Cycling is a fun and healthy hobby that's great for all ages. If you've caught the cycling bug recently, then you've probably realized something. Bicycles are too big to transport inside of your vehicle. That's a shame because the best cycling paths need you to drive to them first.
That's why you need a bicycle rack for your car, truck, or SUV.
When you buy one, you'll face a dilemma. Do you go with a roof bike rack or a hitch bike rack?
If you're currently pondering this question, you're in luck. I'm here to pit a bike rack vs. roof rack systems in the ultimate comparison. Along the way, you'll learn about the pros and cons of each so you can make the most informed decision.
An Overview of Roof Bike Racks
Lots of cyclists opt for roof racks due to their versatility. In addition to bicycles, a roof rack can transport lots of other things, including:
- A cargo bag or box
To learn more about rooftop cargo, check out this matchup between boxes and baskets. If your vehicle has a spacious roof, you can fit quite a few bicycles onto the rack. That comes in handy if you're bringing along bikes for the whole family.
To use a roof bike rack, you'll need to have a vehicle with crossbars. If you don't currently have these, you can install them on any car. Some cyclists stray away from roof racks for this reason, as they don't want to spring for crossbars and a bike rack.
For example, the Yakima HighRoad Wheel-On Mount Uprike Bike Carrier is a best-seller on Amazon.
It boasts a perfect five-star rating with 276 individual user reviews. It can hold any bicycle, including mountain bikes. At the affordable price of $249.00, it's a cost-effective way to transport your bike.
Its sleek design will keep your bicycle protected at all times. The rack won't make contact with the bike frame or paint, preserving your bicycle's quality. Other essential features include:
- Fits 26" to 29" wheels as well as 23 mm to 4" tires without any adjustments
- No wheel removal is required for transport
- Effortless to install and use thanks to the TorqueRight tightening knob
- Locking system available for add-on
If roof bike racks are your fancy, then this premium offering is sure to satisfy. It can fit any bike, and it will protect your paint job. If you're worried about security, you can opt for the two-key locking system add-on.
Do Roof Bike Racks Damage Your Car?
A roof rack can scratch your car and potentially damage your bicycle. Yet, this mainly happens with lower-quality roof racks with design flaws. Roof racks such as the Yakima rack mentioned above feature better quality and design.
It will also come down to how well you install your roof-mounted bike rack. It's imperative to follow all the manufacturer's instructions for installation.
If you properly install a high-quality roof bike rack, you won't see any damage to your car or bicycle.
Here are a few general rules to follow when installing a roof bike rack:
- Make sure your vehicle is immaculate and grit-free before installation
- Apply a protection film to protect your paint
- Obtain any necessary tools or products for the installation
- Be careful when mounting the bike as not to damage your vehicle
- Ensure that everything is installed correctly before driving anywhere
As long as you follow these guidelines and purchase a high-quality roof rack, you should be all set.
Are Roof Bike Racks Safe?
Another familiar question bicycle owners ask is if roof racks are safe or not. After all, you don't want anyone stealing your precious bicycles. If safety is a concern for you, you'll be happy to know that there are locking mechanisms for roof racks.
Many roof bike racks, such as the Yakima one we mentioned, have locking systems. That way, you can lock down your bicycles to your car to prevent theft.
In the case of a bike rack, a roof rack is safer. Why? Because the bikes are higher up and more challenging for thieves to reach! Just as roof racks are more cumbersome to load, they're also more cumbersome to steal. As long as your bicycles are locked down to the roof, you should be fine.
Benefits of Roof Bike Racks
- Convenient location. With your bikes mounted on the roof, you won't have to worry about them obscuring your view when driving. You'll also maintain full access to your trunk at all times.
- They carry more extensive, bulkier cargo. A roof rack can transport just about anything. They're just as efficient at transporting kayaks as they are bicycles. If you have many outdoor toys that vary in shape and size, a roof-mounted rack is the best way to go.
- Superior safety. As previously stated, a roof bike rack is the safest option for bicycles. If you get a locking rack, your bicycles will stay safe and sound at all times. Since they're higher up in the air, thieves are less likely to go after them.
- Durable and long-lasting. Crossbars and roof racks are notoriously durable. Once you buy one, you can expect it to last you a very long time. You can always rely on a sturdy roof rack to transport anything you need for years to come.
Drawbacks of Roof Bike Racks
- Height restrictions. With bicycles on the roof, you can't whiz under height-restricted areas like before. Instead, you'll have to watch height limitations like a hawk. The last thing that you want is to misjudge an underpass and destroy your bike as a result.
- Bad fuel economy. Adding bulky bicycles to the roof of your vehicle will alter its aerodynamics. You'll get less wind resistance, and you'll go slower because of that. In addition, you'll take a hit on your fuel economy during the trip. If you have a roof bike rack installed, expect to pay a bit more in gasoline.
- Hard to load. If you're shorter in height or have a tall vehicle, accessing the roof can be a pain. Lifting a bicycle over your head is just begging for disaster. A hitch bike rack is a better option if you find that reaching your roof is too much of a feat.
Here’s a Roof Bike Racks video installation guideline:
An Overview of Hitch Bike Racks
Next, let's take a detailed look at the other side of the coin, hitch bike racks. A hitch bike rack attaches to the rear of your vehicle. You connect it to the back and transport your bikes that way. It's one of the most popular forms of transporting bicycles. Hitch racks are easy to load and unload, and they won't affect your wind resistance.
If you have many bikes to transport, then a hitch bike rack is the way to go. You can carry far more bikes with a hitch rack than a roof rack. In fact, many roof racks can only take one bicycle at a time. While you can't transport other items, you can carry quite a few bikes at once.
Let's look at an example that cyclists love. The Saris Bones Car Bike Hitch Carrier can carry up to four bicycles.
It easily mounts to the back of any car, truck, or SUV. It's very reasonably priced at $170.89. Even if your car has a spoiler, you can still use this fantastic hitch rack. If you hate using flappy straps to secure your bicycles, then you're going to love this rack. It features integrated strap management to keep everything nice and organized.
Other essential features include:
- Amazing ratchet straps
- 100% recyclable materials
- A clean, sleek look
- Premium bike hold-downs
- Lightweight at only 11 pounds
- Easy to store anywhere at home
If you're taking lots of bicycles with you on a long journey, then this hitch rack will do right by you. It's made from high-quality synthetic materials that will last for years. To see some more comparisons, check out our roof versus hitch cargo carrier
What is the Best Type of Hitch Bike Rack?
Saris hitch bike racks get my pick for the best. That's because they design incredible hitch bike racks that fit almost every car in existence. They have the highest compatibility out of any other rack on the market. They also use premium synthetic materials for durability and the good of the environment. Saris makes use of 100% recyclable materials for the good of our planet.
How Do I Choose a Hitch Bike Rack?
You should carefully consider your unique needs when selecting a hitch rack. Here are a few tips:
- Consider how many bikes that you need to transport. Do you have two bikes, eight bikes, or four bikes? That will determine which type of hitch rack to purchase.
- Set a budget limit and try to find a hitch bike rack that lands within it.
- Try to find a hitch rack that does not obscure your view out the back of your vehicle.
- Ensure that the hitch rack that you choose is durable and will last for many years.
- Bear in mind that the more bikes you transport, the longer it will make your vehicle in the back.
Are Hitch Bike Racks Legal?
It will all come down to the state that you live in and whether or not your rack covers your license plate. If your hitch bike rack is covering up your license plate, then you could get pulled over. Some states are more lenient about this issue than others. Some states allow bike racks to obscure the license plate partially. Still, it's crucial to find a bike rack that won't cover up your license plate.
How Fast Can You Drive with a Hitch Bike Rack?
A hitch bike rack is a lot more stable than a trunk rack. As a result, you'll be able to reach a faster speed without hitting any resistance. Your top speed will depend on a few factors, including how many bikes you have mounted and your vehicle type. The weight of the bike rack will come into play here as well.
If you're hauling heavy bikes, you won't be able to get up past 55 MPH. If your bicycles are light and only have a few of them, your max speed can reach 65 MPH. Yet, you shouldn't exceed 65 MPH with a hitch rack for safety purposes.
Benefits of Hitch Bike Racks
- Affordability. In general, hitch bike racks tend to be the most cost-effective option. You can find a hitch bike rack at a reasonable price without sacrificing its quality.
- No chance of damage. Since your bicycles are suspended out the back, there's no chance of them getting damaged. Unlike roof mounts, you won't have to worry about paint scrapes or frame damage.
- Effortless to load. Don't feel like reaching the roof of your car? Then you'll love a hitch bike rack. You'll barely have to lift your bicycle off the ground to mount it on your rack.
- Simple installation. Once again, you won't have to tire out your arms reaching onto your roof. All you'll have to do is set up a few simple connections at waist height. Once it's slid into place, you won't have to worry about it again for the rest of the trip.
Drawbacks of Hitch Bike Racks
- View obstruction. A hitch bike rack can obstruct your view out the back of your car. That can be a considerable safety hazard if you don't address it and lower the rack.
- They extend the length of your vehicle. You need to develop a special awareness when using hitch racks. Since your bikes will stick out the back, they will extend the length of your vehicle. If you aren't prepared for this, it can lead to an accident.
- Less safe. Even with a locking mechanism, your bikes are far easier to access with a hitch bike rack. They're out in the open for anyone to approach and steal. For this reason, roof racks are safer.
Here’s a Hitch Bike Racks video installation guideline
Bike Rack vs. Roof Rack: Making a Decision
Now that we've dissected bike rack vs. roof rack systems, it's time to declare a winner. After lots of careful consideration, I've selected:
- Winner: Roof Bike Rack
You just can't beat a solid roof rack to transport your bikes. If you buy a high-quality rack, it will keep your vehicle and bike free of damage. It's also the safer and more versatile option for cyclists.
Of course, hitch racks have their place. If you have to transport a large number of bicycles, a hitch rack is superior. Like anything else, it will come down to your individual needs. To learn more about car cargo, check out our cargo carriers for cars guide. Also, don't forget to check us out at The Roof Boxes.