For years, the Saris Bones bike trunk rack has been Saris’ best-selling car rack. With uniquely arced rack arms, high-quality construction, and selling for a pretty reasonable price point, the Bones has made getting to the trails attainable for many families.
As a trunk rack, the Bones is appealing to many bike riders because installation doesn’t require your car to have a hitch. Offered as two or three bike capacity, the Saris Bones 2 and Saris Bones 3 are particularly ideal for small families, or larger families who have smaller bikes that can fit in the trunk.
But what makes the Saris Bones stand out in a sea of other bike racks? Read our full review below to see if this trunk rack is a great fit for your family, your bikes, and your car!
- No car hitch required for use
- Unique mounting legs fit over spoilers better than most trunk racks
- Provides 6.5″ of space between each bike!
- Arced rack arms help stagger bikes for spacing
- Ratcheting straps are narrow and pliable – easy to move out of the way
- Accommodates 20″ and even some 16″ kids bikes
- Anti-sway cradles help reduce bike contact
- Super lightweight – easy to take on and off the car
- Comes fully assembled out of the box
- Tool-free installation takes just a few minutes
- Many women’s and kid’s bikes need a top tube adapter, which increases the cost of the rack
- Rack and bikes sit very close to your car, so bike could easily sway and pedals or wheels hit the rear of car
Video Review – Saris Bones in Action
Want to see the Saris Bones in action? Take a look at how easy it is to load and unload bikes in our video review.
Saris Bones Trunk Rack Models (Non-Hitch)
The Saris Bones trunk rack comes in three different price tiers, and five different models. (It also now comes as a hitch rack, but we won’t be covering that in this review.)
Saris Bones ($170 – $200): The original, most affordable, and only model available for many years. Comes in 2 or 3 bike capacity.
Saris Bones EX ($210 – $240): Recently debuted as an upgrade to the original. The unique arc of the EX’s mounting legs make it compatible with more cars. For example, the original Bones would not fit on our Honda Pilot, but the Bones EX does. Comes in 2 or 3 bike capacity.
Saris Superbones ($400): A more luxury version of the original Bones, it features retractable straps. It also has a locking system to lock the rack to the car, and your bikes to the rack. Like the original Bones, the Superbones does not fit on our Honda Pilot. Comes in 3 bike capacity only.
What makes the Bones stand out?
We tested the Saris Bones EX-3 and will be covering that rack for the remainder of this review. There are two features of the Saris Bones EX that distinguish it from other trunk racks on the market.
Fits on More Cars
First, the Bones EX can fit on more cars than many other trunk racks. (You can use the Saris “Find My Fit” tool to easily find all of their racks that will fit on your vehicle.) Saris states that it fits on 20% more cars than the original Bones.
The redesigned shape of the Bones EX mounting legs allows them to avoid contact with most spoilers. These legs are also better suited for cars with flat backs like vans and SUVs than the original Bones and many other trunk racks. As mentioned above, the Bones EX is the only trunk rack on Saris’ site that can fit on my Honda Pilot.
Arced Mounting Arms Make Loading Bikes Easier
The Saris Bones mounting arms (where the bikes rest) are also arced, instead of being perfectly straight and perpendicular to your vehicle. The arc allows the mounted bikes to have staggered heights, which results in less handlebar/saddle interference. (More on that below!)
I was easily able to load up several different configurations of bikes (including three mountain bikes!) very quickly, with minimal re-positioning. Hanging racks like this are notorious for being time-consuming to load up your bikes, with jig-saw puzzle skills required to get everything to fit together. The Bones was significantly easier.
Who is the Saris Bones best for?
- Families who don’t have a hitch or roof rack system
- Families who want a lightweight rack that is easy to take on and off the car
- Those who need a hanging rack but are worried about bike sway and damage – the anti-sway cradles are a huge help, and the bikes are spaced farther apart than many other hanging racks
- Families who want to carry 20″ bikes and up (and even some 16″ bikes!)
Who is the Saris Bones not the best fit for?
- Large families who need to transport more than 3 bikes
- People who want to keep the rack on their car regularly – can’t access trunk or use rear windshield wiper when rack is installed
- Bike lovers who are worried about bikes hitting one another and causing potential damage (even with the anti-sway cradles, the potential is still there)
- Car aficionados who don’t want any chance that a bike will hit their car
How the Saris Bones Works
The Saris Bones is a hanging rack, which means that the bike’s frame hangs on the rack’s arms. The other most common type of rack is a platform or tray rack. With platform racks, a bike’s tires sit in a tray. There is no contact between the rack and your bike’s frame.
The Saris Bones is also a trunk rack. This means that it attaches to your vehicle via a strap system, rather than with a hitch receiver. Almost all trunk racks are hanging racks.
Loading Bikes onto the Bones
Before loading bikes, position the rack arms so that they are angled parallel to the ground, with the cradle farthest from the car highest off the ground. (See image on the left above.) They should not be sloping down or up.
To load bikes onto the Bones, lift the bike onto the rack so that the rack arms are positioned underneath the top tube of your bike. Rest the top tube in the rack arm cradles, and secure the top tube in place with the ratcheting straps.
Each bike also has a third cradle and ratcheting strap that goes around the seat post of your bike. These anti-sway straps help to minimize damage to bikes and your vehicle that can be caused by the sway of bikes back and forth.
Loading bikes on any hanging rack can be a little bit tricky. You have to lift the bike’s frame up and over the ratcheting straps, which usually get in the way. The side-sway strap is the biggest problem, so make sure its turned on its side to give you sufficient room to fit your bike over the arms. This is an issue for any hanging rack that has anti-sway cradles (which is any nice hanging rack).
Bike Size and Frame Design
Like most hanging racks, the Saris Bones can pretty easily accommodate 20″ kids bikes to adult bikes. While platform racks generally cannot carry 16″ kids bikes, hanging racks often can with the use of a top tube adapter. With the Saris Bones EX-3, we were successfully able to hang everything from an XL men’s mountain bike to a 16 inch kids bike.
Saris Bike Beam Top Tube Adapters
It is always easier to hang bikes with flat top tubes. Unfortunately, this usually only includes mens bikes. Most women’s and kids bikes have slanting top tubes and may need a top tube adapter to mimic a flat top tube.
Saris’ top tube adapter is called a Bike Beam, although an adapter from any brand will work. On the left you can see a 24 inch kids bike with Bike Beam, while on the right, the bike’s flat top tube doesn’t need an adapter.
Using top tube adapters is more time consuming, but necessary for many bikes. In addition to the time it takes to put the adapter on, it may be necessary to raise your saddle a bit if you ride with it slammed down or close to the collar.
To get a top tube adapter to fit on a 16″ bike, you will almost certainly have to raise the saddle to its max height to create enough mounting space between the bike’s seat post and headset. Just makes sure to never raise the seat height above the seat post’s minimum insertion point, and tighten that seat post collar very securely.
An important note: the Saris Bike Beam was too long to fit between the seat post and headset of our 16″ bikes. (You need about 14.5″ between the top of the seat post and the headset.) However, we were able to use both the Allen and Yakima top tube adaptors. If you don’t have 14.5″, you should try the Allen Deluxe Trunk Rack, which is excellent at accommodating 16″ bikes.
Also remember that the cost of top tube adapters can add up. Each Bike Beam is $50, so if you have a women’s bike and two kids’ bikes, that’s an extra $150 to add to the cost of your rack.
You can carry some bikes with sloping top tubes without a Bike Beam. Doing so just causes the bikes to be angled very awkwardly on the rack. We recommend buying the Bones first, trying to load your bikes on the rack, and then purchasing the Bike Beams if you think it’s necessary.
Hanging racks (hitch or trunk) can be problematic with large bikes hanging too low to the ground. All bike tires should have at least 12″ of ground clearance.
This is generally only a problem on small vehicles, not on Crossovers or SUVs like our Honda Pilot seen in this review. While we did not have a chance to test the Bones on a smaller car, from testing other trunk bike racks we know this is a problem.
Here you can see the ground clearance issue on another trunk rack. Using top tube adapters makes the problem even worse by lowering the bike even closer to the ground.
If you will be transporting bikes with 27.5″, 29″, or 700c wheels on a sedan or other smaller car, you may need to look into getting a hitch for your car, or putting that larger bike on a rooftop rack. If you want to stick to a trunk rack, check out Allen Trunk Racks, which allow you to mount bikes in a unique way that solves this problem.
All hanging racks are more difficult to load than platform racks in part because the bikes are spaced more closely to one another. While our favorite Saris platform hitch rack, the Superclamp EX-4, has about 9 inches between each bike, the Saris Bones EX-3 has only 6.5 inches between bikes.
Saris Bones Rack vs. Saris Superclamp EX Platform Rack
That said, 6.5 inches of spacing is still pretty decent for a hanging rack. The 5-bike Yakima Ridgeback hitch rack has 5.5 inches of spacing, while the hugely popular Allen 4-bike hitch hanging rack also has 6.5 inches. The Thule Passage, which is also a trunk mounted rack, has only 4.5″ between bikes.
With hanging racks, it’s inevitable that handlebars will hit saddles, and pedals will get caught in spokes. As a result, the more spacing, the better! The arced arms of the Saris Bones also aid in bike spacing because the bikes are slightly vertically off-set.
Weight Capacity Changes with Hatch Hugger Use
All models of the Saris Bones have the same weight capacity for loaded bikes – 35 pounds per bike. So a 2-bike model has a max 70 pound limit, while the 3-bike racks max out at 105 pounds.
While mid to high-end bikes will almost always be under 35 pounds (unless it’s an e-bike!), bikes bought at big-box stores can be very heavy. For example, the 24 inch kids Huffy Scout weighs 36.4 pounds, which would be too heavy to carry on this rack. And that’s a kids bike! If you don’t know the weight of your bike, don’t assume it’s under 35 pounds. A bike shop can weigh it for you if necessary.
One caveat to the weight limit of the Bones (and any Saris trunk rack), is that if your vehicle requires the use of a top strap Hatch Hugger adapter to mount the rack to your car, you can only load a maximum of two bikes. While this doesn’t affect a 2-bike rack at all, a 3-bike rack can only be used as a 2-bike rack in that scenario. The weight limit is unaffected if you are using a Hatch Hugger on the side or bottom straps.
Remember to use the “Find My Fit” tool before purchase. It will tell you ahead of time if you need Hatch Huggers, and if the capacity of the rack is affected by your vehicle.
Easily Folds, But No Rear Car Access
Trunk racks are at a disadvantage to hitch racks because you have no access to your trunk or hatch while the rack is installed. Hitch racks like the hanging Thule Apex XT, for example, can tilt away from the hatch or trunk. This comes in handy more often than you might think. It also makes leaving the rack on the car in-between frequent rides a lot more convenient.
Trunk Racks Can’t Tilt Away for Hatch Access
That said, if you really don’t need access to your trunk or hatch for a few days, the Saris Bones’ arms fold down so the rack stores more compactly on your car. But remember… you can’t open your trunk or hatch even if there aren’t any bikes loaded on the rack!
If your rack isn’t loaded, it’s always best not to have rack arms sticking out when you’re driving. Depending on the length of your vehicle, it also may may be necessary to fold the arms down to store it on your vehicle in the garage.
The rack arms on the Saris Bones have a unique mechanism for folding down. You un-tighten the large black plastic screw on the arm, slide the arm to the center of the silver cylinder, and fold it down. You then slide it back to the side and re-tighten the screw. Each arm moves independently of the others.
Rear Window View While Loaded and Unloaded
Like almost all bike racks, the Bones car rack does limit your rear window view, whether loaded or unloaded. Hanging racks (trunk or hitch) carry your bikes much higher than platform racks. Here’s how our Honda Pilot looks with the Bones loaded, vs. the platform Saris SuperClamp hitch rack.
Rear Window View: Bones vs. Saris Platform 4-bike Rack
Unloaded, the Bones still interferes with our rear window view, but not drastically. The type of vehicle you have will affect how the Bones mounts to your car, and will also affect rear window visibility. For reference, here’s the Bones trunk rack vs. a the Thule Apex 4 hanging hitch rack, which keeps the rear window completely clear on our Honda Pilot.
Rear Window View: Hanging Trunk vs. Hanging Hitch
Locking Mechanism Not Available on Most Models
The Bones and Bones EX do not come with, or offer as upgrades, any locking mechanisms. This means you can’t lock the rack to the car, and you can’t lock your bikes to the rack. Only the much more expensive SuperBones has car and rack locks.
Trunk racks are tricky, because most of them have mounting straps that could easily be cut off a vehicle.
Mounting to Your Car
At just 11 pounds, the Saris Bones EX bike rack is insanely lightweight and easy for just about anyone to lift on and off the car. If you don’t have a lot of upper body strength, or want to install and remove your rack frequently, the Saris Bones will deliver for you.
By comparison, our daily use platform hitch rack (the Saris Superclamp EX 4) weighs 63 pounds! And the Thule T2 Pro XT platform rack weighs almost 100 pounds!
How the Bones Mounts to Your Vehicle
We highly recommend watching the official Saris installation video before mounting the rack. It’s short and clears up some potentially confusing things pretty quickly.
Two upper and two lower legs stabilize the Saris bones on your car. Each leg moves independently around a center cylinder. The huge advantage of this design is that it allows for a really customizable fit for your specific vehicle. The ends of the legs have pivoting rubber feet for additional customization to the angles on your vehicle.
The position of the upper legs is adjusted by unscrewing the tightening bolt, removing the leg from the center cylinder, and then re-inserting the leg. While the lower legs can move, they generally don’t need to because the upper legs are positioned in relation to them.
To tightly secure the Saris Bones to your vehicle, three sets of straps anchor the rack in place. These straps originate from the center cylinder of the rack and hook to upper, lower, and side panel gaps on your vehicle. The hooks are coated in vinyl to protect your vehicle from damage.
The straps are plenty long to accommodate all sizes of vehicles, so there will probably be quite a bit of excess strap hanging out once you’ve cinched the straps down. Not to worry, Saris has provided a simple solve with their strap management system. Just fold those extra strap ends up and and wrap them with the attached velcro loop.
Some cars, like our Honda Pilot, will need the Hatch Hugger accessory to replace one or more sets of the mounting hooks. This adds an additional $25 to the cost of the rack.
Proximity to Your Vehicle – Closer than Hitch Rack
Trunk racks place your bikes much closer to your vehicle than a hitch hanging rack, opening up the possibility of the closest bike’s pedal or front wheel hitting your car. Even if you use anti-sway cradles, bikes on hanging racks still sway.
As you can see below, if we hit a bump in the road and caused major sway, the pedal would hit our car. (I’m “creating” the sway here, this is not how the pedal sits when simply hanging.) To prevent damage, you can add one of the Saris Protect-O-Pads.
Keep in mind this will not happen to all vehicles and all bikes. The flat back our our car requires us to “splay” the mounting legs more. If you were mounting the rack on a sedan with a truck, the “hump” of the rack would be more exaggerated and the mounting arms would stick out farther from the vehicle.
Car Compatibility – Fits More Cars Than Most Trunk Racks
Trunk rack compatibility can be tricky. With hitch racks, if you have the right-size hitch, pretty much any hitch rack will fit your car. This is not the case with trunk racks.
Because the mounting arms of the rack rest on the bumper, trunk, windows, etc, the shape of your car will affect compatibility. Rear spoilers can also be hugely problematic.
With uniquely arced arms, the Saris Bones EX was designed to fit 20% more vehicles than the standard Bones. Of the original Bones, SuperBones, and Bones EX, the EX is the only rack that fits our Honda Pilot.
With any rack, but especially trunk racks, you should check compatibility with your specific vehicle before purchase. Saris provides a Fit My Vehicle tool that will show you all racks in their line-up that will fit on your car.
Bottom Line on the Saris Bones Car Rack
If your car doesn’t have a hitch, the Saris Bones trunk rack is easily one of the best-quality and easiest-to-use options. We particularly love how fast we were able to get bikes on and off the rack, and how effortlessly it accommodated our kids bikes!
In case you’re wondering about the final price for this rack on my Honda Pilot: Base price is $240, plus $150 worth of Bike Beams, $25 for a Hatch Hugger, and $15 for Protect-O-Pads… grand total is $430.
If you’re interested in getting a hitch for your car, be sure to check out our 10 Best Hitch Bike Racks for Families.
Saris states that it fits on 20% more cars than the original Bones. The redesigned shape of the Bones EX mounting legs allows them to avoid contact with most spoilers. These legs are also better suited for cars with flat backs like vans and SUVs than the original Bones and many other trunk racks.Are Saris bike racks RV approved? ›
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Can You Leave Bike Rack On A Car? Yes, you can leave bike racks on your car even when you don't have a bike attached to it.How much weight can a Saris bike rack hold? ›
Here at Saris our bike racks are divided into two weight classes: 1) car racks that can carry bikes up to 35 pounds; and 2) car racks that can carry bikes up to 60 pounds.