It is completely possible to steal bikes from a car bike rack. Whether it will be easy or not depends on a bike rack type:
- Trunk-mount bike racks provide no theft protection whatsoever. Your bikes will be attached to a rack of such type with straps only. As a result, it will be absolutely easy for a thief to steal the bikes,
- Some roof bike racks come with a lock preinstalled by the manufacturer so they give at least some degree of protection. It is fair to say though that those locks are basically always very unreliable,
- Speaking about hitch bike racks, most of them go with locks for your bikes. The problem is the same as with roof racks. You can’t really rely on them.
In a nutshell, it is quite achievable to make it very hard to steal your bikes from most bike rack models. However, you have to keep in mind that a bike rack itself can also be stolen (with your bikes on it), and there are no effective solutions to this particular problem.
Anyway, don’t get discouraged right away. There are definitely things that can be done. Even though it is impossible to make your bikes on a rack 100% theft-proof, our strategy will be to make it as hard as possible. To make a thief think twice and go for an easier target.
Let’s go through each bike rack type and learn what can be done.
“Ok” vs “not ok” bike locks
Before moving any further, I would like to mention that all our solutions of how to prevent your bikes from being stolen come down to extra bike locks usage.
As you have probably figured out, to get the job done we will need the right bike locks.
U locks (¾ inch +)
Don’t get me wrong though, all of them do not provide 100% protection. It is only a matter of hard it will be to cut.
Cable bike locks are not going to be a problem at all for even the cheapest cutters.
Cutting U locks or chain locks will require a hydraulic cutter or a grinder, both are much more conspicuous and require investing some money. A simple bolt cutter won’t get the job done. As a result, our goal of making the life of a thief harder will be achieved.
Are bikes on a trunk bike rack easy to steal?
It is very easy to steal a bike from a trunk-mount rack. Why? The answer is very simple. This bike rack type does not introduce any theft protection out of the box. Moreover, due to its design, it is really hard to use bike locks.
The best solution is to interlock bikes with each other using either U-locks or chain locks. The more bikes you have mounted (this bike rack type can only accommodate up to 3 bikes though) the harder it will be for a thief to carry stolen bikes (since all bikes will be attached to each other).
If you transport just only one bike, it is going to be a problem to protect it. It is usually not possible to lock the bike to the rack itself because of its construction. The only option you will probably have is to lock the wheels.
Moreover, it is really easy to steal a trunk-mount rack itself (with bike(s) on it) since the only thing a thief would need to do is to cut the straps.
Are bikes on a roof bike rack easy to steal?
Even though most roof bike racks include some sort of lock pre-equipped, it does not help much. It will be always a cable lock, which is not effective, provides only a semblance of protection. It can be easily removed by a simple bolt cutter.
As a result, you need to buy a decent lock by yourself. Either a U-lock (¾ inches or thicker) or a chain lock.
The main problem with roof bike racks though, is that it is fairly easy to steal the rack itself (with a bike on it). I agree that it is rather risky for a thief to carry a bike rack with a bike on it which were obviously stolen, but some desperate people can still go for it.
However, if you transport two bikes or more on the roof of your car, it will be a pretty much different story. Simply attach bikes to each other with U-locks or chain locks. It will be very problematic for a thief to carry such a bulky construction. Chances are high that a thief will consider it to be too risky.
Are bikes on a hitch bike rack easy to steal?
Platform (tray) hitch racks
Horizontal hanging hitch racks
Vertical hanging hitch racks
The majority of platform (tray) rack models go with a cable lock which is not effective and can’t be relied on. Therefore, you will need to buy at least one extra lock (either a U-lock or a chain lock). Lock the bike(s) to the rack. It will be much better to attach bikes to each other if you have more than one.
Horizontal/vertical hanging hitch racks do not normally have any pre-installed cable locks (which are useless anyway). So you will need to buy extra locks, and, as I always recommend, to attach the bikes to each other, or at the very least, to lock the bike to the rack if you have just one bike.
An insurance policy for your bikes might be a good option
If you live in a rather unsafe area and assess the chances of your bikes being stolen as high, you should consider an insurance policy that covers bikes theft.
You will probably need one that covers both rack and bikes since the whole construction can get stolen (especially true for trunk-mount racks).
The bottom line is that you can’t make your bikes on a car bike rack absolutely theft-proof. However, you can definitely make it hard enough to steal so that a thief will be forced to go for an easier target.
Maybe only a trunk-mount rack with a single bike on it is really hard to protect.