8 Reasons Why Bike Racks Are So Expensive
Bicycle riding is a rather popular activity. Cars are not exactly a rare new invention either. Transporting the former with the latter, however, can still seem like a luxurious undertaking. Bike racks for cars just seem to be rather expensive. But this is not a scam, the reasons for prices are mostly economical.
Car bike racks are expensive because of manufacturing costs and relatively low sales volume per rack model. Investments in research and development are required to ensure safety, new features and long lifetime values. All while the bike rack market is segmented into many different bike rack variants, each representing a niche market.
If you want to dive into more detail for a list of 8 reasons why prices are what they are, I invite you to keep on reading.
Bike racks are not standardized
There are some mounting methods like hitches that are more standardized. Other types of racks have a number of different shapes and sizes. Especially trunk racks often need to be designed for specific vehicles in mind.
Think of all the ways racks can attach to vehicles: trailer hitches, roofs, trunk doors, spare tires, truck beds, in-car racks etc. Now combine those bike rack types with the variation in car brands and models available. Whatever the number of different combinations possible is, it is not a small one.
While the entire bike rack market is sizeable (cars and bikes both are extremely popular), it is segmented into many small submarkets. And the market share of each specifically designed bike rack is tiny in comparison.
This is economics 101: Supply and Demand. With low demand, there are fewer units sold to spread manufacturing costs. In other words: Fewer units need to cover the costs.
This is why prices or demand can only go so low before it makes no financial sense to produce a certain kind of bike rack.
This is the main reason why for racks with universal fitting the average price is lower.
You can see the rules of supply and demand also apply here. The barrier to entry in the bike rack production business is the low demand for niche racks. There just needs to be a threshold of demand met to justify mass production.
With the established brands occupying and solidifying their market share, new ventures do not look so attractive.
But this might change going forward as the entire bike rack market as a whole is steadily growing year over year. This may invite new players to go for a small piece of the bigger pie, which increases competition, lowers prices, and often improves quality along the way.
When trusting a bike rack to hold multiple thousands of dollars of equipment securely outside your vehicle, this is not the time to have second thoughts about quality.
You expect this kind of equipment to hold up no matter if you are flying on the freeway or crawling on a bumpy dirt road to your riding spot. The consequences are high if it does not. Damages to expensive equipment, property or health can ensue.
In short: This is the wrong place to save money and manufacturers know that.
From a similar angle, the base materials are what lead to a qualitative product in the end.
Now with more and more of the heavier e-bikes around these racks need to be more capable than ever. Enough to be able to withstand the weight of their cargo, while at the same time not becoming increasingly heavier themselves. This would lead to more negative effects on the handling and disturbances to the car while driving. Not to mention how annoying the setup would be!
One of the most common choices to accomplish this are high-quality materials like aluminum, which is lightweight and sturdy at the same time.
Whenever possible manufacturers try to include more functionality into their products. You see this with every iteration of bike racks (or any other consumer product for that matter). More features and products are combined into one complete package that can do it all.
More functionality = higher price justifiable
Aside from actual new or better features on the actual carrier, there are entire ecosystems of products emerging around them. Just think about what exciting accessories are available for a basic roof rack.
Once you have the actual rails and crossbars set up, the world of accessories is wide open. (At least those from the same manufacturer, but this is another story entirely…)
Designed to hold all kinds of bikes
If they are esthetically pleasing designs, lies in the eye of the beholder. There are probably more stylish ways to trick out your car if that’s what you are after.
The functional design is usually extremely well thought out and refined over the years. As I said above, bikes have not been changing drastically over the last decades. Most still have two wheels, a saddle, a top-tube, a down-tube, handlebars, and so on.
This is true for:
- featherweight roadbikes
- touring & trekking bikes
- kids bikes
- beach cruisers
- full suspension mountainbikes
- 200mm travel downhill machines
- heavy e-bikes
- and so much more.
Whatever vehicle is in your garage, it will (extremely likely) fit on a bike rack. This is the one variable you don’t have to think about much when choosing the right bike rack for your needs.
Long lifetime value
Expect to have a bike rig as long as your car, if not even longer when it fits the new car as well. Especially hitch bikes rack can stay with you for multiple car swaps. As bike dimensions don’t really change significantly anymore, racks don’t have to be changing either in the fundamentals.
You may know the saying: Buy cheap, buy twice.
Or in the worst case: Buy cheap, damage your bikes.
To help you think about the investment, divide the total initial cost of setting up a bike rack by 10 years and see the average cost per year. This is with a supposed conservative value of 0$ at the end of 10 years. What you’ll see is that it’s not that much for what you can save in time and effort.
A good rack and tools are the two utilities that should outlast any other piece of bike equipment.
For this one, I can vouch personally as I had a 20-year-old car with a (by the looks of it) even older Thule roof rack. While it did not look very reliable anymore, it totally was. Never had an issue once until I sold the car and that rack.
You get what you pay for
They just have to work. This is what you would expect from a utility item like this. And it is what they do most of the time.
It is not like bike racks are a scam. There is no manufacturer’s cartel conspiring against us bikers.
They just spend on testing and research to provide what is demanded from us consumers. As the cargo (bikes) become more and more expensive, we want them to be equally as safe while transporting.
Sure, some brands are more expensive than others. The freedom to choose which is right for us is still in our hands.