Roof Rack Vs Hitch Rack

This article may contain affiliate links where we earn a commission from qualifying purchases.

You paid big bucks to find the right bicycle, but how do you transport it to the places you’d like to ride? Should you buy a roof rack or a hitch rack?

Hitch racks are easier to load and unload and carry more weight than roof racks. However, hitch racks require an installed trailer hitch and can limit access to a vehicle’s trunk area or spare tire. A roof-mounted rack can affect fuel economy and make navigating low ceiling heights more difficult.

One of the joys of riding a bike is pedaling it along trails and paths you might never have taken before. The thrill of cruising along, smelling the freshness of the woods, and feeling your heart pump around every turn is close to heaven. But if you can’t get your bike to those “secret” paths of happiness, what good are they? Every day, bicyclists load their bikes on the back or top of their vehicles and set out for an adventure. So, which is the better option? This article will explore the age-old question for bicycle owners everywhere: roof rack vs. hitch rack.

Table of Contents


What is the Difference Between A Roof Rack vs. Hitch Rack?

Bike racks come in various shapes and sizes and have different load capacities.

Roof Racks

One type of bike carrier is a roof rack mounted on a vehicle, similar to cargo racks. Some roof-mounted racks can carry items other than bikes, like kayaks, coolers, or camping gear. These bike racks are often limited in the weight they can carry (due to the thin roof metal of automobiles). These roof bike racks tend to limit fuel economy when fully loaded and will prevent any use of a sunroof.

There are a couple more concerns if you use a rooftop bike rack. One obstacle to a roof-mounted bike rack is that it may require dismantling a portion of the bike (usually removing the front wheel) before loading and lifting the bike frame above the roofline to secure it on the rack on the car’s top. Since most car and SUV roofs are at least as high as an owner’s shoulder, repeated lifting can strain the back and upper torso. (After a while, it can be frustrating to operate on your bike just to put it on a rack). Once the bike is secured to the roof, care must be taken when driving because your car has suddenly gotten much taller. A roof bike rack makes navigating parking garages especially difficult.

Hitch Racks

A second type of bike rack is the hitch-mounted rack that connects a bike carrier to a receiver hitch installed under the rear bumper. Hitch racks extend the length of your vehicle by attaching the bike to a platform on the trailer receiver hitch. (Due to the lighter weight of a bicycle, even cars that are not routinely equipped for towing can have a light-duty hitch installed).

The advantage of a hitch-mounted bike rack is the number of bikes that can be hauled, and the platform can be changed into other cargo carriers simply by removing the bike rack for a flatbed version designed to haul luggage or cargo.

A disadvantage of some kinds of hitch bike racks is they block access to the vehicle’s trunk area. Some companies make specially designed hitch-mounted racks that can swing out the bikes or tilt the frame down to allow a person to get into their trunk space if something is needed. They are more expensive but can be worth the extra money.

What Are Some Considerations Before Purchasing A Bike Rack?

There are a few things to consider before you lay down hard-earned money for a bike rack for your car or SUV. hitch bike racks

The Kind Of Bike You Have

With the popularity of e-bikes, careful consideration should be given to the best type of rack. Most e-bikes are too heavy for roof rack mounting and are best relegated to a sturdy hitch bike rack. The last thing you want is to discover your roof looks like a teacup saucer because your vehicle couldn’t handle the weight.  Remember that since e-bikes are heavier, most roof-mounted bike racks are not intended to handle that additional weight.

How Many Bikes Will You Transport?

Roof-mounted racks are great for carrying one or two bikes, but anything more than that is not feasible. Hitch racks also work well with two, but some bike racks have additional brackets if you need to carry more. Again, remember that more bikes on either style mean more lifting and securing, and it is much harder to fasten a bike on a roof rack than on the back of your car.

What Kind of Vehicle Do You Have?

You must match the kind of bike rack to the vehicle type. Many companies manufacturing these carriers can help you purchase the correct one that best fits your vehicle. Consumer Reports lists the best racks that can aid in helping you decide which bike rack is the right one for you.

How Far Do You Need To Transport?

This question may not seem a big deal, but it can be. With the price of gasoline increasing and the concern about EVs range, any effect on gas mileage can mean more money spent on fuel rather than fun. At the same time, a hitch bike rack will provide additional weight on the back of the car (which can affect mpg ratings). Roof-mounted bike racks create more wind resistance, which also affects mileage adversely, so with either rack, expect to get worse fuel economy.

How Much Time To Load and Unload Do You Have?

Hitch-mounted bike racks do not require a bike owner to break down their bike to secure it. Usually, you simply lift the bike, set it on the tray, and move a stabilizing bar into place to keep it from shifting. Some roof racks require dismantling your bike before you can lift it, put it on the rack, and secure it. These kinds of racks mean that you have to find something to do with the front tire so that you can reassemble your bike before riding.

How Much Weight Can You Lift?

Both bike racks will require you to do some moderate lifting. Roof racks mean that you will have to lift your bike above the roof of your vehicle or reach up while unloading. Be mindful if you have physical limitations.

Which is More Popular: Roof or Hitch?

According to Consumer Reports, the hitch-style bicycle rack is the most popular, with sales increasing 36% in 2021. These hitch-mounted racks are easy to install and use, and most flip up against the vehicle’s rear when not in use. Hitch racks do not interfere with any low clearance issues, so owners can think about riding instead of worrying about scraping their bikes on the garage door.

What Will a Bike Rack Cost?

A hitch-mounted bike rack will vary in price from a couple of hundred dollars to several hundred. (This cost does not include installing a trailer receiver hitch which will add a couple more hundred dollars to the cost).

A roof-mounted bike rack will vary in cost from around $200 - $500, not including any adapter hardware.