Roof rack vs. trailer

We’re taking a long camping/biking trip this fall and were wondering what is the most aerodynamic (what gets the best gas mileage), bikes and a car-top carrier (such as Yakima) on the roof OR a smallish trailer with bikes and camping gear inside?

It’s probably a wash either way, but I doubt anyone knows. The trailer would have to be pretty small and aerodynamic to compete, and we don’t know what kind of rolling resistance it would have. There are too many unknown factors that aren’t clarified by the word “smallish.” How much does a “smallish trailer” weigh?

Don’t make fuel economy your biggest concern. Is your car even rated to pull a trailer? If so, what is the car’s towing capacity? Which option would cost more in terms of what you would need to buy? Have you considered a trailer hitch mounted rack?

Fuel economy isn’t everything, and it shouldn’t be the deciding factor in your decision.

Another factor to consider is that most roof racks can’t hold more than 120 lbs., and many can’t hold more than 100 lbs. Is that enough capacity for what you plan to put in a rooftop carrier?

If you have a trailer hitch, I’d put the bikes on a hitch-mounted rack and just the car top-carrier on the roof.

I already have the Yakima rack with all the bike accessories. I do not have the Yakima cartop carrier yet. Good point about the weight limit. Mainly, I want to put the two bikes (say 30# each), the cartop carrier (50#), plus some camping gear (tent, sleeping bags, pads, etc.) I do not have a trailer hitch, but my car is rated for 1000# towing capacity.

Can you fit everything you want to take with you in and on the car without overloading it? If so, that is the best option. The cost of the hitch and trailer will make them the more expensive option, even if you use less gas with a trailer. If you run out of room or capacity on top, you could get a bike rack that straps down on top of the hood. This one is only $30, but I would add a couple straps to make it safer

If you’ve already got the roof rack and are happy putting the bikes up there (wore me out), and you’d just be putting bulky lightweight stuff in the carrier (bags, tent, pads)I guess I’d go with that, but watch out for winds and low branches!

It depends. Are you driving a Prius or a Suburban?


Your rack is not rated for 2 bikes PLUS a roof carrier. So, you have the choice of mounting a bike rack on a rear mounted carrier and stowing the extra gear in a roof top carrier, or getting a small trailer. Most smaller cars I see have a Class II receiver for their bike racks. It’s easier on the arms too. I have a Toyota roof rack on my Toyota, and it’s limited to 50 lbs per bar, evenly distributed.

As mentioned, forget about fuel economy, unless you are traveling all year round. The best solution is a no-brainer; roof rack for stuff and rear bike carrier for the bikes.

If it was a Suburban, I could put everything inside. : ) Actually, it’s a Grand Prix.

You will be safer not pulling a trailer of any size or weight. The smaller the trailer, the safer you will be. I use a trailer often; have no choice.

We had a 1987 Mercury Topaz with a trunk deck rack including chrome strips to protect the trunk paint. I liked that feature for carrying luggage although it made getting into the trunk difficult and rain becomes a problem unless you wrap things in plastic. Thule of Yakima may have trunk deck racks.

It’s not entirely clear if you and others are talking about rear bumper carriers or trunk deck racks.

Either way you go, it’s going to be a big pain in the butt. Your mileage is going to go down either way, don’t worry about that. It’s the hassle and the inconvenience that’s going to get to you. How many bikes? A small, enclosed, aerodynamic (low) trailer provides the best traveling set-up, but it will be the most expensive to realize…Parking is a pain, tolls cost more… But bikes up on the roof is the worst solution. Lots of drag, noise, weather exposure, theft risk, accident risk…(bikes fall off, parts fall off bikes). I’m glad I’m not doing this…Suburban for SURE!

Even a very small road legal trailer will weigh close to 1,000lbs loaded, I’ve never pulled anything less than that empty. The shape of the trailer, frontal area and rounding of the nose etc, will make a huge difference in how it pulls at these low weights. Security is better with a lockable trailer, but, most city/ suburban drivers will find parking (especially parallel) and backing a nightmare. If you have practiced trailering, and have a hitch on the car you might rent one from U-haul or the others and try it out. Any trailer that can take highway speeds will cost more than the combined cost of high end roof racks, extra fuel, and a new kayak. I’d borrow a freinds truck, van or wagon for the trip.

Pulling a very light trailer with a light tongue weight may be safer than overloading your fwd car in the rear. I’d try to weight all your stuff, look at how and where it will be loaded, then make a decision. It’s hard for us to know. But, refrain from getting a trailer and loading down your car as well. It could easily exceed your vehicle weight’s capacity. I’m a big proponent of installing hitches to anything that moves and using them very judiciously. They give you all sorts of options for racks and trailers and this makes for safer driving.

Harbor Freight has lightweight trailers and trailer frames. Also Google 4 x 8 folding trailer kit. That will need a plywood floor and a wooden 1 x 4 side frame added. I have used one for years; have hauled many loads of lumber weighing several hundred pounds to a building site a hundred miles away at freeway speeds up to 70 mph. I bought mine when they were still about $200.

How much did you pay for your trailer hitch?

Don’t have one yet. Will be looking into it soon, though.


This is what I use and find it very convenient…,S-64675

I use to put bikes on the roof…I always had to get the bikes down because no-one else could reach them…Some wooded camping places would have low limbs and have damaged the bikes (broken spoke).

I found the hitch mount bike rack to be far better. Can’t haul a big trailer…I’m right at the limit of 3000lbs.

Gretchen, I flagged your post. First time posts with links are often spam. You might want to remove the link.


I flagged it too…I’m 99.9999% certain it’s spam.

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