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Basic Guide to Hitch Racks

For vehicles with a hitch installed, a hitch rack is one of the most stable and affordable rack solutions out there. All hitch racks offer similar design advantages such as:
  • No contact between the rack and painted surfaces of the vehicle
  • A very secure interface between rack and vehicle
  • No need to lift bicycles overhead when loading
  • Quick and easy installation compared to roof racks
  • No danger of damaging bikes when pulling into a parking garage, drive-through, your own garage or other limited clearance situations

Hitch Types

First, let's review the most common vehicle hitches.

Ball Hitches

Ball Hitch Ball Hitches are typically installed in simple holes in the recessed area of a step bumper. To mount a rack to a ball hitch the ball must first be removed with a large wrench. The rack is mounted with a very large bolt replacing the hitch ball. Pay close attention to the weight rating on the bumper, as some step bumpers on small SUVs are not very sturdy. In some cases a reinforcing plate must be added under the ball area to stabilize the rack.

1 1/4 Inch Receiver Hitch

1 1/4" Receiver Hitches

1 1/4" hitches are typically found on passenger cars and light SUV's. They will plug into the vehicle's receiver and are secured with a pin. Class I hitches are only rated to carry 200 pounds (including the rack.), while Class II hitches are rated to carry 300 pounds (including the rack).

2" Receiver Hitches

2 Inch Receiver Hitch
2" Receiver Hitches are found on larger trucks and SUVs as well as RV's. 2" hitch racks plug into the vehicle's receiver and are secured with a pin. Most 2" hitches are Class II hitches and are rated to carry 300 pounds including the rack. Multi-fit racks frequently include a 1 1/4" foot plus a sleeve adapter to expand to fit 2" receiver hitches.

Rack Types

Hitch Racks can be broken down into 2 basic types: Upright-Style and Tray-Style.

Upright Style Bicycle Hitch Rack

1. Upright-Style Racks

Upright-style racks feature a relatively simple design and mount quickly and easily with few adjustments required. Bicycles are suspended by the frame from two arms extending from the vertical mount and "anti-sway" brackets prevent the bikes from banging together. They are usually the most affordable type of hitch rack, and most fold down out of the way to allow tail gates to open without having to remove the rack.

Tray Style Bicycle Hitch Rack

2. Tray Style Racks

Tray Style Racks support bicycles by the wheels and may have an upper boom to support the top of the rack. They work with the widest range of bicycles and facilitate easy loading and unloading. Top models will only touch the rubber of the bike tires, preventing paint damage to the frame or fork.

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Things to Consider with a Hitch Rack

  • Find out if your vehicle has a "recessed hitch." Some hitches are recessed several inches from the rear plane of the bumper, and most standard hitch racks will not work with this type of hitch without a hitch extender.
  • Depending on the rack and the number of bicycles carried, your vehicle may be up to 3 feet longer than usual. Exercise care when backing up or parking.
  • Secure your rack with a locking hitch pin. Even without bikes attached, hitch racks are expensive enough to be attractive to thieves
  • Secure your bicycle wheels by running a rope, strap or bungee cord through them to prevent spinning. While the wear on bearings is minimal, it is still wear.
  • Look out for steep driveways. Low-set tray type racks can scrape the ground on steep driveways and entrances. Reduce the risk of scraping by crossing steep pavement transitions at an angle.