For most people finding the best singletrack is going to require a drive to the ride. That means you need a good way to carry your bike and one of the best ways to handle that is with a bike hitch rack.
The best bike hitch racks will carry your bike safely and securely, they come with minimal drawbacks. You don't have to lift your bike over your head, they don't take too much of a toll on your gas mileage, and they are easy to take on and off when you need to. When looking for the best bike racks for MTBs, it's a choice that makes a lot of sense, so we've put together a list of what we think are the best on the market.
If you have had enough and want to make sure you never have to try and wrestle a muddy bike into the back of your car again, keep reading. We have options for electric bikes and every kind of mountain bike you have a need to transport. Jump to the bottom to see what you need to consider when choosing the best bike hitch rack. Or, if you want to just see the picks, scroll down to see the options we've put together.
The best hitch bike racks for carrying your bike
Kuat racks hold your bike secure with a large, well-protected, half loop that hooks over the tire and pushes against the base of the rack. Then the other tire gets a wheel strap to make sure the bike has no chance of bouncing out on rough roads. If you need to adjust the cradles to keep bikes from rubbing the tool stores in the rack and there are three easy-to-change settings. Even getting the Kuat NV 2.0 rack on the car is a well thought out process with no tools required and there's an included lock for the hitch.
The Kuat NV2.0 is an amazing rack but it's heavy and it's expensive. The Transfer v2 three bike version uses the same system for securing the bikes but a three-bike rack weighs the same as the two bike NV2.0. Not only that but it's cheaper and if you need a fourth bike just grab the optional extension. If you need just a single bike most of the time the single bike kit allows an extension to two bikes only when you need it. Needing to carry three, or four, bikes can be an expensive proposition but Kuat and the Transfer V2 have great features at a reasonable price.
If you need to take your rack on and off after each use, and if you regularly ride alone, or at least drive to the ride alone, then this rack might make sense. An inexpensive single version of the rack weighs in at a very easy to handle 25lbs. Only owning a rack that can carry a single bike might be a bit limiting though. With the addition of the add-on, you can quickly switch to a two-bike setup when needed. The whole system is easy enough that it's practical for an occasional trip and a great way to get the best of both worlds.
There's always going to be a tension between the need for a high-weight capacity rack and a lightweight rack. If you want to carry heavy bikes, then your rack is going to weigh more. Thule has a solution in the T2 Pro XTR and it's the simple addition of integrated wheels. The rack might weigh 50lbs but you can roll it to and from the car for easy storage. Once it's on the car there's enough weight capacity for a 60lb bike which should handle most electric bikes. Just make sure the combined weight of both bikes is under the max of 100lbs.
The standard over the tire hook retention system claims no frame contact but is it really? Those systems typically come into contact with the front of the fork and they also use straps that can leave marks on the wheels. It's probably not an issue but there is another system that absolutely does not touch the frame at all. The Thule Helium design is such that the retention system pushes against itself from either end. It doesn't touch the fork and there's no strap to scratch the wheels. The Helium is also exceptionally light for a two-bike system.
The Saris MTR starts with a similar retention system as the Thule Helium but it has some differences that might make it better, or worse, for your needs. The major difference is no choice to use a 1.25-inch receiver. That requirement in turn means a higher max bike weight and also the ability to add extra bike capability. You can start with the two-bike version and if you later need to add the capability for three or four bikes then add the appropriate extension. It's a little more involved to add the extensions than some racks so it's probably not the kind of thing you'd do for a weekend but the option is there.
Hitch bike racks with the capacity for four bikes mean, by necessity, that the bikes will extend a long distance from the rear of the vehicle. If you happen to need to transport a bike with fenders that's also a challenge with wheel and tire retention systems that most hitch bike racks use. The Yakima Hangtight 4 uses a totally different design to solve those problems. The weight of the bikes hangs from the handlebars and the bike stand vertically on the rack. This keeps the bikes closer to the rear of the vehicle and also means no issues with fenders.
In general, you want to avoid frame contact bike racks. Although the Yakima OnRamp has a frame contact design it makes the cut anyway. It's possible to keep contact limited to the seatpost and it's for stabilization not to support the weight of the bike. There are also other advantages that make it worth considering. Namely it has a high max bike weight of 66lbs while still retaining 1.25-inch hitch compatibility. Paired with the included ramp that makes it an excellent choice for an e-bike no matter what vehicle you need to put it on.
What you need to consider when choosing the best bike hitch rack
Does your car have a hitch?
If your car doesn't have a hitch that doesn't mean you can't use a hitch-mounted bike rack, as hitches are available for almost every car. You don't have to have a big truck capable of pulling a boat, you just need the appropriate hitch built for whatever car you've got.
Installing the hitch is going to be an extra step and extra expense. There's no getting around that, but lots of places will source and install a hitch for you in an afternoon. If you feel handy with bolting things on your car you can even source a kit yourself and install it. Generally, the process involves just a few bolts attached to the underside of whatever car you have and the price is low.
What kind of trailer hitch do you need?
The answer depends on where in the world you are. Tow hitch solutions are different in Europe than they are in the US and you'll need to understand them. Depending on what is available for your car it will affect how many bikes you are able to carry and what types of additional features. That means it's a good idea to check this out but you may not have a lot of choice.
If a car has a low max payload, no one will make a hitch kit that allows you to connect a large trailer. Any kind of rack that exerts a lot of leverage on a hitch will require a beefier hitch with the capability of connecting a larger trailer. You aren't connecting a trailer but that will mean passenger cars aren't going to have access to racks that hinge out far from the car, carry heavy e-bikes, or have room for three to four bikes.
What about hanging racks?
This list doesn't include any hanging racks. They aren't as secure, they are more difficult to use, and they tend to scratch bikes. The main advantage of a hanging rack is that they are less expensive but more recently the price difference has really shrunk. The last thing you want to do is damage an expensive bike to save only a few dollars. Stick with what's commonly called a tray style rack that supports the bike from below the wheels and you'll keep your bike safer.
Do you need trunk access?
There are racks that hinge either down or out from the car and provide access to the rear. Deciding if you need those features is worth considering if you have a vehicle where the rack will block access to the rear of the car. They do add weight to the rack, and tend to be more expensive, so if you know you don't need them it's best to leave them off.
Deciding if you need the features is all about how often you plan to take the rack off. If you use the rack all the time and feel secure leaving it on your car then it's a great idea to look for those kinds of features. Keep an eye on hitch requirements though as a rack that hinges out sometimes needs a more substantial hitch.
What about security?
There are two kinds of security for hitch mount racks. Some racks have a lock for the rack that makes it harder to remove from the car. This is a great feature with very little downside. If you can find the rack that works for you and it has a hitch lock it's a big plus.
The other type of security involves attaching the bike to the rack. In this case it's much less important because of the nature of the locks. The locks that commonly come with hitch mount bike racks are cable locks. They are so quickly cut that they offer almost no security. Most manufacturers also recommend not using them while traveling thereby making them even less useful.