roof mounted suv bike rack

Roof-Mounted Bike Racks On SUVs: Pros and Cons

To install or not to install? That is the question. Roof-mounted bike racks are a popular way of transporting bikes from one point to another, but the reality is all bike racks are not well suited for all types of vehicles. So, is a roof-mounted bike rack a good option for an SUV? Before mounting a bike rack on your SUV roof rails, consider the pros and cons.

Understanding the Need for a Bike Rack

The popularity of cycling as a sport and recreational activity has exploded over the last 20 years. With the development of new cycling disciplines, like mountain biking, the need to move your bike from where it’s hanging on a garage rack to the start of a trail somewhere in the mountains has grown.

If you’re lucky enough to drive a truck, you may be able to load your bike on the back and head out. In some cases, after removing the wheels and doing some serious bike contortion, you can fit a bike inside an SUV or even a sedan with folding seats. Most people will have to invest in a bike rack of sorts, though, and rely on that to transport their valuable bicycle back and forth safely.

When you set out to buy a bike rack, you will have four mounting options:

Roof Mounted Rack on SUV

The Appeal of Roof-Mounted Bike Racks

What exactly would be the appeal of choosing a roof-mounted bike rack over the other options, especially when during an SUV? Here are a few specific benefits of roof-mounted racks.

Access to rear car features: Uninterrupted access to the trunk

Mounting your bike on the roof of your car will leave your trunk unobstructed. Trunk-mounted racks make it virtually impossible to access your trunk without removing and reinstalling the entire rack. Hitch-mounted bike racks partially obstruct access to your trunk. Granted, some well-designed hitch mounts can swivel or tilt out of the way to allow you to access your trunk. No other mounting option excels in its area like a roof-mounting, though.

No risk of obstructing the rear license plate or lights

Obstructing your rear license plate and lights is not only against the law but also dangerous. A roof-mounted bike rack will not interfere with your lights or obscure your license plate’s visibility. Some larger hitch-mounted racks have their own rear-light array and a slot for an additional license plate.

Higher security against theft

Bike theft from parked vehicles with bike racks is an unfortunate reality. Placing your bikes on your roof makes it harder for would-be bike thieves to reach, adding an additional layer of security to your setup. You should still lock your bike and bike rack, but mounting it on the roof will help.

Carrying multiple bikes: potential for more capacity compared to some other types

You can easily fit two bikes on a roof-mounted rack, loading them from either side of the vehicle. In my opinion, this is the optimal number of bikes for a roof rack. That being said, three bikes will also be comfortable on most roofs. Four becomes slightly more challenging to load but not impossible. Hitch-mounted bike racks are the best option if you’re looking to transport four or more bikes. A roof-mounted rack is better than a trunk mount for multiple bikes.

Aesthetic appeal: sleek design, looks more organized

If your aesthetic is important to you while traveling, then there’s no denying that a roof mount looks sleek and well-organized. I mention this somewhat reluctantly, though, as it should take a distant backseat to safety and convenience.

Potential Drawbacks of Roof-Mounted Bike Racks for SUVs

Considering the benefits above, what are the counterarguments for using a roof-mounted bike rack on your SUV? Let’s consider a few.

Height issues

Some cons of roof-mounted racks are universal, and independent of your vehicle type. In the case of SUVs, though, the fact is that the roof of your vehicle is higher off the ground than that of a sedan or some smaller hatchbacks. Some of the greatest challenges in choosing a roof-mounted bike rack for this type of car lie in this.

The first and most obvious challenge is the added difficulty of mounting and unmounting bikes. Lifting a bike onto the roof of your vehicle, keeping it stable, and securing it without damaging either the bike, the paintwork of your car, or yourself is a challenge. If you are a single person, or somebody of small stature or lack the physical strength to do this safely, then a roof-mounted SUV bike rack is not the right option for you,

The second challenge or risk introduced by mounting bikes on the roof of a higher vehicle is the potential for overhead clearance issues. Driving with a bike on your roof requires you to consider this while traveling as you approach any potential overhead obstacle, like parking garages and tree branches. Many tears have been shed by forgetful bike owners driving into a garage with bikes mounted to the roof of their cars! It will not be your finest hour if you forget, and having chosen a roof-mounted rack will suddenly become very expensive.

Bike roof rack dangers

Impact on fuel economy

Of all the bike mounting options, a roof-mounted rack increases the air resistance of your car the most. This will inevitably lead to higher fuel consumption. Other positive considerations may outweigh this for you, but make no mistake, on longer road trips, this can substantially impact your fuel cost.

Possible damage to bikes during high-speed travel

There is an additional risk of your bike being damaged on the roof of your car when traveling at higher speeds. The increased wind resistance would force forces to work on your bikes, which they probably would not have been exposed to if they had been mounted in the “slipstream” of your vehicle on a hitch. This increased resistance can be the direct cause of damage to some of the more fragile parts, but it also exposes the bike to flying debris kicked up by other vehicles.

Noise issues

The wind resistance and sheer added by bikes on the roof of your case will increase the noise levels inside the vehicle. Some added wind noise may be tolerable on shorter trips, and you’ll get used to it, but this can cause real discomfort on longer road trips. It might impact your ability to converse or listen to music inside the vehicle. It can also impede your hearing of external warnings like horns and sirens.

Possible weather exposure

Bikes mounted behind a vehicle travel in the slipstream of the car, and wind and rain are to some extent, directed over the bikes by the aerodynamics and vortexes forming around a traveling vehicle. Not so with roof-mounted bikes, though. Your bike will be more exposed to weather elements. Modern bicycles are typically designed to withstand pretty severe weather conditions. Bikes differ; if you are transporting an e-bike or a smart bike with many electronic components, you may want to consider whether you are OK with this additional exposure.

Compared with Other Bike Racks: Trunk-Mounted and Hitch-Mounted

The table below compares the four primary bike rack mountings for four different criteria on a scale of 1 to 5 (with 5 being best).

CriteriaRoof-MountedHitch-MountedTrunk-MountedSpare Tire
Bike Capacity4533
Ease of Use3524
Impact on Vehicle3424

Making the Right Choice: Factors to Consider Before Installation

Before you make your final decision and install a roof-mounted bike rack on your SUV, go through these steps:

  • Assess your needs: How often and where will you transport your bikes? As we’ve seen above, several factors get exasperated if you do long trips with bikes on your roof. Reduced fuel economy, wind noise, and bike exposure, to mention a few. If you use your rack to haul your bikes short distances to the trailheads, these become moot.
  • SUV specifications: Does your SUV already have a roof rack system? You will need roof bars on your car. Some vehicles have these factory-mounted. If not, you may have to install a universal roof bar to mount your bike racks. Ensure you understand which roof bar mountings are compatible with your vehicle.
  • Bike specifications: How heavy are your bikes, and can you lift them onto a roof rack? This is discussed in detail above. If you have a heavy e-bike, and you cannot lift it onto the roof of your SUV on your own, hold it securely, and fasten it, don’t get a roof-mounted bike rack!
  • Cost and budget: How much are you willing to spend? Roof-mounted racks are not the most expensive option, especially if your car comes with factory-mounted roof rails, but you should always consider your budget.


I’ve discussed the pros and cons of mounting a bike rack on the roof of an SUV. So what’s the verdict? To install or not to install? It would be best to decide based on your needs assessment by considering the factors above. I don’t think a roof-mounted bike rack is the best option for an SUV. It is not an easy system to use, and it introduces unnecessary risks to your vehicle and bike, especially if you plan to transport more than two bikes.

I would opt for a foldaway or swing-away hitch-mounted rack. All things being equal, and if your budget allows for it, I’d recommend seriously considering this type of system.

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Written by
Willem Grobler

Willem is an avid mountain biker and outdoor sports enthusiast. For years, he has been riding mountain bike stage races, including the grueling Cape Epic. As a father of three adventurous kids, he knows about packing a vehicle to haul his gear safely and responsibly from home to any exciting weekend or holiday destination.

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