Halfords Advanced 4 bike tow bar bike rack review
A friendly price tag, but we found this rack a bit of a faff to fit, with some features found to be lacking
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Value for money is a big factor in choosing the Halfords Advanced four-bike rack. For families who want to take the kids’ bikes and head off, it’s ideal and the robust build means it will cope with years of action, backed up by a five-year warranty. However, for many cyclists, the Advanced is too limited in its design to work with machines such as most full suspension mountain bikes. It’s also a little fiddly to set up and the hefty weight means you really need two people to safely install this rack.
Heavy to fit for one person
Not suitable for many MTBs
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You cannot argue with the strong value for money proposition Halfords’ Advanced four-bike tow bar-mounted rack offers. The list price of £345 is keen enough, but it is also regularly offered in sales from the company at lower prices, so if you can afford to wait you might well bag a bike car rack bargain.
However, this keenly pitched price comes with a few caveats, not least the 19.5kg weight of the rack that means it’s a hefty bit of kit to fit single-handed. We tried it on our own and with help from a friend, and it is definitely a two-person job to get it on to the tow bar and aligned quickly and simply. If that doesn’t sound like much fun, Halfords offers an installation service at its stores. This option adds £35 to the price of the rack and you still have to remove and refit it yourself from then on.
Once on, there is space for four average bikes, but the max weight per bike is 15kg so it's not suitable for many e-bikes, which seems like an oversight given the popularity of battery-assisted bicycles. It’s also worth noting the width of the rack means any bike with a wheelbase greater than 109cm will not sit securely on the base. That rules out a lot of mountain bikes, but not most road bike, gravel bikes, or of course kids' bikes.
Another reason for the Halfords Advanced being more affordable than many rivals is there’s a little more assembly to do when using the rack. It comes ready to fit and with all tools, but the mechanism for securing the rack to the tow ball is fiddlier than some. First you have to unlock the screw-top and unwind it to release the four metal sections underneath that slide over the tow bar. When you’ve dropped this on to the bar, you then wind the screw-top back tight and lock it. Trying to do this one-handed while balancing the weight of the rack with your other hand to keep it in the correct position needs plenty of muscle, so it is best considered as a two-person job.
With that completed, you then have to fit the lightboard as it’s not integrated into the rack. You'll need to cable tie the lightboard wires in place the first time you fit the rack, and it’s probably worth using a few extra cable ties to make sure the wire is completely secure and won’t drag or catch on anything as you drive along. If you want to remove the lightboard, it also means cutting all of the cable ties and replacing them the next time you use the rack. This is all a bit of a faff compared to racks with an integrated lightboard. A seven-pin connector is included with the rack.
Now, you are ready to fold down the two halves of the rack, which is easy, and then slide their connectors into the middle to fix the carrying spars in place. This is all done with simple press-fit connectors finished in red plastic, so they are easy to find and use even on a dark morning. Small straps on the two main hoops keep the bikes in place once you have lifted them on to the rack. However, you also need to use the supplied ratchet straps to properly secure the bike to the rack as the small ones on the hoops are not nearly strong enough to hold the bike safely in place as you drive. The plastic straps for the wheels are easy to use, though there’s not as much adjustment as there is with some competitor’s racks.
Like the rest of the Advanced’s build quality, the central hoops are strong and offer plenty of security when you use a lock. We wouldn’t bother with the cable bike lock that comes with the rack. This is a very basic steel loop with plastic coating and plastic mechanism that attaches to the steel rack frame, it didn't feel substantial enough to trust leaving a bike unattended, so it’s best viewed as an added measure to keep the bikes in place as you drive.
Regardless of how many bikes you have on the rack, it can also be tilted back and away from the car to allow access to the boot without having to remove any bikes. With four bikes on the rack, it’s quite heavy to lift the rack back into place, and the wing nut used to lock the rack in the upright position can become quite dirty after a drive, so it’s a wise idea to keep a pair of plastic gloves close by.
When you don’t need the Advanced rack on the car, removing it is straightforward and, while it’s heavy to lift, it does fold up to be quite narrow. This makes stashing it in the garage, shed or hallway no problem. There’s also a five-year guarantee with the Halfords Advanced four-bike rack, which backs up the solid build of this rack.
Value and conclusions
Overall, we consider this bike race a value-orientated option, which will do the job - provided that job isn't carrying a mountain bike. However, fitting it isn't as easy as it is on more expensive racks, and some of the features - such as the lock - aren't as high quality.
- RRP: £345
- Number of bikes: 4
- Maximum bike weight: 60kg
Bike rack FAQ
What is the easiest type of car bike rack to use?
What style of car rack should I buy?
The best car rack style for you depends upon your needs and resources.
A tow bar car rack requires you to have a tow bar fitted, these are not universal and can be costly. However, once fitted, the tow bar bike rack is a good option for those who don't want to have to lift a bike down from the roof, or have roof rack rails permanently fixed.
Roof mounted racks are light and often relatively inexpensive, but unless you opt for a suction design (such as those from SeaSucker) you'll need fittings in place.
Racks that sit on the boot can be a handy compromise, but these will make your boot inaccessible and you'll want to be careful not to scratch your paintwork with the fittings.
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Al Suttie is a freelance motoring journalist and keen cyclist. He loves all things on two, three and four wheels - making him excellently placed to test car racks for Cycling Weekly
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