Nothing confuses bike owners like bike racks. Most of them promise to fit an array of bikes and vehicles, which compels you to wonder, ‘are bike racks universal?’
Although most bike racks are compatible with most vehicles and bikes, they are not universal. Primarily, that’s because they are vehicle-specific and bike-specific.
Moreover, their compatibility depends on mounting location and the presence of compatible attachment points.
A rack only fits if it’s the right type and is designed for a particular vehicle and bike.
I’ll dig deeper to help you understand what I mean by saying that bike racks are not universal.
I’ll also help you find a bike rack that matches your car and bike.
Let’s get into it!
Are Bike Racks Universal?(Detailed Explanation)
Before I can answer this question, let’s look at what the term ‘universal’ means.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, ‘Universal means common to all members of a particular class or group.’
Some of its synonyms include multipurpose, unlimited, and general.
With that in mind, it’s unfair to argue that bike racks are universal because of the reasons discussed below.
1. Bike Racks Are Vehicle-Specific
Bike rack manufacturers always specify the kinds of vehicles that are compatible with a particular rack.
For example, some bike racks are only compatible with sedans and SUVs, while others are only best for pick-up trucks.
In such a case, you cannot fit an SUV bike rack onto a pick-up truck or vice versa.
2. Presence of Attachment Points Matters
Just because a particular bike rack is compatible with your vehicle type doesn’t mean it’ll fit right away. It must also be compatible with your vehicle’s attachment points.
If it’s a spare tire rack, for instance, your vehicle must have a rear spare tire before you can mount the rack.
If it’s a hitch rack, then your vehicle should have a compatible hitch receiver. But if not, then you have to install one.
Most bike racks are compatible with 2-inch hitches, but others are agreeable with 1.25-inch receivers.
Don’t forget about the rooftop rack, which requires roof crossbars before you can fit them. If the crossbars are not there, then you’ve to install them.
3. Bike Racks Are Bike-Specific
Bike racks are picky. While some bike racks accept just any bicycle type, most of them don’t.
They are too particular when it comes to the bike’s tire width.
A bike rack like the KAC E2 Hitch Bike Rack Carrier (Amazon Link) for example, only accepts bikes with a 3-inch minimum tire width. That makes it more suited to fat-tire bikes.
4. The Mounting Location Matters Too
The mounting location also dictates if a specific bike rack suits you. I’ve mentioned spare tire bike racks, rooftop racks, and hitch-mount racks.
Ideally, you fit spare tire racks onto the vehicle’s spare tire, rooftop racks onto the roof, and hitch racks onto the vehicle’s hitch receiver.
But other than the three, we’ve trunk racks which you fit onto the vehicle’s trunk.
That means you cannot fit a rooftop rack onto the spare tire or vice versa. You have to get a bicycle rack that matches where you want to mount it.
Are There Universal Bike Racks? If Not, What Are Your Options?
Let’s discuss the primary bike rack categories and their universal-ness if they do exist.
Are Spare Tire Bike Racks Universal?
Spare tire bike racks are the closest you can get to a universal bike rack on a budget.
Provided your vehicle has a rare spare tire and it’s among those the rack manufacturer recommends, then the rack is likely to fit.
So, the essential consideration is vehicle compatibility. If you are not sure about the vehicle’s fit, consult the rack manufacturer.
However, you can always know if a particular bike rack will fit your spare tire if you check its recommended spare tire width.
A bike rack like the Hollywood Racks SR1 Spare Tire Rack, for example, comes with a 12-inch maximum spare tire width.
So, provided your car’s spare tire is not more than 12 inches, the rack will fit.
This rack can hold two bikes, weighing 70 pounds collectively, making it a fantastic choice for ladies’ bikes, kids’ bikes, road bikes, and some MTBs.
Are Trunk Bike Racks Universal?
Trunk bike racks are nearly universal as spare tire racks. But just like spare-tire racks, you’ve to ensure the trunk rack that you opt for is compatible with your vehicle.
But other than that, another consideration is the bike’s compatibility. The trunk rack has to fit your bike and should hold its weight.
A bike rack like the Tyger Auto TG-RK3B203S (Amazon Link), for example, is compatible with most minivans, SUVs, hatchbacks, and sedans.
So, the fact that I’ve used the word ‘most’ means it’s nearly universal. It’s, however, not 100% universal because it doesn’t fit vehicles featuring rear spoilers.
And when it comes to bike capacity, it carries up to 3 bikes totaling 99 pounds. Such a capacity allows it to hold kids’ bikes, ladies’ bikes, most road bikes, and only a few MTBs.
So, it leaves fat bikes and e-bikes out.
Are Rooftop Bike Racks Universal?
When it comes to installing roof racks, you need some crossbars, two to be precise, that will hold the bike rack on your vehicle’s roof.
If crossbars are not present in your car, you’ve to buy them and install them first. A typical roof rack only carries one bike, but you can load 2-4 if it’s a suction cup roof rack.
One advantage of suction cup bike racks is that they have a universal fit. So, they are the exception in our case. We don’t refer to them as nearly universal but just ‘universal.’
One such bike rack is the ROCKBROS Suction Cup Bike Rack (Amazon Link)
This 3 bike universal carrier is compatible with various vehicles, including SUVs, vans, sedans, hatchbacks, passenger cars, among many others.
Not only is it compatible with an array of vehicles but also an array of bicycles. In my view, this bike rack deserves to be called a universal rack.
Are Hitch Bike Racks Universal?
When it comes to hitch-mount bike racks, there are two critical considerations. First, you have to consider the hitch class, and second, consider the receiver size.
If you get both values correct, then you’ll buy the right hitch bike rack.
Here is a table to use:
|Receiver Size (inch)
Generally, you shouldn’t put more than two bikes on a Class I hitch rack but only on a Class II or higher. And while at it, ensure the bicycle rack is compatible with your vehicle’s hitch receiver.
A hitch bike rack like the IKURAM R 4-Bike Rack, (Amazon Link) for example, is compatible with Class III and Class IV 2-inch receivers and allows you to load up to 4 bikes.
So, for such a bike rack to suit your vehicle, the vehicle must have a 2-inch hitch receiver. If it’s not there, then you have to install it.
The other consideration is the vehicle type. Like most of its kind (hanging hitch racks), this rack is compatible with cars, SUVs, minivans, and trunks with a 2-inch receiver.
That makes it a nearly universal bike rack.
1. Can Bike Racks Go On Any Car?
Bike racks can only go on cars they are compatible with. If that’s not the case, then the bicycle rack won’t fit.
If you are not sure about the rack’s compatibility, inquire from the manufacturer.
2. Are All Bike Racks Universal?
Bike racks are vehicle-specific, and most of them are bike-specific. They fit specific types of vehicles and bicycles, which means they are not universal.
3. Is There A Universal Bike Rack?
There is nothing like a universal bike rack as they are vehicle-specific and even bike-specific. Overall, suction cup bike racks are the closest you can get to universal bike racks.
A suction rack like the ROCKBROS Suction Cup Bike Rack fits an array of vehicles and bikes, thanks to its universal sucker. So, you can easily call it a universal bike rack.
4. Do All Bike Racks Need A Hitch?
Only hitch-mount bike racks require a hitch receiver, which you can install if absent. Rooftop racks, for example, only need rooftop crossbars, while spare tire racks only need a compatible rear spare tire.
The high price of bike racks is mainly related to their sturdy and reliable constructions. So much money goes into assembling and testing.
What’s more, bicycle racks with massive capacities are likely to be more expensive.
Bike racks are only likely to damage cars when they swing around and rub against the car’s body repetitively. It’s often a case of improperly installing the bicycle rack, faulty fasteners, or loose connections.
In summary, are bike racks universal?
Though most bike racks suit an array of vehicles and bicycles, they aren’t universal. You have to ensure the bicycle rack is compatible with your car and bike before getting it.