Ease of Daily Use
When using a product on a daily basis, the small details add up to be just as important as the big, glaring, features. We used these racks as much as possible with an eye for the small details. We used these racks on gigantic vans, pickup trucks, wagons, and crossovers. In addition, we used a variety of bicycles ranging from cyclocross bikes to enduro bikes. All of this is intended to help pick up on the small, yet critical, intricacies of each bike rack that may not be so obvious straight out of the box.
Ease of Removal and Storage
Ease of removal and storage was a relatively straightforward metric to test. Why? Well, since these bike racks were used on multiple vehicles, we had to remove them frequently to swap them between vehicles. Since we had to go through the removal process frequently, we quickly identified the ones which were complicated and clunky versus the ones that had a slick and simple process.
The storage aspect was even easier. As we mentioned, we tested 23 bike racks for this review. Yes, 23 bike racks. That means that most of these racks spent a lot of time sitting around in the garage or shed in-between uses. It quickly became obvious which ones packed down nice and small and which ones occupied a ton of space.
We focused on several areas with this test: ability to hold a range of bike types, weight restrictions, functionality on different vehicles, and bike-to-bike contact for hitch and trunk racks. Testing versatility required that we not only test each rack with everything from road bikes, electric bikes, and mountain bikes, but also that we put a variety of different combinations of bikes on our hitch and trunk racks. We were searching for the bike-to-bike contact that could not be mitigated by tray adjustment or bike positioning.
In the process, we discovered the shortcomings of some racks in terms of versatility and compatibility. This led us to the extensive measuring of the hitch racks in the test to assess tray spacing and the clearance off the back of the vehicle. We also looked at lateral tray adjustment range to see just how much clearance we could create to mitigate bike-to-bike contact. In the end, the highest-scoring products offered adjustability that made them capable of working with the widest range of vehicles and handling the most diverse combinations of bike styles.
Ease of Assembly
We don't have any bike rack elves here at the office, so each competitor was assembled by the test team before use. To make this as comparable to the consumer's experience as possible, each rack was assembled by a lone tester with no assistance, using only the tools provided by the manufacturer (unless tools were not supplied). We took photos and notes along the way. The ones that left us angry and frustrated scored low while the ones that were easy and intuitive scored high. We also paid close attention to the included directions and evaluated them for accurate content and ease of following. Our testers have built more racks than the average Joe, and if we were baffled you probably will be, too.
Well, we should start by saying that none of our bikes were stolen off the racks during testing. This is likely more a testament to luck than a measure of security. None of our testers have experience stealing bikes, but we knew the tools of the trade and did our best to put ourselves in the mind of a thief to assess the strengths and weaknesses of each rack and its security features.
The reality is that a determined thief could defeat any of the lock systems that come with the racks in our test. There are not many locks or cables that can't be breached with bolt cutters and a battery powered angle grinder. Beyond assessing the security of locks, we looked at the ability or lack thereof to secure not only the bike frame but also the wheels and even the rack itself. Quality and length of cables and locks were assessed and led us to our final scores, with the caveat being that even the best security systems are likely only a deterrent to the opportunistic thief looking for an easy score.
Over several months we used and abused all of the racks in this test. Frequent use is the best test of long-term durability, and our goal was to load up a year's worth of use for the average person during our testing period. These racks were tested in conjunction with ongoing OutdoorGearLab mountain bike trials, so they saw lots of use, sometimes in the form of 10 shuttle runs in a day on rough roads. When it snowed, we left them on the vehicle, and when they got covered in mud, we just kept on using them. We did the exact opposite of how we would treat a $600 rack if it were our own and we wanted it to last. We piled on the abuse and made a note of the results, and ranked the products according to their ability to shrug it off. You can rest assured that we are probably harder on our test gear than you will be on your own.