Ever since the pandemic, sales of bicycles have skyrocketed, as people have turned to two wheels for a socially distanced form of exercise, commuting, and recreation. While it’s fun to ride in your subdivision or explore the trails surrounding your neighborhood, a bike rack gives you the freedom to cover more ground and venture well beyond your backyard. That’s especially helpful in the DC area, where we are blessed with an elaborate network of well-maintained paved and mountain trails. Steve Beheler is operations manager of Spokes Etc., arguably the most popular and best locally owned chain of shops in DMV. Founded in 1986, the company now operates six shops in NoVA, carries the largest amount of in-stock bikes and accessories in the area, and is the only dealer in the Mid-Atlantic offering customers a choice between Trek, Specialized, and Giant—the three largest brands in the industry. If you’re in the market for a rack but just can’t seem to make heads or tails of your options or what you might need, Beheler shares his tips and advice on what to look for:
What are the basic styles of bike racks?
Essentially, there are four categories: trunk, hitch (arm and tray styles), roof, and truck/spare tire. All of these are visible on our site by category.
What should you look for when comparing categories and models?
Think about the type of vehicle on which the rack is going to be installed as well as which style of rack will work on that vehicle. Decide how many bikes you will need to be transporting, as well as whether the rack will be installed just when it’s needed and then removed, or permanently installed and left on most of the time.
Which are the best options if you need to transport three or more bikes?
If you need to carry four or more bikes, a hitch-style rack is required, as trunk racks can not support that much weight. I recommend a hitch-style rack even with three bikes, as it’s much easier to load than a trunk rack, especially if you choose the tray-style hitch rack systems. Most hitch racks will pivot down, or rotate out of the way to allow easy access to the trunk or hatch, even when fully loaded, while trunk racks generally won’t provide easy access to inside your trunk, especially with bikes loaded. Be careful, though: A lot of the less expensive hitch racks out there either don’t include this feature, or aren’t built well enough to perform that task safely.
How much can you expect to spend for a decent bike rack?
Good trunk racks range from $160 for one with exceptional build quality, to $400, which includes helpful features like built-in locking systems and heavy-duty rubber arms to attach the rack instead of nylon webbing. While there are plenty of trunk racks that cost considerably less than this, the quality just isn’t the same. They’re fine to use for the occasional trip, as long as you just install and remove each time you use them, but the materials and finish are not designed to be installed and subjected to the weather for long periods, so they’ll rust and slowly deteriorate over time, making them even less safe to use.
Hitch racks range from $200 for a decent, two-bike arm style to $1400 for an exceptional-quality four-bike tray-style rack. That’s a huge price range, and the biggest difference is the ease of loading and unloading with the tray-style systems over the arm systems. While you could load four bikes on a tray style rack in less than a minute, with no hassles, loading the same number of bikes on most arm style racks will be a bit of a fuss and will take you much longer. Some bikes are also not very compatible with arm-style hitch racks, so be sure to let the shop know the types of bikes you wish to carry. To safely transport e-bikes, you’ll need a tray-style hitch rack to handle the additional weight. If you don’t already have a hitch, you can call or stop by a U-Haul center and have them install one. (You don’t need lights hooked up to the hitch install or anything like that, just tell them you need a hitch for carrying bikes.)
Which styles are easiest to install and remove?
Trunk racks are mostly used when you need to transport bikes then take it immediately after using, as it’s easy to steal. Hitch racks are normally left on permanently, or at least for the season, and can be easily locked to the vehicle with either included locks, or an optional accessory. Higher-end hitch racks also have locks built in for your bikes as well-another plus.
What about roof racks?
Roof racks are a fantastic setup if you have multiple bikes to carry or have other activities such as skiing, snowboarding, or kayaking. They are permanently mounted, but you can easily remove the accessory holders. However, roof racks are considerably more expensive by the time you add up all of the components; they are also specific to each vehicle they are mounted to, so generally need to be special ordered.
Are there particular brands you recommend?
We recommend racks from Thule, Saris, and Kuat, all of which we carry. They are all fantastic quality and have wide ranges in models, and prices, with great customer and product support. There are numerous other brands that are on the market that are also good quality, and at the same time, many others that I would stay away from. We choose to sell only higher-quality rack systems, as you want to be confident in knowing that the rack you just sold someone is going to do the job it’s intended to do, keeping the bikes, and other motorists, safe in the process.
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