How to Use a Rear Bike Rack: A Step-by-Step Guide for Transporting Your Bike Safely

Using a rear bike rack is an excellent way to transport your bicycle to new destinations. Bike racks mounted on vehicles allow cyclists to bring their bikes on road trips, to trailheads, or just across town. With the proper rack and some basic know-how, you can easily and securely carry your bike on any vehicle.

Types of Rear Bike Racks

There are a few main types of rear mounted bike racks to choose from:

Hitch Racks

  • Attaches to a trailer hitch on your vehicle. Provides very stable and secure bike transport.
  • Best for vehicles like SUVs, trucks, and vans with a hitch receiver.
  • Allow access to rear gate/trunk without removing bikes.
  • Come in 2-bike and 4-bike versions. Platform or hanging bike styles available.

Trunk/Hatchback Racks

  • Straps onto the rear trunk/hatch of sedans, hatchbacks, crossovers.
  • Often use quick-release straps for attachment. Provide padded protection.
  • Can carry 1-3 bikes max usually. Hanging or platform style racks.

Roof Racks

  • Mounts onto roof rails/crossbars to carry bikes above the vehicle.
  • Offer increased carrying capacity but bikes must be lifted on top.
  • Require roof rack system and crossbars already installed.

Spare Tire Racks

  • Attach to spare tire on the back of SUVs and other vehicles.
  • Carry 1-2 bikes only. Bikes hang vertically.
  • Provides cargo access, but can block the rearview.

Rear Bike Rack Buying Considerations

Keep these factors in mind when selecting a rear bike rack:

  • Vehicle Type – Ensure the rack fits your car, truck, van properly.
  • Hitch Size – Measure your hitch receiver opening if getting a hitch rack.
  • Bike Capacity – Choose based on how many bikes you want to transport.
  • Rack Loading – Pick platform style for easier bike loading or hanging for storage space.
  • Frame Contact – Seek racks that cradle the bike without frame contact.
  • Security – Ratchet straps and locking cables help deter bike theft.
  • Mobility – Look for quick and easy attachment systems for driving/parking.
  • Budget – Prices range widely from $100 into the $500+ range based on features.

Before Loading Your Bike on a Rear Rack

Take these precautions before placing your bike on a rear mounted rack:

Ensure the Rack Fits Your Vehicle

  • Double check that the bike rack is designed to properly fit your specific car, SUV, truck, or van without issue. This is vital for safety and security.

Give Your Bike a Quick Check

  • Inspect your bike for loose parts or issues that could cause problems in transport.
  • Tighten wheel quick releases, handlebars, seat post so parts don’t loosen.
  • Check brake pads and tires for wear and proper inflation.

Gather Needed Accessories

  • Use quality bike straps or bungee cords to stabilize and secure the bike.
  • Employ bike locks to deter theft when parked. Lock through bike frame and rack.
  • Bring a bike cover to protect your bicycle from debris during transport.

Step-By-Step Instructions for Mounting a Bike on a Rear Rack

Follow these step-by-step guidelines for properly mounting your bicycle on a rear rack:

1. Prep Your Vehicle and Rack

  • Park on level ground and set the emergency brake.
  • Ensure the rear bike rack is securely fastened to the vehicle hitch, hatchback, roof rails, or spare tire.
  • Adjust the bike rack trays or arms into the proper position to load bikes if needed.
  • Review weight limits and ensure bikes are under rack capacity.

2. Load the Bike Onto the Rack

  • Carefully lift the bike on to the rack, keeping the bike upright. If needed, have someone help stabilize the bike from the other side.
  • For roof racks, take extra care lifting bikes up and maintain control when lifting.
  • Place bikes in order from largest to smallest if loading multiple bikes.
  • Position the bikes with ample clearance between bikes and between bikes and the vehicle.

3. Secure the Bike Properly

  • Ensure bikes are centered on the rack trays or hanging from the hooks evenly.
  • Attach each bike’s frame snugly to the rack with the provided straps or fasteners. Do not strap wheels or attach by the handlebars.
  • Stabilize bikes further with bungee cords over the wheels and frames. Wrap any loose straps.
  • Double check that bikes are centered and cannot sway or tip.

4. Protect the Bikes and Vehicle

  • Install bike covers over your bikes to protect from road debris.
  • Use padding on all contact points between rack and vehicle to prevent scratches.
  • Avoid any loose bike parts potentially rubbing or tapping the vehicle during transport.

5. Review Before Driving

  • Re-check how securely the rack is attached to the vehicle.
  • Confirm all bikes are properly strapped down and stable on the rack.
  • Assess clearance from the bikes to the vehicle and adjust as needed.
  • Test that all brake lights or rear lights on the vehicle are not obscured by the bike rack or bikes.
  • Ensure you have full access to the rear gate/trunk without obstruction.

Driving Safely With Bikes on a Rear Rack

Exercise additional caution and care when driving a vehicle with bikes mounted on the rear:

  • Drive slower and avoid sudden acceleration and braking which can destabilize the bikes.
  • Take turns and corners more gradually. Bikes raise your center of gravity.
  • Allow extra braking distance to account for the added weight.
  • Be aware the bikes back there when reversing carefully.
  • Avoid low overhangs and tight clearance spaces.
  • Check bikes through the rearview mirror periodically while driving.
  • Listen for any odd noises that could indicate bike movement or interference.
  • Pull over and re-secure bikes if needed. Strap covers can come loose over time.

Unloading Bikes from a Rear Rack

Removing bikes takes the same attention to detail and care as loading them:

  • Park on level ground and set the parking brake before unloading.
  • Unfasten any bike locks you secured them with.
  • Support the bike weight before undoing the straps and removing from the rack.
  • Lift the bikes off the rack carefully. Watch for loose parts that may detach.
  • Inspect the bikes and vehicle again once unloaded for any issues.
  • Lastly, remove any rack accessories and bike padding used.

Maintaining Your Rear Bike Rack

Don’t neglect general maintenance on your rear bike rack to keep it functioning properly:

  • Periodically check and tighten all bolts used to secure the rack to your vehicle or in the rack design itself.
  • Keep all moving parts, hinges and locking mechanisms clean and lubricated.
  • Replace any worn strap or strap hooks that are fraying or deformed.
  • Check plastic parts for cracks or breakage that require replacement.
  • Ensure the rack attachment parts specific to your vehicle are in good order.
  • Remove any grease and grime on bike contact areas.
  • Use touch up paint on any scratches to prevent rusting.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much weight can my rear bike rack hold?

  • Check your specific bike rack’s weight capacity but most carry 2-4 bikes weighing under 40 pounds each safely. Roof racks have lower capacities around 120-165 lbs total.

Is it better to transport bikes inside an SUV?

  • Rear racks are generally more convenient and keep bikes secure and your interior clean. Just take care strapping bikes tightly.

How do I stop bikes from swaying on a rear rack?

  • Use quality bike straps in at least two points on the frame, wrap excess strap, and add secondary tie downs like bungees for a sway-free hold.

What’s the difference between a hanging style and platform rack?

  • Hanging racks suspend bikes from top tubes or wheels allowing ground clearance while platform racks hold bikes horizontally. Both work well when installed properly.

How can I prevent bike damage on my rear rack?

  • Use dense foam pads in all contact points between the bikes and rack and tie down bikes by the frame instead of wheels. Avoid loose parts rubbing.

In Summary

Transporting your bicycle using a rear mounted rack takes a few steps done right but allows for convenient and secure movement of your bike. Invest in a quality rack that properly fits your vehicle, take precautions strapping down bikes tightly, drive cautiously, and inspect bikes and rack before and after each trip. Apply the tips in this guide and you can hit the road on your bike adventures with peace of mind.

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