In our research for a new hitch mounted bike rack we looked at a number of models. I’ve had experience with a number of hitch mounted racks, and sold pretty much all of them at once point as operations manager of an online shop. When we had the opportunity to test out a Kuat NV, we jumped at the chance. A newcomer to the rack game, what Kuat lacks in brand recognition they make up in a well designed and constructed product.
The NV is the flagship model of the Kuat line. It was designed with a number of features that build on the basic platform rack first popularized by Sportworks. There are a few features that make this rack stand out from the crowd- the biggest one being a built in bike repair stand.
In use, what stood out the most from the rear hitch racks I’ve used was how little the bikes moved around when mounted on the rack, thanks to a knob that moves an expanding wedge.
The next feature that stood out above the other models was the attention to detail Kuat adds to their product. While the part of the rack that attaches to the hitch is steel, the rest is alloy, which not only is lighter, but should wear considerably better in the wet as f*ck northwest. This may not effect others in drier climes, but it is a big bonus here, as several of my previous racks really show their age after only one or two seasons of use. (and we’ve only been back here for one winter and soaking wet spring) It does make the rack lighter, putting less wear and tear on the hitch, and should be more durable because of it. Lighter weight should minimize damage to the rack as well- these racks take a serious beating, and because of the leverage of heavy loads, I’ve seen a few models from various manufacturers crack.( In that particular case the driver had caught air multiple times with a loaded 4 bike rack- definitely driver error. It does show the extreme situations these racks are put through though.)
One item to note is that the knob on our demo took a beating from a careless driver. Although it was scraped up, the rack was still completely functional.
We really like the ease of lowering and folding the rack up thanks to the big and friendly alloy QR lever. That is a nice touch that isn’t fully recognized until you use a product from a competitor’s model.
In our vehicle, a Honda Element, we were able to access the back with the Kuat stored up. This was significant for us, as we leave the rack on the vehicle full time. Like the other hitch racks we’ve used to date, the tail gate will not lower all the way with the rack installed, even with the rack tilted down. Since this is the case with every platform hitch rack we’ve seen, it wasn’t a deal breaker of any kind.
Integrated cable lock
A cable lock is integrated into the rack and slides back into the tray when not in use. Another nice feature, the cable affords only a light amount of security, but is easy to use, meaning you’ll always use it. We always keep a Kryptonite New York chain with us when we leave the bikes for any extended period of time, but the lock is perfect for that stop at a rest area, or quick run into the coffee shop. Again, we’ve seen similar features from Yakima or Thule, but this lock is obvious and not only keeps people honest, but stores away and is aesthetically pleasing.
The built in repair stand is the only place the rack falls short- but only because it strives to go so high. It is a great idea, and is a great idea for long road trips. It is one less thing to pack in the car; personally I stopped taking repair stands with me when I travel because I hate having to pack even more extra stuff. However, the clamp is the only place where the attention to detail Kuat puts everywhere else falls short. I would have loved to see a repair stand head be interchangeable with the Park tool head at least. Then I could have ditched the consumer level clamp for a pro bike shop clamp. Perhaps it is just being nit-picky, but offering a higher quality after market clamp could be a great feature. Either way, the built in repair stand raises the price of the NV over its competitors, so I would have like to have gotten a product I actually wanted to use. It does function acceptably, but having worked with only pro-level stands in my decade of bike wrenching professionally, I don’t care for how long it takes to set up. (I didn’t use the feature because of this, although it was nice to have the option).
We store the stand off the rack when not in use, as it only takes the release of a QR level to pull it off.
Attaching the bike to the rack
The hook and the arm worked well for attaching the bike to the rack and fixing it. To release the arm, you are advised to put some pressure down before pushing the release button. When done correctly, this feature works well, and we didn’t have any issues whatsoever. I like the wheel strap quite a bit too. It has a simple job- to keep the rear wheel in place, and it does it simply, and since you can’t over tighten it, you never do. Many of the wheel straps I’ve used can be a pain to fasten and release, and by keeping it simple, Kuat has again risen above in this department.
When it came time to return the rack, we were unhappy to do so, we liked it that much. (this has increased even more since we’ve been testing a comparable model from Yakima) An additional 2-bike attachment is slated to be released at any time, and will raise the total capacity to four, making the rack that much more versatile.
If you are in the market for a platform style hitch mount rack and need to carry DH bikes and road bikes, you would do well to check this rack out. If you ride as much as we do, using your rack is a regular occurrence, and worth spending a bit more money on. Kuat is a small up and comer in the rack game, but their approach has raised the bar.
For more info on Kuat, check out their site.