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How to Choose a Hitch-Mounted Bike Rack

Platform hitch-mounted bike rack

A hitch-mounted bike rack is a type of bike rack that slides into the receiver of a trailer hitch on a car or truck. This type of rack has some advantages over roof- and trunk-mounted bike racks:

  • Available in a large variety of styles
  • Make it easy to load and unload bikes
  • More aerodynamic than roof-mounted racks
  • Eliminate overhead clearance problems with garage doors compared to roof-mounted racks
  • Available with greater capacity than most trunk-mounted bike racks
  • More secure than trunk-mounted racks
  • Work with more vehicle models than trunk-mounted racks

Questions to consider when choosing a hitch-mounted bike rack:


Looking for the best bike racks?

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Different Racks for Different Kinds of Bikes

Bike racks come in a variety of styles - some work better than others for carrying specific kinds of bikes. You can even find racks that are designed to fit specialized bikes like tandems and recumbents. No matter which kind of bike you have, there is a hitch-mounted bike rack that can carry it.


Best Types of Racks for Different Kinds of Bikes
Standard frame road bicycle

Road and mountain bikes
Hitch-mounted hanging style bicycle carrier
  • Standard-frame bikes work well with all types of hitch-mounted racks.
  • The largest hanging style racks can carry 5 bikes.
  • Platform racks provide a stable and secure platform for your bikes. They make minimal contact with bike frames.
  • Hanging wheel-only-mount racks contact your bikes only by the wheels.
Hanging
Hitch-mounted platform bicycle carrier
Platform
Hitch-mounted V-shaped hanging style bicycle carrier
Hanging - wheel only mount

Bicycle with step through frame

Bikes with step-through frames
Hitch-mounted hanging style bicycle carrier
  • Hanging-style racks usually require use of an adapter bar to allow the bike to hang level.
  • Platform racks hold bikes level regardless of frame type.
  • Hanging wheel-only-mount racks hold bikes level regardless of frame type.
Hanging
Hitch-mounted platform bicycle carrier
Platform
Hitch-mounted V-shaped hanging style bicycle carrier
Hanging - wheel only mount

Standard frame road bike on hitch-mounted rack

Children's bikes
Hitch-mounted hanging style bike rack in use
  • Children's bikes fit best on hanging racks with closely spaced dual arms or single arms with small cradles.
  • An adapter bar may be needed to carry some children's bikes. You should check the adapter bar's length to make sure it will fit your bike.
Hanging

Carbon fiber frame bicycle

Bikes with carbon fiber frames
Hitch-mounted platform bicycle carrier with wheel clamps
  • Racks that contact bike frames can damage those made of carbon fiber. To maintain the warranties on these fragile frames, you should select a bike rack that makes no contact with bike frames.
  • Platform racks clamp onto bikes' wheels, eliminating all contact with frames.
  • Hanging wheel-only-mount racks contact bikes only by their wheels.
Platform with wheel clamps
Hitch-mounted V-shaped hanging style bicycle carrier
Hanging - wheel only mount

Bicycle with suspension

Bikes with suspension
Hitch-mounted hanging style bicycle carrier
  • Hanging-style racks can hold up to 5 bikes.
  • Platform racks that clamp onto wheels won't compress your bike's suspension when it's mounted.
  • Hanging wheel-only-mount racks won't compress your bike's suspension.
Hanging
Hitch-mounted platform bicycle carrier with wheel clamps
Platform with wheel clamps
Hitch-mounted V-shaped hanging style bicycle carrier
Hanging - wheel only mount




Different Types of Hitch-Mounted Bike Racks

Hanging style hitch-mounted bike rack in use with bicycle Platform style hitch-mounted bike rack in use with bicycle

Hitch-mounted bike racks fall into one of two major groups - hanging and platform (or wheel-mount) style racks. A few racks are designed to carry non-traditional bikes, such as recumbents, tandems, trikes, or other specialty bikes. To read more about specialty bike racks, see the section Specialty Bike Racks.


Hanging Style Platform Style
  • Hold up to a maximum of 2 - 5 bikes
  • Weigh less than platform sytle racks
  • Require sway control devices to prevent bikes from swaying
  • Cost less than platform racks
  • May require adapter bar for alternative-framed bikes
  • Contact frame (except for a few wheel-only-mount racks)
  • Fit 1-1/4" x 1-1/4" and 2" x 2" hitches
  • Hold up to a maximum of 2 - 4 bikes
  • Provide a stable platform - eliminate sway problems
  • Hold a large variety of bikes level
  • Make minimal contact with frames
  • Load and unload easier
  • Fit 1-1/4" x 1-1/4" and 2" x 2" hitches

Hanging Style Bike Racks

Hitch-mounted hanging style bicycle carrier installed on vehicle

Most hanging bike racks support bikes by their frames, so that the bike hangs from its top tube. These hanging racks work best on standard-frame bikes. A few hanging bike racks hold bikes by their wheels, eliminating contact with bike frames. These wheel-only mount racks can easily accommodate bikes with alternative frames.


Hitch-mounted bike rack adapter bar in use Hitch-mounted bike rack adapter bar

Bikes with alternative frames may not hang level on a hanging rack. If you have a bike with an alternative frame, and it doesn't hang level, an adapter bar can help. An adapter bar clamps onto the seatpost and head tube of your bike and provides a support that rests on the bike rack's arms.


Bike Rack with Anti-Sway Cradles

Bikes can sway on hanging racks, making contact with other bikes or with your vehicle. To help stop sway, many racks come with anti-sway cradles that grasp bikes by their frames and prevent them from swinging.


Dual-Arm Bike Rack

Dual arm bike rack installed with bike mounted

These racks have 2 arms to provide a stable platform to support bikes.


Widely-Spaced Arms vs. Narrowly Spaced Arms

Arm spacing varies among dual-arm racks. Widely spaced arms provide the best stability for holding larger bikes, but smaller bikes may not fit on racks with wide arms.


Single-Arm Bike Racks

Single arm bike rack installed with bike mounted Single, Rotatable Cradles

Single-arm racks support each bike on a single cradle. They secure bikes with clamps (top plates) or Velcro-like straps.

  • Many of these racks have single,fixed cradles that don't rotate. You may need an adapter bar to carry bikes that have non-standard frames level.
  • The cradles of some single-arm racks rotate, which allows them to adjust to carry alternative-framed bikes.
  • The small frames of children's bikes may not fit over the cradles if the cradles are too bulky.
  • The cradles on some of these racks secure bikes in place with straps and Velcro-like connectors, which allow the racks to hold bikes with large diameter tubes.

Hitch-mounted bike rack Shop for a hanging bike rack



Wheel-Only-Mount Hanging Bike Racks

V-shaped bike rack installed with bike mounted Hitch-mounted wheel only mount jackknife bicycle rack in use mounted on vehicle

Wheel-only-mount bike racks hold your bikes by their wheels, thereby avoiding contact with your bikes' frames.

  • V-Shaped racks can carry a wide range of bike sizes and frame styles. The use of straps is required to keep bikes from swinging on these racks.
  • Unique hanging racks hold bikes by their wheels in a vertical position. The racks can be folded up like a jackknife when not in use. Most bikes with standard wheel sizes will fit on these racks.


Platform or Wheel-Mount Bike Racks

Platform style hitch-mounted bicycle carrier mounted on vehicle

These racks support bikes by their wheels. The bikes sit on top of the rack, the tires resting in cradles. Adjustable wheel holders allow platform bike racks to fit a wide range of bikes regardless of size, frame, suspension, or wheel size. You can easily load bikes on this style of rack.


Frame Clamp Style

Platform style bicycle carrier installed and in use Platform style hitch-mounted bike rack with frame clamps

Frame-style clamps hook over your bike's crossbar, holding the bike in place by the frame. This type of rack provides a very stable way to carry your bikes - because they eliminate bike sway, you won't need to use anti-sway devices. And you won't have to worry about bikes making contact with each other or your vehicle.


Wheel Clamp Style

Platform style bike rack installed on vehicle and in use Platform style hitch-mounted bike rack with wheel clamps

The clamps on this style of rack hold bikes in place by their wheels, eliminating any contact with frames. This is a great option if you want to protect your bike's finish and maintain its warranty, which can be invalidated by using any rack that grasps the bike's frame. This type of rack is also a good choice for bikes with suspension because it doesn't push down on the frame.



Blue ribbon award symbol etrailer.com's Recommended Bike Racks


# 1 # 2 # 3
Easy symbol
Ease of Use
Kuat Sherpa 2-bike hitch-mounted platform bicycle carrier Yakima LiteRider 3-bike hitch-mounted hanging style bicycle carrier Thule Roadway 2-bike hitch-mounted hanging style bicycle carrier
Kuat Sherpa 2 Yakima LiteRider Thule Roadway
  • Lightweight (32 lbs) platform rack
  • High capacity - (2) 40 lb bikes
  • No tools needed
  • Ultra-lightweight (21 lbs) hanging rack
  • Capacity - (3) 35 lb bikes
  • ZipStrip straps, locking SpeedKnob, and pull pin add to ease of use
  • No tools needed
  • Hanging platform rack
  • Capacity - 2 bikes (70 lbs total)
  • Quick-release levers
  • Built-in anti-rattle pin
Star symbol

Premium
Kuat NV 4 4-bike hitch-mounted platform bicycle carrier Thule T2 Pro 4-bike hitch-mounted hanging style bicycle carrier Yakima Holdup 2-bike platform style hitch-mounted bicycle carrier
Kuat NV 2.0 4 Bike Thule T2 Pro Yakima HoldUp
  • Aluminum - corrosion resistant
  • High capacity - 60 lbs per bike
  • No frame contact
  • Built-in bike repair stand
  • Locks included
  • No tools needed
  • Steel
  • High capacity - 60 lbs per bike
  • No frame contact
  • HitchSwitch tilt lever
  • Fatbike compatible
  • Built-in locks
  • No tools needed
  • Steel
  • High capacity - 60 lbs per bike
  • No frame contact
  • 2-Bike add-on is available
  • Locks included
  • Built-in bottle opener
Dollar symbol

Best Value
Thule 4-bike hitch-mounted hanging style bicycle carrier Swagman XTC-2 2-bike hitch-mounted platform bicycle carrier Hollywood Racks 2-bike hitch-mounted platform style bicycle carrier
Thule Hitching Post Pro Swagman XTC-2 Hollywood Racks Trail Rider
  • Best value
  • Capacity - (4) 35 lb bikes
  • Tilting mast
  • Anti-sway cradles
  • Anti-rattle bolt
  • Inexpensive
  • Capacity - 35 lbs per bike
  • Lightweight - 30 lbs
  • Adjustable wheel hoops
  • Folding mast
  • Inexpensive
  • High capacity - 50 lbs per bike
  • Adjustable wheel hoops
  • Folding arms and mast
Family symbol

Family
Swagman 4-bike hitch-mounted platform style bicycle carrier Hollywood Racks 4-bike hitch-mounted platform sytle bicycle carrier Curt 4-bike hitch-mounted hanging style bicycle carrier
Swagman XTC-4 Hollywood Racks Sport Rider SE Curt Premium 4
  • Inexpensive
  • Capacity - (4) 35 lb bikes
  • Weight - 59 lbs
  • Angled platform improves ground clearance
  • Folding mast and platform
  • Anti-rattle hitch pin
  • High capacity - (4) 45 lb bikes
  • Weight - 74 lbs
  • Shank rises 7" to increase ground clearance
  • Folding mast and platform
  • Built-in locks
  • Anti-rattle hitch pin
  • Inexpensive
  • High capacity - 4 bikes (180 lbs total)
  • Weight - 41 lbs
  • Tapered arms
  • Tilting mast
  • Folding arms
  • Anti-rattle hitch pin




Specialty Bike Racks

Specialty hitch-mounted bike racks are available to carry many different kinds of specialty bikes. See the many kinds that etrailer.com offers, below.


Racks for Tandem Bikes

Hitch-mounted bicycle carrier for tandem bikes in use Hanging style hitch-mounted bicycle carrier for tandem bicycles

The arms on these racks are spaced wide to hold the long frame of a tandem bike. These racks may also have built-in anti-sway cradles to help keep a tandem bike steady while it's being transported.


Note: You may have to remove 1 or both wheels from your bike if it extends out past your vehicle's mirrors.



Racks for Recumbent Bikes

Hitch-mounted bicycle carrier for tandems in use Hitch-mounted bike rack for recumbent bikes

Smaller wheel hoops can be spaced far enough apart on these racks to fit the smaller wheels and longer wheelbases of recumbents.



Racks for Trikes

Hitch-mounted bicycle carrier for trikes in use Hitch-mounted bicycle carrier for tricycle

The 3 wheel cradles are sized and spaced to fit the wheels on trikes. Some of these racks can carry standard bikes and recumbents as well as trikes.



Racks for Fatbikes

Hitch-mounted cicycle carrier for fatbikes in use Hitch-mounted bicycle carrier for fatbikes

The cradles on these specialty platform style bike racks are wide to support the extra large tires found on fatbikes.



Racks for Electric Bikes

Hitch-mounted bicycle carrier for electric bikes in use Hitch-mounted bicycle carrier for electric bicycles

These racks are designed to handle the extra weight of electric bikes. To provide the needed extra strength, critical joints are welded and heavy duty materials are used in their construction.





Hitch Sizes

Before you buy a hitch-mounted bike rack, you'll need to know if it will fit the hitch on your vehicle.


Hitch and label showing maximum tow weight and maximum tongue weight

Most hitches have a 2" x 2" or 1-1/4" x 1-1/4" receiver opening. If the opening of your vehicle's hitch is 2" x 2", any bike rack made for this opening size will fit. If your hitch is 1-1/4" x 1-1/4", you'll need to know its class to ensure that you find a bike rack that will fit. Hitches that are 1-1/4" x 1-1/4" are Class I or Class II. Class II hitches can carry more weight than Class I. To help prevent overloading of a Class I hitch, some manufacturers design their Class I hitches so that Class II accessories won't fit into them. If you have a Class I hitch, you'll have to make sure that any bike rack you consider fits Class I hitches. If you have a Class II hitch, you can use a bike rack that fits Class I and Class II.


If you don't know the class of your hitch, you should be able to determine it based on the hitch's maximum capacity. The capacity can be found on a sticker on the hitch, or it will be stamped into the hitch. The pictured hitch shows a typical location of a sticker. The maximum tongue weight of this hitch is 450 lbs. Most Class I hitches have a tongue weight capacity of 200 lbs, and most Class II hitches have a tongue weight capacity of 350 lbs.



Don't have a hitch? No problem!

Class III hitch

If your vehicle doesn't have a hitch, you can install one. To install most hitches, you don't need a lot of mechanical skill - you just need to have a few basic hand tools. Our fitguide can help you find the perfect custom-fit hitch for your vehicle.


Class III hitch Shop for a custom-fit hitch for your vehicle



Bike Rack and Vehicle Compatibility


Illustration of where to measure to check for spare tire clearance side view of hitch-mounted bike rack Diagram showing where to measure a platform rack for spare tire clearance

If your vehicle has a rear-mounted spare, you should make sure that the bike rack will clear it when the bike rack is installed. See how to measure, below, to check for clearance.

  • Measure the distance from the center of the hitch pin hole on your hitch receiver to the outermost edge of the spare tire
  • Check the distance from the center of the hitch pin hole in the shank to the closest part of the upright mast of a hanging rack or to the closest wheel cradle of a platform rack
    • This distance is listed in our bike rack descriptions
  • To ensure adequate clearance, the measurement of the bike rack should be greater than the measurement taken on your vehicle
  • You can measure in a similar way to check for bumper clearance - just measure from the center of the hitch pin hole to the outermost edge of the bumper instead of measuring to the spare tire

Trailer hitch extension in use Trailer hitch extension

You can add an extension to your hitch to give you more clearance, but remember that an extension will reduce the weight capacity of your hitch by half.


Read more about measuring for spare tire clearance

Do you drive a vehicle with low ground clearance?

Mini-Cooper Hitch-mounted bike rack showing a built-in rise

When mounted on a vehicle that has low ground clearance, a hitch-mounted bike rack can drag when you drive over dips in the road or in driveways. If your vehicle has low ground clearance, consider a bike rack that has a built-in rise in the shank, as shown in the rack pictured above. This rise can help to prevent the bike rack from dragging on the ground.





Bike Rack Capacities

Typical hitch-mounted bike racks are available to carry from 2 to 5 bikes. Racks for specialty bikes, like trikes and recumbents, may only be able to carry 1 bike. When you're considering a rack, make sure that it fits your vehicle's hitch. See the table, below, to see the opening sizes and typical maximum capacities of trailer hitches.


Hitch Class Facts

1-1/4" x 1-1/4" Class I Hitch 1-1/4" x 1-1/4" Class II Hitch 2" x 2" Class III, IV, and V Hitches
Opening Size labelled 1-1/4 labelled hitch opening labelled 1-1/4 labelled hitch opening Labelled 2inch hitch opening
Maximum Tongue Weight Weight illustration
200 lbs
Weight illustration Weight illustration
350 lbs
Weight illustration Weight illustration Weight illustration
Over 350 lbs
Bike Capacity Two bikes to illustrate capacity of Class I hitch bike rack Four bikes to illustrate capacity of Class II hitch bike rack Five bikes to illustrate capacity of Class III hitch bike rack




Special Features

Many bike racks have features that make it more convenient, easier to use, and more secure. They may tilt or swing out of the way to allow you to gain access to the rear of your vehicle. They may have built-in locks to keep your rack and bikes secure. Many have anti-rattle devices that prevent the rack from rattling inside the hitch.


Swing-Away Bike Rack Swing away bike rack with bike loaded and vehicle hatch open

Swing-Away Hanging-Style Bike Racks

  • Rack swings away from vehicle
  • Unlimited access to the rear of the vehicle
  • Bikes can remain on the rack when it is swung away from vehicle


Tilting Bike Rack Tilt away bike rack on vehicle, no bike, tilted down, hatch open

Tilting Hanging-Style Bike Racks

  • Rack tilts down at the base of the rack
  • Limited access to the rear of the vehicle
  • Rack remains behind vehicle, but rear hatch or door can be opened
  • Bikes must be removed before tilting


Parallelogram Bike Rack Parallelogram tilting bike rack, installed, in lowered position, with bikes

Parallelogram Hanging-Style Bike Racks

  • Limited access to the rear of the vehicle
  • Rack remains behind vehicle, but rear hatch or door can be opened
  • Bikes can remain on rack while it is extended
  • Rack arms remain parallel to the ground, keeping bikes upright when rack is extended


Platform bike rack with arms folded down for access to rear of vehicle Platform bike rack installed, mast folded down, vehicle hatch open

Folding Arms on Platform-Style Racks

  • Limited access to the rear of the vehicle
  • Rack remains in place on vehicle, but allows room to open rear hatch or door
  • Bikes must be removed for access to rear of vehicle


Platform hitch-mounted bicycle rack folded up Platform hitch-mounted bicycle rack installed on vehicle, folded up

Fold-Up Platform-Style Racks

  • Platforms can be folded up
  • Rack stays out of your way when not in use


Tilt-away hitch-mounted bicycle rack in tilted-down position Platform hitch-mounted bicycle rack tilted with bikes for access to rear of vehicle

Tilting Platform-Style Racks

  • Limited access to rear of vehicle
  • Rack remains in place on vehicle, but allows room to open rear hatch or door
  • Bikes can remain on rack


Levers, Pins, and Clips

Pin and Clip Used to Operate Folding Arms Switch Used to Operate Tilting Feature

Bike rack parts that fold are usually held in place by a pin and clip or an internal mechanism that is released by a lever. The lever style is easier to use than a pin and clip, but is usually found on more expensive racks.



Anti-Rattle Devices

Knob Used to Tighten Anti-Rattle Device

Anti-rattle devices eliminate rattling and jostling of the rack in the hitch during transport.

  • Twist-knob anti-rattle device
    • Extremely convenient
    • Simple knob twist gives the bike rack a snug fit within the hitch
    • Does not require tools

Anti-Rattle Hitch Bolt and Pin
  • Anti-rattle hitch bolt
    • Bolt threads through hitch and receiver
    • Tightening the bolt creates stability
    • Requires wrench (often included with bolt)


Does the bike rack offer an integrated locking system?

Intergrated Cable Lock
  • Integrated cable lock
    • Bike rack will have an integrated cable that secure bikes to the rack
    • Lock stored on bike rack when not in use


Lockable Cradle
  • Lockable cradles
    • Available on single-arm bike racks
    • Outer-cradle top plate locks bike into place, preventing removal of all bikes from the rack


Bike Rack Hitch Lock
  • Hitch locks
    • Included with some bike racks
    • Secures bike rack to the vehicle
    • See individual bike racks for details