Bike racks on the roof vs on the rear

Home Forum Chat Forum Bike racks on the roof vs on the rear

Viewing 40 posts - 1 through 40 (of 51 total)
  • Bike racks on the roof vs on the rear
  • Premier Icon ononeorange

    It looks like we are about to replace our car, and rather than slinging dirty bikes in the rear as we have always done, we have decided to keep some semblance of cleanliness to it this time…..

    It would be good to hear any basic views on putting them on the roof (higher fuel consumption) vs on the back (less stable??, need extra light bar and faffing?).

    I’m sure there will be strong views either way, so any experiences, please!


    My bikes will keep going in my car. I don’t fancy blasting water, grit and salt in to them at 60mph when taking them anywhere. Just my thoughts on it and not really helpful.

    Premier Icon simmy

    I can only comment on roof mounted as that’s the only one I’ve got / tried.

    Like you said, added fuel consumption especially if you leave the bars on all the time.

    I’ve found that a mucky bike will drip mud and grit down onto the roof and windows especially if it rains so be aware of paintwork damage, I’ve got my bars on an old VW Polo so doesn’t bother me.

    Obvious as well but car park height restrictions and not going in multi stories, could be a pain if you are travelling somewhere that only has height restricted car parks.

    Unless I’m going local, I take the wheels off and put the bike in the back.


    Could you get a car with a tow bar as I understand the tow bar mounted bike racks offer the best of both worlds?

    Premier Icon nickc

    I don’t think it makes a massive difference to the fuel consumption to have them either on the roof or on the back. there are pros and cons to both, and I’ve tried most of them, for my money:

    roof mounted: IME the ones where you take off the front tyre and bolt it to the rack are most stable

    rear mounted, ball hitch mounted racks are the most secure of all, short of that, spend as much money as you can on the rack. these folk do some pretty robust boot liners

    We use a Thule tow bar mounted 3 bike carrier. It was worth the cost of getting a tow bar fitted.

    Premier Icon ononeorange


    In “best of both worlds”, I assume that the tow bar makes them very stable? We looked at 3 similar cars but I passed two up as they had tow bars and I was concerned about hammered clutches if it had been towing caravans…..I can always get one put on I suppose. Anyone with experience?

    Premier Icon nickc

    getting a tow hitch is very expensive, but if you’re going to keep the car for any length of time, it’s worth considering.


    Tow bar on my last 3 cars , still using the same Thule rack ( bombproof )

    I don’t like roof mounted as it makes a mess of your roof / cills and its a nightmare when you’re tired to stick em up there
    Tow bar mounted is rock steady, hardly any loss of mpg
    Easy to get to

    Premier Icon Northwind

    What sort of car are you thinking of? If it’s a big ‘un, rear racks can become a bit of a problem with parking (my car doesn’t fit in a lot of parking spaces even without a rack on the back)

    Anecdotally, rear racks are easier to rob- no racks are secure, but rear ones are more out of the line of sight. If you want a rear rack then yep towbar definitely better.

    Road dirt wise, top ones are definitely more out of the spray.

    All in all… I put mine in the boot 😉

    Premier Icon iainc

    I would have thought that bikes on towbar rack would get more salt and crap on them than up on the roof ?

    Premier Icon ononeorange

    This is Singletrack so it has to be…..Audi A4 Avant (to replace existing one).

    Thanks all -plenty to think about there. As a start I will look into a tow bar as consensus seems to lean that way.

    I think we paid about 100 quid to get a tow bar fitted to our car. Was a few years ago mind. It’s just the ease of both fitting the rack to the car and then mounting the bikes to the rack,

    Drop the rack on the tow ball. Tighten bolt, job done. Drop bike into tyre gutters, tighten down straps and away you go. No fear of rack working loose, no fear of bike working loose and no fear of car getting dinged or scratched by bikes/rack.


    I’d go the tow bar route, mainly because I’m an idiot that would drive into a barrier.
    Or you could just buy a van. 😀


    If not for the cost of the tow bar and rack I’d have gone for a tow bar one, but went for a roof bar and a Thule 591’s in the end. With the benefit of hindsight I think it was the right choice. I leave my bars and racks on all the time, so no faffing attaching the rack to the tow bar, and no more stuff cluttering up the garage. It’s also handy to have full and unimpeded access to the tailgate. Also when carrying the bikes I have no problems in car parks with the rack extending out beyond the car park space.

    As for fuel consumption, with the bars and racks on all the time I’ve noticed minimal reduction in fuel consumption, a few percent maybe. Not really bothered about fuel consumption when the bikes are on the roof, it’s only a small percentage of the time anyway.

    Premier Icon nickc

    All in all… I put mine in the boot

    me too 😉

    Premier Icon iainc

    With an A4 Avant you’ve got roof rails, so thule wing bars and 591’s will be a neat solution and a lot less outlay. I have them on my estate and went for roof over towbar option as felt they were safer and cleaner up top.

    Premier Icon Northwind

    Oh aye, fuel economy, bikes on the roof makes little difference for me at legal limits, it’s a smaller variable than the driver’s foot anyway. Though, that does seem to vary a bit from car to car? Maybe having a big lazy diesel reduces the impact.

    But anyway, it doesn’t really come onto the list of things to think about, for me.

    Premier Icon molgrips

    I prefer putting them in the boot, with a tarp to protect. No loss in fuel economy and you can park up and go into service stations etc if you want.

    Towbar mounted is good, but it still costs fuel. 55mpg down to about 48 for me, with a Passat saloon. I think if you have an estate or some kind of square ended hatchback like a Golf you might not see as much of a drop. If I didn’t need a towbar I’d get one of those Thule bike rack mounting systems in place of one.

    I only use the roof bars we have when also towing the van so I don’t know how it affects fuel compared to the rear mounted.

    Premier Icon sockpuppet

    Over two holiday trips last year, my mpg went from mid 50s down to high 40s (passat diesel) wth two on the roof. 10-15% more fuel at 60-70 mph.

    Costs maybe 2p per mile extra. Even without the bikes on the bars alone make a noticeable difference.

    All depends on the mileage you plan to do: it takes *lots* of miles to pay for a towbar, fitting, and towball mount rack.


    Used to have roof mounted on a tall frv (i’m short too!).
    Advantages: very quick to put bikes on. Even for me, I just stood on the door seal.
    Bikes do not touch at all, so no rubbing/knocking to protect.
    Easy to add additional racks.
    No dirt in car
    Disads: Bad on fuel. Approx 5mpg less.
    Bikes facing the elements.
    Got to remember they are on top for low barriers.

    Now we have a towbar and 3 bike rack on our civic.
    Ads: Bikes out of most of elements.
    Not too bad on fuel economy.
    Rack is easier to remove after use.

    Disads: rack is heavy to move (15kg).
    Can take practise to work out how to carry multiple bikes.
    Not quite as quick to mount multiple bikes.
    Expensive if you have to fit towbar.
    Can require lagging to protect forks.

    Both are good, but although more faff, I prefer the towbar due to better fuel and possible more stable.

    Premier Icon nickc

    The other thing that puts me off racks (espicially boot mounted ones) was that you have to be really careful with the protection/padding when carrying multiple bikes, otherwise they end up biting great chunks out of each other.

    Always on the roof. Quick and easy and little mess internally.
    Roof bars also adaptable for skis, boards and long objects when necessary. Suits our lifestyle tbh.

    Premier Icon iainc

    Roof option works for me as its a company car, the kids are often in it, I transport a dirty bike 2 or 3 times most weeks and the racks live on the roof.

    Only exceptions are track bike and carbon road bike, which go inside.

    I don’t think it makes a massive difference to the fuel consumption to have them either on the roof or on the back.

    It was almost 20% less for me having 2x bikes on the roof, on the rear rack it’s negligible, it’s a mini-people-carrier though so they’re shielded by a nice nearly vertical back. Just having a surfboard on the roof ruins my mpg!

    I used to just put the bike in the back but being a lazy sod I never got it out between rides all winter, so the process of ride, get plastered in frozen mud, int car, defrost, deposit mud in car, repeat eventually resulted in a 2″ thick layer of crap which found it’s way through the tarp. As I was riding most days the choice was either the faff of folding seats, dismantling bike, then cleaning afterwards, or a towbar mounted rack. Didn’t have any issues with spray doing any damage, beyond stripping some of the mud off between rides!

    Aiston wheel supporting rack the best I’ve come across, I’ve stood on it (100kg) and the towbar bends more than the rack does! Lots of great big solid lumps of metal hold the bikes in place, and zero chance of them rubbing against each other or falling off.

    Next ‘car’ will probably be a van though.


    No noticeable difference to fuel consumption with our bikes on the towbar rack (Toyota Corolla)

    Towbar + fitting and rack cost £260 in total

    The faff of putting a bike on the roof for me being 5’4″ is far greater than putting bikes on the tow bar. YMMV

    We have a 3 bar rack but only carry 2 bikes most of the time so no juggling required to get them to fit.

    Premier Icon ononeorange

    Thanks again everyone, plenty to think about there, much appreciated.


    Have used all combinations over the years

    Inside car – never quite enough room, muddy bikes just a nightmare, security still a worry as they could just smash window (oh for a car with a decent steel loop in the boot to lock things to)

    Tail rack – PITA with ‘odd’ shaped bikes, PITA getting into the boot for stuff, PITA putting it on and off and never feeling 100% confident it would not launch off the back on the motorway, zero rating for security!

    Tow bar rack was great, really wonderful for pulling up at garage jet wash with two muddy bikes on the back and blasting them clean. Biggest drawback was that I always worried about getting rear ended, pain to store and a pain to get into the boot, or use the boot as a seating/getting changed area – security big worry on some cars, but another car I had had a nice big loop in the tow bar that allowed me to put a chain through frame and rack, so depends on the car.

    Of all of them, the Thule roof rack was best as it allowed me to sit in the boot when getting changed, quick and easy to use, never felt like I was going to lose the bike at speed, and lock would go round the frame and roof bars (car had proper bars not gutters)


    I’ve tried roof, rack, tow bar and obviously inside.

    IMHO tow bar wins but the upfront costs are higher. It is so much easier fitting a bike to a tow bar rack than putting them on the roof.

    One disadvantage is you can get crap spray from the road in winter, most notably grit mixed with engine oil on your brake discs.


    I have both a Thule Euro Classic towbar mounted rack as well as a 951 roof mounted. The roof mounted rack creates drag and noise but still preferable to throwing the bike in the boot. The towbar rack is great to use as its a lower platform to load the bikes onto, no noticabe drag or noise but as others ave pointed out unless you already have a towbar then it’s an expensive option.


    Saris bones for my MTB. No complaints so far (4 years).

    Inside for my road bike.


    I’m a firm believer in keeping bikes inside the car if at all possible but have used a roof mount and rear tow thing in the past.

    Roof mounting – quick and easy to put bikes up, doesn’t seem to suffer that much from road grime, really bad for fuel consumption and from friends experiences you will run into a height restriction barrier at some point or a bike will fall off the roof.

    Tow bar mounting – It’s a faff getting bikes lined up and secure, makes a big difference to the cars handling, they end up covered in road grime/salt, fuel consumption suffers but not as much as on the roof.

    Thule roof bars. Put on and leave on. Dead easy to put bikes on. Much less faff than any other option if you use them regularly.

    Premier Icon molgrips

    security still a worry as they could just smash window

    Mm yes potentially but most modern cars deadlock their doors, so they can’t be opened from the inside either. So even if a thief smashes a window you’d have to get the bike out through the window.

    As for towbar racks being a faff – never experienced this myself, using a Thule cheapo one. Bikes fit on just fine without rubbing. Also the boot opens without moving the rack. Plus, absolutely zero concerns with security. Solid as a rock, as long as I do the nut up tight. If I don’t, it can move to one side slightly, but only slightly. If you look atthe towball clamp you can see why, it’s designed in.


    Depends on the car – look at how dirty the rear of your car is from the airflow sucking the spray into the dead space …. Thats where you bike is ….

    Bikes tht get thrown on rear racks regularly and not given a good clean at the end are a bike shops dream- you can spot them – they look like they have done about 1million commuter miles all in winter with a salt drip on them.

    Id much rather have a roof mounted rack – it still gets sprayed but no where near as much – but even at that once you have had a van you wont go back .


    Gribs, not sure how many bikes you have on your rack but it must be exceeding your towbar rating for it to effect your handling.
    I’ve only used the towbar bike rack on my estate and it has minimal effect on my mpg. The riders weight sat in the car effects it more. With two bikes and people the mpg only goes down by less than 5%.
    Never had a problem loading multiple bikes on the towbar rack either, just used a bit of common sense and alternate the bars left ad right.

    Premier Icon ononeorange

    Gribs – have your friends really had a bike fall off when on the roof?! Cripes!!

    Premier Icon slowoldman

    Another Thule tow ball mounted one here. Very quick to put on / take off. Tilts back to open the tailgate (Passat estate). I don’t want to be lifting bikes onto the roof (I’m old). It doesn’t affect the handling (I’m slow). Grime picked up from the road seems negligible compared to the thick coating of mud I’m getting on the trails at the moment.

    Premier Icon footflaps

    ribs – have your friends really had a bike fall off when on the roof?! Cripes!!

    I’ve had two Thule bike racks fail, luckily at low speed. The bolt holding the front fork bracket to the roof bar corroded through and snapped (in both cases going over speed bumps in a town). In the end I only used them with a cable lock going through the frame and under the roof bars as it was obvious the roof rack design wan’t very safe. NB Thule seemed unconcerned and just mailed out a replacement bolt each time it happened.

    Premier Icon molgrips

    The bolt holding the front fork bracket to the roof bar corroded through and snapped

    Was it one of those older wheel-out ones? Thinking of mine, not sure now it could fall off without huge structural failure.

Viewing 40 posts - 1 through 40 (of 51 total)

The topic ‘Bike racks on the roof vs on the rear’ is closed to new replies.