Is A Roof Rack Or A Hitch Rack Better?
Bicycles are one of the most common items which RVers take with them as they travel. Bikes are not only a great way to get exercise, but they also provide a near-perfect way to travel within RV parks and around the surrounding areas.
Many RVers wonder what is the best type of rack for taking their bikes with them. The two most common types are hitch racks and roof racks. In this article, we will look at the pros and cons of these two rack types and try to answer the question of which is the best option.
Pros Of A Roof Bike Rack
Roof racks have many benefits for carrying your bikes on your next adventure.
- Secure hold. Roof racks hold the bikes firmly in place while you travel. The rear wheel is strapped firmly into a tray. Some racks will also strap in the front wheel and have support rails that tie back to the frame downtube or wheel to keep the bike upright as you travel. Other models will require you to remove the front wheel and attach the forks through the axel holes to the rack. The wheel is then mounted on a separate holder or carried inside your car. Either method provides a very rigid hold down for your bike which will prevent it from swinging around and hitting the other bikes or items on the rack.
- Easy bike install. Each bike has a dedicated space which is set when you set up the rack the first time. After the initial installation, putting your bike(s) on a roof rack is a quick process. Simply put the bike up on the mounts and secure it down.
- Easy bike removal. Removing the bikes is as easy as putting them on. Undo a couple of items secure the bike to the rack and pull it down. For those models where you don’t remove the front wheel, the bike is ready to ride as soon as it hits the ground.
- Very adaptable to bike type. Roof racks are great for carrying bikes of all types. Mountain bikes, road bikes, tandems, kid’s bikes, etc. can all be easily hauled on a roof rack. Since each bike has its own space on the roof, mixing and matching bike types isn’t an issue either.
- Can carry other gear. In addition to carrying bikes, roof racks can also carry other gear. You can easily load up a bike or two and a kayak for example. You can also do bikes and an enclosed storage carrier. The other items may require their own racking components, but the space is there for you to use as you need.
Cons Of A Roof Bike Rack
While rood racks are a great option for hauling your bike, they are not perfect. Here are some of the issues you may have to contend with.
- Not all vehicles have roof rails. If your car does not have roof rails to attach a roof-mounted rack to then you’ll have to purchase an appropriate rail kit for your vehicle. This can significantly add to the overall cost of your set-up.
- Roof racks are high. Being on the roof of your vehicle, roof racks can be set pretty far off the ground. If you’re shorter or have mobility issues then mounting or retrieving bikes from a roof rack can be challenging if not impossible. Some vehicles may not fit in enclosed parking spaces like garages when the racks are installed, even without bikes on them. Many full-size SUVs or modern pickup trucks for example will not fit through a standard 8-foot garage door with rooftop bike racks installed. Having to remove and reinstall the racks every time you park in the garage can be a major inconvenience.
- Wind Noise. Roof racks are located immediately above the passenger compartment of your vehicle. The additional bars and bikes can generate a large amount of wind noise, particularly at higher speeds. That noise can easily make its way into the passenger compartment which some will find objectionable.
- Total Height. The total height of your vehicle with rooftop bike racks and installed bikes can be very high. This height can limit where you can travel with your bikes installed. Home or Parking garages are almost certainly out of the question. Low bridges and even some fast food drive-through lanes may be off-limits as well. Forgetting your bikes up there in one of these situations can be a very embarrassing and costly mistake.
- Cost – A bike roof rack system can be significantly more expensive than a hitch rack, especially if a roof rail kit is also required for your vehicle.
Pros Of A Hitch Bike Rack
- Inexpensive. If you have a compatible receiver already installed on your vehicle, adding a hitch rack can be less expensive than a roof rack system, particularly if you only need to carry a couple of bikes.
- Low height. Hitch racks are low to the ground so they are easily accessible to those shorter in stature or with mobility issues. They also will not present height issues in garages or fast food drive-through lanes.
- Quick install and removal. If you don’t want to leave your bike rack on your vehicle all the time, hitch racks can be quickly installed and removed. Installation is usually as simple as sliding the rack into your hitch receiver and securing it with one bolt or a hitch pin. Removal is the opposite and just as easy.
- Little to no wind noise. With the bikes located on the back of the vehicle, they are pretty well shielded from the forward winds as you travel. What little wind noise they do make is usually lost in the space between the rack and passenger seating area.
Cons Of A Hitch Bike Rack
- Requires a hitch receiver. Many vehicles do not come standard with a 2” hitch receiver that is required to mount these racks. Adding one can be expensive and may not even be an option for some vehicles. New battery-electric vehicles can be of particular concern as many of these are specifically designed not to tow. Adding a tow receiver hitch may void warranties on these vehicles so make sure you check into that before adding one.
- Carrying different bikes may pose problems. When loaded onto a hitch rack, bikes can be very close together. Bikes of different sizes and shapes may not ride well together. To get them to work you may have to remove parts and change things like seat height adjustment. This can make loading them difficult and your bike may not be ready to ride as soon as it comes off the rack.
- Can’t carry tandems or other large frame bikes. Tandem bikes are longer than most cars are wide so you can’t safely carry them. In fact, some tandem bikes are longer than the legal width for public roads, carrying one on a hitch rack perpendicular to the vehicle would be illegal on most public roads.
- Interfere with the liftgate. Most pickup trucks and SUVs have a rear gate or hatch. Rear-mounted hitch racks will interfere with the operation of those doors and can prevent access through them entirely. Many racks have a fold-down feature that allows you to drop the rack down out of the way, but that still may not be enough to operate your specific gate properly. Also, dropping the rack down with bikes on it and putting it back up can be a two-person job.
- Bikes are not held firmly and are prone to damage. Hitch racks hold bikes on well enough to prevent them from falling off, but they do not secure them well enough to prevent movement as you travel. The front wheels for example are typically left free so the bars can turn as you drive. The bikes are usually secured by resting the top tube on a pad and locking it in with a strap. That leaves the bike to rotate around the top tube as you drive. Some racks try to prevent this with an additional down tube brace. While this help, they do not eliminate all movement. Ultimately, this movement combined with the close proximity of the bikes on the rack will result in one or more of your bikes getting scratches or other damage.
- Easier for thieves to steal bikes and components. While neither option will prevent thieves from stealing your bikes, bike components, or the car they are attached to; hitch bike racks carry the bikes lower and within easy reach of opportunistic thieves. Bike components are especially susceptible to theft from a bike on a hitch rack. Have an expensive seat on a quick-release seat post? That can be effortlessly stolen in the time it takes to walk by your car without anyone even noticing. Bikes on a roof rack are higher up and to steal something like a seat would require the thief to take the time to climb up there to get it. This is a much more time-consuming and visibly obvious endeavor.
Which Is The Best Option?
Which is the best option will depend entirely on you and how you intend to use the rack. If you have good mobility, don’t mind the wind noise, have a vehicle that can accept (or already has) a roof rack, rarely drives places with low overhangs, and prefers to have your bike ready to go when it comes off the rack then the roof rack is the best option.
If you have mobility issues, can’t stand the wind noise, have a vehicle with no good way to attach roof racks but does have a hitch receiver, or frequently park or drive under low overhangs then the hitch rack will probably suit your needs better.
There are a lot of other factors that can go into the decision if you have a tandem bike then roof racks are the only viable option. Most of these issues were covered in the pros and cons section. By reading through those and grading their importance to you, you should be able to decide which is the best option for you.