The Transporters: Car-Top Carriers & Bike Racks That Go Above & Beyond

Car-top carriers are capable of adapting to a broader variety of stowed items than ever before. Today’s bicycle racks are designed to provide more stability for the bicycles that they carry.

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Weekend warriors and sports fanatics used to specialize: Skiers skied, campers camped and bicyclists biked. Now, more people seem to embrace multiple sports, and the manufacturers of car-top carriers and bicycle racks, or bike racks, noticed.

You can pack different types of gear into today’s cargo carriers, and manufacturers now produce models that fit nearly every vehicle type better. Universal fit is a top trend, says Chris Ritchie of Thule, which makes car-top carriers and bike racks. In past years, cargo carriers got in the way of minivan and SUV hatch access, which left consumers to choose between cargo space and hatch accessibility. Today’s models provide more clearance. To discover which cargo carrier fits your specific vehicle, manufacturers and dealers typically have forms available on their websites that allow you to input your vehicle’s make and model and learn what options best fit your vehicle.

Furthermore, consumers have more models from which to choose than ever before of the three most popular styles of bike racks—hitch mounts, roof mounts and trunk mounts. Bike-touring operation owner and cyclist Tony Blakey of LifeCycle Adventures, who buys new racks every year for his business, says he’s seen more options in the past 2–3 years, particularly for “wheel on” transportation in roof-mounted carriers, which are models that allow you to stow bikes without detaching the front wheel, and for hitch mounts that give you more choice in the number of bikes that you can haul.

Ritchie says bike racks today stress more versatility than they did in the past. “You’ve got your road bike, mountain bike, your kids’ bikes, your fat-tire bike, and it all needs to go on the same rack,” Ritchie says.

CARGO TECH. The tweaks for car-top carriers focus on better aerodynamics and more usability.

Three manufacturers—Inno, Thule and Yakima—say they added stiffer carbonite plastic to their hard car-top carriers. These models, which start at $600, have lids that are made of layers of carbonite plastic, which, manufacturers say, are stiffer than are previous models’ lids. Because they have an aerodynamic design, carbonite bike racks produce less wind resistance than do previous models. No manufacturer could quantify how much less wind resistance, and we didn’t find any independent observers who could confirm this.

Furthermore, these three brands created angled rear ends that are designed to achieve a lower profile as well as to prevent interference when your minivan or SUV hatch is open.

Two manufacturers also made hard car-top-carrier fasteners that take out the guesswork of determining whether the car-top carrier—and your cargo—is secure.

Thule added mounting clamps inside of its car-top carriers that now make an audible click when the clamp is tightened. Ritchie likens it to a locking cap on your vehicle’s fuel tank: When you hear a click, then you know that the car-top carrier is secure. This feature is on car-top carriers that start at $800.

Yakima added an oversize push-button latch to its Skybox Carbonite line, which starts at $449. The key to the car-top carrier can’t come out of the lock until the lid is latched securely. We found that this feature also eliminates some of the elbow grease that you have to provide typically to tug open the car-top-carrier lid.

The universality theme extends to soft car-top carriers, too. Now, six manufacturers make models that don’t require a roof rack to secure the car-top carrier. These models, which start at about $90, lie flat on your vehicle’s roof and are secured by pass-through straps that weave through the soft car-top carrier and then wrap securely through your vehicle windows or doors. (Crossbars don’t impinge on a soft car-top carrier’s use, so if you have crossbars installed already, no problem.)

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