Are Rear Bike Racks Legal

Are Rear Bike Racks Legal? What you should Avoid

Are you looking to travel along with your bike? or are you just about to hit the trails with your buddies for some relaxing mountain-biking? Whichever the reason, you’ll need to safely transport your bike or bikes.

And you happen to have a rear bike rack which is the easiest to install. But it happens to be problematic in several states.

Are Rear bike racks legal?¬†It is legal to use rear bike racks to haul bikes. But it’s quite complicated as some states have a specific set of requirements. In order to enforce traffic and safety laws. Some states have looser laws on rear bike racks while others have stricter laws in which any could be deemed vague at times.

Several State Laws on Rear Bike Racks

Most state laws concerning bike racks aren’t the same. Some are very explicit and others aren’t so clear. Here are some examples of state laws on bike rack you should keep in mind:

  • Most states require that taillights and license plates behind every vehicle should be made visible for other drivers on the road.
  • The state of Virginia law is clear that it’s illegal to block a license plate with a hitch or anything else (rear bike rack).
  • States like Michigan and Utah are softer on rear bike racks. State of Utah law allows the license plate to be blocked by bike racks, mounted hitches, wheelchair lift, or any cargo-carrying device. As long as it’s installation is done properly.
  • It was a lot stricter in Michigan before. But their law has been amended. Bike racks are now allowed to obscure license plates. As long as the racks and bikes on it are properly fitted.


2 Reasons Why You’d Get Penalized for Using a Car Rear Bike Rack¬†

Obscuring Your License Plate and Taillights

car with rear bike rack

Most states do not allow the use of any object or cargo-carying devices to block the taillights and license plate of any vehicle. These states require the license plate to be visible so the driver of the vehicle can be identified easily by law enforcement. And also to ensure an Electronic Toll-collection system would be able to detect the plate.

Loosely Fitted Bike and Bike Rack

If the bikes on the racks or the rack itself are found to be loosely fitted, you are sure to get a fine. And that is common law in all states as they do not compromise on the safety of its citizens.

What You Should Avoid

Given the laws in several states on bike racks are different and sometimes inexplicit, You’ll just have to play your part by understanding what you should Avoid. So you don’t become an infringer of the state’s law and end up getting a ticket.

Steps to take to avoid infringing any state’s law on bike racks:

Avoid Loose Racks

One of the reasons why most states laws are tough on car rear bike racks is due to how dangerous they can be in traffic when they’re not properly fitted. As they could cause an accident.

There’s a compatible rear bike rack for most kinds of vehicles. Be it SUVs, jeeps, cars, and so on. You just have to find the right one or consult the salesperson.

Some rear bike racks may require you to take out some parts, such as the front tire and the rear one. This type could be great for exposing your vehicle’s tail lights and license plate.

If you can’t find the best rear rack for your bike and car, then you should consider a roof rack. It’s the best alternative, as it doesn’t obscure taillights and license plates.

Avoid Poorly Fitted Bikes

A loosely fitted rack or bike on a rack can cause serious damage to persons and property. To avoid such a predicament, you’ll have to complete the previous step which is to get the perfect rack for your vehicle. Then carefully follow the instructions for the rack which shows how to properly install your bike.

Get an Auxiliary License Plate

If you do not want to get rid of the rear bike rack, you can always get an auxiliary plate so that law enforcement personnel and other drivers would be able to identify it. Electronic toll-collection systems as well should be able to detect your plate.

It’s best to get a license plate that lights up bright enough for a driver to spot at night. All states approve of this.

Do Your Research

Before going on a trip, why not take the time to do some research on the state’s local law. Be it the law of the state you’re in or the one you wish to visit. This will give you an edge and save you from any state’s penalties.

What is an Auxiliary License Plate?

It’s the responsibility of a driver to ensure his/her plate number is legible and visible. The auxiliary license plate is created to assist drivers to keep such a responsibility.

How Do You Install a License Plate on Your Bike Rack?

There three ways in which you can fix s license plate onto your trunk bike rack:

First option: The first way involves getting an auxiliary license plate. If that’s not present you can make do with a license plate bracket.

Mount plate bracket on your bike rack with the tools that came with it. Once you’re done mounting the bracket, carefully remove the license plate attached to the part of your car’s trunk. Then fix it onto the bracket in such a way it’ll be visible to other drivers.

Second option: This involves the use of a dual hitch adapter. Your bike will be fixed onto the rack connected via the top receiver tube and then your license plate with the plate bracket will be fixed on the bottom second receiver tube.

Third option: In case traffic happens to be slow and you’re looking to still keep your plates visible while hauling your bikes, get an LED bracket. It’ll keep your plates visible while on the rack or on the second bottom receiver tube of the hitch adapter.

Should You Carry Your Bike On Your Roof or Behind Your Car?

Of course, the easiest option will be to put your bike way up on your vehicle’s roof. This will keep law enforcement away. I could just throw you this advice but that wouldn’t be fair as every option has its pros as well as it’s cons. Here are some quick pros and cons you should take into account:

Pros and Cons of Using a Bike Roof Rack:

bicycle on roof of car


  • It keeps your license plate and taillights from obstruction
  • Road debris or traffic object won’t get to hit your bike
  • It’s best for carrying any type of bike


  • Loading the rack is tedious
  • A base roof rack will be needed, which means more costs
  • It could add a lot more weight to the car
  • Getting a roof rack that carries more than 3 bikes could be expensive
  • It’s not e-bike friendly
  • Underground parking could be bad


Pros and Cons of Rear Bike Racks:

rear bike rack on SUV


  • It’s easier to load
  • A single can carry up to five bikes
  • It’s affordable
  • It’s e-bike friendly


  • Some vehicles only allow up to 3 bikes
  • It obscures license plates and taillights which infringes on certain state laws

How to Choose the Best Bike Rack for your Vehicle?

To find the best rack for your car here’s are some factors to consider:

How many Bikes do you need to Transport?

This factor is quite important as it narrows down your choice when searching for the best rack. Rear racks tend to carry more bikes (1-5) than any other rack. This is a great rack for you. That’s if you’re looking to carry 4-5 bikes.

If your desire to haul 1-3 bikes then a roof-rack is a suitable choice.

How High Can You Lift Your Bike?

This factor has a lot to do with your convenience. For instance, a roof-rack requires you to lift your bike above your head level which can be strenuous on your back. A rear-rack is quite comfortable as it allows you to lift below or a bit above your shoulder-level.


Considering parts included, roof-racks tend to be a lot more expensive than the rear-rack. Which is why rear-racks are considered budget-friendly. Specifically, strap-on rear racks. You can find rear-racks which cost between $40 – $200.

Final thoughts

If you’re planning to travel as far as another state or several states are involved in your journey, it’s best to take a good look at their law’ stance on rear racks. Then set up your rear-rack in such a way it conforms with the laws of the state

Now that you are more knowledgable about using a rear bike rack, check out this article for Street legal Electric Bikes

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Featured Image by BodyWorn by Utility