Bikes on Hitch Bike Racks

How to Choose a 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
In this article:

What are the Different Kinds of Hitch-Mounted Bike Racks?

Hitch-mounted bike racks fall into one of two major groups - hanging and platform racks. Platform racks are generally easier to use, while hanging racks typically offer a better cost value.
Platform-Style Bike Rack on Vehicle
Platform Bike Racks
  • Hold 1-4 bikes
  • Make minimal frame contact
  • Much easier to load and unload than hanging bike racks
  • Can accommodate a variety of bikes, including women's step-through and kids' bikes, but may require adapter for some
  • Provide a stable platform to eliminate sway
Platform racks support bikes by their wheels and secure the bike with either wheel clamps or frame clamps. Adjustable wheel holders allow platform bike racks to fit a wide range of bikes regardless of size, frame, suspension, or wheel size. This type of rack is also easy to load because it's relatively low to the ground, so you won't have to lift bikes too high to load them. Frame-style clamps hook over your bike's crossbar, holding the bike in place by the frame. Wheel-style clamps 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.
Hanging-Style Bike Rack on Vehicle
Hanging Bike Racks
  • Hold 2-6 bikes
  • Typically make frame contact (except for a few wheel-mount racks)
  • May require adapter bar for alternative-framed bikes (such as women's step-through bikes)
  • May be too wide or bulky to hold kids' bikes
  • Cost less than platform racks
  • Weigh less than platform-style racks
Most hanging bike racks support bikes by their frames, so the bike hangs from its top tube. These hanging racks work best on standard-frame bikes. 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 seat post and head tube of your bike and provides a support that rests on the bike rack's arms.
Bike hanging from adapter bar

What's the best bike rack for...

  • Road and mountain bikes: Standard-frame bikes work well with all types of hitch-mounted racks. However, platform racks are easier to load, and many avoid making frame contact.
  • Bikes with step-through frames: Platform racks will hold step-through bikes without an adapter. Most hanging-style racks, however, do require an adapter.
  • Children's bikes: Some children's bikes require an adapter, but many can fit on hanging racks with closely spaced dual arms or single arms with small cradles. There are also platform-style racks designed to accommodate smaller bikes.
  • Carbon-fiber frames: To avoid scratching carbon-fiber frames, the best choice is a platform-style rack that avoids any frame contact.
  • Bikes with suspension: Platform racks with wheel clamps won't compress your bike's suspension.
etrailer.com's Recommended Bike Racks:
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What Kinds of Racks are Available for Specialty Bikes?

The world is full of non-traditional bikes and cyclists. So of course, it follows that we need hitch bike racks to accommodate these special bikes! These racks may offer features like higher weight capacities or alternative spacing in order to hold electric bikes, recumbent bikes, fat bikes, and more.
Electric Bike on Bike Rack
Bike Racks for Electric BikesThese beefy 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.
Two Bikes on Bike Rack
Bike Racks for Heavy BikesSometimes you just need a little more muscle in your bike rack. These racks deliver that added weight capacity to get your wheels to the trail safely.
Bikes on Bike Rack Mounted on Van
Bike Racks for Carbon-Fiber BikesThe key with carbon-fiber bikes is avoiding frame contact to prevent scratches. These wheel-mounted platform racks will protect that sleek frame during your drive.
Fat Bike on Bike Rack
Bike Racks for Fat BikesThe cradles on these platform bike racks are designed to support the wider tires found on fat bikes.
Recumbent Bike on Bike Rack
Bike Racks for Recumbent BikesThe wheel hoops on these racks can be spaced further apart to fit the smaller wheels and longer wheelbases of recumbents.

Which Bike Rack Will Fit My Vehicle?

Weight Capacity Sticker on Trailer Hitch Receiver
Trailer hitch receiver label (expanded)
The Hitch Receiver Before you buy a hitch-mounted bike rack, you'll need to know if it will fit the hitch on your vehicle. Your bike rack should be compatible with both your hitch receiver size and its weight class. For instance, a 2" Class III hitch receiver can handle a 2" Class III bike rack (or smaller). However, a 1-1/4" Class I hitch receiver can't hold anything larger than this. Most bike racks are designed to fit either 2" or 1-1/4" hitch receivers, and their weight capacities usually include Class I, Class II, and Class III. Check your hitch receiver for its size and class, and make sure to use a bike rack compatible with these specifications. If you don't know the class of your hitch, you should be able to determine it based on the hitch's maximum capacity. Check your hitch for a sticker or stamp indicating the weight capacity.
  • Class I Hitches: Up to 2k lb capacity, 1-1/4" receiver size
  • Class II Hitches: Up to 3,500 lbs, 1-1/4" receiver size
  • Class III Hitches: Up to 8,000 lbs, 2" hitch receiver size
No hitch? No problem. Many mechanically inclined individuals install their own hitches with just a few basic hand tools. We even have videos to walk you through it!
Bike Rack Clearing Spare Tire on SUV
Vehicle Clearance & CompatibilityIf you need to clear a spare tire or extended back bumper, there's an easy way to check which bike rack will work best for your vehicle without running into any obstacles. Check out our tips for measuring for these circumstances. Also note that many bike racks feature swing-away or tilt-away options that allow you to open your rear cargo area even with your bikes loaded.You can add a hitch extender to your hitch to give you more clearance, but remember that an extension will reduce the weight capacity of your hitch by half, so this should be a last resort if you can't find another option with enough clearance.Ground clearance can also be an issue if you drive a car that sits low to the ground, particularly when you drive over dips in the road or into driveways. If your vehicle has low ground clearance, consider a bike rack with a built-in rise in the shank, as shown in the rack pictured below. This rise can help to prevent the bike rack from dragging on the ground.
Hitch bike rack with built-in rise
Hitch bike rack shank with built-in rise, as seen on the Swagman Trailhead 3 Bike Rack # S63365.
Bike Rack with Five Bikes
Bike CapacityTypical hitch-mounted bike racks are available to carry 1 - 6 bikes. Racks for specialty bikes, like trikes and recumbents, may only be able to carry 1 or 2 bikes. Never overload your bike rack, your hitch, or your vehicle's capacity.

What Special Features are Available on Different Bike Racks?

Many bike racks have additional convenience and security features. Here are a few to keep an eye out for:
Swing-Away Bike Rack on Vehicle

Swing-Away Bike Racks

The rack swings away from your vehicle to provide unlimited access to your trunk or rear hatch, even with your bikes loaded.
Tilt-Away Bike Rack on Vehicle

Tilt-Away Bike Racks

These racks fold up against your vehicle when not in use, keeping your vehicle profile relatively small.
Folding Bike Rack on Vehicle

Fold-Up Bike Racks

The rack tilts down and away from your vehicle, allowing you access to your trunk or hatch. Some tilt-away racks allow you to keep your bikes loaded, although others require you to remove them first.
Bike Rack Lock

Bike Racks with Integrated Locks

Many bike racks offer integrated locks to secure your bikes to your rack and/or your rack to your hitch. For the best security, choose a rack that includes these locks, or purchase a cable lock and hitch lock separately.
Related ArticlesRelated ProductsUpdated on: 4/20/2021

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