Some of the most popular bike car racks on Amazon, the Allen Hitch Bike Racks are also some of the cheapest. So how do they compare to the big brands like Thule and Yakima? Read the review below to find out what you get (and what you don’t) when choosing a basic rack.
Pros & Cons
- Incredibly easy & quick to install and to remove from car
- Takes up very little storage space when not in use
- Great quality for a very affordable price
- Bikes are spaced closely together; high potential for damage
- Lengthy loading process with 2+ bikes
Allen Hitch Bike Racks Review – Results of our Test Rides
What Makes it Stand Out
Allen Sports is an established brand that creates solid-quality products at a fraction of the price. We’ve tested their bike trailers and now their car bike racks, and have been impressed by the quality and functionality of their products for an insanely low price.
Of course with low price trailers or racks (or anything for that matter), you’re forgoing the top of the line features, functionality, and quality, but you are still going to get a quality product that will get you out and riding with your kids.
Allen Sports does an awesome job of providing really decent quality stuff for families on a budget. The Allen Sports Deluxe Locking Hitch Rack is one of their family-friendly solutions. It can hold up to 5 bikes while costing under $200!
Who It’s Best For
- Families who are looking for hitch rack system to use with standard, road, and hybrid adult bikes, as well as 20″+ kids’ bikes
- People needing a lightweight rack they can easily take on or off the car without any help
- Families looking for a super affordable bike transportation solution for up to 5 bikes
Who It’s Not Best For
- Those who want to quickly load their bikes onto the rack and get going
- Cyclists with expensive bikes who are worried about damage to the bike when loading/unloading, or clanking together once loaded
Why a Hanging Rack
By nature, hanging racks are a bit more of a puzzle to use than tray racks. Figuring out how to finagle all the bikes on the rack without pedals getting stuck in spokes or handlebars jamming into saddles can definitely be a challenge.
But hanging racks also have their benefits. First of all, they’re much more affordable. Secondly, they’re much lighter-weight. As a 5’2 female, I can take this Allen bike rack on and off quickly and do it all by myself. I can’t do that with a tray rack, even the “lightweight” Saris SuperClamp EX at 63 lbs.
As a busy mom, I use the trunk of my minivan A LOT – groceries, soccer equipment, balance bikes, gym bags, the occasional extra kid – and I need easy and quick access to it. (Just kidding about the extra kid; we are huge proponents of proper seat belt and carseat usage!) So although loading the bikes on the rack and taking them off requires significantly more effort than a tray rack, I prefer the convenience of being able to take the rack off and on with ease.
Additionally, with all the garage space currently being used up by bikes, tools, soccer paraphernalia, strollers and bike trailers – this rack does not add visual clutter to the garage or take up much space. This rack literally only takes up a few inches of floor space. Score!
How It Works In a Nutshell
For this review, we used the Allen Sports Deluxe Locking Hitch Rack – 4 capacity, although all their hanging hitch rack models are very similar. Putting the Allen Bike Rack on your car and taking it off is incredibly easy and very quick. I can get the rack on and off my car in under a minute.
All of Allen’s hitch racks are compatible with cars that have a 2″ hitch receiver. The 2 & 3 bike capacity racks are also compatible with a 1.25″ receiver (they come with an adaptor to make it compatible with a 2″ receiver as well). The rack arms go through the bike frame and the top tube of the bike rests on the rack arms. Tri-glide buckles (like the straps on a backpack) and cradles secure the bikes to the rack.
Capacity and Bike Fit
The great thing about Allen Bike Racks is that your bike is likely going to fit. Just go check out some of the consumer reviews on Amazon – people have figured out some crazy ways to get their bikes from point A to point B with this rack for sure.
The downside is that your bike is also likely going to undergo some significant wear and tear if you use this rack on the regular. I have spent at least three hours (in the hot & humid Texas summer sun, mind you) taking bikes of all shapes and sizes on and off this rack trying to figure out the best way to configure them and what will and won’t fit. Here are my key learnings:
#1 – If you want to carry 4 bikes, buy a five 5 bike carrier. If you want to carry 3 bikes, buy a 4 bike carrier, and so forth and so on. I tested out the 4-bike carrier, and every time I loaded it, I reconfigured or used different bikes. And every time that fourth bike was pretty difficult to get into the cradles. However, 3 bikes was always fairly easy and very doable. The rack’s price only increases $10-$30 (depending on the model you are purchasing) as the capacity increases. So depending on your budget, if you can size up, I would highly recommend it.
#2 – If you are super protective of your bike and want it to stay in pristine condition, a tray rack is a better option (although much more expensive). -Look into a tray rack like the RockyMounts SplitRail instead. There is a lot of cramming, jamming, and finagling to get the bikes onto this hanging rack. Especially if you are using the rack to max capacity. Handlebars will be pressing into seats, pedals will be in spokes, etc. There is a lot of bike-to-bike contact and the bike closest to the rack will come in contact with the mast as you drive.
#3 – The best way to load this rack depends on the shape and size of the bikes you’re hauling. The manual tells you to alternate the direction of the bikes when loading the rack. Sometimes this was the best fit for the bikes we tested, other times there was no way to make that happen. So if your bikes aren’t fitting one way, unload it and try bikes in a different spot or a different direction.
#4 – Once you have puzzle-pieced the bikes together on the rack in a way that works well, take a picture of it! This will help you remember how to load it the next time. Especially if you aren’t going to be hauling the same bikes all the time.
There is 6.5″ from the center of one cradle to the center of the next cradle. The small amount of space between each cradle is what causes such a bike traffic jam on the arms. Loosening the headset of your handlebars and turning them to be in line with the rest of the bike lessens the contact between the bikes. This will help reduce the wear and tear, but will add to the already lengthy process of loading the bikes.
This rack fits bikes 20″ and larger. Some 20″ bikes need the adaptor, other 20″ bikes we were able to load without the adaptor. Bikes smaller than 20″ don’t have long enough frames for the carry arms to fit inside.
Larger bikes are a lot easier to carry on this rack because they have a larger frame that allows you to slide them right and left along the rack arms. This gives you more wiggle room in where they sit, so it makes it easier to load the consecutive bikes with more space for handlebars and pedals.
Frame Shape & Adaptor Bar Usage
Allen Sports sells adaptors bars that attach to the headset and seat post of bikes to make loading smaller bikes and bikes with steep sloping frames a bit easier. Most of the bikes we loaded onto the rack technically could be loaded without the adaptor, but the adaptor was beneficial in a couple of different scenarios.
These adaptors also come in handy to change the configuration when loading bikes on the rack. For example, when I was loading a 20″ bike that technically didn’t need the adaptor, the bike wouldn’t fit because the rim & tire of the first bike was in the way of the hand grip and hand brake of the 20″ bike. I put the adaptor on the 20″ bike and it lowered the level of the handlebars to where I could slide the bike onto the arms in the proper position.
Steep sloping top tubes and some 20″ bikes use the adaptor in order for easier loading. However, step-through frames and steep sloping top tubes can also be mounted by rotating the cradle and placing the rack arm behind the rear seat tube and below the rear down-stay.
With my step-though frame I actually prefer this method to using the adaptor. It is just as quick, and it leaves my bike level on the rack as opposed to having the front tire way higher than the back tire. Again, the angle of your bike on the rack depends on the shape of your frame.
Bike Quantity and Weight
Allen bike racks come in carrier capacities of 2 to 5 bikes with a max weight of 35 pounds allowed for each bike. As mentioned previously, if you can afford the slight upgrade, buy a rack with one extra bike capacity than you need. So if you need to carry four bikes, buy the 5-bike capacity rack.
Hanging racks in general, and specifically these Allen Bike Racks, are much lighter than tray racks. At just 26 lbs., you don’t have to have much upper body strength to install or uninstall your rack from your hitch.
Loading & Unloading Bikes
The proper way to load bicycles is to load them onto the rack arms and place top tubes into cradles with the bikes in alternating directions (if they can properly fit that way), beginning with the largest/heaviest bike first. Then secure the bikes into the cradles using the straps. Lastly, secure the wheels and bottom brackets of bikes together and to the mast with a 70″ strap (the strap does not come included with the rack, but the directions do say to use one).
I have been using this rack regularly for a couple months and I have never strapped the bikes together or to the mast. The bikes do sway when you brake and accelerate, and they will bang against the mast if they aren’t secured when you brake or accelerate quickly. Using the strap to tie them all together would significantly decrease the amount of movement and sway of the bikes as you drive, cutting down on wear and tear.
I would be hesitant to use this rack on long drives or in a lot of stop & go traffic unless they were well strapped. However, because I only take our bikes on short distances, I just make it a point to drive a little less aggressively when the rack is all loaded up – my kids tend to be less carsick when I drive with the rack on, so that’s a bonus!
The manufacturer also recommends putting padding between the bikes (towels, pool noodles, cardboard, etc.) to protect them from damage. But all that in addition to securing all the bikes with the strap adds a lot of time into loading and unloading the bikes, and I’d rather just get where I’m going quicker. If I were taking the bikes longer distances, then I definitely would go to all the extra trouble.
The “sweat factor” for loading this rack is 7 out of 10. Compare that to loading a tray rack which has a sweat factor of about 2 out of 10. It takes some muscle and some maneuvering to load the bikes onto the arms and get them placed in the cradles and properly secured. This is a task for teenagers or adults, anyone younger probably won’t be able to do it.
However, this is the trade off for the installation sweat factor; the installation sweat factor for the Allen Bike Rack is 1 out of 10 as opposed to installing a tray rack which has a sweat factor of 8 out of 10. You win some, you lose some.
Folding & Rear Hatch Access
Allen Bike Racks all have arms that fold down when not in use and masts that tilt away from the hatch. How they tilt and fold depends on the model you buy. Some models have pull levers and release buttons. These are significantly quicker to use than the models that have QR (quick-release) pins. However, I have the model that uses the QR pins and it’s not a loathsome task by any means.
To access the hatch you remove a QR clip and tilt the post away from the car to access the hatch. The mast tilts back about 45º. The hatch cannot be accessed when bikes are loaded on the rack. Tilting the hitch while it is loaded with bikes could weaken the structural integrity of the rack and also damage the bikes. So remember to pack the trunk before you load the bikes. Otherwise, you’ll have to venture into the backseat of your car to access the trunk…. and no parent wants to acknowledge the mess in the backseat of the car.
The 2 and 3 bike carrier works with a 1.25″ receiver, (but these models also come with at 2″ hitch adaptor). The 4 and 5 bike carriers work with 2″ receivers only. None of the racks are intended for use on trailers, the front of a vehicle, or on RV’s.
Weighing in at a mere 26.6 lbs. (for the Deluxe Locking 4 Bike Carrier) the rack easily secures to the hitch receiver in under a minute. Simply depress the hitch spring pin and insert the hitch into the receiver.
Allen offers locking hitches and non-locking hitches in both Premier and Deluxe models. The locking models feature a “Locking Knob”. This knob has two functions. First, it contains the key hole that locks the hitch into your receiver which prevents theft. Secondly, as this knob turns it tightens the hitch into the receiver to eliminate any wobble.
The non-locking models use a “no-wobble bolt” that must be tightened using a wrench. This might slow down the installation a bit, especially if you have to go look for the right size wrench. If you can, I highly suggest spending the extra $20 to purchase a locking version. Not only is your rack less likely to be stolen from your car, it’s just significantly more convenient.
Allen Bike Racks come in sizes to accommodate 2 to 5 bikes (obviously all those racks are fine carrying only 1 bike as well). They have two main model categories – Deluxe and Premier, with subcategories of both for each size carrier. Each category offers different features and conveniences but overall the functionality of all models is the same.
The main differences between the Premier and Deluxe lines are as follows:
- Spine Shield: The Premier models offer Spine Shield, which is a padded shield that protects the bike from the metal mast of the rack. Deluxe models do not offer a padded shield.
- Rapid Tilt-away Mast: The Premier models have a one-handed pull-lever to tilt the mast away from trunk, while the Deluxe models use a quick-release clip.
- Quick Fold Carry Arms: The Premier models have two red release buttons that you press to fold down arms, while the Deluxe models use a quick-release clip
- Quick Secure Straps: The Premier models have upgraded rubber straps that hook onto a knob to secure a bike in the cradle. The Deluxe models have fabric straps that must be threaded and then pulled tight.
Initial assembly of the rack is very simple and shouldn’t take longer than ten minutes, especially if you was this video from Allen Sports:
After the initial assembly there is no reason to disassemble the rack because it takes up such a small amount of space when it is fully assembled.
The Allen Sports Bike Racks are far simpler to install on your vehicle than traditional tray racks. They are lighter, less bulky, and don’t pose the storage space problem that tray racks do. The trade-off for that simplicity, however, is that it’s more complicated and time-consuming to load bikes onto the rack, and your bikes are going to experience some premature wear and tear if you load it to its max capacity. For the price, though, this sturdy Allen Bike Rack can’t be beat!