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  1. #1
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    Roof rack vs hitch

    So I use to own a truck and decided to get a car. I was planning on buying a roof rack right out of the gate, but then a few friends suggested I should get a hitch installed on my car. I thought about it and with a roof rack I know it would create drag and with the driving I do for work I know it would be on there all the time.

    So my questions are, does it really create that much drag? Is a hitch the best way to go as a mode to transport bikes? I know a roof rack would have a hell of a lot of drag with bikes on it for sure instead of having them behind your car. Just not sure if I could get one installed and where to you find shops that can install a hitch for a car?

    And whats the best hitch rack to get if I go that route?

    Sean

  2. #2
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    How many bikes do you need to carry? What kind of car?

  3. #3
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    Roof -

    Pluses--- best ride for bikes, fit almost any bike, maximum bike capacity, full access to trunk, no danger of damage from backing up or getting rear ended.,

    Minus --- harder to load for short people, lots of air drag when loaded, though far less for the rack alone, raised height clearance, raising the real risk of bike damage by low clearances.

    Hitch racks

    Pluses, easy to load, less costly

    Minuses, restricted access to trunk or rear hatch, increased risk of damage backing up, or if rear ended, can be a pain with many frame designs or ladies bikes (special top tube adapter needed).
    bikes Ground clearance issues on some cars and roads, weight cantilevered out in back which can cause handling issues with a loaded car, family, stuff, and 4 bikes in the back.

    These are just the highlights, and I'm sure others can flesh it out more, but it's a toss up, and what's best for you depends on your personal particulars.
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  4. #4
    ballbuster
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    Do a search on the subject. Been done to death.

    For instance... my VW GTi got 31 mpg on the freeway nekkid. 28 mpg with an empty roof rack, 24 mpg with a bike up there. I get no hit with two bikes on a hitch rack on that car.

    I now have an A4 sedan that gets 29-30 MPG on the freeway (depending on how heavy footed I am that day). I put a bike on the hitch rack in back and it drops to 27 mpg because the bike sticks way up over the rear trunk in the breeze.

    On the other end of the scale, if you drive a big SUV with crappy aerodynamics that gets 13 mpg to begin with, it will get about the same with two bikes on the roof.

  5. #5
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    need to know this for sure....

    Quote Originally Posted by joe_bloe View Post
    How many bikes do you need to carry? What kind of car?

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by joe_bloe View Post
    How many bikes do you need to carry? What kind of car?
    Probably only carry 2 bikes, one would be a road bike and the other would be a 29er. I bought a 2012 hyundai sonata.

  7. #7
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    I recently acquired a new setup and decided on a Kuat NV hitch rack with wheel trays. Most of the bikes I transport do not have a straight top tube so that ruled out "hanging" types.

    The main reasons I went with a hitch rack: significantly less chance of scratching the car putting on/taking off bikes, after 25-50+ mile MTB rides I don't want to have to put bikes on the roof, no worries about pulling into the garage at home or work and crunching what is on top, better security (NV has built in cable locks and I add another one on the rare instances where I park and leave the bikes on the rack for more than a few minutes). I researched a bunch of different ones including 1up, Thule and Yakima and liked the features on the Kuat better. Definitely not cheap but the bikes I am transporting aren't chicken feed either.

  8. #8
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    No need to have a shop install the hitch. On most cars it's going to take you an hour or so to install yourself. It's just a few bolted connections to pre-drilled holes in your car frame. Go to carparts.com or hiddenhitch.com

  9. #9
    ballbuster
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    Some yes, some no

    Quote Originally Posted by wbmason55 View Post
    No need to have a shop install the hitch. On most cars it's going to take you an hour or so to install yourself. It's just a few bolted connections to pre-drilled holes in your car frame. Go to carparts.com or hiddenhitch.com
    I actually had to remove the rear bumper on my 96 GTi to install the hitch. Man, what a major PITA. I'm pretty handy, and can fabricate my own parts, and it still took me around two hours.

    My Audi A4 was way easier. It basically just bolts up to the spare tire well in the rear trunk, plus one other bolt. That took me around 45 minutes to get it all lined up, sealed and purdy.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Red Hawk View Post
    Probably only carry 2 bikes, one would be a road bike and the other would be a 29er. I bought a 2012 hyundai sonata.
    Then I'd lean toward the hitch. I regularly carry four bikes on my Mazda5, so I went with the roof rack, but if I knew for sure I'd only need two, I'd go hitch.

    Mine's on the right:


  11. #11
    psycho cyclo addict
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    Quote Originally Posted by pimpbot View Post
    I actually had to remove the rear bumper on my 96 GTi to install the hitch. Man, what a major PITA. I'm pretty handy, and can fabricate my own parts, and it still took me around two hours.

    My Audi A4 was way easier. It basically just bolts up to the spare tire well in the rear trunk, plus one other bolt. That took me around 45 minutes to get it all lined up, sealed and purdy.
    Yah ahhh, it took a dealer 4 hours to install my OEM Honda hitch (rear bumper was off for all but 15 mins of the time). I tried a Draw Tite aftermarket hitch first and it made some crazy exhaust noise at idle, 30 and 60 MPH. Best thing to do is check car forums for your model before purchasing an aftermarket hitch to make sure it is a good fit for your vehicle and determine how difficult the install will be.

  12. #12
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    Uhaul sells and installs hitches for pretty cheap, the hitches are good quality and at a good price, the hitch for my 2011 toyota corolla is $115 and installation varies from store to store but usually isn't more than $50 with a lifetime installation guarantee. That being said, i installed the my uhaul hitch on my old 2005 civic with no problems at all.
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  13. #13
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    I have a Honda Civic, and recently went with a roof rack over the hitch for one reason. When we go on camping trips and bring the bikes, the weight of our supplies in the trunk plus the weight of the hitch, rack, and bikes on the back of the car would simply be too much. Better to have the bikes on the roof and not bottom the car out.

  14. #14
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    Personally I think roof racks on small cars or sports cars look kind of stupid, especially when people don't trim their bars and have tubes hanging off each side. For some reason people in Colorado think it's cool to look all outdoorsy, so there are people who leave their ski/snowboard racks on all season, or drive around the suburbs all the time with a giant luggage box on the top even though it's destroying their gas mileage. I refused to put one on my Charger when I had it. It would have completely ruined the lines of the car.

    I'd get a hitch mounted tray-style. Best part is you can take it off when you're not using it (some are easier than others to get off and on). When I'm fully loaded I have 2 on the roof and 2 on the back, but I only use my roof racks if there's more than 2. It's just too much of a hassle putting them up and taking them down, especially on a tall vehicle. Plus I don't like how careful I have to drive when they're up there. They make me nervous. I might be paranoid, but they do sway quite a bit, no matter what roof rack you have.
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  15. #15
    CT3
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    Quote Originally Posted by FBinNY View Post
    Roof -

    Pluses--- best ride for bikes, fit almost any bike, maximum bike capacity, full access to trunk, no danger of damage from backing up or getting rear ended.,

    Minus --- harder to load for short people, lots of air drag when loaded, though far less for the rack alone, raised height clearance, raising the real risk of bike damage by low clearances.

    Hitch racks

    Pluses, easy to load, less costly

    Minuses, restricted access to trunk or rear hatch, increased risk of damage backing up, or if rear ended, can be a pain with many frame designs or ladies bikes (special top tube adapter needed).
    bikes Ground clearance issues on some cars and roads, weight cantilevered out in back which can cause handling issues with a loaded car, family, stuff, and 4 bikes in the back.

    These are just the highlights, and I'm sure others can flesh it out more, but it's a toss up, and what's best for you depends on your personal particulars.
    id have to agree with this, went from yak roof with wind splitter on my tc cut my avg MPG by like 6-7. then went to a hitch with a swagman for the same price new as my used yak. no loss of mpg

    rack on the tc actually looked nice wind splitter lined up nice with the windshield, def alot better looking then a hitch rack which is always ugly without a bike. so + for the roof rack in that aspect

    i didnt like that i have to mount my king cobras backwards.
    i have to take the bike of it in the tray closest to the car to get to the trunk, transferable to all hitchs is a + to hitch

    on a sonata def go hitch. etrailer has good prices 95. got mine from there installed myself just have to drill one hole to gain acess to the others.
    put a hitch on my parents camry for 180 installed at uhaul

    definately go tray style


    Last edited by CT3; 08-07-2011 at 01:47 PM.

  16. #16
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    Trailers are an overlooked option. There are many from $150 to thousands. I have a Harbor Freight trailer, I extended the tounge 10 inches, added some 2x10 planks, and removed one of the 2 springs to get a better ride. Pulls great, loads/unloads easy. I simply moved the center crossmember up 10 inches and the tounge moved 10 in with it.
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  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Red Hawk View Post
    So I use to own a truck and decided to get a car. I was planning on buying a roof rack right out of the gate, but then a few friends suggested I should get a hitch installed on my car. I thought about it and with a roof rack I know it would create drag and with the driving I do for work I know it would be on there all the time.

    So my questions are, does it really create that much drag? Is a hitch the best way to go as a mode to transport bikes? I know a roof rack would have a hell of a lot of drag with bikes on it for sure instead of having them behind your car. Just not sure if I could get one installed and where to you find shops that can install a hitch for a car?

    And whats the best hitch rack to get if I go that route?

    Sean
    I lose about 2mpg in a car that averages 25mpg - in other words, not a big deal. If you get a good quality rack in either configuration (so it's about the same money) and you don't plan on towing anything, then the hitch receiver will set you back another $200-400. So it's probably a wash either way. If you lose that 2 mpg on a vehicle that gets 15mpg, it's a lot more expensive.

    Now, if you already have a hitch on the car, then getting a rack like the 1UpUSA that goes on and off very quickly is the ticket. If you have an SUV - then get a hitch rack. It's a PITA to put the bikes on a roof rack on an SUV.

    Then, with the roof, there's the issue of low overhangs and garages. Having done some bike damage this way, I can attest it's a factor in the decision. Very easy to do. When I called Yakima to see about repair/replace on rack parts after that event, they said they get about 4 calls a day on this topic. So, it's not an isolated occurrence.

    J.

  18. #18
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    I would choose a roof rack in almost every situation. I started using a hitch rack but the cables run along the bottom of the cross bar on my bike. So when I hang my bike on the hitch rack the cables rubbed between the rack and the frame taking all the paint off. I imagine if i were to keep hauling it like that I'd eventually damage the cables and maybe rub weak spots in the frame itself.
    The first time I saw the rub marks in the paint and the wear on my cables I tossed that piece of crap in the junk pile and bought a roof rack.

    As for fuel mileage I've never checked because I don't care. Both my Subaru and my wife's Yukon had factory roof racks so I can't imagine adding the little bicycle jigger made much of a difference.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by Haligan78 View Post
    I would choose a roof rack in almost every situation. I started using a hitch rack but the cables run along the bottom of the cross bar on my bike. So when I hang my bike on the hitch rack the cables rubbed between the rack and the frame taking all the paint off. I imagine if i were to keep hauling it like that I'd eventually damage the cables and maybe rub weak spots in the frame itself.
    The first time I saw the rub marks in the paint and the wear on my cables I tossed that piece of crap in the junk pile and bought a roof rack.

    As for fuel mileage I've never checked because I don't care. Both my Subaru and my wife's Yukon had factory roof racks so I can't imagine adding the little bicycle jigger made much of a difference.
    That's why flat bed hitch racks with arms that only touch the wheels. Are best. 1up kuat Thule make some that don't touch the frame

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Haligan78 View Post
    I would choose a roof rack in almost every situation. I started using a hitch rack but the cables run along the bottom of the cross bar on my bike. So when I hang my bike on the hitch rack the cables rubbed between the rack and the frame taking all the paint off. I imagine if i were to keep hauling it like that I'd eventually damage the cables and maybe rub weak spots in the frame itself.
    The first time I saw the rub marks in the paint and the wear on my cables I tossed that piece of crap in the junk pile and bought a roof rack.

    As for fuel mileage I've never checked because I don't care. Both my Subaru and my wife's Yukon had factory roof racks so I can't imagine adding the little bicycle jigger made much of a difference.
    Yes, those are the type of hitch racks that were used in the last century. Hitch racks have come a long way. Even a roof rack w/o a bike causes a significant decrease in mileage, it's basically throwing away $$. The initial cost is usually similar, but one keeps costing you every time you drive. If you keep your speed at 45mph or less the drag of the roof rack is negligible, but when you go faster the drag increases dramatically. There still are a few situations where a roof setup may be more practical, but it's not for the same reasons from 10+ yrs ago.
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  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by FBinNY View Post
    Hitch racks

    Pluses, easy to load, less costly

    These are just the highlights, and I'm sure others can flesh it out more, but it's a toss up, and what's best for you depends on your personal particulars.
    Another point. I've got two vehicles. One with a hitch, and one ready to get a hitch. Bike rack will be easily swapable between the two without killing the paint or without a bunch of extra parts.

    Roof racks will take more time to swap and require much more fiddling to secure. We would have needed different clips minimum, possibly even towers for the car to van. Add in an extra fairing too.

    Had roof racks in the past (and still have one for the hauling vehicle), and they keep the bikes out of the way, secure, and visible. I'm not willing to take the mileage hit with gas over $3.50 a gallon. When I bought the first roof rack, it was about $1.05.
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  22. #22
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    on the yakima racks. you have 4 towers to take off if you want. that takes all of what 5 minutes. and maybe 10 to put back on and make sure your measurements are right. i have yet to see a real noticeable difference in mpg but i will find out on my 5 hour haul with an obese bike on top this coming weekend. i just think it looks so much cleaner on a car


  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jayem View Post
    Yes, those are the type of hitch racks that were used in the last century. Hitch racks have come a long way. Even a roof rack w/o a bike causes a significant decrease in mileage, it's basically throwing away $$. The initial cost is usually similar, but one keeps costing you every time you drive. If you keep your speed at 45mph or less the drag of the roof rack is negligible, but when you go faster the drag increases dramatically. There still are a few situations where a roof setup may be more practical, but it's not for the same reasons from 10+ yrs ago.
    Not true.

    If you have to add a hitch to your car for the purposes of using the hitch rack, the hitch rack is considerably more expensive.

    As well, your energy cost consumed by the worse aerodynamics depends largely on energy efficiency of your car initially. For example, a car that gets 25mpg consumes 1/25th of gallon per mile. If your car gets 12.5 mpg (to make it easy) your cost to go one mile is 0.08 gallons (twice as much). If a roof rack knocks off one mpg then it's going to use 1/24th gallon per mile, or the difference is 0.0017 gallons per mile. Lets say you leave that rack on your car for 6000 miles per year (half of a driving year for the average driver), then the difference is 10 gallons of gas or about $37 per year. For that gas guzzler at 12.5mpg, the difference would be 41 gallons per year or about $154.

    So, if you have a typical car that gets 25mpg then adding a receiver at $200-400 (presuming you weren't towing in the first place), you wouldn't break even on that deal for 8 years or so. Hitch racks are not cheap at all in this scenario.

    If you have a 12.5mpg car, it's probably a big SUV or truck, and that already comes with a hitch (at least often it does). So you save that but even then, we're talking something like $14 per month. So the aero issue is pretty much a don't care in almost any scenario.

    Our SUV is an old Volvo cross over and it gets about 17-18 average. New Suburbans get 21-23mpg on the highway according to some friends. For my cross over Volvo, the cost is just under 20 gallons per year or $72 per year. That's in "don't care territory for me." If one had to add a receiver to a car like that, it would take 4 years to pay back. Not great at all. For $72, I'll take the convenience of just leaving it on the car.

    If, as some say, their car already came with racks on top (i.e. Subaru) adding the trays for a roof rack may not even be measurable realistically.

    So, unless you are driving a Hummer, it probably doesn't matter. If you car gets decent gas mileage, the pay back is awful if you have to add a hitch receiver.


    J.

  24. #24
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    I was in this same position. 2005 Audi A4. I wanted a roof rack since it looks so much cleaner. I simply couldn't justify the cost of it though. Not in comparison to a hitch + 2 bike tray rack. I had U-Haul install a hitch, and picked up a 2 bike tray rack from Amazon for $141 + free shipping. Total cost was under $370, and for that much, I couldn't find anything close to put on the roof, even used on Craigslist. Closest I found was a rack on eBay that I would have to dinkle with, and hope was as described. Simply not worth it if you ask me.

    Starting empty, I can put the rack on, and both bikes in about 5 minutes or so. My wife, who is 5'1", who I ride with all the time, would have issues loading a bike up on to the roof of my car. With this hitch rack, either of us can load the bikes with no assistance.

    I also noticed that one of the downfalls of a hitch rack could be blocked access to the trunk. This is not the case on my rack or car. If you get the type where the bike hangs, I could see an issue. I don't even need to move my bike to gain access to the trunk. If I did, there is one pin that you pull, and the whole rack angles back to let you get into the trunk.

  25. #25
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    Depends a lot on the hitch you get and your car (simplicity of adding a hitch). For example, the cost to add a hitch to my car, which has a difficult bumper arrangement, is about $300-400.

    Also, even when you use a Thule or Yak bar set, you can also buy similar budget roof trays as you did for your trunk. Easy to find on Amazon, trays for $45 or less (one at $29) per bike. It's easy to find cheap stuff at both levels. The question is, do you want to trust your bike that probably costs many to several times what the these cheap racks cost to such stuff? Also, most of them wind up with arms to the finish on the bike.

    Got to compared cheap to cheap if you do this correct. Original point still stands - racks on the hitch or on the roof can be found for about the same. If you have to add a hitch, then the hitch racks get more expensive fast.

    J.
    Last edited by JohnJ80; 08-08-2011 at 08:12 AM.

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