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How easy/stable is a hitch-mounted bike rack for a long minivan ride?
March 23, 2014 4:24 PM   Subscribe

Our family (three full sized bikes and one 20" kid bike) takes frequent road trips to discover new bike trails. We are good riders but not very clever at bike handling (i.e. taking wheels on and off, adjusting brakes, etc.) Our trips are anywhere from 25 to 500 miles away. We have a 2010 Honda Odyssey. I have a roof rack now but it is not practical for me to lift the bikes up and down every single time; it's way up there and the bikes get unwieldy. And it freaks me out to drive with the bikes on top while we are zooming down the highway. I am thinking of getting a trailer hitch installed and getting a four bike rack for that. But practical advice is difficult to find.

My main questions are: (1) both my wife and daughter have step-through frames. Are those converter bar thingees the solution to that? (2) is there a practical way to lock the bikes and the rack, or do you need to take the bikes off every time you stop and leave your car? (3) is it easy to load and unload from a hitch mount rack? (4) is the highway drive less freaky when the bikes are on the back of the car? Does it feel stable?

Finally, if you have a hitch-mounted rack is there a hitch or a rack that you think is great, or one I should avoid? It looks like U-Haul makes a pretty standard hitch and it's reasonably priced.

Thanks for helping our family get out on the trail!
posted by AgentRocket to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Uhaul is the reasonable way to get them attached. Tell them you don't need all the towing stuff put on because you're not going to be using a trailer.

Rear rack will solve your problems. The guy who is dictating this answer to me (husband who works at bikeshop) says that his bike shop sells Thule and they like the racks. For the price you paid for the roof rack, you will buy a four bike rack that will lock both to the hitch and has internal locks to lock the bicycles.

Depending on which frames your wife and daughter have, you can sometimes get away without using the bar, but the bar does work.

All told you'll be spending max $600 for the whole thing. You can get a trailer hitch that swings out of the way so you can open the back.

So head to your local bike shop and get a four way hitch rack; they have a fancy model name for this, but asking for a four way hitch rack should get you what you need. If you get it at a bike shop they'll assemble it and put it on your vehicle. If the bike shop charges for this, I'd look for another bike shop.
posted by sciencegeek at 4:43 PM on March 23


I can't comment on any one specific bike rack, but since you asked about freakiness of the drive, I'd encourage you to also consider the question you didn't ask, which is the freakiness for other vehicles. I often see rear-mounted bike racks that position the bikes so that the tires obscure the brake lights of the vehicle, which is pretty hazardous. This is one specification you probably won't find in a catalog, so as you shop I would encourage you to keep this parameter in mind.

Good luck finding a rack!
posted by wondercow at 5:16 PM on March 23


I have a 1997 Toyota Camry and I have a Schwinn-branded four bike hitch-mounted rack.

(1) A converter bar would probably be helpful. The rack has plastic saddles that can twist to accommodate different angles on the bike frames, but step-through frames tend to rest higher than non-step through frames, resulting in some tangling of pedals and brake lines.

(2) Depends on the rack. We tend to wrap a security cable through the bikes and around the rack in a way that it can't easily be removed. It won't stop someone dedicated with bolt cutters, nor would it stop someone with a wrench who could just loosen the draw bar and make off with the entire rack, but it provides enough peace of mind to take our eyes off of the bikes at rest stops.

(3) Yes. Loading and unloading takes only a couple seconds, though fitting the bikes together in ways that they won't interfere/rub against each other can be a little tricky. YMMV with different racks.

(4) It's much, much better driving. Stability-wise, the rack is solid, but there's enough slop in the receiver hitch to cause the entire frame to bounce in ways that I'm not always comfortable with, especially with more than two bikes. Better bike racks are probably built to better tolerances.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 5:31 PM on March 23 [1 favorite]


Are those converter bar thingees the solution to that?
Yes.

is there a practical way to lock the bikes and the rack, or do you need to take the bikes off every time you stop and leave your car?

The rack locks into the hitch. Then you put the bikes in the rack and the last bike on is locked to the rack. You can't take any bikes off without first unlocking all the bikes. This is fine for going in a store or restaurant. It's not adequate for overnight locking.

is it easy to load and unload from a hitch mount rack?

Absolutely. Especially if you get a tray-type rack that supports the bikes by the wheels, rather than by the top tubes. If you do this, you won't need to worry about having step-through frames.

is the highway drive less freaky when the bikes are on the back of the car? Does it feel stable?

With a properly installed hitch and quality rack (Thule, Yakima, Saris) you won't notice it's there.

Finally, if you have a hitch-mounted rack is there a hitch or a rack that you think is great, or one I should avoid?

Personally I've used and recommend the Yakima Swingdaddy and Thule Apex.

Get a QUALITY BRAND. You don't want these bikes to fall off and kill the guy behind you on the motorcycle. Don't even consider a 1.25" hitch. For more than two bikes you require the stength of a 2" hitch rack.

I work in a bike shop that sells Thule, Yakima, and Saris. They're all good.

posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 5:34 PM on March 23 [1 favorite]


If the bike shop charges for this, I'd look for another bike shop.

I'd say the shop values their mechanic's time, and that properly installing a rack on a car is not always a straight-forward affair. Sometimes it takes 15 minutes. Sometimes it takes 2 hours.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 5:38 PM on March 23 [1 favorite]


I have a couple of bikes that would need converter bars - one step-through frame and one full suspension. I went with a hitch-mount platform rack. Instead of hanging the bike, you put the wheels in the base and then a bar holds the bike down. I have this one, but they come in 4-bike versions as well. It wasn't too expensive and probably the most stable rack I've ever used. I've carried all different sizes of bikes from a kid's 20" up to the long Townie without any issues. It loads really easily as well.
For locking, I run a cable down through the hitch itself. It helps against anyone swiping your bike at a traffic light or quick stop, but I wouldn't trust a cable for very long.
posted by hey you over in the corner at 5:39 PM on March 23


is the highway drive less freaky when the bikes are on the back of the car?

Highway you shouldn't notice.

However be careful when you are pulling in and out of driveways that have a sharp incline/decline, because you can scrape the hitch/rack if you are not careful. Particularly if you are backing out of a driveway, so that you are basically leading with the hitch/rack. You have to go more slowly than you may be used to, because the car's approach angle (when in reverse) and departure angle (when in forward) is lower with the hitch/rack installed.

This is probably not a serious issue, but it's just something to keep in mind.
posted by Kadin2048 at 5:40 PM on March 23


I have a hitch mounted rack and step thru frame bikes, and my present rack has a built in cable lock which when locking all the frames together gives additional security, both from theft and keeping the bikes in place on long drives. My old hitch rack didn't have a built in lock but when on longer highway trips I'd lock bikes together and never had an issue.

My older rack (maybe 15 yrs old) didn't lock on to the hitch so I used those plastic lock things. I always keep a couple of those plastic things on a trip, they are handy.
posted by readery at 5:54 PM on March 23


Sorry, it didn't link earlier. Here's a top tube adapter for step-through frames.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 7:01 PM on March 23


I have a 2011 Honda Odyssey and do pretty much what you describe. For the hitch, a great third party maker is Curt. They produce hitches for practically any car out there. I installed it myself (which is saying a lot) and it has worked out great.

For the bike rack, I went with one from 1upusa.com. They are *very* good bike racks that will last your whole life, but me and my wife are serious cyclists. You may find this rack to be a bit costly, but one of the nice things about the design is that it works with any size bike (I've used road, mtn and kid bikes on mine) and it holds by the wheel, thereby making no contact with the frame.
posted by dgran at 11:59 AM on March 24


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