The process of installing or removing a car bike rack can be intimidating for the first time. But there is really no reason to be skeptical.
As a whole, bike racks are easily installed and removed. The process can oftentimes be done tool-less or with minimal tool use. It is recommended to mount and dismount car bike racks with the assistance of a second person, but it can still be done alone.
Transporting a bicycle without a bike rack is definitely more difficult than making use of one. But not all racks are created equal. Some even can stay on the vehicle long-term while others need to be uninstalled after every trip.
The easiest types of bike racks to install
In most cases, hitch-mounted racks are the easiest to mount and dismount. No additional tools are needed. Since they only have one point of contact with a vehicle – namely the tow hitch – there is not much else to worry about or get wrong. There is literally no way to mount one upside down or in any wrong direction.
The one and only more difficult aspect of them is that they may be awkward to lift and carry. Hitch racks often have the highest weight capacity and therefore are also designed for their heavy-duty job. This weight of up to 70 lbs (32kg) needs to be handled every time it needs to come on and off the car. Usually, they also cannot be disassembled so there is no way to lower the weight.
Trunk mount racks are not quite in that level of simplicity but can be installed and removed very easily as well. Some common tools may be required here depending on the manufacturer. They too can’t be installed in any wrong direction, so you will notice as soon as you try to. The biggest benefit of trunk racks is that they are relatively light and easy to handle – even by yourself without helping hands.
For spare tire racks, there are usually common tools necessary to mount and dismount. With the tire in the middle of the boot door, the points of contact are limited. So they often attach to parts that were not initially designed to hold bike racks. If you can operate a screwdriver or ratchet, however, this will be a walk in the park.
They are the lightest of the bunch so no hassle handling the rack. A second pair of hands may still be helpful to hold the rack in place while screwing bolts in or out.
Of all the types of bike racks, roof-mounted racks are the most difficult to install and remove. This is only due to the fact, that they come in multiple parts. They are not heavy and hardly require any tools. A single experienced person can do the mounting in minutes.
With that said, helping hands make a difference here. For one, it becomes so much easier with a person on each side of the vehicle, working at the same time. By yourself, you would need to walk around the car to change sides a couple of times. Especially for the first installation, there is a lot of adjusting necessary to find the ideal fit for the specific car dimensions.
Why to remove a bike rack when not in use
Roof racks and trunk racks do not have to be taken off when not in use. They are simply set-and-forget kinds of racks. They add very little to the total vehicle dimensions. A roof rack’s effect on overall fuel economy is also insignificant. With maximal speeds of what is allowed on highways, there is just not much air drag generated. Without a pressing reason to dismount them, they are a great option to leave on your vehicle for all seasons of the year.
On the other hand, there are multiple reasons why hitch bike racks should be taken off when not in use. This is for reasons like longer vehicle dimensions, regulatory issues, and even insurance issues.
In the worst case, leaving an empty hitch rack on your car may even be illegal in your region. Although some authorities may not heavily enforce these laws, it’s something to keep in mind before deciding on what type of rack is best for you.
If it were allowed, leaving it on is still an inconvenience as your vehicle will become a few feet longer, so parking spaces tend to get too small. Also, there are difficulties accessing the trunk that are enough reason for most to dismount.
What components of a bike rack are attached permanently
Bike racks are not permanently attached to a vehicle. The car parts to which they are mounted, however, must be permanent ones to ensure stability and safety. Those parts of the car include tow hitches, roof bars, and trunk doors.
Some of them always come with the vehicle 100% of the time, no matter what extras were ordered with it. A certain one is the trunk door, there is no way this one is missing. But there are also some less obvious ones like the spare tire some SUVs and Jeeps come as standard with.
Roof rails on the other hand are not mounted by default, although they come standard for a large number of cars. They tend to be more and more on the list of extras for new car orders. Just like trailer hitches. That is why not all cars come equipped with those.
The good news: All of the parts mentioned above can be installed as an aftermarket solution. And those installs need to be of a permanent fashion. None of those bike rack mounts are bad for any vehicle. They do not damage the car and do not impact any other functionalities.
The only impact is on your wallet if you decide to go for a permanent car update. What exactly you can expect in terms of wallet-slimming I looked at when looking at the costs of installing a trailer hitch.
Roof racks are removable, roof rails are not
Roof bars are the removable components of any car roof rack. The non-removable parts are the roof rails on either side of the car as they are an actual part of the vehicle. Some roof bars can even attach without roof rails, making them optional for a car roof rack.
Lots of people leave the bars mounted on their cars out of convenience. There is no real functional benefit from removing them when no bike rack, roof boxes, or other roof rack accessories are attached. Empty roof racks don’t add hardly anything to total car height and can be used for mounting all kinds of cargo spontaneously.
The attentive reader has noticed that I said above, that roof rails can be installed aftermarket. What can be installed, usually can technically be uninstalled as well. This is also true for roof rails. They are usually not welded to a car roof but bolted. This is done in a way that is absolutely safe and secure. So dismounting is difficult accordingly. They are not designed to be removed regularly, but rather a permanent modification to a car.