How to Choose a Car Rack for E-Bikes

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View from the rear of a vehicle that’s parked on a street; photo shows a hitch bike rack holding two e-bikes.

One of the beauties of an electric bike (e-bike) is that the motor offers assistance whenever you need it. Sadly, though, the motor can’t also give you a hand when you’re hefting your two-wheeled dynamo onto a car rack to take on your next adventure. Because your e-bike is heavier than a conventional bike, you’ll need a rack that’s capable of supporting and securely holding a burlier machine.

Keep the following in mind as you select a rack to carry your e-bike:

  • Focus on hitch racks: Roof-top racks are too hard to load; most trunk racks aren’t stout enough.
  • Look at how bikes are held: Platform racks are ideal; also consider the attachment setup.
  • Scrutinize the specs: Most important is the rack’s maximum weight per bike, which should be greater than the weight of any bike you carry.
  • See if it comes with a ramp: Ramps make loading much easier. Some racks may include an integrated ramp, or you can buy a ramp as a separate accessory.

Rack brands are designing more models with e-bikes in mind, so your options are increasing. And a rack that you buy specifically to hold an e-bike will also be able to hold a conventional bike.

This article is specifically about e-bikes. For a broader rack discussion, read How to Choose Car Racks.

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Why a Hitch Rack Works Best for E-Bikes

Roof racks are awkward for heavy e-bikes: The fact that many e-bikes weigh 50 pounds or more makes it a daunting task to heft one over your shoulders to load it on a roof rack. Unless your other interests include power lifting, you’ll be happier with the close-to-the-ground loading height of a hitch rack.

Trunk racks aren’t built for heavy e-bikes: While trunk racks load nearer to the ground than roof racks, trunk rack load capacities aren’t sufficient to handle most e-bikes.

How the Rack Holds E-Bikes Is Important

Hanging (mast-style) vs. platform (tray-style) racks: The better option for your e-bike is a platform rack because it handles a variety of frame styles, including a step-through frame that requires an adapter to use with a hanging rack. (Most step-through bike adapters are not sturdy enough to support a heavy e-bike.) Also, a platform rack typically has a greater weight capacity per bike than a hanging rack.

Bike attachment: A lot of platform racks have a wheel hook that clamps over the top of the tire to help secure the bike. If your e-bike has fenders, a rack with a hook might not hold it correctly. (Moving the hook in front of or behind the fender isn’t recommended.) Your better option is a rack that clamps onto the bike frame, which allows the rack to secure a variety of bikes, including bikes with fenders.

Tilt access: This common hitch rack feature lets you tip the fully loaded rack away from the vehicle so you can open up the trunk or rear hatch.

Key Factors (Specs) to Check Before Buying an E-Bike Rack

Maximum weight per bike: Any bike you plan to carry should weigh less than this, which should be listed in the rack’s description or technical specs. (If your e-bike is slightly heavier, removing the battery during transport might put you within the acceptable load capacity: See the loading tip below for details.)

Hitch tongue weight capacity (TWC): TWC is the maximum weight your hitch can support. The weight of your bike rack +  bikes on it can’t exceed your vehicle’s TWC. If you added a hitch to a vehicle that didn’t come with one, find out both the hitch TWC and the vehicle TWC (often lower). Your rack + bikes weight can’t exceed either the hitch TWC or the vehicle TWC.

Tire size and wheelbase: Double-check your bike’s tire width and wheelbase against the rack’s maximum acceptable tire width and wheelbase.

Benefits of a Rack with a Ramp

Even though the platform on a hitch rack is near the ground, it can still be a chore to heft a heavy e-bike onto it. If your rack has a ramp, you simply roll your bike onto it. So a ramp is a helpful feature for anyone, and is especially important for someone who struggles to lift and carry an e-bike. Some racks include a ramp that stows within the rack during transport; some racks let you buy a ramp as a separate accessory; some racks don’t offer either option.

Lift assist: The ultimate in load assistance (on premium-priced racks), this powered mechanism hoists a bike onto the rack. Your vehicle’s hitch must be set up electronically, though, just as it would be to work with the taillights on a trailer.

Rack Loading Tips

Remove the battery: An e-bike battery weighs several pounds, so removing it will make loading easier. (Not all batteries can be removed, but most e-bikes offer that option.) Stowing the battery inside your vehicle helps keep it warmer, too, which is good for battery life. It also makes an e-bike less tempting to steal because a thief wouldn’t be able to easily ride it away. Before doing this, double-check your bike manual for recommendations about proper battery removal and transport.

Lift one wheel at a time: If you don’t have a ramp, load a platform rack by first lifting the front wheel of the bike into the tray. Then lift the bike’s rear wheel into the tray as you roll the front wheel forward. This technique takes a bit of practice, especially if the rack tray has cradles to negotiate.

Security Considerations

Most hitch racks let you lock the hitch to the rack. Most also have rack-integrated cable locks to secure bikes to the rack. Be aware, though, that the high price of an e-bike makes it a tempting target and a determined thief can defeat a cable lock. So it’s good practice not to leave your e-bike unattended in its car rack for long periods of time. Bring it inside with you for overnight indoor stays. Also consider getting a beefier chain lock for a higher degree of theft deterrence.

For basic buying advice, read How to Choose a Bike Lock. For top picks, read Best Bike Locks.

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