We rate the top 10 roof- and tow-bar mounted bike racks, to find out which one is worth your cash…
Bike racks are now one of the best selling motoring accessories, with the rise in popularity of biking and staycations both bring big demand for decent bike transport. But what rack should you choose?Bike racks can generally fix to the roof, the bootlid or a tow bar. Roof-mounted racks are the most in-demand, while those that go on a tow bar are also gaining in popularity, while racks that go on the bootlid are now increasingly shunned – largely as they can’t be used where the boot’s panels are made of lightweight plastic.
For that reason, we’re concentrating on roof-mounted and towbar-mounted racks, which also come with their own pros and cons. Roof mounted is generally more affordable, is easy to store when not in use and can be fitted to most vehicles – although those with multiple or panoramic glass roofs may be difficult. But getting the bikes onto the roof rack can be really difficult, especially on tall SUVs or vans, and car parks with height barriers can also be a huge issue.
Tow bar-mounted bike racks, in contrast, are a universal fit and, with the rack lower down the bikes are much easier to load. Even the age-old issues with boot access, and the racks being bulky and awkward to store, have largely been overcome. Some also double up as luggage racks or cargo box carriers. And whilst most tow bar racks fit on the tow ball itself, some brands provide the option of using a dedicated mount on the tow bar assembly, leaving the tow ball itself free for a caravan or trailer. Clever.
Whatever rack you’re considering, start by checking the maximum weight that your vehicle’s roof/tow bar can support. Remember to factor in the bikes’ weights and also the weight of the rack and – with roof systems – also the roof bars’ weights and maximum load limits. Clearly, the lower a rack’s own weight, and the higher its potential load capacity, the more flexibility you have.
The Maxxraxx arrives as a small bunch of tubes, but it takes even less time than the Bak-Rak to assemble and mount onto the tow bar. It’s also incredibly quick and easy to load your bikes: sliding crossbar supports make it a doddle to space the bikes, and then tightening the heavy-duty ratchet strap locks the supports into place, and attaches the bikes to the supports, in one easy move. You can also use this bike rack on vehicles with rear-mounted spare wheels, while another optional attachment can even leave the tow ball free so that you can have your bikes mounted and still be free to tow a caravan or trailer.
Autocar says 5 stars
2. Bak-Rak Bike-Rak with Box or Tray Capability – Recommended
It takes only a few minutes to construct this car-mounted bike rack from a pile of lightweight, 84 x 11 x 12cm tubes. Bikes can be fitted quickly with bungee cords – which sounds alarmingly flimsy as a form of restraint for a bike rack but it does work very effectively. More than that, the bike carrier can be repositioned to allow you to fit other Bak-Rak accessories such as a large carry tray or a huge 400-litre storage box. One downside is that this rack doesn’t come with any security features but, as with the Halfords rack, you can get fairly inexpensive aftermarket locks to solve that problem. Overall this is a really effective and brilliantly affordable bike-carrying solution.
Critical weights: Self – 17.5kg Load – 2 bikes – 60kg max. 3rd bike optional mount available
This is expensive for a two-bike rack, but it’s also easy to store and user-friendly. You don’t need tools to mount it to the tow bar, either, and then you can either stick your bikes on it or you can get Westfalia’s optional rear tray or 200-litre back-box for when additional storage appeals more than cycling fun. Integral locks secure the rack to the tow ball and the bikes to the rack, while a tilt mechanism provides excellent boot access.
Critical weights: Self – 14.5kg Load – 3 bikes, 45kg max. 4th bike optional mount available
Despite carrying up to three bikes, rather than four, Atera’s Strada DL3 is almost three times the price of Halfords’ rack – albeit the price does seem to be erratic and we’ve seen it drop to closer to £400 rather than the eye-watering price it commanded at the time of writing. Even so, this well-known carrier does deliver in the ways that the Halfords rack doesn’t. Getting it onto the tow bar is easy and you don’t need any tools, and there’s even a ‘safe to go’ indicator to confirm when it’s correctly installed. There are locks to secure the rack and the bikes, and wheel straps add another layer of protection. It’s even designed so that it won’t obstruct access to your boot even if you’ve got a full complement of bikes, thanks to a nifty sliding mechanism.
This is probably the cheapest four-bike platform rack you’ll find, but you can tell that there’s cost-cutting. Sure, the feels well made, but it’s short on features. You can’t access your boot with the rack in place, and there’s no means of security for locking bikes to the rack, or the rack to the vehicle. Aftermarket locks may do the trick, but remember to consider the cost of that additional purchase before settling for the Halfords on the basis of affordability.
Critical weights: Rack – 2.9kg Max bike weight – 17kg
It’s the details that make the Giro AF+ so good. It doesn’t really have any show-stopping features but it gets all of the important stuff right, including the locks to secure the bikes and the rack itself. It’s also compatible with just about every common bike tyre and frame, as well as with just about every variety of roof bar. A good weight capacity and yet a low weight for the rack itself is also a significant benefit. You do need to set the arm pivot’s position and your chosen side of operation before the rack is mounted to the roof, but everything else can be done very easily after the rack is fitted and with the bike in place. rack fitted and the bike on it. Overall, it’s a great price, is simple, user-friendly and effective, and you don’t need a degree in engineering to understand what cars it fits and what bikes it carries. It’s our pick of the lot.
Critical weights: Rack – 4.2kg Max bike weight – 20kg
The idea with the odd hump in this rack is that it causes the bike to roll into a natural resting position, and then you can just adjust stays around around the wheels and strap everything down for ease of bike loading. It does work, too. There’s no need to position the arm’s pivot prior to fitting the rack on the roof, as there is with the Halfords and Cruz. You’d be wise to change the side of operation, though, which is a right faff. This rack only comes with T-Track mounts that’ll suit most modern roof bars, so budget for an adapter kit if you expect to fit it to traditional square bars.
Critical weights: Rack – 3kg Max bike weight – 15kg
This is very similar to the Halfords’ Roof Carrier, and it has much the same strengths and weaknesses. There are some differences, though. The Cruz can be mounted to a wider variety of roof bars: it comes supplied with clamps for traditional square bars, but a separate kit can make it suitable for T-Track mounting system that makes it more suitable for built-in bars on a lot of modern cars. However, we prefer the Halfords model’s standard-fit ‘Fasty’ wheel straps and narrow tyre adapters.
Critical weights: Rack – 3kg Max bike weight – 15kg
Some heavier bikes may be too much for this rack’s clamp, but for most average-weight bikes this is a super-affordable means of bike transport. Inevitably, though, that price comes with some compromises, including the fact that the rack’s mounts only work with ‘aero’ and traditional square roof bars. Security is so-so, too, as there’s a lock to secure the bikes to the rack, but no way of securing the rack to the bars. Like most racks, it’s necessary to fix the adjustable arm and side of operation before fitting the rack, which entails removing and re-tightening some bolts, so you’ll need a spanner to hand.
Critical weights: Rack – 6.2kg Max bike weight – 18.1kg
Let’s address the price before we discuss anything else, because this has some of the most extraordinary price swings that we’ve encountered on Amazon. At the time of testing, it cost £129.95, yet at the time of writing a few weeks later, it now costs £161. There’s a case right now for many manufacturers rising prices due to raw material costs, and then there’s plain piracy. This is certainly the latter. In terms of its performance, this is actually the heaviest rack here yet is the only one that’s suitable for ultra-lightweight carbon fibre bikes, as it fixes to the front wheel rather than the frame. You also don’t need to make adjustments before fitting the rack, helping to make this easy to fit and broadly suitable for most bikes and cars. If you see the Yakima at a reasonable price, consider it very recommendable. Until then, let’s just stare in astonishment and move on.
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