With the help of a car bike rack, you can fit up to six bikes on your car (on a single rack type). To be more specific, you can put up to four bikes on a roof bike rack (five is possible but will be more challenging), up to six bikes on a hitch bike rack, and up to three bikes on a trunk-mount bike rack (four-bike racks of this type exist, but produced by less reputable makers).
There are three things that affect how many bikes you can put on it, which you need to consider:
- How many bike holders a bike rack has. This one is pretty much straightforward. Simply don’t put more bikes than the number of bike holders on a rack (I have put 4 bikes on a three-bike rack and got away with it, but in general it is not advisable),
- How much weight a bike rack is designed to be capable to carry. So to speak, even though a bike rack might have, let’s say, 4 bike holders, it might only be able to carry no more than 2-3 bikes if the bikes are much heavier than on average.
- How much weight each bike holder is capable to carry (normally it is maximum 30-40 lbs for each bike holder). Some bike racks though (the majority of hitch tray racks) have only a total weight limit, for all bike holders at once.
With that being said, let’s go through each bike rack type and learn the specifics.
How many bikes can you put on a roof bike rack?
You can fairly easily fit 4 bikes on a roof bike rack. Putting 5 bikes is also possible but will be a bit more tricky since it might not be enough space for 5 bikes (depending on the bikes’ size).
However, a lack of space is not the main challenge you are going to be facing. Roof bike racks are installed on roof racks or crossbars, and these guys definitely have some load capacity. Normally, it is 150-180 lbs. Plus keep in mind that each roof bike rack weighs 7-20 lbs (approx. 10 lbs for fork mount type and approx. 18 lbs for wheel mount type).
For example, let’s say you have 160 lbs load capacity roof racks and would like to transport 5 bikes on wheel mount racks (which is handier than fork mount racks since they don’t require removing the wheel). If each bike rack weight 18 lbs then you will be left with only 70 lbs for your bikes:
160 racks load capacity – 18 bike racks weight x 5 = 70 lbs you can use for the bikes
14 lbs for each bike, which is not realistic, let’s be honest.
So in case you are planning to put 5 bikes on a roof bike rack then you have two options: either install a roof rack with increased load capacity (200 lbs+) or use fork mount type racks since they weigh twice less.
In case you are planning to put 4 bikes on a roof rack then I would recommend buying a roof racks closer to 180 lbs load capacity, and you are going to be fine.
3 bikes or less (which I believe will be the case for most people) won’t be a problem to transport on a roof bike rack.
How many bikes can you put on a hitch bike rack?
This bike rack type can boast 6 bikes maximum capacity, which is the maximum number across all bike racks types.
However, there are three types of hitch bike racks:
- Vertical hanging hitch racks are capable of carrying up to 6 bikes,
- Horizontal hanging hitch racks are capable of carrying up to 5 bikes,
- Platform (tray) hitch racks can carry up to 4 bikes.
Also, you need to bear in mind that each bike holder has its limits in terms of load capacity. It is normally 40 lbs for hanging hitch racks and 60 lbs for platform hitch racks (for each bike holder place), which will be more than enough in most cases.
How many bikes can you put on a trunk bike rack?
You can put up to 3 bikes on a trunk-mount bike rack. This bike rack type can carry the smallest number of bikes since once installed, it directly contacts your car and puts significant pressure on the bumper and the rear window.
Moreover, each bike holder place can carry no more than 30-35 lbs so keep it in mind.
There are some trunk four-bike racks out there, but the leaders of the market (Thule, Yakima, Saris) do not produce them. I believe, with a good reason for that since the risks of damaging your car would be much higher.
Whats is the smallest number of bikes you can put on a bike rack? On each bike rack type, you can transport as few as just one bike.
Can you put 5 bikes on a four-bike rack? I have personally done it, and everything was fine with my hitch track rack. You just need to properly attach the bike between two other bikes using ropes.
Can you put 4 bikes on a three-bike rack? You will probably get away with it in case with hitch tray racks if the bike is attached properly. Never ever do it with a trunk bike rack since it will get overloaded and damage your car (remember about the relatively low load capacity of trunk bike racks).
Can you put 3 bikes on a two-bike rack? The same approach I would use here. Put 3 bikes on a hitch tray rack and probably nothing bad will happen. Putting 3 bikes on a trunk two-bike rack will even more likely get you in trouble in comparison with putting 4 bikes on a trunk three-bike rack since it will be more overloaded.