Trunk bike rack models generally have a fit to specific vehicles. That usually limits the number of possible options to research. There is, however, a lot of variation within the designs, that make important differences for ease of use, security and safety.
Generally, hatch racks are commonly used because they combine the best of hitch and roof racks: trunk bike racks can be left on the car like a roof rack and have a fairly low impact on fuel economy like a hitch rack since the bikes are in the slipstream of the car.
They are also vehicle-specific and generally are designed to sit above the number plate and the tail lights for traffic law compliance in most jurisdictions. Plus, the guide to car fit makes finding the right Thule trunk rack for a specific car easy.
As a brand that stands for quality, longevity, and features in bike racks, Thule has arguably the largest catalog of car racks, including trunk bike racks and accessories.
That’s why I compiled, compared and ranked all the current 2022 Thule trunk bike rack models below in one helpful table.
I should mention that, while Thule USA and Thule Canada offer the same products overall, they have separate stores.
However, there are different Thule models for the European and North American markets.
This article compares the USA and Canada models only.
With that out of the way, here are all North American 2022 Thule trunk bike racks compared and sorted by price per bike:
Scroll to the right for more relevant details like locking systems.
Remember though, that well-engineered bike racks cost money (more on why that is here). So products made by Thule will generally be more expensive than from other top bike rack brands. They have established a brand reputation for high quality and durability. That being said, for more options, there’re more trunk bike rack manufacturers that are considered reputable brands.
Let’s now go into what differentiates all these models listed above.
4 Thule trunk bike rack model variants
Further down I lay out the benefits and disadvantages of each of those mounting designs. After I go into the individual aspects of the racks themselves.
OutWay – Platform & hanging cradle style
This is their premium model. It’s the most versatile, the easiest and fastest to use while being the most protective on the bike and car with great security features. And it comes as tray platform and cradle, confusingly enough.
The platform variant is the only model that does not block rear lights and number plate with bikes mounted. This eliminates a lot of other problems, and a main reason I’m using this style of trunk rack myself. With that, the bikes sit higher up, making parking garages inaccessible, and naturally creating more air drag and lower fuel efficiency.
It can mount pretty much any bicycle from mountain bikes, road bikes, gravel bikes, trekking bikes, women’s bikes, e-bikes, kids bikes and fat bikes (with an adapter).
GateWay Pro – Hanging cradle style
This one sits between the premium model OutWay and the value model Passage. Both in terms of pricing and features, although it leans more towards the Passage overall.
It’s a strap design, that is a relatively (but not entirely) universal fit. Integrated bike locks for the rachet system are a feature, while rack locks are not.
It sits low and thus will also block the rear lights and number plate with bikes mounted. Bikes may also get detected by the rear sensors as obstacles.
Passage – Hanging cradle style
It’s a great value option both on a per-bike-basis and overall cost perspective. It does come with major disadvantages. One, it’s not recommended for e-bikes. Second, it blocks the rear lights and number plate with bikes mounted.
It’s a good model to try if you are unsure if bike racks are a benefit to you. Also, if storage space is limited, this trunk rack folds down to the smallest package out of any of these.
That smaller price takes gets you basic features compared to the other models. So, no integrated bike locks or rack locks – both of which can be added as accessories.
Spare Me Pro – Hanging cradle spare tire rack
The “Spare Me Pro” is Thule’s only bike rack specifically designed to mount onto a rear spare tire. It features both a rock lock and integrated bike locks with a two-bike capacity. Its design and features are similar to the “GateWay Pro”. It will also block the rear lights and number plate with bikes mounted.
Bike mount types: platform vs hanging cradle
Frame mounts in general are very common among trunk bike racks. Either top tube or down tube, two of the largest and sturdiest parts of a bicycle frame.
The design to be wary of is the top tube as the only attachment point. In a hanging cradle bike rack, bikes are hanging only from the top tube, which women’s bikes either don’t have or have it much lower. It’s still possible to mount a women-specific bike to a hanging cradle style bike rack by using a frame adapter accessory, like the one Thule offers. It clamps to the seatpost and steerer tube to act as a make-shift top tube.
Similarly, modern mountain bikes also often have frame designs, where the top tube is lower, not straight or where the rear suspension mounts to the top tube. Any of these makes cradle bike racks difficult or impossible to use without such a frame adapter.
There are multiple bike rack mounting options with some more preferable over others. Only the second one is used by Thule trunk racks: the frame mount.
- Wheel mount
- Frame Mount (top and down tube)
- Front Axle Mount
- Seatpost Clamp
- Fork Mount
Sadly, there are no wheel-mounted options from Thule. Other brands like Yakima, however, have those in their current line-up.
The frame mounting types differ in three main dimensions: ease of use, stability and bike rack protection. Stability and protection go hand in hand in this case. Hanging cradle designs allow for much more movement by the bikes, allowing them to swing back and forth. Even with Thule’s “anti-sway” mounts, the bikes will be able to touch each other and maybe even the rear of the car under extreme braking situations. Hence the Thule bike protectors.
That movement will also leave potential markings on the paint job in the area where it attaches to the bike rack. With the downtube clamp on platform trays, it’s less of an issue than on top tube cradles. Again, Thule has some aid in the form of frame protectors.
As far as ease of use goes, the platform is above and beyond. Not only can individual bikes be taken off without removing the other ones, but it’s way easier to operate as a single person since the bike can’t move much in the tray and the clamps can be manipulated one-handed.
Thule’s integrated locking mechanisms
When thinking of bike rack security, locking the bikes to the rack is the most common and straightforward measure. And then there are ways to secure the rack itself to the vehicle for additional theft prevention. Thule has both locking types available for their bike racks.
Bike to rack locks
Thule racks can come with very inconspicuous bike locks tucked away within the actual rack. In either the tray, the frame clamp, or the tire clamp. That way locks are always on board and at your fingertips exactly where you need them.
Rack to car locks
Rack locks are their own security measure. Heavy-duty aluminum bike racks can’t be cut or disassembled easily anyway. And modern ones can’t be removed as well.
Except for universally fitting trunk racks that often come with strap designs. They offer the least amount of security on any bike rack. While locks may be available, straps are still relatively easy to cut or disengage from the hatch door.
So, bike rack design is more impactful on security than rack locks.
Trunk bike rack security
Trunk racks have the disadvantage of being one of the most difficult to secure. By that, I don’t mean bike theft prevention. Higher-end models will have integrated bike locks. And as an alternative or addition, common bike locks will do the job just fine.
Trunk bike racks themselves are just hard to lock to the car. Granted, they will not come off with a closed and locked trunk. But especially ones with strap design can be manipulated so that they come off if they are not secured to the car otherwise.
For that reason, Thule has a universal “Passive Lock Strap” that can be used with any bike rack for additional safety and theft prevention. It works by wrapping around a sturdy part of the bike rack and pinching under the hatch door on a trunk or hitch rack, and in a car door, when used on a roof rack.
A round puck inside the car’s interior is then preventing carrier removal. It may look like a simple fabric strap, that would be easy to cut through, but don’t let the looks fool you. Inside are two steel cables. They’re enclosed in nylon for a strong, durable strap that at the same time won’t scratch your vehicle, bikes or rack.
On that topic, I wrote an entire article with more informative tips, tricks, and a guide on how to secure bikes on a car rack, if you’re interested.