Sunday, November 10, 2013

PRODUCT REVIEW: Kuat NV hitch 2-bike rack (2-inch hitch model)

The NV on the Roadtrek Agile SS Sprinter RV
A few months back I wrote this review of Kuat's NV hitch bike rack ($549) for my Jim's Tech Talk column. I'm still using and thoroughly enjoying the rack, and regularly get asked about it when we're on the road.

So, to help others looking for a bicycle hitch rack - and especially if you're trying to fit one on a Sprinter-type camper-conversion RV van, I thought I'd post the review here, too, with a few more observations from using it more, and also with their informative video.

If you're looking for a great hitch rack for a car, truck, van or Class-B RV like ours, I think you'll like the NV as much as we do.

A few details
The NV sells for $549 (as of 2013).
The NV rack carries 2 road and/or mountain bikes (accepts all adult-bike tire widths and sizes and kid's bikes down to 20-inch wheel sizes).
By attaching Kuat's $389 2-Bike Add-On, you can carry 4 bikes. But only for their 2-inch hitch/reveiver NV.
Kuat also offer the NV in a model for 1.25 inch hitches/receivers.
Kuat uses aluminum for many parts in the NV, so it weighs a relatively light 49 pounds, making it easier to handle than many hitch/receiver racks.
In order to install the NV on the back of our Sprinter RV, which has a spare tire, we needed an 11-inch hitch extension. We purchased the Heininger 6000 Advantage Adjustable.
One of my favorite features is Kuat's built-in Trail Doc bicycle repair stand.
Kuat Racks
Kuat NV hitch rack

Carrying bicycles in style
A couple of years ago at the Interbike bike show, I was introduced to Springfield, Missouri-based Kuat Racks (say “Koo-At”) and was impressed by their innovative designs and features. I made a note to keep them in mind should I need a rack in the future. So, when we recently purchased Roadtrek’s smallest RV, the Agile SS, which is built on a Mercedes Sprinter chassis with a 2-inch hitch on the back, I checked Kuat’s website and saw that their NV model would fit the bill.

Would the NV fit the RV? 
It wasn’t quite that easy. The Sprinter has two doors on the back and the RV has a spare tire holder blocking the left door. So, there needed to be enough clearance for the rack to fit behind the spare tire. And, I wanted it to move out of the way for access to the right rear door to get into the back of the van. Plus, I needed the rack to be easy to remove so I could open both doors, which requires lowering the spare tire holder that blocks the left door to a horizontal position. To get everything to work, I had to purchase an 11-inch long extender for the Sprinter’s hitch (details above).

Note that rack manufacturers usually warn against, or even prohibit using hitch extenders on RVs. This is because most RVs position the rack well behind the rear wheels where the rack is subjected to massive forces over bumps. But, that’s not an issue on our RV, which is on the shorter Sprinter chassis (19.5 feet long).

Top view
Built mountain-bike tough
Still, since RVing and driving a somewhat oversize vehicle are new to me, I couldn’t help but worry about my bikes on the back. So, I wanted to be sure to get an overbuilt rack. The NV is actually designed around mountain bikes with up to 29 x 3-inch tires, and weighing up to a whopping 60 pounds each.

It will also carry bikes of all sizes in-between down to 20-inch kid's bikes (it comes with an adapter for these). So, I thought it would easily handle my featherweight roadsters and cross-country hardtails.

The reason it can easily carry all these different size and type bicycles is because it’s a tray-mount bike rack, meaning that you don’t have to do anything to your bike to put it on the rack except lift it and place the wheels on the tray. Also, the rack only touches your tires. Nothing holds the frame. And because the NV spaces the bicycles 13 inches apart, they can’t bump into each other or rub, either. These are both nice features for carbon road bikes bikes that can be damaged by rubbing and bumping.

It's also possible to reverse the directions of the trays in case you have interference issues with the handlebars and RV. This was the case with the Roadtrek's spare tire. It was nice to have the option to set the inside tray the other way to get the handlebars away from the spare.

Easy and fast on/off 
To secure bikes to the tray, there’s a telescoping arm that ratchets down to close on the front wheel just ahead of the brake, pressing the wheel down into a pocket for it in the tough plastic wheel holders on the trays. To finish attaching the bikes you simply thread the rear wheel straps into their holders and pull down to ratchet them tight and cinch the rear wheel in place. The whole process takes about 5 seconds for each bike and it’s just as fast getting them off.

In fact, getting the bikes on/off is so easy, it’s kind of hard to believe it works. At first, I kept tugging on the bikes to see if they were really on there and pushing down on the arms and pulling on the straps. But, the connection is super solid and it holds fast. We drove 7,000-plus miles on some of the worst roads in the country, to New Hampshire and back to California with it, and nothing loosened up a bit. And that included a bone-jarring, suspension-abusing stretch of New York's abominable Thruway (never again!), plus a week of searing heat and several days of pounding rain.

No-tools rack tightening and removal
The way the bikes attach to the rack is similar to other tray-mount hitch racks, but the way the NV attaches and stays tightly fastened in the hitch is advanced and quite an advantage. Instead of the typical bolt-on arrangement, on the NV there’s a large nylon knob on the end of the rack’s main support tube (watch the video to see this).

By simply tightening this knob with your hand, a cam inside the rack presses an oversize ball bearing mounted in a pocket on the NV’s insertion end into the vehicle hitch taking up all the slack between the two and securely fastening the rack. No tools are required and though I kept checking this knob across the country, it never loosened and the rack stayed tight.

It was also easy to loosen the knob and remove the rack when needed. The rack remains tight when you loosen the knob, but once you bang the knob with your hand, the cam lets go and the rack comes right out. This is when you appreciate how much aluminum is in the NV because at only 49 pounds, it’s significantly easier to lift, carry and handle than the usual 100% steel hitch racks that are so common.

Folds up and down
I only had to remove the rack because of the spare tire holder. If that wasn’t there, I could have used the NV’s folding feature. It has a giant spring-loaded quick release lever on the bottom. You pull it open and lift or push down and the rack snaps up to its folded position behind the doors or down so that a tailgate can be opened, or in my case, my right rear door.

Being able to fold the rack up on the back of our RV meant we could still parallel park in a standard space. With the rack down and bikes on it, the RV was a little too long for that.

Built-in security
To protect your precious cargo, the NV comes with a locking hitch pin so the rack can’t be stolen from the vehicle (because we used an extension, we needed a locking hitch pin for that, too). And there’s an integrated cable lock that is connected to the wheel trays and stores inside them, too. You just pull it out, thread the ends through the bike frames and wheels and lock the ends together to secure the bikes to the rack. The keys for the cable lock and hitch pin are the same, which is nice.

Unfortunately, my cable lock developed some issue and wouldn’t close the second time I tried to use it. To safeguard my bikes I simply purchased a 6-foot OnGuard cable lock and that worked fine. Kuat quickly sent me a replacement cable lock under warranty, so the rack's built-in lock is now working again.

Kuat’s clever Bottle Lock
I wouldn’t have had to purchase the OnGuard lock if I had been smart and brought along Kuat’s $29 Bottle Lock. They sent me one to try but I didn’t think I’d need it and left it home. It’s a coiled 5-foot cable and lock built into a standard bottle so it fits nicely in a bottle cage. To lock your bike, you just pull the end of the cable and it unravels (the inside of the bottle spins, the outside doesn’t) to full length. You then lock its end into the top of the bottle. The keys are stored in a compartment in the bottom of the bottle.

The Bottle Lock does not hold water, but it’s a convenient, lightweight and cool lock I could have used on the rack and will use riding around town. It comes in Black, White, Pink and Rasta .

Kuat's Trail Doc repair stand
Kuat thought of everything 
The NV’s ease of use, light weight and secure bike and vehicle attachment make it a wonderful rack to use. But it has another trick and one I had to have: it features their Trail Doc repair stand!

When not in use, this sits at the end of the rack’s main support. To use it, you remove the bikes, fold the rack up, loosen the Trail Doc’s quick release and extend it up until it clicks in place.

Voila! You have a very nicely constructed bike repair stand that holds bicycles by the seatpost or top tube and lets you work right there by your vehicle like a pro. For me, it means I no longer have to bring along a separate repair stand and one less thing in a small RV is a great thing.

Rack envy 
Finally, as impressed as I am with the design, features, function and quality of the NV, I am just as impressed by its appearance. When you buy a fancy vehicle it’s hard to get yourself to put anything on it. But the NVs lustrous grey and gold finish makes it a stunner and a few people on our trip actually came up and asked us if the rack had been custom made by Mercedes for our RV. That’s quite a compliment to Kuat’s design, and perhaps why they named it what they did.


Emily K said...

Missouri! Springfield, MISSOURI!

Jim Langley said...

Thanks, Emily. I've fixed their state. Appreciate it!

NeilD said...

Hello Jim - With the rack in place, does it allow you to open the rear door at least partially to load and unload stuff from the back?

Jim Langley said...

The rear door only opens a little that way, Neil. You have to tip the rack down and you can carefully open the door until it touches the bikes. That creates a small opening you can reach through. But, since the main storage is beneath the rear seat, not behind it, for 'real' access you would remove the bicycle(s) and tip the rack down. Then the rear right door can be opened fully. On my Agile the very corner of the right door came in contact with the rear wheel plastic tray on the rack. So, I cut a small notch in the plastic to allow the door to pass by without touching, allowing opening the door fully. It's possible that on newer Roadtreks there's more clearance. Often when camping I would remove the rack so I could fully lower the spare tire holder. That way you can open both rear doors for full access and full ventilation and views. FYI: Our van was a 2013 Agile SS model (we have now moved up to a Lazy Daze Class C RV and sold the Agile SS). Hope this is helpful and thanks for the question,
Jim Langley

Unknown said...

Thanks Jim! Upon careful measurements etc., I decided to get a 2-inch drop hitch which also extended the rack out by 9 inches. This allow's me to fully open the rear doors with no bikes on the rack, or with bikes on the rack after tilting them down. Our van is on the 3500 long wheelbase platform (i.e. more rear overhang) so I have to be extra careful with entering and leaving steep driveways, switchbacks and the like.

Jim Langley said...

Thanks for sharing that information!

Unknown said...

Hi Jim,

I just came across your post after researching for a solution for the exact situation I am currently in. I also have a RT SS Agile and I was wondering if this set up is still the best option you have come across? I know Kuat makes a pivot extender that might be a good instead of the straight extender in your post. I know you said you had trouble getting the rear door open with the bike rack in place, and I was wondering if you found a solution to that.


Jim Langley said...

Sorry for the slow reply, "unknown,"
Your idea of using Kuat's pivot extender might work, but I haven't tried it so I can't comment from experience. If you're still trying to solve the issue, you might see if you can find a bicycle shop that stocks Kuat racks that would allow you to test fit it on your Agile and see if it works.

Good luck and thanks for the question,
Jim Langley