Are Bike Racks Specific To Cars? … Or Universal

With a vast range of options for car bike racks and an even greater range of car models, it’s fair to wonder how to fit one to the other. Some cars require a specific rack solution, while some racks only fit on a specific model. But all in all, that’s the minority and it’s not as complicated as it seems. So, first of all, are bike racks specific to cars?

Most car bike racks are not specific to any one make or model. Bike rack manufacturers design their racks in a way to fit a range of vehicles to increase the size of the potential market per product. Only some cars with unique shapes and sizes like vans, jeeps, and RVs require specifically designed bike racks.

Now, this may sound like bike rack fitting is somewhat arbitrary. As if most offerings are basically plug-and-play. Let me explain the situation in a little more detail.

Are all bike racks universal?

Car bike racks are not universal for any car. Hitch racks come close to being mounted the same on any car with only two common receiver sizes (1 1/4″ and 2″). Roof racks require fitting between the roof, the roof bars and the bike trays. Trunk racks are the most specific, but there are universal models that can fit a wide range of trunk shapes.

Not even hitch bike racks use the same size mount. There are in fact 3 different receiver sizes available, that affect the overall loading capacity – called tongue capacity. Two of the hitch receiver sizes are common for regular passenger cars and commonly used for hitch bike racks: 1 1/4″ and 2″ receiver balls.

Do all bike racks fit all cars?

Generally, hitch racks and roof racks are the only types of bike racks that can fit on any car. This is because they do not directly come in contact with the car body, but with a trailer hitch or roof bars. Depending on how a trunk rack is designed, it can fit only one or a wide variety of cars and trunk hatch shapes.

Suction mounts can even fit where no other rack type can be used. They can probably be considered the only true universal bike rack type. These are kind of niche and tricky to select for since there are many brands but at the same time few actual manufacturers out there. That’s why I compiled the only reputable suction cup manufacturers.

SeaSucker_Bomber_suction 3 bike rack
Short roof or exotic car? No worries, SeaSucker got you covered.

Do trunk-mounted bike racks fit all cars?

Trunk bike racks in general fit most regular passenger cars like sedans, hatchbacks, and SUVs. Some trunk racks are designed for specific makes and models, while others can adapt to a wide range of cars. Jeeps, vans, and RVs require specifically designed trunk racks or spare tire racks because of unusual trunk hatch shapes and dimensions.

Some of the most popular trunk racks are Saris Bone and Allen Sports Premier (picture) 2-bike racks. Not by accident since those fit all kinds of cars, sometimes sedans and hatchbacks with the same rack.

There’s a reason their product images have greyed-out cars: because they fit more than one specific car, and that’s their unique selling point.

Both brands tackle this slightly differently but the gist is the same: a rigid frame for support and straps for a secure but flexible fit.

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Take the trunk rack on my van below for example. This huge thing would not fit on a regular 4-door car, hatchback, or sedan. Not even an SUV since it’s custom-designed to fit exactly that make and model with a flat trunk hatch. Notice how the rack frame is extending below the actual bike tray so it can reach the bumper and still clear the number plate.

Those measurements and the general shape of the trunk are the difference between trunk bike racks and why rigid trunk racks have to be designed with a specific car in mind. Either approach is valid and can be found among the top trunk bike rack manufacturers.

VW Van trunk bike rack

Can you use a car bike rack on an SUV?

SUVs can mount all bike rack types just like any other car. They are only different in their size, not in the mounting options a bike rack requires. Roof bike racks may be difficult to access on a bigger car, so hitch racks and trunk racks are recommended to use on an SUV. Depending on the car size, interior rack options may also be an option.

Until this point, I hinted at the various mounting options a bike rack can be attached to a car. In particular the three most common ones most of us are familiar with. However, there are a couple more. Let’s quickly go through them.

How do you attach a bike rack to a car?

There are 7 ways to attach a bike rack to a car:

In general, it depends far more on the type of car than on the type of bike when looking at the available options. This should make the initial decision more manageable to start with with the mounting options of your car. Click here for more information on how bike racks attach to cars.

limousine bike rack
Some companies like Alta Racks can make anything happen with a custom rig.

So, can you attach a bike rack to any car?

As a general rule, there are bike mounts for virtually any car out there. Roof bars, a trunk door, or a trailer hitch provide arguably the most universal mounting options. If none of these are available, or the car is on the smaller side suction cups offer a fast and easy way to mount a bike on any car.

The biggest variable may in fact be the shape of the trunk door. Between SUVs, sedans, trucks, hatchbacks, and so on there are seemingly infinite shapes and sizes. For a lot of them there are in fact suitable, well-designed, trunk racks available.

Same with roof racks. No matter if there are pre-mounted railings on there or not – there are most likely solutions to get a full assembly on that car roof. For my first one, I had no worries after I found the right adapters. Even though at that time the car was practically an old-timer at 20 years.

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