Ease of Daily Use
When using a product on a daily basis, the details can be just as important as the main features. We tried to use these racks not just for hauling our bikes around but also to see how easy they were to live with on our vehicles. We used these racks on gigantic vans, pickup trucks, wagons, and crossovers, we took notes when cameras were blocked, lights obscured or egress was impeded. If you need access to the back of your vehicle while bikes are loaded, consider a fold-down or swing-out rack. We also used a variety of bicycles ranging from kids bikes to enduro bikes, road bikes, and cruisers. All of this is intended to help pick up on each bike rack's small yet critical intricacies that may not be so obvious straight out of the box.
Ease of Removal and Storage
Ease of removal and storage is as straightforward as it sounds. Since we had multiple testers, using multiple vehicles, we removed them frequently stowing and swapping between vehicles. Because we removed them frequently, we quickly identified which racks were complicated, had laborious steps, or were difficult to handle. We were also quick to pick up on the ones that were user-friendly and required a simple process.
The storage aspect was even easier. As we mentioned, we tested 15 bike racks for this review. The logistics of doing this meant that we always had a couple of them in garages or our workshop floor. It didn't take long, seeing them side to side, week after week, to tell which ones stowed efficiently and which occupied a ton of space. If a small storage footprint is important to you, consider a fold-up rack or check its folded dimensions prior to purchasing.
We focused on several areas with this test: the ability to hold a range of bike types, weight restrictions, functionality on different vehicles, and bike-to-bike contact. 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 in different positions on these hitch racks. We were searching for the conflict and sometimes we found it.
When we did discover shortcomings of some racks in terms of versatility or compatibility, we took notes. 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 the 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
Each rack was assembled by the test team before use. To recreate the consumer's experience as much 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. Some left us angry and frustrated, you'll notice their scores. Some we found intuitive and easy to assemble, and you'll notice their recommendations. We also paid close attention to the included directions and evaluated them for accurate content and clarity. Our testers have built more racks than the average Joe, and if we were baffled you probably would 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 a determined bike thief.
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, gravel bike, and e-bike tests. Some of the racks were employed in shuttle runs seeing as many as 10 shuttle runs in a day on rough roads. When it snowed, we left them on the vehicles, and when they got covered in mud, we just kept 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.