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Roof or towbar racks?

By LikeAGlove - Posted on 01 May 2007

NB: Originally posted elsewhere on the Global Riders Network and appears via syndication.

Hi there,

Newbie here just getting back into riding and looking for the best options to carry two bikes around. At the moment I do not have a tow bar or roof racks (car has build in rails) so my two options are.

1: Buy a tow bar and bike rack for the back of the car which could be expensive considering I need the tow bar as well as the rack.

2: Get roof racks (which I could use for other purposes) and some racks for my roof.

I'm just curious about peoples opinions on the two types of racks and if there is a particular brand that anyone would recommend.

Hope to make it out on a ride real soon!


Nah... only joking, although I have both so this might help you out:

Initially it was just me. I only ever needed to carry a single bike so got roof rails and a rack. Thule, great stuff, very study and reliable, locks the bike to rack which is locked to car.

Then there was more, and I got sick of having to take the bike off before going into underground parking (we live in a unit). Luckily the car had a tow bar so got a 4 way Thule hitch mount. Again, very nice, cable lock, etc, etc.

I guess the moral here is plan for the future, but if you don't have a square hitch on the car already, as you know, will be a bit pricey.

FWIW I'm not really put out much by not being able to get in the back with bikes on (the rack can only fold out the way when empty) and do use the roof rack occasionally - we had 4 riders and bikes on Sunday - one of the bikes was on the roof. Although you could probably get 4 bikes on the back, the fit was better this way.

Now, did that help? Erm... probably not? Eye-wink

Thanks for the reply Rob it did help.

I will be carrying one bike during the week and two on the weekends. I cannot see this number increasing anytime soon unless we get a little surprise Eye-wink so maybe roof is the way to go?

After all if I buy the rails I will use them again to carry a luggage pod to the snow. Just curious do all bike racks mounted on roof require the front wheel to be removed? Also Thule the way to go?

Have you considered a strap-on rack? I'm trying to break free of the dam and needed a rack so looked at all the options. For me, cost was the main consideration and ended up going for a Thule Freeway 968. It can carry 3 bikes but in reality weight restrictions mean only 2. Cost is about $180 and it's very sturdy. The main disadvantage of this sort of rack is that a) you have to get a good fit with the car, and b) you need an extra attachment for mountain bikes that don't have much clearance under the top frame bar.

If you have a heavier DH style MTB you might want to seriously consider a tow-bar mounted rack such as GripSport's racks.

Lifting a heavy MTB onto the roof could be a challenge especially after a hard day riding! Also, if it's been a muddy ride you might find a mess on your roof (and some of that stuff can affect your paint!).

Also, roof racks and rails have weight limits which may not be sufficient for your bike in the case of DH bikes especially.

I'm contemplating my options around bike transport at the moment. I have to upgrade my car soon and am thinking that I might even consider a dual-cab ute as an option!!! Gotta do some test drives and convince my wife!


05 Demo 9

i have used both in the past. Both are good and have there own advantages/disadvantages
At the moment i use the tow bar rack, find it more sturdy and i feel a bit safer with it as i can see the bike at all times. Bike and rack are lockable too for the quick dash in the shop or something. I have a 4 bike rack which can hold 3 easily, never tried 4 bikes.

wouldnt advise a strap on
had two mountain bikes on one and when i went over a speed hump the locking mechanism exploded and caused the lot to fall off.
it was however a plastic type mechanism and i was weary of it before i used it
next time ill trust my gut instinct.


I was considering a strap on until the last post Smiling I don't have any issues with the bikes being on the roof as I have plenty of clearance in my garage. Just took a look at the Thule website and answered one of my previous questions about removing the front wheel so I am pretty happy so far with the roof rack option. The Thule roof racks say 100kg MAX so I will need to find out how much my bikes weight to make sure I will be able to put them both on the roof.

I asked a few places about strap ons and the feedback was the same - don't go for anything cheap! All of them recommended the Thule. Having said that, I'm not expecting to take the bike too far otherwise I'd think I'd invest in something more durable.

yes i didnt have a thule
they may have the answer
Anaconda have a strap on for three bikes for 79 bucks and they also have all the other alternatives for ok prices


It seems that the fit seems to be quite important with a strap on so just curious if anyone is using a strap on rack on a 95 Subaru Liberty wagon?

I am still considering both roof racks and strap on at this stage. It was mention something sturdy would be better for a long trip should I rule out the strap on if I plan to take the bikes on a long trip?

I have a smaller car also which already has roof racks so I am leaning towards roof racks at this stage. Does anyone know if there is a minimum distance between each roof rail that the roof racks need to be stable?

Sorry for all the q's it could be time to visit a shop Smiling

but i have tried the bike rack and that works well
if im going for a far away ride i borrow a ute
that way im 100 % sure


it attaches to the towbar and you just drop the tyres into the slot at shin height and the bike is held there by the crank. I find it really easy because I don't have to lift the bike up too high to get it anywhere else. I've heard that some of the racks which grip your frame can cause damage - ie, dent or bend the frame slightly, so that's why I went with this one. That and my ex-boyfriend heavily influenced my decision and he was into downhilling (but where is he now??). It does mean you can't get into the boot or hatch of the car, so that's the downside. And you will need a towbar first. Also the bike will need to be chained onto the towbar because there is no locking feature....AND the carrier itself would have to be locked onto the towbar if you were really paranoid because the whole thing could just be slid off with your bikes attached and put into the back of a ute! I do think though the theft would have to be extrememly well-planned!

I've got a station wagon so tend you keep my own bike in the back of that when it's just me. But it's good for two.

Hey Tanya,

I believe GripSport now offer a quick detatch mount which also has a padlockable securing pin. This should address most of your issues about security (that and a trusty bike lock).

I suggested to the guys that they should also make a folding/articulated mount for wagon owners who want to access the boot space.


05 Demo 9

I'll check it out but have never been that worried about it. I lock the bike to the rack but not the rack to the I said, I figure someone would really have to be organised to pull it off.

Thanks everyone the responses are much appreciated. I am going to see if I can find myself a 2nd hand tow bar and also make sure I can fit one to my subaru wagon (Jap Import). If I can do that for a reasonable price I think I will go down that track as I like the idea of being able to see my bikes while driving Smiling and I won't have to worry about weight too much. Other wise I will probably go down the path of getting racks on the roof.

As people have pointed out you have few options. For me I would consider the towbar fitted as the best (I have both on my current car) the reasons for this are:
1. If you buy one of the bike racks that have two arms you can even strap ski's/snowboard's across the back and transport them without ruining your fuel economy
2. You don't run the risk of peeling your roof off if you forgot that your car was on top (I have seen photo's and they were not pretty
3. don't buy the cheap flat drawbar towbar get the square hitch as it means you can buy some of the stronger and more flexible racks

Buy the best rack you can afford and the one that holds the most bikes, you get to share fuel cost with your mates and it is far nicer being on a long trip with all your mates in your car chatting than following them in a road train (plus the bigger the rack the more chance that you can fit a few bikes with strange needs on, for instance try getting 3 downhill bikes on a 3 bike carrier, they just won't fit)

The rack that I think is the best on the market is the Thule 915 - Roadway 5 Bike Rack I have used one of these to replace a trailer for DH shuttle runs, have taken the 4 snow boards to Thredbo strapped across in board bags with two boards on top and two below the bars and fitterd just about every frame type I have seen (you may need to flip the bike over but you will get it on without the cludgy adapters people use) and the bikes are rock solid on long trips (Oh I did take one of the mounts off to make it a 4 bike carrier you need the extra bar length with DH bikes and it is easier to use when it is less cluttered). Plus you can buy a box that straps to it and carries a heap of gear if you are not taking bikes (great for wetsuits and other gear that you did not want to pack in the car etc)

I was looking for a Thule 915 for a while and came across 951, is that the rack you mean? I'm gathering it is I just wanted to check. Good to hear that it's possible to strap snowboards on the back too Smiling

Doh Sorry, yeah the 951 like I said works a treat and can replace a trailer in many cases

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