There are a couple of factors to consider when choosing a car rack for a mountain bike that differ from road and traditional bikes. First, mountain bikes have unique shapes and dimensions to consider, which means some mountain bikes might not fit on some racks. For examples,
Mountain bikes are built to have a low stand-over height, with sloping top tubes. This means they don’t fit well on bike racks that hang the bikes from their top tube. Bikes with wider tires are another unique use case – make sure the mountain bike rack you’re looking at can accommodate the width of your tires.
The way we ride mountain bikes can affect your rack choice, too. For example, one roof rack might get your bike to the trailhead, but it will not be able to shuttle you and five of your buddies, with their bikes, to the top of a trail. So, consider the number of bikes you’d like to be able to carry and the types of rides you’ll be doing. We recommend truck tailgate pads and vertical hanging mountain bike racks for big shuttle days.
Other Bike Car Rack Considerations
When choosing a bike rack, pay attention to the contact points that the rack has with the bike. Racks that come in contact with your bike’s frame can sometimes rub and damage the paint or, worse, your bike’s frame. Truck tailgate pads have some of the most contact with your frame, which is why they often come with softer materials in strategic locations. When using these racks, always clean dirt and grime off your bike where it touches the pad. This will keep it from getting scuffed and damaged. Tray-style bike racks, meanwhile, have some of the least contact with your bike frame, making them a good choice to keep your bike in pristine condition – the only place they touch your bike is the tires, which are much harder to damage than the frame.
Ease of Loading & Unloading
One of the most important parts of any bike rack is how easy it is to get your bike on and off the rack. This makes all the difference between bringing your bikes on that camping trip or leaving them behind in the garage. Think about how high you will need to lift your bike to get it onto your car. Roof racks mean you need to get your bike all the way above your head – this can be seriously difficult for some riders. Tray-style hitch racks are probably the easiest bike racks to load and unload.
Security & Locks
Bikes are expensive, and it’s every rider’s nightmare to see their ride splattered on the highway like roadkill or stolen off your bike rack. Many bike racks offer built-in locks that help ensure that
1) your bike stays on the rack while driving, and
2) your bike can’t easily be stolen off the rack in a parking lot. While convenient, it is harder to ensure that these bike racks are properly set up 100% of the time. We recommend looking for a style of rack that securely attaches to your car, and is not strapped on.
Many rack styles allow you to access your trunk, even with bikes on the rack. This is made possible by features that tilt the rack away from the car or swing the entire system away. However, not all racks have these features, and sometimes trunk access is impossible with some rack and vehicle combinations. Ensure you properly vet these features if accessing your trunk is an important deciding factor when buying a bike rack.