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How to Choose a Roof-Mounted Bike Rack

Custom Fit Roof Bike Racks

Thule square load bars

Looking for a way to carry bikes on your vehicle, but not sure the best way to do it? Roof mounted bike racks are one of several options that are available to you. We'll help you decide whether a roof mounted bike rack is for you and, if so, which rack will best meet your needs. Learn more about these racks in the article below.

A roof mounted bike rack is a good choice if:

If a roof rack looks like a good choice for you, then consider these questions to help you find the right one.

blue ribbon symbol Best Roof Mounted Bike Racks Available Now

Popular Roof Mounted BIke Racks

The bike racks shown below are the most recommended and popular bike racks available. Click on any bike rack to learn more and to shop for that rack.

Features that these high quality bike racks share:

1. Kuat Trio

Kuat Trio roof mounted bike rack
Watch a review of Kuat Trio

2. Thule Circuit XT

Thule Circuit XT fork mount bike rack
Watch a review of Thule Circuit XT

3. Rhino Rack MountainTrail

Rhino-Rack MountainTrail fork mount bicycle carrier
Watch a review of Rhino Rack MountainTrail

4. RockyMounts JetLine

RockyMounts JetLine Red fork mount bicycle rack
Watch a review of RockyMounts JetLine

5. Yakima FrontLoader

Yakima FrontLoader wheel mount bicycle carrier
Watch a review of Yakima FrontLoader

How to Choose a Bike Carrier That Fits Your Vehicle

Most roof-mounted bike racks are designed to mount to the crossbars of a roof rack. So, to make sure that a bike rack will fit your roof rack, you should determine both the shape (cross section) of your crossbars and the distance between the front and rear crossbar (crossbar spread). Racks offered by Seasucker offer another mounting option - vacuum cups. These racks don't need crossbars - they attach directly to a vehicle's trunk, roof, or glass, and can be mounted and removed in seconds.

Read more about roof racks

Crossbar Shapes

The following crossbar pictures illustrate the most common shapes of roof rack crossbars.

Crossbar Spread

This dimension is measured between the centerlines of the 2 crossbars.

Roof rack crossbar spread

Vacuum Cups

Roof racks by Seasucker attach by means of vacuum cups. These racks can be mounted on metal, glass, or fiberglass surfaces. They eliminate the need for crossbars, and they can be mounted or removed quickly.

Roof mounted bicycle carrier with vacuum cups Roof mounted bicycle carrier with vacuum cups mounted on car

Watch a Seasucker roof mounted bike rack review

Bike Rack Fit on Crossbars

Roof-mounted bike racks that mount to crossbars are built either with clamps that can attach to most shapes of crossbars or with mounting plates that slide into crossbars that have a channel. Clamps and mounting plates usually can slide along the rack to allow the rack to fit a range of crossbar spreads. Because they're adjustable, most bike racks can fit many different types of roof racks, allowing you to choose from most of the roof racks available. However, no matter which bike rack you investigate, you should carefully read its description to determine whether it will fit your roof-rack system.

Roof mounted bicycle carrier attachment methods

Roof mounted bicycle carrier Shop for roof mounted bike racks based on crossbar type

How to Choose a Bike Carrier That Fits Your Bikes

Roof-mounted bike racks can accommodate most kinds of bikes - a few racks will even hold tandems and recumbents.

Bike racks are divided into 3 types, which differ in the way they hold onto the bike. To mount a bike on a fork mount rack, you must remove the front wheel and attach the fork to a skewer (a pin). Other racks clamp onto the bike's frame or wheel to hold the bike in place.

Racks for Standard Bikes

Roof racks fit most standard bike types: road bikes, mountain bikes, bikes with step-through frames, children's bikes, bikes with fiber frames, and bikes with suspension

Rack Types
Fork mount roof bicycle carrier with bicycle
  • Skewer clamps bicycle fork securely, eliminating sway
    • Recommended for bikes with composite frames
  • Front wheel of bike must be removed
  • Not all fork-mount racks can be used for bikes with disc brakes
  • Front wheel can be mounted to a bike wheel carrier that mounts to a crossbar

Note: The rack must match your bike's forks - read more about fit, below
Fork mount
Wheel mount roof bicycle carrier
  • Arms hold your bicycle in place by its wheels - no need to remove wheels
  • Avoids contact with frame - recommended for bikes with composite frames
  • Carries most types of bikes including those with disc brakes
Wheel mount
Frame mount roof bicycle carrier
  • Arm holds your bike in place by its frame
  • Carries most types of bikes including those with disc brakes
  • Not recommended for bikes with composite frames
Frame mount

Racks for Specialty Bikes

Some roof racks are designed to fit the wide tires of fatbikes. And some roof racks are especially made to carry bikes with extra long frames, like recumbents and tandems, on your vehicle's roof. Many of these racks have a special type of skewer that swings out or swivels to make it easy to load one of these specialty bikes.

Rack Types
Roof-mounted bike rack for fat bikes
  • Designed to carry a fatbike on your vehicle's roof
  • Large wheel stops and extra-long wheel straps accommodate fatbike tires
Roof mounted bicycle carrier for tandem and recumbent bicycles
  • Designed to carry a recumbent or tandem bike on your vehicle's roof
  • Extra long tray accommodates long bike frames
  • Fork mount style with pivoting headset allows easy 1-person loading and unloading
  • Requires removal of bike's front tire
Recumbent or
tandem bikes

Find a Fork-Mount Rack That Fits Your Bike

Most fork-mounted bike racks are designed to fit 1 of 2 front axle designs. The front fork of some bikes is slotted, and the axle and wheel drop out when loosened. The other type of fork is not slotted and the axle must be removed from the side. This second type of front fork is referred to as a thru-axle.

Each of the 2 fork types requires a different bike rack mount. Racks for the slotted type of fork have a skewer that the fork can slide onto. Racks that are made for a thru-axle have a tube that the bike axle must ride in or a clamp that encloses the axle.

Many racks can fit a variety of front axles. And adapters are available to allow many racks to fit even more bike types. With so many options available, you can find a fork-mount rack for almost any bike.

Slotted Forks

Closeup of skewer of fork-mount roof-mounted bicycle carrier Closeup of skewer of fork-mount roof-mounted bicycle carrier with bicycle

Racks for bikes with slotted forks come with skewers of different sizes, or diameters, which must match the slots in your bike's forks. The picture shows where the skewer is measured and also shows a bike mounted on this kind of rack.


Closeup of thru-axle roof-mount bicycle carrier with without and with bicycle

Racks for bikes with thru-axles come with tubes of different sizes, or inside diameters, which should match the diameter of the skewer of your bike.

Fork-mount roof-mounted bicycle carrier

Shop for roof-mount bike racks by fork type


Fork Mount Bike Adapter

Fork-mount bike racks are made to fit specific sizes of bike axles. But if you have multiple bikes with different types of front axles, or you get a new bike that doesn't match your rack, you don't have to buy a new rack. You can get an adapter, instead. Most adapters fit standard 9mm mounts and 1 or more sizes of thru-axles.

Roof-mounted bicycle carrier fork mount adapter

Shop for bike fork adapters

Capacity - How Many Bikes You Can Carry

These factors limit the number of bikes you can carry:

The maximum weight capacity of your vehicle's roof, more than any other factors, will affect the maximum number of bikes you can carry. Be sure to include the weight of your bikes, bike racks, and crossbar system when calculating the total weight you want to carry on your vehicle's roof. Some SUVs and other large vehicles may be able to carry up to 6 bikes, but smaller cars may be limited to 2.

Note: Your owner's manual should specify the maximum weight capacity of the your vehicle's roof.

The number of bikes you can carry is limited by the width of your crossbars.

Illustration of roof-mounted crossbar

Hint: To carry a large number of bikes, reverse the direction of every other rack.

Features and Accessories

Consider the following bike rack features and accessories to make your bike transporting experience easier, safer, and more secure.

Reaching Your Roof

If you have trouble reaching your roof (especially the roof of an SUV or van) several options that can help are available.

Wheel-Mounted Step

Wheel Steps

Wheel steps mount on your vehicle's tire. They are easy to use and, typically, easy to store, so that you can bring your accesory step with you wherever you go and then stow it in your trunk or cargo area.

Vehicle wheel mounted step Shop for wheel steps

Nerf Bars, Running Boards, or Vehicle Side Steps

If you don't feel stable simply standing on the sill plate of your vehicle, side steps are an excellent alternative. These custom-fit running boards, nerf bars and hoop steps install permanently on your truck or SUV, so they are a bit more of a commitment than a removable step, but they are much easier to use.

Pickup truck nerf bars Shop for custom fit nerf bars, running boards, and vehicle side steps

Ease of Use

Lockable, adjustable skewer

The following points can determine how easy a bike rack is to use:


Integrated lockable cable

No bike rack is theftproof, but many have built-in locks to discourage thieves from taking your bike or rack. Some racks have locks built into the clamps. Other carriers offer integrated locking cables. These cables store in the arm of the rack when not in use and can be pulled out and wrapped around the bike frame or through the wheel and then run back to the carrier itself to lock in place. When the bike carrier is not in use, you can wrap the cable around the carrier itself to secure the carrier to your roof rack.

Many manufacturers offer keyed-alike systems for their carriers. Keyed-alike systems let you use one key for locking your bike rack to your crossbars and your bike to your rack. And most Thule and Yakima roof-mounted bike carriers do not include lock cylinders, allowing you to purchase the lock cylinders separately so you can match your other Thule and Yakima locking accessories and use one key for them all.

Replacement lock cylinder Shop for lock cylinders, below

Thule Fairing


Some crossbars have an aerodynamic shape to help cut down on drag and wind noise. For other types of crossbars, you can add a fairing to help improve the aerodynamics. A fairing won't help much when you have a bike mounted, but can help if you leave your rack on your vehicle when you're not carrying a bike.

Roof rack fairing Shop for a fairing

Updated by: Raymond P.

Last updated: 6/26/18



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