Transport Your Bikes With A Roof-Mounted Bike Rack

roof bike rack

Whether you have a slick new downhill mountain bike or a super nice aero carbon road warrior, eventually you’re going to want to explore tracts beyond those you can reach from your front door.

For most people, that means attaching your bike to your vehicle using a rack. The two general options are putting your bike on top of your car or behind it using some kind of rack.

Many people choose roof racks because attaching your bike behind your vehicle impedes rear hatch or trunk access and usually requires a hitch. If you are choosing between roof racks, there are many factors to consider both about your vehicle and your bike.

Benefits and Limitations of Roof Racks

Almost all roof racks install by mounting them to crossbars on top of your vehicle. Because your bikes are on top of the car, they do not block your view when you are driving. You also maintain access to the trunk and spare tire.

Because roof racks are supported by your vehicle’s roof, they are often smaller and lighter than rear racks. This is a significant benefit when storing the rack off of your vehicle, as large hitch racks can take up a lot of space. And when on your vehicle, rear racks add length that you must take into account when parking and trying to fit into tight spaces.

Roof racks do have some limitations, though. Because roof-mounted bikes don’t block your vision, you have to remember that they are there. Almost every cyclist has heard about someone who forgot their bike was on the roof until it crashed into the garage door.

For taller vehicles, you must also keep in mind your vertical clearance when driving, as you may risk hitting low-hanging limbs and bridges. The roof placement also affects aerodynamics so you may see reduced gas mileage when your bike is attached on your roof.

Because of wind turbulence, some rack manufacturers set a speed limit that may be slower than highway speeds.

Bikes are mounted on roof racks by lifting them on top of your car. The taller your car and the heavier your bike, the harder it is to hoist your bike on top of the rack.

When you’re at the last stretch of an epic ride, you don’t want to have to think about saving energy to lift your bike onto your car after you’re done. Some people carry a step-stool or crate to stand on so that they can more easily lift their bike on the rack.

What To Look For When Choosing A Roof Rack

If you’ve decided that a roof rack is right for you, there are a few things to look for in order to pick the right rack for your needs.

Your vehicle

Sedans and hatchbacks are shorter and therefore easier to use with roof racks, but almost any vehicle that can be equipped with crossbars can hold a roof rack. You can install crossbars if your vehicle does not already have them installed, and there is a wide variety to choose from.

Take note of the shape of your crossbars and how far apart they are installed to make sure they are compatible with the rack system you choose.

Your bike(s)

Roof racks attach your bike to your car in a few different ways. Each particular model has its benefits and drawbacks depending on the type of bike you want to transport.

If you have one type of bike that you haul all the time, choose a rack that is best for that bike. If you change up your bike frequently, you may want to consider choosing a rack that is easy to adjust and will fit all styles of bike.

There are three basic types of roof racks, based on how they hold the bike upright:

  • Racks that require removal of the front wheel to support the bike by attaching the fork to the rack
  • Racks that support the bike by clamping to the frame
  • Racks that support the bike by holding up the wheels.

Each type of rack works better for different bikes and different set-ups. There are important limitations to some racks that prevent them from carrying certain bikes.

For example, if you have a fat bike—one with ultra-wide tires—some designs may not work for your bike. If you have a full suspension or another non-traditional frame, a rack that clamps onto the downtube may not work for you.

You should also take note if you have a through-axle bike, fenders, disk brakes, or a particularly heavy bike.

If you have determined that a roof-mounted bike rack is right for you, you may be wondering how to find one that fits your bike. I’ve picked out eight top-rated models and compared their features and requirements so you can find the one that best fits your needs.

Top Roof-Mounted Bike Racks (Reviews)

1. Yakima ForkLift Fork Mount Rooftop Bike Mount

The Yakima ForkLift is a popular fork-mounted roof mount from a well-known and trusted brand. It attaches to your bike using the front fork after you remove the front wheel, limiting contact with your frame and paint job.

Yakima ForkLift Fork Mount Rooftop Bike Rack

Because it supports the bike through the fork, you will have to find room for the front wheel in your car. By attaching your fork to your car, the bike is held securely to your vehicle with little movement while driving around.

Vehicle Fit

The Yakima ForkLift fits most crossbars, including factory crossbars on Volvo, Subaru, and Mazda models. It can be installed tool-free on either side of the vehicle.

Some people have noted that the height of the crossbar, not its shape, limits the ability to install this model. If the crossbar is too close to the roof, there will not be enough clearance for the ForkLift to attach to the bar during installation.

Bike Fit

The ForkLift is compatible with rim brake and most disk brake bikes. It also works with both quick-release and through-axle forks.

2. Travel Life Alloy Car Roof Bicycle Carrier for 2 Bikes

The Travel Life roof rack is the only one on this list that is made to carry two bikes. This is a much more economical solution than purchasing two separate roof racks for two bikes, but it does have its drawbacks.

Travel Life Alloy Car Roof Bicycle Carrier Rack for 2 Bikes Max Load 66 lbs

The carrier must be installed in the center of your roof, instead of towards the sides. This makes it harder to reach the bikes for some people.

Bikes are kept upright by strapping the frame to the center beam, which can be collapsed when not in use. Bikes are attached using straps, so a separate solution is needed if you want to lock your bike to the rack and your crossbars.

Vehicle Fit

The Travel Life rack fits most aero or square crossbars and can be installed without tools.

Bike Fit

The wheels remain on your bikes so the majority of bikes will fit on this rack. The maximum weight limit for both bikes is 66 lbs.

3. Thule Sidearm Roof rack

The Thule Sidearm supports your bike by the wheels using Thule’s Secure Hook system. Your bike rests on the rack in the wheel supports and then the Secure Hook lifts over the front wheel to secure it.

Thule Sidearm Roofrack

The back wheel is secured by a ratcheting strap. This means the rack does not come in contact with the frame, keeping your carbon frame safe from clamp damage.

Some users found that the bike needed additional security than the Secure Hook system provided. This can be accomplished by adding a strap on the front wheel.

Vehicle Fit

The Sidearm fits Thule racks, round bars, and most factory crossbars.

Bike Fit

The Sidearm fits most size wheels up to 29 inches in diameter and up to 2.6 inches wide. It cannot accommodate fenders because of the Secure Lock system.

4. Yakima FrontLoader Rooftop Bike Rack

The Yakima FrontLoader supports the bike using two metal hoops raised around the front wheel.  This offers some advantage to the single-hook system because the wheel is cradled between two points of contact.

Yakima FrontLoader Rooftop Bike Rack

Your bike is secure even in high winds. A cable lock can be added to secure your bike to the rack, and a lock cylinder is available through Yakima that uses a preinstalled cable that is already integrated into the rack.

Vehicle Fit

The FrontLoader fits most crossbars and is shipped with no assembly required. Attaching the rack is simple and requires no tools.

Bike Fit

No contact is made with the bike frame, as bikes are attached using the wheels. This makes it safe for carbon fiber frames and forks.

Like other bikes racks that use this system, it is not compatible with fenders or fat tires. It can accommodate 20-29 inch wheels.

5. Thule Big Mouth Bike Carrier

The Thule Big Mouth rack supports your bike using a bar that clamps onto the downtube. Some people prefer this clamping system because it keeps your bike secure with little play even on rough roads.

Thule Big Mouth Bike Carrier

Even though contact is made with your frame, Thule’s clamping jaws are less abrasive than fabric straps on other models. The downtube bar has a place to add a locking cylinder that Thule sells separately. One lock attaches the bike to the rack and the rack to your crossbars.

Vehicle Fit

The Big Mouth fits Thule square and round bars. An adapter can be added to fit other Thule crossbars and factory racks.

Bike Fit

The rack fits most road, hybrid, and mountain bikes with tires up to 2.6 inches wide. But if you have a bike without a traditional downtube, this rack may not work for you.

Bikes are attached to the rack by the wheels and a bar that clamps onto the downtube. The jaws on the downtube bar wrap around bike frames up to 3 3/8” in diameter.

6. RockyMounts TomaHawk Upright Mount

RockyMounts’ TomaHawk bike rack makes no contact with the bike frame. Bikes are attached by the wheels and a swingarm that loops around the front tire to hold the bike upright.

RockyMounts TomaHawk Upright Mount

The swingarm can be switched to either side of the rack so you can choose which side of the car you want to put your bike on.

Vehicle Fit

The TomaHawk fits all styles of factory and aftermarket crossbars. The rack is attached using included Allen keys.

Bike Fit

Fat bike lovers rejoice: this bike rack is one of the few that fits tires up to 5 inches wide. The rack fits most styles of bikes with wheels 20-29 inches.

7. Thule ProRide Bike Rack

The Thule ProRide holds one bike upright using a downtube clamp and integrated wheel trays. Unlike many other racks, there is a torque limiter in the clamping mechanism to help avoid over-tightening and damaging your bike frame.

Thule Pro Ride Bike Rack

As you tighten the clamp, the rack adjusts the position of the wheel tray ensuring your bike is correctly mounted.

Vehicle Fit

The ProRide mounts to most factory racks and Thule square, round, and aero bars. Accessories can be purchased to fit additional crossbars. The rack can be installed on either side of the vehicle.

Bike Fit

The rack fits most bikes with up to 3-inch tires. Because bikes are kept upright using the downtube clamp, some full suspension and folding bikes will not fit.

There is a carbon frame adapter available for carrying carbon bikes that distributes the force from the clamp, making it safer to use with carbon frames. It will work with fenders and thru-axel bikes.

8.  Yakima Highroad Top Car Bike Rack

The Yakima Highroad clamps onto bike tires using two metal hoops around the front tire and a strap around the rear wheel. It includes a torque knob to help tighten the hoops around your front tire and ensure a tight fit without pushing your wheel out of alignment.

Yakima Highroad Top Car Bike Rack

Vehicle Fit

The Highroad advertises its compatibility with hatchbacks because of its low-profile tray. It mounts to most crossbars mounted 18 to 36 inches apart.

Installation requires no tools, and it can be placed on either side of the vehicle.

Bike Fit

The Highroad makes no contact with the frame, so it is good for use with carbon fiber bikes and bikes with unusual frame shapes. It does not work with fenders because of the mounting system, and it is also limited to wheel sizes between 26 and 29 inches in diameter with widths of 23mm to 3.25 inches.

Summary: Top Roof Bike Racks Recommended

For a quick comparison at our favorite bike racks for the roof of your automobile, take a look at the table below for our top picks right now.

Last update on 2019-05-24 at 11:54 / Affiliate links / Images via Amazon Product Advertising API

top image: Geof Sheppard [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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