Don’t leave your trusty two-wheeler at home the next time you get the urge to adventure – invest in a decent bike rack for your car and you can take it just about anywhere. Whether you’re heading off on holiday, hunting out new places to explore, or want to drive part of the way to work before finishing your journey by bike, we’ve tested a wide range of solutions to bring you the very best on the market.
We’ve fitted and removed bike carriers of all shapes and sizes – loaded and unloaded them, and tried them out on twisting country lanes and motorways – to find a selection we think are secure and safe at a range of prices. There’s a huge variety of cycle carrier styles on offer – from roof-mounted ones through to models which strap into place on a car tailgate – so there is certain to be one that fits your needs.
Before buying, have a think about how often you will need to move your bike around. There’s no point investing a fortune in the latest towbar-mounted design if you only plan to use it once a year on holiday. Equally, if you’re a regular bike hauler you will probably want a design you can leave attached to your car year-round.
Your choice of bike rack for your car will also depend on the type of bike you own. Owners of hefty mountain bikes and e-bikes won’t want to lift them very far off the ground, while shorter riders are unlikely to be able to use a roof-mounted carrier even for a super-light racing machine.
A bike carrier, and any associated kit needed to attach it to your car, can involve quite a big investment – especially if you have to start buying tow balls or roof bars. If your motor came fitted with such items then you might as well make use of them and save a few pounds, but if you’re likely to be an infrequent user then you may be better off with a design that clips straight on to your car.
Storage is another thing to think about when buying a carrier. Roof-mounted models can be left in place year-round, although they will have a small effect on your fuel consumption. Whereas many towbar-mounted models can take up a large amount of space, meaning you will need a garage or shed to store one.
When buying a tail-mounted carrier, don’t forget to buy a rear number plate carrier/lights board to ensure you stay legal on the roads. And whichever design you choose, never set out on a journey without being 100 per cent certain both your bikes and the carrier are secure – it’s always worth getting a second person to check you have loaded your rack correctly, especially after a tiring ride.
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The best bike racks for your car in 2021 are:
- Best overall – Thule proride 598: £125.99, Halfords.com
- Best for simplicity – Pendle hang on bike rack: £269.99, Pbr.co.uk
- Best for looks – Thule fastride 564 : £145, Halfords.com
- Best for hatchbacks – Saris bones EX 2-bike: £199.99, Halfords.com
- Best for e-bikes – Thule easyfold XT 2: £675, Thule.com
- Best for kids’ bikes – Halfords advanced 1: £60, Halfords.com
- Best for sports cars – Sea Sucker talon QR 1-bike: £279.99, Wiggle.co.uk
- Best for family adventures – Evans FWE three-bike : £40, Evanscycles.com
Thule proride 598
Loading this carrier couldn’t be easier – you can have your bike securely on the roof and hit the road in minutes. The frame is held in place by an adjustable arm with soft rubber jaws which are tightened by a simple click wheel. Once that’s done up you just hold the wheels in place with ratchet straps. It’s a nice, simple design which works with most frames. You can lock the jaws closed to stop anyone stealing your bike and lock the carrier to the roof bars for extra security. Fittings are included for most modern Thule roof bars, but if you have the basic square bars you will have to buy an adaptor. If you plan to use more than one of the carriers on your car you can swap the arm from one side to the other to make access easier.
Pendle hang on bike rack
Best: For simplicity
There is very little to go wrong with this one, so it should last for years without giving you any problems. You fit Pendle’s mounting block to your towbar and then the arms slot in every time you want to use the rack. Bikes simply rest on the arms, although you might want to buy some simple foam panels to slip between them to stop them rubbing together on longer trips. It will carry up to four bikes – as long as they have a traditional top tube – and comes with a light and number plate panel included as part of the package. If you have two tow bar-equipped cars you can buy an extra mounting block so you can swap between vehicles.
Thule fastride 564
Best: For looks
Your sleek racer will look fantastic on this stripped-down design. There are no arms to hold your bike in place – you just have to slip out the front wheel before clamping it in place via the forks. The AcuTight knob on the clamp clicks loudly when tight enough, so you don’t have to worry whether it’s secure as you head off down the road. If your bike uses non-standard axles you may have to buy an adaptor to make it fit correctly. The rear wheel is held in place by a plastic loop and buckle, the position of which can be adjusted according to the size of your frame. We particularly liked the built-in lock in the rear of the carrier – it’s a tough braided metal cable which you can loop through your rear wheel and frame to prevent anyone swiping it.
Saris bones EX 2-bike
Best: For hatchbacks
Some boot-mounted racks won’t work on cars with rear spoilers, but this one should – just make sure yours is compatible before buying. It’s a stylish design which holds your bikes clear of the vehicle at chest height, making it much easier to load than roof-mounted rivals. The fact it doesn’t need a towbar means costs are kept down and you can swap it between compatible cars at will. Four pads support the weight of your bikes against the tailgate and the whole thing is held in place by adjustable straps. Make sure you use it with a light and number plate board or you risk a fine if spotted by the police.
Thule easyfold XT 2
Best: For e-bikes
Many e-bikes are just too heavy to lift onto a car roof or load into a hatchback. This clever – but very expensive – rack might be the answer to your problems if your car has a tow ball. Being low to the ground it’s a lot easier to lift e-bikes or heavy mountain bikes into place. They are held in position using adjustable and removable arms with clamps which click loudly when at the correct tension, so you won’t damage expensive frames. The whole assembly can be tilted out of the way of your rear tailgate at the press of a foot pedal, so you can still access the boot.
The cleverest feature of the XT 2 is its ability to fold up for easy storage in a garage or shed – there’s even a built-in carrying handle to make it easier to move around. Its big brother, the XT 3, even has a wheel so you don’t even need to lift it. The design includes built-in rear lights and a number plate holder.
Halfords advanced 1
Best: For kids’ bikes
This one won’t win any prizes for innovation or looks but it’s a decent budget choice if you only want to carry your bike on the roof once in a blue moon. The wheels are held in position by plastic wedges with simple plastic straps, while the frame is secured by a double-sided arm with rubberised jaws closed by a lockable lever. If your bike has a frame with wider tubes you may struggle to accommodate it, but for children’s cycles and more traditional frames it will be fine.
Sea Sucker talon QR 1-bike
Best: For sports cars
If you need to use a rack on more than one vehicle, or you don’t own a car that can easily accommodate roof bars, this clever design is certainly worth a look. That first trip out with it will be a test of nerves though, as you’ll be wondering whether it’s going to stay in place. The Talon uses a clever system of vacuum cups which will stick to glass, metal or fibreglass to hold bikes up to 20kg in place without marking the bodywork.
Your front forks are clamped in place on a plate with three suckers while the rear uses a simpler single-sucker unit to stop it moving around. It’s rated for use up to 70mph, but if you’re sceptical about its ability to stay in place, take a look on YouTube where you can find footage of it in action at speeds up to 165mph – not something we’d recommend!
Evans FWE three-bike
Best: For family adventures
Got a hatchback and need a rack for occasional use? This one rests on the back of the car on cushioned pads and is held in place with straps. We’ve used racks like these many times without any problems, although it’s a good idea to double-check everything is tight and still in place each time you take a break on a long journey. This one will carry three bikes – kids or adult sizes – and you just have to lift them into place in the frame holders before securing them with rubber straps. It won’t work on cars with prominent roof spoilers or all-glass boot lids. Remember to buy a light board/number plate holder to stay on the right side of the law.
The verdict: Bike racks for cars
Our best buy from Thule is great for anyone who has roof bars and is tall enough to lift their bike up there. Once bolted and locked to your bars it can be left in place all year round. It always held our bikes securely and there was no need to remove the front wheel, meaning we could soon get riding when we arrived at our destination.
If you have invested in a fancy e-bike or mountain bike take a look at the tail-mounted Thule easyfold – it’s much more practical than rival designs, although you’ll need to use it a lot to make it a worthwhile buy.
Looking for a rack to use on a staycation with the family? The FWE design is certainly worth a look if your budget isn’t huge.
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