How does a hitch bike rack work?

Hitch bike racks are very simple to understand. Once you’ve got a hang of it, you can install it easily on your car, truck, or sedan to hook your bikes.

Basically, this type of bike rack uses the hitch or drawbar receiving tube that can be installed at the back of your car to hang the bicycles.

If you use this bike rack, you don’t need to put your bikes on the roof of your car, which may be wobbly over bumpy roads and scratch the paint.

Also, you don’t even need a spare tire as a base to hang the rack on, which can be convenient if your car is designed this way.

Let’s check out more about the hitch bike rack and how it works.

Hitch Bike Rack Basics

The Schwinn Protocol 1.0 Dual-Suspension Mountain Bike with Aluminum Frame, 26-Inch Wheels, Red

A hitch bike rack uses the edge of a hitch on your vehicle to hang the rack, which then provides support for your bikes.

In a way, you can visualize this type of rack as the letter L. The lower _ part slides into the hitch to secure the I column in place.

On the column, there are dedicated spaces for you to hook your bikes on. Installation usually takes around 5 minutes.

Many people use hitch bike racks over roof-mount racks, trunk rack, or spare tire mount racks because:

  • They allow a greater capacity to hold bikes
  • They make it easy to load and unload bikes
  • The racks provide more secure support over bumpy roads
  • They are compatible with many types of vehicles
  • There is some space between the rack, the car, & the bikes to minimize scratches

Different Types Of Hitch Bike Racks

There are basically 2 most common types of hitch mount bike racks you will find on the market.

Hanging Hitch Bike Rack

The Kent KZ2600 Dual-Suspension Mountain Bike, 26-Inch

In a way, you can think of the hanging bike rack as the vertical bar in your wardrobe that is used to hang your clothes.

This type of rack is popular because it is lightweight, easy to install, and relatively cheaper.

On average, the maximum capacity of a hanging bike rack can be up to 5-6 bikes depending on the model.

When using this type, however, you may need to use some locking mechanism to keep the bikes from swaying around when you’re driving.

Here are the pros and cons of this one:


  • Easy to install
  • Great capacity
  • Reasonably priced


  • May need a locking system to prevent swaying
  • May not hook unusual bike frames

A good example for this type is the Allen Sports 4-Bike Hitch Rack which you can get right on Amazon.

Platform Hitch Bike Rack

The Avigo Double Divide 26″ Bike, White, 18″One Size

The second type of hitch bike rack you will often find is the platform rack. Very easy to understand, this type offers a strong and stable platform to place your bikes on.

Unlike the hanging rack, you can only put about 2-4 bikes on the platform rack. This type is also a lot more expensive due to its heavy-duty features.

The bike lock is often included and the installation is quick and simple. Thule T2 Pro XT 2 Bike Rack is a platform rack many bike lovers trust and use to hang their masterpieces.

Here are some good and bad points about the platform rack:


  • Very stable
  • Tool-free installation
  • Great protection


  • More expensive
  • Lower capacity

How to Choose a Hitch Bike Rack?

The Merax Falcon Full Suspension Mountain Bike Aluminum Frame 21-Speed 26-inch Bicycle

Here are some considerations you should take into account when buying a hitch rack.

Hitch Size

The hitch that works with hitch bike racks is usually the trailer hitch that you see people use for towing purposes.

There are around 5 classes of hitch with standard sizes and weight capacity. When you shop for the right rack, be sure to check what class it is and what the size of the receiver tube is.

This way, you will be sure to get the perfect fit for your bikes.

Check the table below for a quick summary of all the standard hitch sizes:

So for example, when you are shopping for a hitch mount bike rack and see something like “Vehicle will require professionally installed Class III or IV 2″ hitch to use this product”, you know that you need a Class 3 or 4 hitch installed on your car first to work with this thing.


As we talked about earlier, the hanging bike rack usually carries 5-6 bikes at once. The platform rack, on the other hand, can hold 2-4 bikes.

So remember to check the weight capacity of the carry arms or platform. On average, a carry arm may be able to support 60-70 lbs. A platform is about the same in terms of max load.

Bike Size

Before buying the rack, you should know the size of your bike. Because some racks will work with this size but not others.

For example, the Thule T2 Pro XT doesn’t not work well with 27.5” mountain bikes. For other smaller types, it does its job excellently.

The Thule T2 Classic works with fat tires up to 5” whereas the Yakima HoldUp can hold bikes from 20-29 inches. So remember to check this number carefully.


In summary, this post has given you information on how a hitch bike rack works, why people use it, and how to choose the best one for your vehicle and need.

As you can see, a hitch bike rack is simple to use and install. It requires no special equipment at all. Plus, it protects your carbon frames from scratching on the long road.

Keep in mind some of the key points like hitch size, your bike size, and the capacity, and you’re very much ready for your next adventures.

That being said, hope you’ll choose the most perfect one that satisfies you & enjoy.