RV Bike Racks – What Are Your Options?

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May 17, 2009

Custom 4-bike carrier on tent trailer

It seems this question comes up quite often: How can I safely carry my bikes on my RV? While there are products on the market that claim to make carrying your bikes easy, they are geared more toward cars and trucks rather than an RV. The typical bike carrier uses the vehicle’s receiver hitch as a mounting point. Simply insert the bike carrier’s shank in to the receiver, secure the pin, clamp on the bikes, and go. But if you don’t have a receiver on your RV, you need to either mod your RV to add one, or secure your bikes inside the RV or truck bed. Adding a receiver to your RV is not as simple as it sounds, and if you tow a 5th wheel, it’s not possible to carry your bikes in the truck bed. So here are some options that will help you mod your RV with a receiver hitch to safely and securely carry your bikes using most any bike rack out there.

Option 1: Bolt-on receiver

This perhaps the most misunderstood way of modifying your RV to carry bikes. There are 2 types of bolt on receivers: bumper-mount and frame-mount.

The bumper-mount receiver bolts to your RV’s square tube rear bumper. It uses U-shaped bolts to secure it, much like your spare tire carrier. This sounds simple enough but there are a couple of things to keep in mind when going this route. The typical square tube bumper on a towable RV is not made to carry any substantial weight. The tubing is thin and the welds where the bumper meets the frame are usually not very strong. When adding a bike rack with more than a few bikes, the leverage caused by the bikes hanging out away from the bumper can cause great twisting forces. This can cause the bumper or the welds to crack over time. If you go this route, be sure the bumper welds are good quality and get them reinforced by a welder if necessary. Carry no more than 2 bikes and make sure they are secured in a way that eliminates any bouncing.

The second type of bolt-on receiver is an adjustable width automotive receiver. This type of receiver bolts to the frame of your RV. It’s width is adjustable so it can fit many different frame widths. Since it is secured to the frame rather than the thin tube bumper, it is much stronger. Depending on how your RV’s rear bumper is mounted, the adjustable receiver can either be mounted under or over the bumper. Under the bumper seems more common but keep in mind your ground clearance when going the route. Most hitch manufacturers offer this kind of universal fit receiver so check with the common brands such as Draw-Tite, Curtis, and others.

Option 2: Weld-on receiver

The weld-on receiver is perhaps the best option to go with. It is by far the strongest and allows you to carry more than 2 bikes safely. Since this receiver hitch is permanently welded to your RV, you don’t ever have to worry about it again. A good welder will ask you how much weight you want to carry and then build a hitch setup to suit your needs. He will add reinforcement where necessary, usually to the bumper or frame. Or maybe he will replace your RV’s bumper with a thicker piece of steel tubing. Either way, you will have a very strong and worry-free receiver. Going this route will cost you a bit of money but if you carry your bikes with you a lot, this is the preferred way to go.

Option 3: Tongue-mount

If you have a travel trailer or tent trailer, or any other kind of “bumper pull” RV, then the tongue mount bike rack is worth a look. This type of bike rack does not use a receiver hitch in the traditional way. Instead, it uses a carrier that either bolts or welds to your RV’s tongue frame. This arrangement places the bikes over the top of the propane tanks. You can carry up to 2 bikes this way. There are a couple of things to keep in mind though. If you are concerned with tongue weight, this type of carrier might not work for you. 2 bikes and the carrier weight could add up to 150 pounds, so keep that in mind. Another issue to think about is hefting the bikes up on to the channels that the bike tires rest on. For some, this might not be a problem. But keep in mind the carrier is much higher up than the “traditional” bumper-mount carriers.

Option 4: Ladder-mount

Finally, there is the often overlooked bike carrier that uses your RV’s roof ladder to carry up to 2 bikes. Now many would argue that at first glance, the ladder does not appear to be strong enough to carry a few bikes. In fact, most RV ladders are designed to support up to 250 pounds, and that is on a single step. The key is to ensure that the carrier is fastened correctly to the ladder and the bikes are secured properly to the carrier. As with the bumper-mount carriers, you need to make sure the bikes are not allowed to bounce in any way.

Other options

If none of these mods appeal to you, there are some other options. These include using a front-mount receiver hitch on your tow vehicle, or in the case you have your truck bed free, bed-mounted racks. And yet another option is to build a mount that attaches to the floor of your RV to secure the bikes inside. For more information and some examples of bike carriers on RVs, visit ModMyRV.com. If you have come up with your own solution or have an idea you would like to share, please feel free comment!

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  7. John,

    Another rack that you might consider for your article is the RempRack (www.RempRack.com). It is intended for the Travel Trailer (RV) market – families that are pulling their trailers with a pickup truck. I’ve been using it for a couple of years, and it is by far the best, most secure and tight method for transporting an entire families set of bikes for travel. It’s a bit pricey – but, for families that fit their market, it is the best solution. They are built in Dysart, IA.

  8. John- There is a brand new system out on the market that holds the bikes up vertically. It is called Vert Rak. They are based in Grand Rapids, MI. They have RV bike racks that bolt directly to the 4″ bumper and allows you to leave your spare tire in place. They also have SUV racks that bolt directly into a 2″ receiver and a 2 place rack for a 1 1/2″ receiver. Vert Rak has 2,4,and 6 place racks. They are now only the second rack distributor in North America that has a 6 place rack. They are the first for an RV. These types of racks are SO nice because the bikes don’t touch each other, and have easy loading/unloading, as you do not have to disassemble any part of the bike. You simply put the tire in the top hoop, and strap it in, and then strap in the bottom tire. The owner of the company is very flexible, and will do any custom rack that you need for a great price. For example, right now he is working on a rack for a Hummer H3 that will hold two bikes, 3-4 golf bags, AND will fit over the Hummers spare tire. They have all different options for RV and SUV bike racks. Their website is http://www.vert-rak.com or you can call them at (616) 868-0011.

    I hope this helps!

  9. John Paciga

    Good article but unless I missed something I didn’t see any information on carriers that plug into a regular 2 inch tow receiver. I have a Winnebago View with a spare tire on the back that would require an extra 12 inches for the shank length. Does anyone make carriers with such an extension, and are they stable? Thanks.

  10. David Stradtman

    I would like to explore the tongue mounted rack option for my travel trailer, but have not been able to find any such racks anywhere. Do you know of a manufacturer/retailer that sells these types of racks? I’ve carried bikes on the rear bumper of my travel trailer, but the teeter-totter effect lightens the tongue weight of the trailer too much so the trailer gets squirrely and sways more than I like. The tongue mounting option would make a lot more sense in my case.

    Any help in finding this type of rack would be greatly appreciated.


  11. robert

    I also have a 2008 Cougar 5th wheel that has the bumper pull-out bike carrier. I was excited about that option when I purchased the trailer earlier this year. Unfortunately, this proved to be a pretty weak excuse for a bike rack. The upright bar that is to be used to “secure” bikes really does not do a very good job to keep the bikes from bouncing as you drive, unless you realy do a good job of tightening them down.

    Besides having to worry about the bikes bouncing, you have to do a god job of padding everything, otherwise you end up with all sorts of spots rubbed down to bare metal. I guess if you really spent time making sure everthing is atached real well, it might work as a bike rack. All that work is hardly worth it to me.


    I bought my wife a 3 wheel fold & go tricycle and would like to know if there is abike carrier that will work on my T.T.
    Rosamond, Ca.

  13. I saw that option a few years ago and wondered why it didn’t catch on. It’s a great idea. Maybe other manufacturers didn’t like the possibility of overloading and reducing tongue weight, and therefore opening up themselves to liability. Do you know what the weight capacity is? Do you have any close-up pictures? I would like to explore something like this myself for my TT.

    And thanks for the compliment. I appreciate it!

  14. Mark,

    Another option that is available is that some of the RV manufacturers have incorporated a system into their trailer designs to accomodates bikes. We purchased a 2006 Keystone Cougar 29′ travel trailer because one of the features was a slide out bicycle and cargo rack at the rear of the trailer. It is incorporated as part of the rear bumper and this platform slides out from the trailers frame with the release of 2 clevis pins. It comes out about 3 feet and along with a bike mount that secures upright into the frame of the slide out, there is also enough room for a ccooler or some lawn chairs. We found this to be a great option because it eliminated the question of where and how to secure our bicycles when traveling.

    Thanks for the great articles which are both informative and extremely helpful.

    Rob Cariola
    Fayetteville, GA

  15. Great comments! I think that with whatever option you choose to transport bikes on your RV, the key is to ensure that the bikes cannot bounce. Bike carriers have been given a bad rap in the RV community (by some anyway) because RVers have seen failures and then don’t want to take a chance themselves. Failures occur because the dynamics of carrying bikes down the road are not understood.

    It’s like the guy carrying a mattress set on top of his compact car going down the freeway. The mattresses are tied on from side to side which is fine if you’re not moving. But going down the road, the air gets up underneath the front of the mattresses and they end up in the middle of the road causing a possible accident.

    Like all of you indicate, just secure your bikes properly and chances are you will never have a problem.

  16. DDRSI

    We use a high quality extender, a HD 4 bike rack, and make sure to take as much play out of the bikes and rack.! Having low weight bikes helps also. No problems so far, 2 adults 2 midsize, no TOAD

  17. A.W.Walker

    Good topic. I started with a ladder rack bike carrier and hung two bikes from it, but after a while, I realized that it was another hundred pounds or so hung way behind the rear axles. For a gasser, that’s a consideration, and I was certain I could use a hundred pounds in my Gross Cargo Carrying Capacity for other things. So I decided to use the Toad to carry the bikes rather than the MH. I already had another bike rack which I could mount on the spare tire of the Wrangler Toad, but I thought that might be a little unstable. So for a few bucks, I bought a bolt-on 2″ receiver online and installed it on the Jeep’s frame, then got a good deal on a new slide-in cargo carrier (also online), I think around 30″X50″. Both bikes fit great on the cargo carrier (room for two more) with a couple bungies and webbed belts on each bike, and I strap them down to both the Jeep’s spare and the cargo carrier. There is NO movement of the bikes, and there is no additional weight on the MH! PLUS, when I don’t carry the bikes on the Jeep carrier, I can carry just about any 400 lb ‘thing’. BTW, I still carry the original 4 lb. ladder bike rack empty on the MH in case I have to put the bikes on the MH and use the Jeep’s cargo carrier for something else to take home.

    Sorry I don’t have a pic to illustrate!

  18. Jim Racklyeft

    Yoy can purchase an extender at Harbor freight,

  19. Steven Sweet

    I purchased from CW in 2004 a bike rack that slides over a square tube hitch extender. I got extender from a parts dealer at swap meet in Mesa,AZ. It’s an 18inch unit and tow bar slides into it and it’s long enough to keep bikes away from MH and car while turning at sharp angles. It only holds 2 bikes but quite stable. Steve

  20. Phil Welch

    I use the ladder mount and secure my mountain bike with bungee cords so it can’t move. I also use a coil bike lock for anti-theft but mainly to stop the bike from dropping off if anything should happen Safe. secure, and out of the way..