Kuat NV car rack review

Eye-catching rack

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In contrast to many other hitch-mounted racks, with their decidedly industrial 'function over form' designs, Küat's NV is a visual treat. Its elegant lines, fetching grey metallic paint, golden-orange anodizing and extruded aluminum construction wouldn’t look out of place on any number of high-end vehicles.

Thankfully, it does a pretty good job of holding and transporting bikes, too, though a few details belie the company's relative newcomer status. Loading couldn't be easier: simply lift your bike onto the tray, lock the front wheel into the deep aluminum and plastic cradle with the ratcheting main arm, secure the rear wheel strap and off you go. 

In total, loading a pair of bikes – even often awkward downhill machines – takes less than a minute, with no bike disassembly required. The padded main hooks grip securely with a very positive ratchet action, giant 29in tires are easily swallowed, and the sliding rear wheel straps have an enormous adjustment range.

Bikes are quick to load and are held securely in place, though the sloppy main pivot still allows the whole upper assembly a troubling amount of movement when driving down the road: bikes are quick to load and are held securely in place, though the sloppy main pivot still allows the whole upper assembly a troubling amount of movement when driving down the road
Bikes are quick to load and are held securely in place, though the sloppy main pivot still allows the whole upper assembly a troubling amount of movement when driving down the road: bikes are quick to load and are held securely in place, though the sloppy main pivot still allows the whole upper assembly a troubling amount of movement when driving down the road

We were at first disappointed that the tray spacing isn't similarly adjustable but eventually realized that it simply isn’t necessary. Küat include an ample 33cm (13in) in between the trays and also rotate them slightly away from each other. As a result, we never got any saddle-handlebar interference, no matter what combination of bikes we tried – well done, Küat. 

Keep in mind, though, that the optional two-bike add-on kit will tighten that spacing up considerably. In case your trip involves a short stop along the way, there's an integrated cable lock tucked inside the aluminum trays, and the entire rack easily pivots down and out of the way to provide access to your vehicle's rear hatch.

Once at your destination, unloading the bikes is just as easy, and in case you need to do a bit of last-minute maintenance (shame on you; your buddies are all waiting and you should have taken care of that at home!), Küat have included their trick Trail Doc repair stand with its rotating rubber-lined head and telescoping main mast. Even installation into your vehicle's receiver hitch is a breeze, with the integrated wedge mechanism effectively eliminating play at that interface and an included locking pin to ward off thieves.

We found the küat nv's repair stand handy for quick trailhead tweaks but that's about it.  heavier bikes, in particular, pose a challenge to the somewhat underfed design: we found the küat nv's repair stand handy for quick trailhead tweaks but that's about it.  heavier bikes, in particular, pose a challenge to the somewhat underfed design
We found the küat nv's repair stand handy for quick trailhead tweaks but that's about it. heavier bikes, in particular, pose a challenge to the somewhat underfed design: we found the küat nv's repair stand handy for quick trailhead tweaks but that's about it. heavier bikes, in particular, pose a challenge to the somewhat underfed design

So what's not to like? Ah, details, details. Unlike powerhouse rack makers such as Thule, Yakima and Saris, Küat are still pretty new on the scene and several spots betray the company's relative lack of experience.

For one, the poorly engineered main pivot quickly developed enough play that bikes rocked up and down in the rear view mirror a disturbing amount while driving on even relatively smooth highways. This was actually an improvement over our first generation tester, whose laughably primitive design we'd have deemed utterly unacceptable.

Küat tell us the tolerances have been tightened up further since our tester's production run but even so, a lack of proper bushings or dedicated wear surfaces means the issue will undoubtedly creep up again over time. To be fair, we never feared for losing a bike off the rack at speed but the NV's excessive movement is disconcerting nonetheless. For comparison's sake, our heavily abused, four-year-old Thule T2 is still as slop-free as when it was new.

Küat has beefed up the main assembly on its latest round of production: küat has beefed up the main assembly on its latest round of production
Küat has beefed up the main assembly on its latest round of production: küat has beefed up the main assembly on its latest round of production

Other particulars are similarly disappointing. Though convenient and functional, the repair stand head's jaws are too narrow to provide a truly secure grip and its telescoping main mast is secured by an underengineered clamp, the once-striking color anodizing was badly faded and tired-looking after just a few weeks of service, and the integrated cable lock is only barely long enough to reach through a pair of bike frames and rear wheels if you're careful, leaving the front wheels unprotected.

Moreover, the cable lock and locking hitch pin curiously use entirely different cores so you've got two extra keys to carry around instead of just one and despite what the aluminum upper construction (the base is still steel) would suggest, the full NV rack still weighs 20.4kg (45lb) – a far cry from the 11.3kg (25lb) claimed figure of 1up USA's all-aluminum Quik-Rack.

Do we like the NV? Overall, yes, shortcomings and all. While a bit sloppy (literally) it's easily the best looking rack of this type we've encountered – and depending on your priorities, aesthetics are important. Functionally it gets the job done, with some neat features tossed in for good measure, and recently added changes (such as the slick quick-release Lynx hitch base) we saw at September's Interbike show look to improve it further still. However, the NV still has a ways to go before we can say its function matches the promise of its appearance. Almost there, guys, almost there.

Küat racks are currently not available in the UK.

James Huang

Technical Editor, US
James started as a roadie in 1990 with his high school team but switched to dirt in 1994 and has enjoyed both ever since. Anything that comes through his hands is bound to be taken apart, and those hands still sometimes smell like fork oil even though he retired from shop life in 2007. He prefers manual over automatic, fizzy over still, and the right way over the easy way.
  • Age: 40
  • Height: 173cm / 5'8"
  • Weight: 70kg / 154lb
  • Discipline: Mountain, road, cyclocross
  • Preferred Terrain: Up in the Colorado high-country where the singletrack is still single, the dirt is still brown, and the aspens are in full bloom. Also, those perfect stretches of pavement where the road snakes across the mountainside like an artist's paintbrush.
  • Beer of Choice: Mexican Coke
  • Location: Boulder, Colorado, USA

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