Selecting a Hitch Mount Bike Rack Jack June 4, 2014 Guide Finding a bike rack may be a simple objective, but with such a myriad of options available on the market, it is not so simple to figure out where to start. A bike rack should ideally fit your vehicle perfectly, fall within your budget and transport your bikes safely, which is why it is so important for you to make a well-informed decision. If you pick the wrong rack the consequences can be dire: it may end up scratching your vehicle, being a safety hazard or result in a damaged, lost or stolen bicycle. Why a Hitch Mount Bike Rack? One of the greatest benefits of a hitch mount bike rack is that there is such a wide variety of designs available. You will find a trailer hitch bike rack for virtually any vehicle or bike out there. Its rear position also makes these racks the most aerodynamic and, unlike roof-mounted carriers, hitch mounts are just the right height to allow you to load and unload your bicycles without having to lift them over your head. A hitch rack is also much more stable than most trunk-mounted racks and many can be adapted to also carry skis, snowboards or cargo holders. Finding The Right Hitch Bike Rack For Your Vehicle Most vehicles that have a hitch receiver can accommodate a hitch mount bike rack. If your vehicle doesn’t have a hitch receiver, this can usually be installed. Classes Hitches are usually divided into classes, according to each vehicle’s towing capacity, from Class I (fits any vehicle, tows up to 2,000 pounds) through Class V (only fits full-size pickups and vans with a towing capacity of 10,000 pounds or more). Hitch mount bike racks usually only fit hitches from Class II and up, as the “tongues” of Class I hitches can’t carry heavy loads. To see what hitch your vehicle has, check the owner’s manual if you have a factory-installed hitch, or if you have an aftermarket hitch, check the hitch itself for a notation, sticker or stamp with the classification. Alternatively, contact the hitch maker directly. Vehicle Design In your search for a trailer hitch bike rack, you need to take your vehicle’s design into consideration to ensure you pick one that is compatible with your setup. If your car has a rear-mounted spare tire, you may need a bike rack with a longer shank (the square metal tube that slides into the hitch receiver) to prevent damage to your vehicle or bikes. Measure the distance from the middle of the hitch’s pin hole to the spare tire’s outermost edge to get the minimum required length for the shank. If you have a vehicle with a low clearance, you will need to double check that the hitch rack you opt for is high enough from the ground to prevent damage to the bikes and the rack itself when you drive over bumps. Vehicle Accessibility With hitch-mounted bike racks, accessibility to the cargo area of the vehicle may become a problem, especially with some of the cheaper, more simplistic models. Fixed-position hitch bike racks always stay in place and you need to remove them to access the back of your vehicle. Tilting hitch bike racks will tilt down at the rack’s base when you pull a switch or remove a pin. These racks allow you to open the rear door or hatch, but you will need to remove the bikes to tilt the rack. Swing-away racks will swing the bikes completely away from the car, giving you unlimited access while the bikes remain on the rack. They usually work by removing a clip or a pin. With Parallelogram Bike Racks you pull a switch to extend the entire rack away from the vehicle, allowing limited access to the back so you can open the rear door or hatch. The bikes can stay on the rack when extended. Finding The Right Hitch Rack For Your Bike Trailer hitch bike racks come in a wide variety of styles and can carry between 2 to 5 bicycles at a time. Deciding which rack to go for will not only depend on your budget, but also which design will work best with your bike frames. Single-Arm Hitch Bike Racks Single-arm trailer hitch bike racks support the bike frame with a single cradle and easily accommodate both standard-frame bikes (such as mountain bikes and road bikes) and alternative-frame bikes (such as women’s or children’s bikes). They are easy to load and can carry up to 5 bikes and come in different designs: Rotatable cradles will rotate in order to keep the bicycle wheels level. They can carry most sizes and styles and come with a hand knob with which you tighten the top plate, securing the bike frame to the rack. These cradles are simple to load, but often bulky, making it hard to secure bikes that have small crossbars, such as kiddies’ bikes. Single, fixed cradles will either have Velcro straps or a single top plate that secure the bikes in their cradles. These cradles can’t rotate and alternative-frame bikes may tilt when cradled from a slanted cross tube. This means ground clearance may become an issue if you have a low vehicle. Dual-arm Hitch Bike Racks Dual-armhitch mount bike racks consist of two cradles that hold the bike frames, supporting it evenly. They can hold up to 5 bikes, while reducing contact between the bikes and preventing them from rocking too much when transported. These are very secure racks, but keep an eye out for ground clearance. Many come with anti-sway cradles or straps. Dual-arm racks are very compatible with standard frame bike and will also fit bikes with an alternative frame, but you may need an adapter bar for these. Models with wide arms are most suitable for bigger bikes, while narrow arms are better for smaller bicycles. Other Considerations Besides figuring out whether your trailer hitch bike rack will fit your vehicle and work for your bikes, you also need to know whether it will work for you. There are a couple of questions you may have to ask yourself before making a purchase: Does the rack have an anti-rattle device and how does it work? Most bike racks have an anti-rattle device, but you need to know how easy it is to use. Some work with an easy twist-knob, but others have a hitch bolt, requiring the use of a wrench every time you load or unload bikes. Does the rack offer theft prevention? Many bikes have integrated locks that secure the bikes and the bike rack to prevent theft. If security is a concern, this is an absolute must-have. How easy is it to store the rack? If you only go for bike rides occasionally, storing a bulky bike rack may become a problem. Many racks can fold away while others have removable arms. Can I tow while using this rack? Some hitch racks allow you to also tow your trailer while the bike rack is installed. How easy is it to install the rack? Most trailer hitch bike racks are easy to install, but some are fairly heavy or require the use of tools. Conclusion Hitch mount bike racks are aerodynamic and easy to load, which makes these racks a great choice. They are however not something you could purchase on a whim. You first need to ensure that you get a rack that will fit your vehicle’s hitch, can accommodate the bikes you plan to use and fulfill your own transportation needs.