Kay is a Colorado cyclist and lives in Boulder. She likes a good adventure and maybe goes a little too far sometimes…

So you have a bike or two and you can hit a few routes right outside your door BUT you’d like to travel farther afield, see some new terrain, or maybe sign up for a destination tour. Now you’re probably wondering how you’re going to get your bike there. You could wrestle your bike into your vehicle but most likely you’re going to come to the conclusion that you need a bike rack. Before you run out willy nilly to the nearest outdoor gear shop, you’ll want to consider a few things such as: capacity, style, price, and brand comparisons.

Capacity
One of this first things you want to consider is: how many bikes do you plan to carry? Are you strictly a solo rider? Do you and your significant other or best bud ride together often? Do you have kids and ride as a family? Do you have several types of bikes, (road, mountain, cross, fat), that you’ll want to carry? By answering a few basic questions you’ll be able to narrow your search and make decisions that are compatible with your riding goals.

Style
Bike racks come in three styles: rooftop, base, and platform. Each style has pros and cons.

1. Rooftop racks mount to the crossbars on top of your car. First – consider the height of your vehicle. You are going to be hoisting your bike overhead onto the top of the car and if you’ve got a massive SUV that’s a pretty far reach. Second – you’ll need to remove the front wheel of the bike to attach the fork to the rack. Are you somewhat mechanical? Do you have space to store the wheel inside your car? Third – are you extremely vigilant regarding your personal space and surroundings? I’ve heard horror stories of people forgetting they had bikes on top of the car and pulling into the garage. A very expensive lesson to learn when you end up with demolished bikes, a trashed roof rack, and most likely a damaged vehicle.

Pros:  * less expensive than either the base or the platform racks
* no hitch needed
* easy to store (space saver) or leave mounted on vehicle year round
Cons: * lifting the bike overhead
* taking the front wheel off
* storing the front wheel
* garage crashes

 2. Base racks attach to the hitch of your car. Most come in either 1.25″ or 2″ hitch sizes but you’ll want to verify this first before you even start looking. If you don’t already have a hitch you’ll need to purchase one and have it installed. U-Haul can install a basic hitch at a decent price but if you have a newer model car, your warranty will be voided. Your dealer can install a factory specified hitch and the work will be covered by your warranty. Most dealers will advise you that you need a towing package to install a hitch (i.e. beefed up engine and transmission) which is total overkill for bikes. I opted for the smaller 1.25″ hitch to specifically avoid this scenario. I figured when I sell the car no one is going to try to tow a boat or anything of substance with the smaller hitch.

Base racks come in 2- and 4-bike models. On most, the rack unfolds into an upright position, then the top tube of the bike is threaded thru the rack bars, rests on padded rungs, and is attached by sturdy bands with multiple adjustments. This system works for most road bikes but with all the new mountain bike, cross bike, and fat frame designs you may need an adapter bar to load a non-standard frame. Over time the rungs can loosen up and the bands can break causing the bikes to shift on the rack or come off the rack. Nothing is more terrifying than looking in your rearview mirror and seeing thousands of dollars worth of bikes swinging in the wind as you travel down the highway at 70mph, believe me I speak from experience.

 Pros:  * mid-range cost
* easy loading
* folds away for on-car storage when not in use
Cons: * racks do not fit all bikes, you may need an adapter
* parts loosen and/or fail after time
* must have a hitch

3. Platform racks are all the rage and come with the newest technology. Platform racks also attach to the car with a hitch but differ from base racks in that they fold down into well, a flat platform. Bikes are loaded onto the cross bars, the front wheel is clamped, and the rear wheel is secured with wheel straps. Most platform racks come in 2-bike models but with many you can get an optional extender to increase capacity to 4 bikes (but if you are going to haul 4 bikes, you’ll also need the larger 2″ hitch due to the added weight).

 Pros:  * newest style
* ease of use
* hauls any type of bike
* folds away for on-car storage when not in use
Cons: * most expensive
* must have hitch (2″ hitch is needed for 4 bikes)
Price
Prices range from $200 for a basic model to $1,100 for a fully tricked out luxury model. Remember people – you’re shopping for a bike rack that’s going to be attached to your car and exposed to the elements! What is really important to you???

Brands
I looked at 4 brands: Thule – the trusty Swede, Yakima – Washington’s finest, Kuat – the new cool kid on the block, and Rocky Mounts – a local Boulder rack maker.

Decision Time
My old bike rack was 20 years old and I was due for an upgrade. I wanted to try out the new platform style and I decided realistically I’d probably only be hauling 2 bikes at a time. I was wowed by the style of the Kuat (the powder-coated grey frame and orange steel tubing are eye catching) but I wasn’t a fan of the price (highest on the market). Rocky Mounts designs their own racks and manufactures them at the same factory as Kuat but sells them for a fraction of the price. Also, Rocky Mounts has a clever release handle that lowers the rack which allows access to the tailgate (Kuat had a slightly more difficult to reach foot pedal release.) I decided to go with substance over style and opted for the Rocky Mounts rack which fits my vehicle and my riding style perfectly.  I love my new bike rack!

My guy knows the way to my heart is gear and he surprised me with a new bike rack.
Valentines Day Love!