When searching for the best bike racks for mountain bikers there is a lot to consider. Today’s market has a wide variety of options. To help you navigate these tricky waters, Mtbr has selected six options that have exceptional quality and functionality for carrying modern full suspension mountain bikes. The reason we mention modern and full suspension is that new frame designs don’t always play nice with all the options out there.
Hitch or Roof?
The three main styles of racks are receiver hitch mount platform, receiver hitch mount vertical hang, and rooftop. Trunk mount racks and hitch mount horizontal hanging racks are typically incompatible with full suspension mountain bikes and are thus not included here.
Mtbr’s first choice for transporting our precious trail slayers are receiver hitch mount racks. This rack style is more aerodynamic, shields bikes from road debris, and typically provides better security options because the bikes are closer to your vehicle’s frame.
The primary cons of hitch mount racks are that they require a hitch receiver, and bike specific rather than serving a dual-carrying purpose. But if you have the need to regularly haul bikes, those negatives quickly fade away. It then comes down to which style makes the most sense: a horizontal tray or vertical hang?
Horizontal tray racks are far more common and are the optimal style for most riders. They support the bike on its own tires, generally, do not touch the frame, and can transport a wide variety of bike types. They also require a lower capacity receiver, so many options exist for cars and small SUVs. However, horizontal tray racks typically have less capacity than vertical hang racks.
With vertical hang racks, the type of bikes to be transported is an important consideration. Some styles are incompatible with road bikes and others don’t work with kid bikes. On the upside, this style of rack has a high capacity, usually up to six bikes, and shields them behind the vehicle. However, a robust receiver is required due to the dynamic forces that can overload lower capacity receivers. Thus, Mtbr recommends vertical hang racks for higher capacity receivers (2” Class II+), which generally restricts them to SUVs and trucks.
If a hitch receiver is either not available for your car, or you simply don’t want one, there are also lots of good roof rack options. Indeed, many riders supplement their rear tray rack with a couple roof-top slots for shuttle days. The disadvantage to roof racks include reduced fuel economy, bikes being pelted with road debris, and minimal security attachment points. And of course, they limit car clearance so beware of parking garages or low bridges. On the up side, roof racks do not require a receiver, support a wide variety of vehicles, and are also customizable for other gear carrying needs.
How to Decide
When it comes time to make the call on the best bike rack for you and your needs, consider the following questions:
- Does your car have a hitch receiver or could you get one installed?
- If so, what class is the receiver?
- Does the rack also need to transport gear for multiple sports?
- How many bikes need to be transported?
- What types of bikes need to be transported?
In our opinion, if you have a vehicle with a hitch receiver then hitch style bike racks are the best bike racks for mountain bikers. Of course, there are many hitch tray racks available from major manufacturers such as Yakima and Thule. They typically a similar design with a single tire arm clamp plus trays for both tires and a strap for the rear wheel. Mtbr’s selections below are more boutique, favoring racks that use more advanced attachment methods, have impressive construction or both. Indeed, we feel that the following racks stand out, as Mtbr has used them all extensively and all get a positive review.
Saris SuperClamp EX 2-Bike
- Durable construction
- Lifetime warranty
- Clamps for both front and rear wheels
- Tilt handle easily accessible
- Compact design
- Low weight at 35 pounds
- Also available in 4-bike option for $880
- Bike interference can occur
- Loading/unloading is not as easy since arms are shared
- Reduces ground clearance
Thule T2 Pro XT
- Best in class tilt lever
- Sturdy with smooth tilting action
- Broad tire/wheel size compatibility
- Reliable security system
- Sliding arms could be tighter and wobble free
- Limited side-to-side rail adjustability
- Not as sleek looking as competitors
Lowdown: Thule T2 Pro Bike Rack
The Thule T2 Pro is the update we’ve been waiting for to address compatibility with bigger wheel sizes. But not only did capacity get upped, the T2 Pro is now sturdier and easier to operate. The frame has been beefed up significantly, moving parts have been retooled, and even the lever to tilt and fold up the rack has been significantly improved.
1UP USA 2” Super Duty Double
- Securely holds bikes via both tires so bikes do not move
- Does not contact bike frame
- Good ground clearance, as each stage increases height, also reducing bike-to-bike contact
- Rack and bikes do not protrude far from vehicle
- Exceptional construction, nearly all metal
- Looks dialed!
- 1 bike, expandable to 4 bikes
- Cam system can loosen over time, with no thru-bolt safety
- Color black is an upcharge
- Heavy bikes can be wobbly
- Tilts to open rear hatch, but not easily with more than one bike loaded
- Heavy at 53 pounds
Bike Attachment: Front and rear wheel arms
More Info: www.1up-usa.com
RockyMounts Backstage Swing Away
- Swings to the side to allow easy access to rear compartment
- Robust construction
- Excellent ground clearance
- 2” receiver required
- 2 bikes only
- Heavy at 60 pounds
Northshore Racks NSR-4 Bike
- Very durable
- 4-bike rack’s tower folds down
- Tilts down for ease of rear vehicle access
- 6-bike option also available
- Cannot carry road bikes
- Will mar fork crown
- Takes skill to load as bikes are fairly close together
- Wheel tie-down ropes not ideal, some users customize
- Requires 2” Class 2 receiver for 4-bike rack, 2” Class 3 receiver for 6-bike
Bike Attachment: Fork crown, rear wheel strap, wheels face forward
More Info: www.northshoreracks.com
Yakima Frontloader + Corebar
- Steel aerodynamic cross-bar
- Multi-sport compatible and user configurable
- Many things can mount on the base and crossbar system
- Wide range of supported vehicles
- Reduces vehicle aerodynamics
- Capacity depends on crossbar width and tower capacity
- Bikes pelted with road debris
- Be careful around parking garages
- Harder to secure bikes
Lolo Racks 4-Bike
- Easy to load multiple bikes
- Separates bikes well with solid bar mount that prevents bikes from rotating
- Transports mountain and road bikes
- Tilts down for easy vehicle access
- 6-bike option also available
- Requires additional adapter to haul dual crown bikes
- Requires 2” receiver
- Heavy at 68 pounds
Bike Attachment: Holds via bars, rear wheel strap, wheels face rear
More Info: www.loloracks.com
What do you look for in a bike rack and what are your favorite brands and models? Let us know in the comments section below.
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