Three Things to Consider Before Buying a Hitch-Mounted Bike Carrier

A hitch-mount bicycle carrier can help you get your bike wherever you need with minimal effort.

Black truck with bike rack attached
A well-design bike rack will protect both your vehicle and your bicycle from damage.Swagman

Hauling your bicycle to and from the area where you plan to ride should not only be easy, but also shouldn’t cause any damage to your bike. Unfortunately, those criteria don’t describe every type of bike carrier on the market. While most types of bike carriers will get the job done sufficiently, hitch-mount bike carriers are among the easiest to use since they are easily accessible and can be easily removed from your vehicle when not in use. Consider factors such as vehicle fit, support type and bike capacity when shopping for the best hitch-mount carrier for your bikes.

Vehicle Fit

Allen Sports 2-Bike Hitch Racks for 1 1/4 in. and 2 in. Hitch
This hitch-mount bicycle rack will fit both 1.25- and 2-inch hitch receivers.Allen Sports

One of the great things about hitch-mount bicycle carriers is they can work with just about any kind of vehicle you own, as long as you have a hitch receiver. Unlike many trunk- and roof-mounted racks, you don’t have to worry about matching your rack to your vehicle’s exact make and model. You do, however, have to make sure you have the proper size receiver for the rack you purchase. Most receivers are either 1.25 inches or 2 inches wide, and it’s easy to take a tape measure and find out how big yours is when shopping for a carrier. Fortunately, some hitch-mount bike carriers are made to fit either size receiver, making the size of your receiver a moot point. Note that even the least-sturdy Class 1 hitch receivers are strong enough to carry as many bikes as you can put on your carrier. So, if you need to have a hitch installed just for carrying bikes, don’t worry about splurging for a really heavy-duty one.

Support

Swagman XC2 Hitch Mount Bike Rack
This platform-style bike rack lets your bikes ride on their tires instead of hanging by their frames.Swagman

Hitch-mount bike carriers come in two basic styles—platform and hanging. Each has its benefits and liabilities, depending on what kind of bikes you have and how you prefer to transport them. Platform-style carriers provide a more stable platform and eliminate much of the sway that many hanging carriers display. They also tend to keep bikes from touching each other as much, saving the finish from dings and scratches. Lastly, since your bike rests on its tires in the rack, there is little or no contact between your bike frame and the carrier. Hanging-style racks, on the other hand, typically are less expensive than platform racks, and while they are usually lighter in weight than platform racks, they also make direct contact with your bike’s frame, leaving the opportunity for damage. Most are well padded, however, lessening the problems caused by contact.

Bike Capacity

MaxxHaul 4-Bike Deluxe Hitch Mount Rack
This hanging-style bike rack can carry four full-sized bicycles.MaxxHaul

Regardless of which type you choose, the more bikes you put on a carrier, the higher the chance of damage due to bikes making contact with one another. That’s especially problematic if your bicycle has a carbon frame, which can be easily damaged. While many hanging-style bike racks can carry up to five bikes, most platform racks are made for four bikes or fewer. One note: Regardless of how many bikes you intend to carry, make sure any rack you are considering has plenty of sturdy attachments that will hold your bicycles firmly in place when you are driving down the road. Spending a few extra dollars to ensure you get one that holds bikes securely is well worth the money, considering how expensive many bikes are these days.

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