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Bike racks offer varying degrees of security from zero to pretty good. Hitch racks are better than most in this respect, though the locking method varies.
Aside from any integral security that a hitch rack offers, this type of rack offers the opportunity for you to add your own security to the set-up.
In this article, we’ll tell you all you need to know about locking bikes to hitch racks. You’ll find out what locking features you can expect in a rack and how to improve on them.
First Up: A Hitch Rack Is A Hitch Rack, Right?
A hitch rack is a bike rack that fits into the hitch receiver of your vehicle, which may or may not be installed already. Not all hitch racks are equal; there are two types.
Platform-Style Hitch Racks
With a platform-style hitch rack, your bikes stand on wheel cradles and are typically secured by an arm that clamps onto the top of the front wheel.
Platform hitch racks have the highest load capacities of all bike racks, so they’re the only choice for heavy e-bikes and fat bikes.
As well, platform-style hitch racks tend to do a better job of keeping bikes separated, so there’s less chance of damaging the finish of your bikes. They’re ideal for carbon bike frames, too, because they don’t usually clamp the frame.
Hanging-Style Hitch Racks
Hanging-style hitch racks have a vertical mast with two horizontal arms. Bikes are strapped or clamped to these arms by their top tube (aka crossbar).
This hanging style of bike rack is likely to be a bit cheaper than a platform hitch rack, though there’s a lot of overlap in prices.
One downside of a hanging-style hitch rack is that it needs a horizontal top tube on the bike before it can do its job. If you have bikes with sloping geometries like step-through bikes, you need to buy “crossbar adapters” for compatibility.
This disadvantage is the same one you’ll encounter with trunk-mounted racks, which also hold bikes by their top tubes.
Video: Platform vs Hanging Bike Racks
Ways To Secure Or Lock Your Bike To A Hitch Rack
Lockable Hitch Pin
Technically, a lockable hitch pin is there to protect the rack from theft and not the bike. However, why would you lock bikes to a removable object? This is where a locking hitch pin comes in. It allows you to lock your bike to a secured rack.
Most hitch-mounted bike racks come with a lockable hitch pin, though it can also be an optional add-on. A chief benefit of hitch racks over other types of racks is the ability to lock the rack to the car, almost as standard.
How does a hitch-pin lock work? A hitch pin threads through a hole in the hitch receiver and hitch at a 90° angle and often has an anti-rattle measure to prevent rattling or wobbling. The lock fixes to one end of this pin to prevent unkeyed removal.
It’s worth noting that bike racks are far less often stolen than bikes, but they can be valuable in their own right. If you buy a budget hitch rack and never leave your bikes alone, you may consider a lock to be needless.
Although many hitch racks come with a lockable hitch pin, you can also buy them as optional extras or replacements. We recommend the Swagman Locking Anti-Rattle 5/8″ Threaded Hitch Pin, which in this case comes with a corresponding cable lock.
Note: you need a hitch pin that complies with the hitch size on your car. The diameter of the pin differs accordingly: 1/2″ pin for a 1-1/4″ hitch or 5/8″ pin for a 2” hitch.
Lockable Arms Or Hooks
A feature you will often find on good hitch-mounted bike racks is lockable arms. This is more likely on platform-style racks with hooks that hold the bike firmly by the front wheel or frame.
Something to think about when investing in bike security is the skill level needed to break a lock. A keyed lock is not a huge obstacle for a skilled lock picker, but the average bike thief lacks this skill and is likely to move onto an easier target.
Of course, lockable arms/hooks are not an aftermarket product. You have to look for this feature in the rack you buy.
A platform-style hitch rack that has this feature is the Hollywood Racks Sport Rider Hitch Rack. This is also a rack that can carry heavyweight e-bikes, so security is taken seriously. It has a hitch lock and cable lock as well as lockable hooks.
Cable locks are an integrated feature of many hitch racks. In other words, they are attached to some part of the rack, so you don’t have to look for a secure part of the rack to loop them around. What’s not to like?
One thing to bear in mind with cable locks is their limitations. They are invariably easy to cut with a pair of wire cutters. Therefore, they only protect your bikes against casual thieves that aren’t carrying the tools of the dubious trade.
Cable locks are usually lightweight and easy to thread through any part of your bike frame or wheels. They “keep honest people honest,” as the saying goes, which means they prevent theft by people who aren’t career thieves.
Cable locks are a common feature on hitch bike racks. A high-quality choice is the Kuat NV 2.0 Bike Rack, which has cable locks integrated into its base. Kuat lengthened these locks to give you multiple ways to lock your bikes.
Another way to use a cable lock is as a secondary security measure. You can use a product like the Kryptonite KryptoFlex Looped Bike Security Cable together with a U-lock to give some extra security to your wheels.
Bike thieves do not only steal whole bikes, though that is their usual way of working. If you have quick-release wheels on your bike or any other removable items, they could go. Cable locks are often used to deter easy wheel theft.
U-Locks & Chain Locks
U-locks do not easily integrate with a bike rack, so you’ll never find them as a built-in feature. You have to add them. They are still the best bike locks you can buy, especially if you invest in one with a heavy-duty shackle of about 16mm thickness.
Similarly, thick chain locks like the ones you see on motorbikes are not easy to break without using an angle grinder. You can use these locks to improve security on your bike rack.
As a bare minimum, you should be looking to lock a bike wheel to the frame. This prevents thieves from riding away on your bike, and that’s the usual escape mode.
The ideal method is to feed the U-lock through the frame and wheel and around the bike rack in such a way that it cannot be lifted off.
Kryptonite New York u-locks are among the best you can buy, and there are several different models. It’s best not to buy an oversized one because that allows a thief better access to the lock with tools.
The Kryptonite New York LS has narrowly spaced shackles that might help create a tight fit around your wheels, frame, and rack. You need to weigh up the size of the lock you need before buying, but don’t default to the largest one.
If you use two or three good U-locks, you’ll create a formidable hurdle against theft.
Video: Kryptonite New York U-Lock – Lock Picker’s Review
Why Securing Your Bike To A Hitch Rack Is So Important
Prevention of theft is the obvious compelling reason to secure your bike to a hitch rack. Locking your bike to the rack is one of several measures you can take to deter theft.
Beyond deterring thieves, what other benefits will you reap by locking your bike to a hitch rack?
Locking your bike to a hitch rack gives it extra stability and security against movement. In a worst-case scenario, it might prevent a bike from falling off the rack.
Attaching bikes to each other or locking bike frames to wheels helps to create a more stable, immovable cargo.
You will mainly use straps for stability during transit, but a cable lock can play a role. It also allows you to make quick, low-risk stops without having to re-lock the bikes every time.
More Parking & Shopping Choice
If you go to town on your bike security, it’ll give you a little more leeway as to where you can safely park or stop for provisions.
In general, you’ll want to avoid poorly lit, deserted parking spots with no CCTV. This never changes, but you could afford to leave your bikes briefly if they were secured with two or three U-locks, secondary cable locks, and maybe an alarm.
Even the best-equipped bike thief can’t break these security measures within a brief space of time. And that’s assuming they were in situ waiting for you to leave.
When you’re on the road and you need to buy sustenance at a food store or fill up on gas, having your bikes properly secured gives you more options. You wouldn’t want to leave your bikes out of sight if they were not secured.
Beware of being overconfident in cable locks in this regard. You need the car to be constantly within sight and a quickly reachable distance if that’s all you’re using. But they do stop some dishonest body from merely lifting the bikes off the rack.
Which Method Will You Choose?
Although hitch racks often come with decent security, in no case is it impossible to improve upon it. More is always better.
Adding extra locks to a hitch rack creates a significant deterrent for thieves, especially if they’re high-quality U-locks.
We hope you found this article useful. Please feel free to add a comment or share it with other cyclists.