After years of half hearted trying to install a hitch and bike rack, I finally did some serious research earlier this year on what I should do to buy and install a hitch and bike rack at a reasonable price.
Where to buy Hitch
Of course the first place to check is the car dealers. It is no surprise that the package price for a hitch at dealers' is extraordinarily high. For my van, the price for a hitch plus other required parts is ~ $1000! It would require ~ $1200 to 1500 to have the hitch and rack installed.
When I finally decided to take actions, I did more research on the hitch and I found two places that sell hitches and trailer package, "The Hitch Store" , "etrailer.com" at good prices. The two places have plenty of information on what other parts are needed, how to install a hitch to a given make/model of vehicle.
There are two common size hitches, 1 1/4" and 2" receiver tube size hitches. It appears that 2" size receiver is a more common size for bike rack, i.e. more bike racks for 2" receiver hitch.
Since the sole function of my hitch was for carrying bikes via a rack, I decided to purchase the hitches listed at the two sites though I believe that dealer's hitch would have better quality especially for trailers. Then we went to amazon.com to search for the exact same hitch I identified at the two sites, and found a even better price. We bought a hitch with necessary accessories for a price under $180!
Install Hitch (DIY)
After reading the installation guide at the thehitchestore.com, and watching a installation video on youtube.com, I realized that it was not hard to install the type of hitch with one possible problem - I need to move the exhaust out of the way.
During installation, Lily and I followed the installation guide step by step without any problems until the step of removing the exhaust from rubber isolator. I went online a couple of times to watch the video and studied the connection at the rubber isolator. We decided that we would damage the rubber isolator if we followed the instruction exactly. Instead of removing the exhaust, we slided the hitch side way into place, and installed it onto the frame of the car.
Where to buy Bike Rack
The two sites I listed above also sell bike racks which match the hitch of one's choice. Upon further research on bike racks, I decided to buy a rack at local sporting goods stores so I could have a look and feel at it.
The Dick's sporting Goods website has an excellent bike rack buying guide. Since I have a hitch, so the mount type of of my bike rack (bike carrier) would be hitch mount. The price for this type of racks ranges from $120 to $450. Two key considerations in selecting a bike rack in addition to price: 1) required receiver size should match the hitch's receiver tube size per bike rack manufactures - they recommend against using receiver adaptor; 2) the style of the rack - it is better to have a swing away or tilt back style which allows rear access to a vehicle without removing the rack. Again for my type of applications, I picked a low end rack priced at $120, which has tilt back mechanism.
There was an interesting episode during the purchase of the rack at Dick's Sporting Goods. We went there on black Friday, Lily and Kids went for sports apparels; I went to the bike section, and located the rack I wanted. There was no sale on the item. I talked to a sales person. I told him that I would like to buy the rack, but the box was kind of damaged. I told him I would buy the item with damaged box at a discount, or he should find another item with good box. He called the bike department manager, who offered me 10% discount!
Assembling the bike rack and mounting it onto the hitch was a snap.
When we tried to mount the bikes onto the rack, we encountered difficulty!! New style bikes don't have a horizontal cross bar, and the tubes on the bikes are not round. When the bikes are mounted, they would tilt. The new style bikes have been around for sometime, there must be ways to mount them on a rack. It turned out that we need false crossbars (British terminology) or bike rack adaptor bars, or bike beams, priced around $20 ~ 30. It would be another week before I could really mount the bikes on the rack for a test run.
Try it Out
I got the adaptor bars last week. Last Saturday evening, I finally got a chance to try the hitch mount bike carrier. With the adaptor bars, mounting of the new style bikes were much easier, and the bikes could sit on the bike holders straight up after mounting. It took me about 30 minutes to identify the best way to mount a bike, the best sequence to mount four bikes, and how to add additional securing mechanism. I believe that it would only take ~ 10 minutes to mount 4 bikes when we go on a camping trip next time
After I was satisfied with the mounting, I drove my van around my block for a trial run. I was really nervous at the beginning. The hitch was solid, the rack was sturdy. Quickly all the uneasiness vaporized. The bikes were steady on the rack during the drive over bumps and potholes, turns and slight acceleration.
We are ready to have more fun in our future family explorations of nature.