When it comes to transporting a bike on your vehicle, there are three distinctly different systems. The first is a roof rack, which is secured to the rails on the roof of car. The next is a trunk mounted system, that secures the bike rack to the trunk of the vehicle. And the last is a system that connects to a trailer hitch installed onto the frame of the vehicle – a hitch mounted rack.
Hitch based bicycle racks are actually one of the best options, as they are easy to use, easy to remove, and realtively inexpensive. However there is one annoying thing that people tend to notice, and that is the fact that it wobbes.
So why do hitch mounted bike racks wobble? Hitch mountain bike racks wobble because the receiver has to be larger than the bike rack itself. They do this, so that it is easy to install the bike rack, instead of making it so tight that it takes more time than it is worth to install the rack. This leaves some dead air and allows it to move back and forth ever so slightly.
Regardless of what size hitch is being used, it’s not uncommon to see your bike wobbling on the rack while driving. Watching a bike you may have spent several thousand dollars on, dance in the rearview mirror, may be a little disconcerting.
Why do bicycle racks that are hitch mounted wobble?
Hitch mounted bike racks come in two sizes, either 1 1/4″ or a 2″. This measurement is the inside dimension of the sleeve on the hitch attached to the chassis of your vehicle. To make it easier to slide the stem of your bike rack into and out of the sleeve of your hitch, manufacturers make the stem slightly smaller than the sleeve.
Thus, a loose-fitting connection will generate wobble. To what degree your rack wobbles will be determined by the through bolt connecting the stem to the sleeve, holding your rack in place. Regardless of name brand (by the way, this is one of my favorites), the through bolt of your rack will attach itself to the hitch with either a threaded or an unthreaded bolt.
If you’re using a threaded bolt and your rack still wobbles, check to see if there’s any room to tighten the bolt further. If the bolt is firmly tightened to your hitch and the rack still wobbles, reinforcement may be needed. The other type of connection uses an unthreaded bolt.
This type of connection is held in place with a cotter pin, leaving you no way to tighten the bolt connection more securely to your hitch.
Rather than firmly threading the bolt into the sleeve of your hitch, the cotter pin will slide into a small hole on the opposite end of the bolt, thereby securing it loosely to the hitch. If the stem of your rack is also loose in the sleeve, your rack may wobble excessively. Without threading on either the hitch or the bolt, there’s no way to secure the rack with any integrity.
It should be noted, that while hitch bicycle racks do wobble, this really shouldn’t be a cause for concern! They are held on by strong metal, and it really doesn’t cause any issues as long as you have secured your bike correctly.
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How can you solve this issue?
Fortunately, there’s a simple solution. For as little as $10 to $20, there’s a highly effective solution. A Hitch Tightener like this one is available in a variety of sizes and styles. These devices consist of a sturdy U-Bolt that attaches around the top of the stem of your rack, a steel plate that sits below the stem, and two washers & nuts to secure the plate firmly to your hitch.
Since standard trailer hitches are made of heavy-duty steel, it’s important to make sure the hitch tightener you choose is made of similar strength. The fastest way to secure this device to your rack is with a socket wrench, just be certain the socket has sufficient depth to allow the ends of the U-Bolt to pass through while tightening.
Of course, you can also use an open-end wrench to fasten the device to your setup. With this simple solution, you control how much wobble you see in your rack’s connection.
Frequently Asked Questions
Bike racks should only move minimally. They may rock back and forth slightly, even to the point of being worrisome, however they should never move more than a couple of inches back and forth. If you are noticing that your bicycle hitch rack is going more than a couple inches back and forth, you might want to look a little further into if it is defective.
Trailer hitch bike racks range heavily. You can buy one for as little as $60-$70, all the way up to spending over $500 to buy one of the best of the best bike racks.
Many, many cars, SUVs and trucks come with hitch receivers already installed! However if you car doesn’t have one equipped, you should have no problem having one installed! Please note though, on smaller vehicles, these are only meant for carrying things like bike racks, not meant for trailers.
Rather than search the web for a rack system that provides perfectly fitting, all-in-one connections, without additional parts required, use what you have already and supplement it as needed. Besides, there’s no such thing as a “perfect fit” with bike racks.
There will always be some degree of wobble. But the solution is easy and inexpensive.
There’s no reason to watch that expensive bike wobbling in your rearview mirror. Finding a perfect fit may not be within reach, but a perfect solution is. So, before you venture out to the trailhead, you may want to test and correct any excessive wobbling your rack may have.