Trunk Rack vs Roof Rack — A Detailed Comparison

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You can go about two ways when shopping for a bike rack — one that precisely suits your car or one that’s more versatile and forgiving. Contrary to what one might assume, both sides have their fair share of benefits and drawbacks.

In that aspect, one of the biggest debates is between truck rack vs roof rack. It’s not only the measurements and setup, but the capacity and overall experience can also vary with these racks.

For people trying to settle on a rack for their bike, so many variables can be somewhat daunting. This article will try to bridge that gap by providing you with the necessary knowledge about what to pick for your particular case and requirements.

Without wasting any more time, let’s jump in.

Trunk Rack vs Roof Rack

Trunk Racks and Roof Racks — The Fundamentals

Trunk and roof racks are significantly different from each other in most aspects. That’s why a basic understanding of their mechanism and capabilities is essential before moving ahead.

Looking at Trunk Bike Racks

Looking at Trunk Bike Racks

Trunk-mount bike racks are some of the most popular options among people looking for a rack on budget. Don’t worry, there are premium trunk racks as well, if that suits your needs better.

The basic principle is similar — these hang from the trunk of your car and carry the bike. It’s also possible to attach them to the vehicle’s hatch in many cases.

Another significant bit is that these racks rely on straps to connect to your vehicle instead of using a hitch or a crossbar. As a result, achieving a decent fit and stability relies heavily on how the user sets things up.

As expected, the trunk of your car needs to be closed when the rack is mounted. While it’s possible to have multiple bikes mounted to these products, they can’t hold as many as hitch or roof racks.

Trunk racks are also known for allowing a bit of sway, which can be problematic in some cases.That largely depends on the material or design, which we’ll discuss later.

Number of Straps

Typically, you’ll find two options when it comes to the number of straps a trunk rack has — four or six.

Having a rack with six straps means that the user has to spend more time setting things up. On the flip side, it also places more safeguards for the bikes, keeping everything secure and in place.

Four-strap racks are actually less common than six-strap ones. Having one of these allows the user to spend less time installing things. But since these straps are the only way of securing things, most manufacturers understandably opt for six, especially if you’re to carry multiple bikes.

Looking at Roof Bike Racks

Looking at Roof Bike Racks

Roof racks are what you mount to the car’s crossbar or upper door frames. These are essentially the opposite of trunk racks. They mount to the top instead of the back and require precise measurements.

Since these are mounted to the crossbars, you need to be accurate with the measurements. Additionally, you may need to go through the trouble of installing the crossbars if they aren’t installed already.

These racks require the user to lift the bikes every time, once again creating a stark contrast with trunk racks. These racks don’t cause any obstruction in terms of rear accessibility either, which can be a significant benefit.

Another difference is that they can usually carry more bikes than most trunk ranks (more on it later). In terms of the mounting mechanism, you can find two alternatives — upright and fork-mount racks.

Roof Rack Mounting Mechanisms

As I said, there are two options here; let’s look at how they work.

Upright Roof Racks


The most significant distinction about upright roof racks is that they don’t require you to remove the front wheel from the bike. It just sits in an upright position (duh) without any modifications. This does come with its fair share of repercussions, however.

The hoops used to mount the racks aren’t the most secure way out there. Hence, these racks allow for a bit more sway than the other option. That also results in some noise in many cases. 

Although, it’s possible to carry other equipment due to the generous nature of the hoops, which is helpful.And these racks can still hold an impressive number of bikes too, so no worries. 

Fork-mounted Roof Racks


The second type of roof rack relies on fork mounts. In case it’s not obvious enough, they hold the bikes by the fork. Hence, you need to take the bike’s front wheel off before mounting it.

Many users hate this bit and avoid fork-mount racks. However, this mechanism allows them to be much more stable than upright racks. While they’re way ahead in terms of stability and security, getting the bike up there might end up damaging the car’s finish if not done carefully.

Another benefit is that these racks don’t introduce as much wind drag, which we’ll discuss in detail later on.

Trunk Rack vs Roof Rack – The Comparison

We now know all we needed to know. It’s time for the comparison within various categories.

Ease of Installation and Mounting

Since these racks are drastically different, let’s start with the installation process.

Trunk Racks

Trunk racks make things pretty simple to get started with. Since they rely on straps, there’s no need for separate tools or equipment. All you need to do is get things buckled in properly.

However, many users need to install an anti-sway bar, and the installation process becomes somewhat lengthier in that case. Furthermore, you may need to spend a bit more time strapping things in, as it is the only method to ensure a proper fit.

Afterward, mounting the bikes is straightforward. A combination of cradles and arms hold the bikes together, which are easy to figure out. Be careful not to damage the car’s finish during installation, though.

Roof Racks

Unlike trunk racks, people usually install roof racks and just leave them there. That’s possible thanks to the lack of obstruction to the back of the vehicle. You do need to get the crossbar and rack’s measurement right, but that is a one-time chore.

There are roof racks with suction cups, too. Those don’t require any measurements and can work with most vehicles. However, it’s not the ideal way if you intend to carry multiple bikes.

After installation, the bike mounting process can vary depending on the rack. If it’s an upright one, you don’t need to make any modifications to the bike. A fork-mount rack would require you to take the front wheel offeach time.

Like the competition, these can also result in damaged car paint if you aren’t careful.

Carrying Capacity

The number of bikes a rack can carry can have a varying degree of importance to an individual. Here’s the comparison.

Can Trunk Racks Carry The Load?

Generally speaking, trunk racks fall slightly behind regarding weight capacity than roof racks. That’s by design, as the mechanism doesn’t allow for as much carrying prowess.

Usually, a trunk rack should be able to transport two to three bikes without issues. There are options with higher capacity, but this is the expected range for a typical trunk-mount rack. That’s why occasional users or people that carry only a few bikes typically opt for these products.

Can Roof Racks Keep Up?

roof bike rack capacity

Roof racks are way ahead in this category. Since they don’t hang off anything, the weight limit is much higher. Many of these products can effortlessly hold six or seven bikes, regardless of whether they’re upright or fork-mounted.

Although, fork-mount racks are slightly ahead of the upright options, as they’re more stable. Another aspect to keep in mind is the car’s roof. These racks may not be hanging, but they put the weight on the roof. You should purchase roof rack for MTB and for other heavy weight bikes.

That means the car needs to be able to handle the weight. But this shouldn’t be a cause of concern, as you’ll usually be well within the safe limit (unless you’ve got too many friends).


Both the racks can be quite versatile in terms of pricing, but there’s a general distinction.

How Costly Are Trunk Racks?

You’ll find that trunk racks are some of the most budget-friendly options among bike racks.The lower price is partly thanks to the design and reduced material cost. That doesn’t imply that there aren’t premium options, though.

But for people only looking for something to use occasionally, an affordable trunk rack with decent enough straps is the way to go. That price may increase depending on the design and accessories in some cases.

For example, having an anti-sway cradle would understandably make the product cost more. Finally, the weight capacity and security features are two more aspects that can affect the pricing significantly.

Do Roof Racks Allow Us to Save?

Roof racks can go anywhere between pretty costly to affordable, as there are so many variables at play. Firstly, the mounting mechanism determines the cost to some extent (fork-mount or upright racks).

Another aspect is the sizing, which depends on your car. For the most part, it’s possible to get a pretty affordable roof rack unless you need to carry many bikes at once.

As you go higher with the capacity, the price understandably increases. Racks with inbuilt security features also tend to cost more, which might be worth it for a more secure experience.

Many racks use suction cups for mounting, meaning there’s no need for crossbars. In that case, you can save some dough if you don’t already have crossbars installed. But such designs aren’t the most secure if the user wants to carry many bikes at once.

Stability and Overall Performance

Now for another crucial aspect— the stability of the racks.

How Stable are Trunk Racks?

I’ll be honest; trunk racks are slightly behind roof racks when it comes to stability. The biggest reason behind that is the mounting mechanism itself. These racks hang off the trunk of your vehicle and rely on straps.

That means that they won’t achieve the same level of stability as a rack tightly mounted to the crossbars. Nevertheless, it’s possible to have a decent experience as long as you’ve set things up properly.

The caveat is that the overall stability of your rack will majorly rely on how well you install everything.

Furthermore, having an anti-sway cradle can make things even better. They prevent the bikes from moving around too much and even damaging themselves.

You may be in for an unfortunate ride if your car has spoilers, though. Many of these racks interfere with spoilers, which is why you should be mindful of this aspect.

A benefit compared to roof racks is that these products introduce less drag. As a result, the fuel consumption stays lower, which is a factor worth keeping in mind.

They fall somewhat behind in terms of security, though. You’ll probably have to buy an external lock to keep the bikes safe.

Do Roof Racks Keep Up?

Stability is where roof racks excel in — well, at least most of them. Upright racks usually tend to allow for a bit of sway on most cars. And that’s unavoidable, given the way they hold the bikes with the hoops.

They’re still securely held in place, but the swaying can be a pain in the neck. Fortunately, fork-mount racks can alleviate this issue like no other rack can. As I said, those products hold the bikes by their fork, keeping things tight and sturdy.

As a result, the experience becomes much more secure, and the swaying is surprisingly minimal. But this stability does come at the cost of having to take the bike’s front wheel every time.

If you feel like you need the added stability, a fork-mount rack is the way to go. And if having to take the front wheel seems like too annoying a chore, an upright rack would be the better alternative.

The biggest performance drawback with roof racks is that they make the car aerodynamically challenged. Since they’re mounted to the top, it significantly increases wind drag, and fuel consumption increases by up to 30% in some cases. This is one of the reasons many users avoid roof racks.

Our comparison Guide:

  1. Roof Bike Rack or Hitch Bike Rack
  2. Hitch vs Trunk Bike Rack
  3. Fork Mount vs Upright Bike Rack

Accessibility and Interference

Where you want the rack to be is certainly a determining factor when making a purchase. These racks are on the opposing ends of the spectrum in this aspect.

Are Trunk Racks Easy to Interact With?

This doesn’t require any more explaining that a trunk rack is mounted to the back of your car. That can come with some issues. First off, it means you cannot access the trunk without taking the rack off.

That includes the hatchback door and everything in between. If you need to access the back often, I’d suggest steering clear of a trunk rack.

There are benefits as well, of course. Firstly, you don’t have to lift your bike up and down every time like you’re in a workout session. Mounting the bikes is as effortless as it gets.

Another benefit is if you only occasionally use the rack. A roof rack isn’t exactly easy to set up and take off whenever you’re done (of course, leaving there is an option). On the other hand, taking the trunk rack off is only a matter of removing the straps.

Are Roof Racks Easy to Interact With?

When it comes to rear accessibility, roof racks are the best path to follow. They’re installed all the way up at the roof and allow you to access the trunk or rear door whenever you want.

That’s why I’d suggest these to anyone who requires accessing the back of the car frequently. You can also have a clear view of the rear while driving, which is a huge benefit. Trunk mounts have a direct disadvantage in this aspect.

But it’s not all sunshine, as having the bikes up there can introduce problems.

The first issue is that you cannot drive through low-clearance areas, as you’ll end up hitting those beautiful bikes against the roof. That takes low tunnels or garages out of the equation right away. Many users even forget that they have a bike mounted up there, resulting in a disaster.

Furthermore, it’s not necessary to get a roof rack if you’re only going to use it once in a few months. A trunk rack is much more accessible and easier to work within that case.

My Last Two Cents on the Topic

As you can see, the debate of trunk rack vs roof rack is rather subjective, as the user’s perspective matters here. Everyone has their own preferences, use cases, and budgets, all of which play a role in the final decision.

That’s why I’ve portrayed various scenarios above, which should give you an idea of which path to follow. All I can say now is — enjoy!

Jeff Phillips Racktutor
About the author

Jeff Phillips is the able founder of In his professional life, he has been offering Paintless Dent Repair and Hail Repair services in North Texas since 1990. He is the owner of DentMasters. He is still passionate about outdoor adventures with his family, bikes and cars. So he has first-hand experience on bike racks. He is regularly testing suitable racks for his upcoming trip. His aim is to create a user-friendly free website where bikers can easily read bike rack informations without any hassle.

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