5 Types of Bike Racks Explained: Your Comprehensive Guide

two mountain bikes secured to hitch rack

There are several different types of bike racks available on the market. Each type has its own advantages and disadvantages which you should consider before purchasing a bike rack.

The 5 different types of bike racks are:

  1. Hitch-Mount Bike Racks
  2. Trunk-Mount Bike Racks
  3. Roof-Mount Bike Racks
  4. Spare Tire Bike Racks
  5. Truck Bed Bike Racks

This article will discuss the pros and cons of each type of bike rack, but I'll also guide you on when and where to use them.

Whether you're a weekend rider or a hardcore cyclist, I'll help you find the perfect bike rack for your specific needs.

I spent large chunk of my career as sports merchandiser at REI and I am happy to share my learnings so you can make an informed decision.

Hitch-Mount Bike Racks

A hitch-mount bike rack attaches to the hitch on the rear of a car. They come in two main styles, hanging and platform, but have many variations.

hitch style bike rack

Hanging-style bike racks suspend the bikes by the frame. They weigh less than platform-style bike racks and are typically less expensive.

They often require additional straps to prevent the bikes from swaying. They may require an adapter bar for some bikes, such as women’s bikes.

hitch bike rack carrier

Platform-style bike racks support the bikes from the bottom.

Although they can be more expensive than hanging-style racks, they prevent swaying and can hold many different types of bikes. They can also be easier to unload than hanging-style bike racks.


  • Simple to install
  • Easy to load/unload
  • Some models provide trunk/hatch access
  • Comes in many different styles
  • High carrying capacity
  • Fits a wide variety of vehicles
  • Great for frequent use


  • Requires a hitch
  • Can be expensive
  • Cheaper models may block the trunk/hatch
  • Bikes may need extra tie-downs

Should I Buy a Hitch-Mount Bike Rack?

A hitch-mount bike rack is best if you’re going to be using it a lot.

It is great for vehicles with a hitch already installed and if you need a high bike capacity. It’s also great for long road trips because of its stability and access to the rear cargo door on certain bike rack models.

Shop for hitch-mount bike racks on Amazon.

Trunk-Mount Bike Racks

A trunk-mount bike rack attaches to the rear trunk or hatch of your car. It is secured with straps and has foam contact points that sit on the surface of the car. The bikes are attached by the frame and strapped in to prevent sliding and swaying.

trunk mount bike holder

They are inexpensive and best for occasional use, especially for shorter trips. This is a popular option for cars without a hitch or roof rack. They work best when installed and secured properly.


  • Inexpensive
  • Fits most cars
  • Doesn’t require a hitch


  • Less stable and secure
  • Lower capacity than hitch-mount racks
  • May not fit some bike frame styles
  • Can be difficult to install properly
  • May damage your vehicle’s paint

Also check out: Best Trunk-Mount Bike Racks

Should I Buy a Trunk-Mount Bike Rack?

A trunk-mount bike rack is best if you won’t be using it frequently, but just need a way to transport bikes on occasion.

It’s best for short trips, since the straps may become loosened over long trips.

It’s also best for less frequent use because they are inexpensive.

A high-quality, expensive trunk-mount rack may be a good solution for vehicles without a hitch that wish to use the rack frequently.

Shop for trunk-mount bike racks on Amazon.

Roof-Mount Bike Racks

A roof-mount bike rack attaches to the crossbars on top of your car to hold the bike securely.

They come in three main styles: fork mount, wheel mount, and frame mount.

roof rack for bikes

Fork-mount racks require the front wheel to be removed from the bike. The fork (where the wheel attaches to the frame) is used to hold the bike securely. This style reduces the weight of the bike, making it easier to lift onto the roof, and improves the clearance of the car.

Wheel-mount racks hold the bike securely using the wheel. This means you won’t need to remove the front wheel to mount it. It also won’t need to be attached to the frame.

Frame-mount racks (pictured above) use an arm to secure the bike by the frame. This style holds most types of bikes but should not be used for bikes with delicate frames.


  • Won’t interfere with trunk/hatch access
  • Fits many different types of bikes
  • Comes in various styles
  • Very stable and secure
  • Rack can be left installed when not in use


  • Bikes must be lifted onto the roof
  • Raises clearance of the vehicle
  • Less aerodynamic (reduces gas mileage)

Should I Buy a Roof-Mount Bike Rack?

A roof-mount bike rack is best if you want easy access to the rear of the car without spending a lot on a foldable rack. It’s also great if you only have 1 or 2 bikes to transport. This type of bike rack is ideal for frequent use since it doesn’t need to be removed when not in use. This rack works great if you can easily lift bikes onto the roof.

Shop for roof-mount bike racks on Amazon.

Spare Tire Bike Racks

A spare tire bike rack integrates a rear-mounted spare tire to hold and transport bikes. The bikes hang from a support arm and are strapped in. The rack can be bolted on for maximum sturdiness or strapped on for quick and easy use.

jeep spare tire bike rack

Since there are many different styles and dimensions of spare tires, you must confirm that the rack is compatible with your car by reading the product details and fit guide for the specific bike rack.


  • Doesn’t require a hitch
  • Fits most bikes
  • Allows you to tow while using a bike rack
  • Very sturdy when using bolt-on method


  • Low capacity
  • Bikes must be strapped down
  • Can be difficult to find a compatible rack for some vehicles

Should I Buy a Spare Tire Bike Rack?

A spare tire bike rack should only be used for vehicles with a rear-mounted spare tire, like a Jeep. It’s great if you don’t have a hitch or need to use the hitch for towing while still using a bike rack. It provides great stability if bolted on, which is ideal for off-roading.

Shop for spare tire bike racks on Amazon.

Truck Bed Bike Racks

A truck bed bike rack attaches to the bed of a pickup truck to hold bikes. There are a couple of different styles to choose from depending on your situation. Some truck bed racks attach to the bed rails on the truck to hold several bikes, although this takes up a lot of space.

truck bed bike rack system
cover for bikes in truck bed

If you’re trying to save space, you can use a tailgate bike carrier that allows you to mount bikes on top of the tailgate. This saves space and can sometimes hold up to 7 bikes.


  • Easy to install and use
  • Very high capacity (especially for tailgate style carriers)
  • Secure and stable
  • Easy to access bikes


  • Takes up a lot of space

Should I Buy a Truck Bed Bike Rack?

A trunk bed bike rack is best if you have space to use in the bed of the trunk or if you need to transport a large number of bikes. They’re great if you want a simple and quick installation. Although, if you need more room in the bed of your truck, this type of bike rack may not be for you.

Shop for truck bed bike racks on Amazon.

How Much Do Bike Racks Cost?

Bike rack prices vary depending on the mounting style, design, features, quality, and more. The most common types of bike racks can cost anywhere from $25 to $1,000.

Also check out: How Much Do Bike Racks Cost?

Cheaper bike racks are made of lower-quality materials and have fewer features. Some ultra-cheap bike racks often lack stability and safety, therefore should be avoided. They may also have a low carrying capacity.

More expensive bike racks are made of strong, high-quality materials and can come with various features. If you will be using a bike rack frequently, it’s worth spending the extra money to buy a safe, high-quality bike rack. Higher-priced bike racks may feature anti-sway devices or locking systems which can be very useful.

Summary of Different Types of Bike Racks

When it comes to choosing the perfect bike rack, it's important to shortlist your specific preferences. Each type of bike rack has its own advantages and disadvantages, so it's crucial to weigh them carefully before making a decision.

If you're looking for convenience and ease of use, a hitch-mount bike rack might be the best option for you. These racks are known for their stability and security, making them ideal for long road trips or off-road adventures. Plus, they can easily accommodate multiple bikes, making them perfect for family outings or group rides.

On the other hand, trunk-mount bike racks offer a more affordable and versatile option. They are easy to install and can fit a wide range of vehicles. However, they may not provide the same level of security and stability as hitch-mount racks, so it's important to take extra precautions when using them.

For those who prefer a sleek and aerodynamic design, roof-mount bike racks are the way to go. These racks allow you to free up space inside your vehicle and provide a secure and stable way to transport your bikes. However, they can be more challenging to install and may require additional accessories, such as crossbars, which can add to the overall cost.

If you have a spare tire on the back of your vehicle, a spare tire bike rack is a great option. These racks are easy to install and can accommodate various bike sizes and styles. However, they may limit access to your trunk or rear hatch, so it's important to consider this before making a purchase.

Lastly, truck bed bike racks are perfect for truck owners who want a secure and convenient way to transport their bikes. These racks are easy to install and can accommodate multiple bikes. Plus, they allow for easy access to your truck bed, making them ideal for outdoor enthusiasts who need to transport other gear as well.

To make the best choice, consider factors such as convenience, security, and vehicle compatibility and budget.

Remember to always follow the manufacturer's instructions and take necessary safety precautions when using a bike rack to avoid damage to your car.

Hanna Leclair
Colorado raised and adventure-driven, I juggle being a mom, amateur triathlete, and blogger. A former REI sports merchandiser, I'm all about picking the perfect gear for every journey.