Bicycles are on top of a roof rack with wheel-on bicycle accessory holders. Photo by KJ Garner.

Bringing Your Bike with You – Let Us Count (and Compare) the Ways: With a Roof Rack

Carrying guide: Inside | Carrying guide: Truck bed | Carrying guide: Trunk rack
Carrying guide: Hitch rack | Carrying guide: Roof rack | Carrying guide: Spare tire rack

Are you considering taking your bicycle with you on a trip? Whether that trip is to the next town over to check out some greenway trails or hundreds of miles away, there are multiple ways to bring your bike along with you. Let’s explore carrying it with a roof rack.

Carrying Methods

5. Roof rack

Pros: Provides a way to carry more than just bikes; can access trunk or hatch area without interference
Cons: Can be expensive; can’t easily move from vehicle to vehicle; you better remember you have stuff on top of the vehicle before driving into a parking garage; exposure to weather; roof weight limitation considerations; human weight lift considerations

KEEP THE MAGIC SCREWDRIVER CLOSE.

Naked roof or fixed points? T-track on a truck topper or raised rails? If that sounds like gibberish to you, dig on in to this brief roof rack overview. And what’s a “magic screwdriver” anyway?

Naked roof

Naked roof with Thule roof rack attached. Photo by KJ Garner.
Naked roof with Thule roof rack attached. Photo by KJ Garner.

This means you don’t have any point of attachment on your roof. This installation requires a piece to hold on to your roof (usually with come kind of clip), that will then connect with a tower (set of 4) which will have crossbars on top.

Fixed point or flush siderails

You’ve either got pre-drilled holes on the roof (fixed point) or a slight ridge onto which a clip or fitment can be installed, that will then connect with a tower (set of 4) which will have crossbars on top.

Raised rail

Railed siderail on roof with Thule roof rack attached. Photo by KJ Garner.
Railed siderail on roof with Thule roof rack attached. Photo by KJ Garner.

You’ve got a rail running parallel along the top of the roof under which you can fit a finger or two. You’ll need a tower (set of 4) which will then have a crossbar on top.

“You Get What You Pay For”

For roof racks, Bike Fun highly recommends using known, reputable roof rack manufacturers. A buyer can even buy used as long as they ascertain the condition of the various components (check out the manufacturer’s website to be sure you’re getting all the correct parts).

You may not wish to purchase a roof rack for an older model vehicle for several reasons:

  • No longer supported by the manufacturer – the rack company might not offer a fit for older, diminished in quantity vehicles
  • Age may lead to mechanical breakdown, & then you’re left with a rack that might not fit on your newer vehicle
  • Solidly made roof racks aren’t cheap!

In addition to purchasing the roof rack itself, you will then need to purchase a bicycle carrying accessory. Depending on the style of bicycle you have – and the height of the vehicle roof – this may not be the best option. E-bikes, full suspension mountain bikes, and some fat tire bikes may not fit the dimension or weight requirements for a roof rack bicycle accessory.

What is the Magic Screwdriver?

Thule and Yakima racks come with a torque screwdriver that tightens the bolt on the towers. Over time, bolts can loosen (particularly when being used in rough, windy weather).

I have helped sell these systems for many years and in 2021 my naked roof installed rack failed when the torque on the bolt was just loose enough to force air underneath it, pushing out the (very specific to my car) fit pad underneath the tower. Fortunately, the rack held on at the other 3 points and we were able to engineer a (very) temporary solution for another 40 miles of nailbiting travel. Unfortunately, the (very specific to my car) fit pad wasn’t available and we had to remove the entire rack plus 3 bicycle accessories and fit them plus 2 bicycles into a sedan.

If I had kept my Magic Screwdriver close at hand – and if I had CHECKED THE BOLT TORQUE REGULARLY, even four times a year! – this would NEVER have happened. So. Screwdriver! Torque! Just keep it in your trunk!

I have also known customers who have tried to persuade me that a “close enough” fit is OK for a roof rack. That, my friends, is a recipe for disaster. If there’s no fit for your vehicle with one manufacturer, FIND A DIFFERENT MANUFACTURER THAT MAY HAVE A FIT. Otherwise, there MAY BE NO FIT for your vehicle.

Cross-compatibility Between Manufacturers

Accessories are typically cross-compatible (for example, you can use a Yakima rooftop bicycle accessory on a set of Thule crossbars). Roof rack components – crossbars, towers, and fit clips – are NOT cross compatible.

Some older carriers may be manufacturer specific (Thule, known for its square shaped bars, did not work on Yakima’s signature round bars) but will also have adapters to fit other shapes. Most of the accessories sold today will be compatible with the “aeroblade” style of crossbar, which is shaped similarly to a factory rack.

Example products*

(Bike Fun receives no commission from links & does not vet product fit.) 

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