All of these designs have some downsides and there is no perfect solution, as I’ve experienced firsthand. You first have to ask yourself what your primary needs are for carrying bikes. “How often will I be driving offroad?”, “What is the maximum number of riders my vehicle can comfortably and legally carry?”, “Will I need to access the rear cargo area of the vehicle with the rack installed?” Can I carry an XL size 29er?”, and, “How much am I willing to spend?”
What they do well compared to tray racks is reduce the amount of rocking back and forth that the bikes endure when the vehicle bounces up and down, and they make loading the bikes quick because each holder is independent of the handlebar and seat overlap of the alternating tray-style bike orientation.
First things first – shuttling will inevitably scratch your bike in one way or another, but then again so does riding it. Wet and muddy conditions will promote wear on any points that contact the rack, so a basket that touches only the tire is a bonus here, but they don’t always play well with fork fenders.
All vertical mounting racks also add to the fatigue cycle of your frame and fork marginally. The North Shore Racks reduce this force significantly, but you’ll have to keep an eye on those rubber prong bumpers wearing out or they can chew into the fork crown, plus, wide headtubes can pose fitment problems too. This is why I’m not a huge fan of hanging the bike by the handlebar – they’re being pulled in the opposite direction they were designed to resist forces from, not to mention the sheer forces being put through the bolts to which the stem is attached. I’ve experienced fitment issues with some dual crown forks on those handlebar hangers as there is not enough clearance between the top crown and bar too.
Racks like the Velocirack, Shuttle Racks, Khyber, 1Up/Recon, and any other basket style racks offer additional security by strapping the front wheel down, reducing the chance of the bike being pushed up and out of the tray should the rear wheel solid encounter ground when the vehicle reached a sharp incline. Regardless of the rack, talk to the manufacturer if you think your bike is extremely long or if the vehicle is low. Adding a longer main mast and positioning that mast vertically will reduce the chances of the rear wheel contacting the ground. With extra clearance comes aerodynamic sacrifice. The shorter the distance the rack protrudes from the hitch, the better departure angle you will have too. Keep in mind, this may disrupt access to the rear vehicle hatch.
TIP: If you normally run an NSR in one of the two angled positions because the front wheels will touch the cab, remove them and move the rack to the vertical position in extreme cases. Just don’t forget to load the wheels into the vehicle!
Lolo and North Shore Racks are also lower profile than the wheel basket types which make removal or generally walking around the rack less of a headache. Folding options are out there, just remember; The more moving parts or bolts there are, the higher the chance the rack will develop play over time. That means more movement from the bike, equating to higher wear or possibly falling out.
As always, the cost is another factor. If you’re going to leave the rack on through the winter and it could be subjected to road salt, keeping it rust-free won’t be easy, unless you custom coat it. Then there is the stainless steel, rust-free tubing and burly hardware of the Khyber racks that are bar none, but that comes with a premium price tag.
Weight is another specification that shouldn’t be forgotten about. Pay attention to the payload of your hitch and respect the warnings against stepping up from a 1&1/2″ to a 2″ tube.
Take a look through some of the racks we’ve reviewed in the past or go your own way and have someone fabricate a new design – there are plenty of homemade racks on the road. No matter what system you choose, there are going to be some downsides, so make a “pros and cons” table to see which aspects are most important to you and your bike.