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Kuat NV
$550
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Yakima ForkLift
$159
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Thule T2
$440
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Thule Apex Swing 4-Bike
$500
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Saris Freedom 2-Bike
$250
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Yakima HighRoller
$199
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Yakima KingJoe 2
$155
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Thule Parkway 4-Bike
$210
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Thule Criterium
$180
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Allen Deluxe 2-Bike Trunk Carrier
$60
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Saris Bones 2-Bike
$150
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Allen Deluxe 4-Bike Hitch Carrier
$150
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The Editors Choice Kuat NV on one of many missions to the trailhead.
Credit: Curtis Smith

Different Types
The vast majority of bike racks on the market fall into three main categories that differ in the way they attach to your vehicle. We included all three types in our review to learn the plusses and minuses of each system.

Roof Racks
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The Top Pick Yakima ForkLift can handle anything with a 9mm quick release fork.
Credit: Curtis Smith
These mount to the roof of your vehicle, and generally require some sort of rail (these run parallel to the length of your vehicle) as well as crossbars (these run perpendicular to the length of your vehicle). Some vehicles come with factory crossbars and rails, but nearly any vehicle can be equipped with crossbars using either Thule or Yakima components. Note: Thule has traditionally utilized a square shaped crossbar, while Yakima uses round crossbars for their system. Both companies now offer high-end versions that utilize an oblong shaped bar with the intent of decreasing wind noise. In the past, Yakima and Thule both produced roof racks that would only work with their proprietary cross bars. To some extent this is still the case. However, both companies have begun to produce bike racks that will work with any type of cross bar such as our Top Pick Award winner, the Yakima ForkLift. The trend toward creating bike racks that will work with a multitude of crossbar configurations has been driven by the increase in vehicles coming equipped with factory crossbars, and the infiltration of the market by smaller companies. RockyMounts and Kuat, and for example, do not manufacture crossbar systems, but both produce products that are compatible with either round or square bars.

Roof racks have many advantages over other types of carry systems. In many cases they provide the greatest capacity to handle multiple bikes for a given vehicle. With long crossbars that extend beyond the width of the vehicle it is possible to carry up to six bikes on the roof of some vehicles. Versatility is another plus. The ones can be removed from the crossbars, allowing the crossbars to be used to carry cargo boxes, ski, kayak or surf racks. If your vehicle is equipped with factory cross bars, and you only need to purchase one for your bike and not an entire rail and crossbar system, then roof racks can be quite cost effective.



Hitch Mount
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Editors Choice Kuat NV tilts down to allow access to the rear of the vehicle.
Credit: Curtis Smith
Hitch mount bike racks utilize a hitch receiver that is permanently mounted to the vehicle. Many vehicles come equipped with hitch receivers, and after-market receivers are available for most vehicles, even small passenger models. Hitch receivers come in two sizes: 2" and 1 1/4". Options are available to fit both receiver models, and some are compatible with both, such the Saris Freedom 2-Bike. Hitch mount bike racks hold bicycles in two ways: a tray mount, such as the Editors' Choice Kuat NV or the Thule T2, which use a clamping arm that holds the front tire and a small strap that holds the rear, or a support arm style hitch uses some combination of fixed or non-fixed arms that contact the frame, with straps (either nylon or rubber) that secure the bicycle.

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Thule Apex Swing, rotates away from the vehicle even when loaded to provide access to the rear of your vehicle.
Credit: Curtis Smith

Hitch mount style bike racks have the advantage of being easy to load, as they are closer to the ground. They also keep bikes out of the wind and in the slipstream behind the vehicle, potentially increasing fuel economy. On the other hand, hitch mounted ones can be quite expensive. They are also generally fairly heavy, in the 30-50lb range. Overall capacity is also limited to four, with even the highest capacity models. Hitch mount models can also limit your access to your trunk or rear hatch. Some higher end models such as the Thule Apex Swing 4-Bike, swing away from your vehicle offering access to rear doors. The Editor's Choice Kuat NV takes another approach to access and tilts down to allow access to the rear of the vehicle.

Trunk Mount
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The Top Pick Thule Raceway is great for transporting lightweight bicycles with traditional frame shapes such as this road model.
Credit: Curtis Smith
Trunk mount bike racks are a convenient option for those who have vehicles without a roof crossbar system, or those who do not want to invest in a hitch receiver. Generally they are lightweight and will fit a multitude of vehicles. Most use either cables or nylon straps with hooks to secure them to your trunk or rear hatch. Capacity and security can be limited due to design constraints. But persons with lighter bikes, or those who are not transporting them on a daily basis, they offer an economical option.

Ask an Expert: Ross MacKenzie
To gather more info on how to select the right model, we went to our long time friend and bike rack expert Ross MacKenzie, a professional rack installer in the San Francisco Bay Area. Here is what Ross had to say:

What is the rack best for most people with 2-4 bikes?
The most popular is "hanging style" with a tow hitch. It's the most common because you get the most rack for your money: it's $250-500 for a 4-bike model. However, you run into issues with full-suspension bikes because they no longer have standard frame geometry. If it's a road bike on the other hand, there is a big open frame that is easy to adapt to a hanging style.

The best option for a full-suspension mountain bike, and arguable most other bike styles, is a "platform style." This is the kind you see in front of buses where there are usually two trays and a hook that comes over the front wheel and ratchets down. They weigh about 45 pounds but are usually well-balanced so it's not too hard to take them on and off. There are also lighter versions if you are worried about weight.

If you have a 2-inch hitch (most trucks and SUVs have them), you can add an extension to a 2-bike platform and carry four bikes. That's the most deluxe way to carry bikes because they don't touch each other and nothing on the rack touches the frame. For people with very expensive road bikes and full-suspension mountain bikes, this is the way to go. The platform style is also the easiest rack to load and unload.

The downsides to both the platform and hanging style racks are that you have to install a trailer hitch for most cars. This costs about $150 in labor plus the cost of the hitch which will range from $150-300.

How many people install their own trailer hitches to their cars?
Very few, maybe 1 in 100 of the customers I see. You need a pretty decent selection of tools including a torque wrench that goes to at least 100 foot pounds and maybe even 200. You need a set of ramps to get access under the car. Most of the time there will be some drilling into the frame. Most people can't or don't want to deal with all that.

When is it better to have a roof rack?
If a car is too low, a trailer hitch might scratch the ground. Otherwise hitch mount is generally the way to go. Roof racks might start out less expensive, but you generally have to buy more racks/trays to add more than one bike and the costs start to add up. Also, you take up your roof space so you cant put a roof box or paddle board on top. Lastly, I see people every week who forget their bikes are on their roof, drive into there garage and damage their bikes, there rack and their house.

How about getting access to the trunk with a hitch mount?
If you have a 2" hitch, you can get a swing away hitch. If your hitch is smaller (most cars can only have 1 1/4" Class 1 hitch), then you can get a rack that lowers and raises.

When do you recommend a trunk-mount style?
If you don't transport your bike all that much and just want to get your bike from here to there, then the trunk-mount works. Keep in mind you can't cable lock your bike to your rack. Hitch mount and platform style lock to the car and you can then lock you bikes to the rack. You also have to be more careful about the bike scratching your car with a trunk-mount. Not all trunk mount racks are the same. Some require 6 points of tension. Other just have two cables that attach to four points on the car. These allow you to, once you take the bikes off the rack, operate the trunk.

Any last words of wisdom?
I recommend investing in a good hitch mount rack (either hanging or tray). You may have to spend a little more money than a trunk mount but your bikes will be more secure, it's easier to load and unload, and over time it will be well worth the extra cost.

Ross MacKenzie works that Rack n' Road in San Rafael, CA. He's installed over 3000 trailer hitches and racks.

Criteria for Evaluation
Versatility/Capacity
Capacity is an important consideration for any prospective buyer. If you need to transport multiple bikes at once, then overall capacity should play a large part in your decision process. Versatility is a measure of the ability to carry multiple different types of bikes. Bicycle frame shape and size can present issues for some. Any rack that uses the bicycle frame as the primary point of attachment will suffer in overall versatility since there are a multitude of frames on the market. Our Editors' Choice Kuat NV scored highest due to its ability to hold virtually any type or size of frame securely. The similarly designed Thule T2 comes in at a close second to the NV in terms of versatility, also accommodating any style of bike. The Kuat NV uses a ratcheting arm that holds the front wheel of the bicycle, regardless of wheel size. A small strap secures the rear wheel. With this design, the shape or size of the frame is inconsequential. The Kuat NV as tested is only able to carry two bikes. Other bike racks we reviewed such as the Thule Apex Swing claim they carry four, but the design limits its ability to actually carry four. It is the rare combination of four bikes that will actually fit, and even when we were able to get that many on, the increased contact would result in damage and is impossible to avoid. As noted in our category breakdown, most vehicle's peak capacity is achieved by using a roof mount set up with multiple individual roof racks. It is of note that a roof unit such as our Top Pick Yakima ForkLift can only hold one bike, but the ability to put multiple units on the roof makes for a high capacity option. The Yakima HighRoller was another standout for versatility, using a similar design concept to the Kuat NV the front wheel is held, allowing any bike with a wheel size from 20" to 29" to be carried securely.

Ease of Assembly & Attachment
It is rare to find any product these days that does not bear the label "some assembly required" and bike models are no exception. Packaging, directions and overall design all play a roll in a given unit's ease of assembly. Once properly assembled it must be attached to your vehicle. If you plan to take it on and off of your vehicle, or swap it between vehicles frequently, then this section is for you. Once again our Editors' Choice Kuat NV was a standout. Assembly was a bit cumbersome for one person due to the weight of the parts, but only 8mm and 4mm Allen wrenches are required, and the tools come with them. Attaching the Kuat NV to your vehicle is as simple as inserting it into your hitch receiver, inserting the locking pin, and tightening the anti sway knob by hand. At over 50lbs, the Kuat NV is on the heavy side, but you only have to lift it as high as your receiver is off of the ground. Our Top Pick Thule Raceway was also easy to assemble, requiring no tools. Attachment to the vehicle is quick and easy utilizing the Fit Dial feature, which gives you a number that corresponds to the ideal arm angle setting for your vehicle.

Ergonomics & Ease of Use
Getting the bikes on and off of the vehicle with minimal effort and headache was paramount to our testers. The less hassle it is to load, the more likely you will be to go for a ride.

Roof Racks: In general, our testers felt that while many of the roof models we tested are well designed, the overall ease of use suffered from the simple fact that they mount to the roof. Even a small passenger vehicle with roof racks will require that bicycles be lifted higher than you would need to for the trunk and hitch mount style bike racks we tested. For our testers who are shorter in stature, the need to lift up to the level of the roof was a deal breaker. It goes without saying that the taller your vehicle, the more pronounced this problem becomes. Of the roof models we tested we found the Top Pick Yakima ForkLift and the Best Buy RockyMounts PitchFork to be the easiest to load, primarily because both models clamp the front fork with wheel removed, so the bike does not have to be lifted as high, as compared to loading the Thule Criterium or the Yakima High Roller.

Hitch Racks: These have the advantage of being lower to the ground. The tray style Editors' Choice Kuat NV and the Thule T2 require the least amount of lifting and offers the most user-friendly means of attachment. The Saris Freedom 2-Bike came in a close second, with an equally low loading height, but requires much more adjustment due to its frame clamp retention system.

Trunk Racks: All of the trunk racks have a relatively low loading height but can be difficult to load due to the two arm frame clamp design used by all of them. If you have a relatively horizontal top tube and is not too small, loading can be fairly easy. If however your bicycle frame is of the full suspension variety, or has an exotic or unique shape, positioning can be difficult. All of the trunk models we tested also require the use of stabilizing straps that must be threaded through the frame and back around the rack itself to prevent them from swaying. This added step increases the loading and unloading time.

Durability
We did our best to put all of the tested products through their paces. Luckily for our bikes we did not have any catastrophic failures. Every product we tested came with the fine print "not for off-road use." While we understand that the manufacturers have to protect themselves legally, we had no intention of keeping these on the pavement. That said, some of our tested products really should not be used off road and we have detailed that in our test results in the individual product review sections. The Editors' Choice Kuat NV stood out with a robust, if not overbuilt, design. With a weight capacity at 120 lbs you would be hard pressed to overload it. The cable lock and ratcheting arms worked flawlessly throughout the test period despite lots of rain, mud, and dust. Other durable-enough-to-last-a-lifetime standouts include the Best Buy RockyMounts PitchFork and the Top Pick Yakima ForkLift. With very few moving parts and a simple design, they should get you through many seasons.

Security
Given the right tools and enough time, even the most secure rack can be compromised by a determined thief. We feel that the most secure ones utilize cable locks like the Editors' Choice Kuat NV, or locks integrated into a fork clamp such as the Top Pick Yakima ForkLift. The Kuat NV and the Thule T2 both lock to the car via a burly locking hitch pin, and have cable locks that pull out of the trays, and for these features they receive our highest marks. However, even our highest rated contenders have vulnerabilities. The cable on the Kuat NV, for example, is not long enough to thread through every wheel and frame when it is at capacity with two. A thief could remove expensive wheels and leave the frame. While a secure rack is no guarantee of safety from theft, it can give a bit of peace of mind when you stop for a bite to eat after a long ride.

Editors' Choice Award: Kuat NV
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The Editors Choice Kuat NV comes with a work stand that deploys from rack when it is in the folded vertical position.
Credit: Curtis Smith
This is the one. Without a doubt, this is the best all-around product in our test group. It was the highest scoring product in nearly every category. It is everything we had hoped a rack could be, and then some. Ergonomics are excellent, with the lowest loading height of any rack in the review. Everything is well thought out, even down to the rear wheel straps that can be released with one hand. It will hold nearly any bike and never makes contact with the frame; so all vibration and friction are taken out on the tire, not on your bike's paint. The tilt-down feature allows access to the rear compartments of most vehicles, even when loaded. The mark of a game changing product is offering the consumer something they never knew they needed, and in the case of the Kuat NV, that is an integrated work stand. Now we cannot imagine life without one. For more on the Kuat NV see our full review.

Top Pick Roof Rack: Yakima Fork Lift
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The Top Pick Yakima ForkLift can handle anything with a 9mm quick release fork.
Credit: Curtis Smith
The Yakima Fork Lift is simple. It does what fork clamp roof racks have done for years, only a bit better. A favorite amongst our testers, the Fork Lift comes equipped with easily adjustable clamps that work with nearly any type of cross bar, including round, square, and most factory cross bars. Having the option to use the same rack with multiple different cross bar types set the Fork Lift apart from other roof racks in our test group. The fork lever and clamp mechanism are easy to adjust and will easily accommodate standard 9mm fork dropouts of different thickness. With the addition of a 15mm fork adapter, the Fork Lift can carry nearly any bike.

Top Pick Trunk Rack: Thule Raceway
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The Top Pick Thule Raceway is great for transporting lightweight bicycles with traditional frame shapes such as this road model.
Credit: Curtis Smith
The Thule Raceway is our Top Pick trunk mounted rack. It is the only trunk mount rack in our test group that uses rubber coated steel cables for mounting rather than nylon straps. The steel cables increase durability and are easily adjusted to length and tightened with built-in, user-friendly knobs. Setup is easy, using the Thule Fit Guide that has a number designated for each compatible vehicle. The Fit Dial on the rack is then turned to the corresponding number and the optimum support arm angle for your vehicle is set, no guesswork. The Raceway is also the only trunk mount in the test group that comes with a retractable cable lock.

Best Buy: RockyMounts PitchFork
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The Best Buy RockyMounts Pitchfork would be a great choice at any price, but for $109.95 it is hard to beat.
Credit: Curtis Smith
The RockyMounts PitchFork is the winner of our Best Buy award. At $109.95 it is not the cheapest rack in our test group, but you get a lot for your money. The Pitchfork is a roof top, fork mount rack. It will fit both Thule and Yakima crossbars with the included hardware. The quick release lever is easy to manipulate, and will clamp any bicycle fork with 9mm dropouts. With the addition the Drive Shaft (through axel) adapter ($69.95) from RockMounts, the rack can hold bikes equipped with 15mm and 20mm through axels. The tray has a cutout to accommodate disk brake calipers, and a sliding, ratcheting strap to secure the rear wheel. If you wish to lock it, the PitchFork requires two lock cores ($19.95, not included) one to secure the rack to the vehicle, and one to lock the quick release lever securing the bike. The PitchFork is a great buy and offers security and versatility with add-on parts you can purchase as funds permit.

Curtis Smith
Buying Advice
How we Test
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How to Choose a Bike Rack - Click for details
 How to Choose a Bike Rack

by Curtis Smith
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