What kind of bike rack should I get for my car?
May 7, 2009 5:27 AM   Subscribe

What kind of bike rack should I get for my car?

We have a 2008 Subaru Outback and want to get a bike rack that will securely hold two mountain bikes on an extended (1000+ mile) trip.

So... should we get a roof rack or a hitch mounted rack? Are there other options for racks that don't require a hitch mount, but still hold the bikes securely on the back of the car? The car does NOT have a hitch right now, but we would consider getting one.

posted by MorningPerson to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you have the rectangular (roof) cross bars already for your Outback, Thule Big Mouths will fit on them. My 2005 Legacy has these rectangular factory bars and the Big Mouths were fine on a trip of that length. You will certainly notice poorer fuel economy at freeway speeds.
posted by jet_silver at 5:37 AM on May 7, 2009

If your Outback already has towers and a luggage rack on the roof, you can get attachments to cradle the rear wheel and accept the front forks. That's very secure and won't cost that much. If you don't have a rack on the roof already then you'll need to buy the towers and racks, then install the components to hold the bikes. Most manufacturers also make components to hold other things like kayaks/canoes on the same racks.

Hitch racks are great because you don't have to lift your bike to the roof. Your bike gets to your destination and it's not covered with bugs. Also, if you park in a garage or under a carport, you can destroy a bike if you forget to take it off the roof first.

Your cheapest and simplest route will probably be a trunk rack, which mounts to the back of the car. There are lots of options for cars with or without hatchbacks. Saris and Thule both make excellent trunk racks that I can vouch for.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 5:42 AM on May 7, 2009

Roof rack plusses: bikes out of the way, easy to access truck/hatch, looks better
Roof rack minues: possible to forget bikes are there and smash into a garage or underhang, height could make it more difficult to load bikes, cost?

I think some hitch racks are out now that swing out of the way to allow access to the rear hatch.
posted by exogenous at 5:44 AM on May 7, 2009

Another disadvantage of hitch racks is that if you get in a 'fender-bender' you bike takes the brunt of it.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 5:59 AM on May 7, 2009

I'd go hitch racks, personally. A little less air resistance, a little easier to access and you can keep an eye on them, rather than wondering whether that rattling sound is your bike falling off while you're going 75 mph down the highway.
posted by electroboy at 6:20 AM on May 7, 2009

Hitch mounts are a giant pain in the ass. Even if they fold away so you can access the back of your vehicle, the folding is a pain in the ass. The only time roof racks *aren't* bloody awesome is when experiencing the crosswinds of Kansas. Roof racks also hold on to you bike better but connecting to hard points on your bike rather than just cradling the top tube; I had a hitch mount on my full-size truck that tossed bikes willy-nilly the first time I did some very mild off-roading.
posted by notsnot at 6:53 AM on May 7, 2009

I've used the Saris rack a good few times. You need to attach it to the rear hatch using straps to cinch it on - takes 5 min to put it on, and another 5 min for the bikes (max).

Positives: easy to use, quick, lower air-resistance
Negatives: extremely hard to open rear hatch while attached (if it opens vertically), mainly plastic parts which will wear after lots of use (ymmv)

One of my friends has a hitch rack, and one issue he had was hitting the rack off the ground when going over speedbumps - that might not be an issue with your vehicle as the base seems to be pretty high.

One benefit of a roof-rack is it that you can have your bike locked in position, which is nice if you need to leave your vehicle for some time.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 7:13 AM on May 7, 2009

Having used both on long trips, the rear rack (hitch or trunk mount) wins because a) less wind resistance so better gas mileage and quieter ride, b) the bikes are better protected from bugs etc., c) you can keep an eye on the bikes.
posted by TDIpod at 7:22 AM on May 7, 2009

I've got a Hollywood Racks hitch mounted system and, overall, I like it. Getting it dialed in was a pain though as the fork mount side liked to loosen up and slide off the round tube. The sight of my bike bouncing along on the highway was horrifying and instilled me with a deep sense of distrust.

But, after getting things sorted out, tightened up and adding some special modifications (ring clamps to keep the fork mounts from sliding off the tubes altogether), the rack has been pretty good.

One feature it has that I haven't seen on others is the hitch tightening system. You put it on the car, use the locking pin and then turn a crank to tighten the whole thing together so it has almost no sway in it at all. It does fold up out of the way but pretty much blocks the rear hatch completely.

It isn't ideal but it is working pretty well for me now and I don't take the big mileage hit that the roof mounted systems do. Not to mention the impacted bug bits if you travel through an area with flying insects!
posted by fenriq at 7:33 AM on May 7, 2009

On a 1000+ mile trip in a station wagon that big, I'd take both wheels off and put em in the trunk.
posted by bensherman at 7:39 AM on May 7, 2009

I have a Subaru Outback and enjoy biking. I used to use a roof rack system and switched to the hitch mount. And actually, on a couple of recent trips, we used both hitch and roof -- 6 bikes on one car! I originally got the hitch rack because I was doing a trip where I needed the roof to carry some other stuff and found that I just really preferred the hitch rack to the roof rack.

The hitch really does seem much more stable and there is noticeably less wind resistance on the highway. It is much easier to get bikes off and on. I like having the roof free for things like kayaks, skis, and cargo. Most hitch racks have built in locking mechanism that is at least as secure as a roof system. I didn't think I'd need it, but now that I have a hitch there have been a couple of occasions where I've used it to tow a trailer for some light hauling.

Downsides: hitch systems are a little pricier once you factor the cost of adding the hitch. It is a pain to get in and out of the hatch (my rack doesn't swing away like some more expensive ones do). It's a pain to parallel park with the rack on the back.

Hope that helps.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:16 AM on May 7, 2009

As mentioned above a few times, roof racks hammer your fuel economy, are noisier, and accumulate bug splatter on your bikes. An airdam will reduce these problems.

"Another disadvantage of hitch racks is that if you get in a 'fender-bender' you bike takes the brunt of it."

Otho, usually the insurer of the driver who rear-ended you will compensate, and generally the new replacement bike will be a better bike.

A rear-mounted rack often obscures the view through the rear window. One disadvantage of rear-mounted racks that bothers me is that it extends the length of the vehicle -- I worry about innocents accidentally bumping into it while walking around/behind vehicle(s) (Even I have been startled a few times when walking around my vehicle(?! "Oh yeah, the rack's loaded..")).

Roof racks seem more popular with the funhog deep breathers while a lot of large SUVs have the hitch rack. This probably reinforces the coolness coefficient of roof racks.

My choice would be a hitch rack: the potential to use the hitch for towing has value, and I'd prefer to limit my overhead packing to bulky objects (eg. kayaks (funhog! breath deep..))
posted by Tuesday After Lunch at 9:44 AM on May 7, 2009

I have a Rocky Mounts Noose SL on my factory Subaru Outback roof rack and I'm very happy with it. It installs securely on the factory rack, so no need to buy Thule/Yakima rack. Bike seems very secure. I did 400mi. round trip last summer with no problems. The Noose is slightly cheaper ($75 or so) than similar Thule/Yakima roof trays, which can't even be installed on my factory rack. Locking core is a must have, duh.
posted by turbodog at 11:30 AM on May 7, 2009

Trunk/hatch mounted bike racks & bungee cords are what I actually use -- I buy mine at thrift stores & yard sales for ~$5.

The ability to mount or remove (& then store or mount on another vehicle) quickly without tools is an advantage I hadn't really appreciated until this thread.

Their chief disadvantage is that with the bikes mounted, opening the trunk/hatch is somewhere between difficult and impossible. This difficulty drops to somewhere between negligible and annoying with the bikes removed.
posted by Tuesday After Lunch at 3:03 PM on May 7, 2009

When choosing my bike rack, I found it helpful to go to a bike store and talk to a knowledgeable sales person about the best rack to fit my car and bike. Although I could feasibly have waited and bought one online, I found it helpful to have someone run through the initial installation with me, as he gave me some tips that I wouldn't have picked up from the user manual or trial and error.
posted by emilyd22222 at 11:55 AM on May 11, 2009

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