Reviewed and compared: Kuat’s NV and NV Core racks

It’s odd to say so, but Kuat’s NV and NV Core racks have to be some of the best looking hitch racks on the market. Somehow the clean design and, in the case of the NV, attractive color combination, make the relative upstart’s racks stand out both in traffic and on the shop floor. Even if they don’t trigger their namesake emotion, they are certainly capable of creating desire

But racks succeed—and fail—on more than looks alone. After a season’s worth of carrying bikes on the backs of several vehicles, how have the Kuat siblings fared? And are the NV’s added features worth the upcharge over the NV Core? You know how to find out!

Like many on the market, the NV and NV Core carry two bikes across the back of a car. Both require either a 1¼in or 2in hitch receiver: the NV Core fits either with a supplied adapter while the NV needs to be purchased in the desired size. The racks’ wide tubular trays support a wide range of wheelbases and tires up to 3in wide, which are held in place with a standard ratcheting strap, which works well with everything but deep-section carbon wheels. The NV’s straps are even reinforced (decorated?) with a piece of orange-y gold aluminum trim. The front wheels sit in a 2-segment cradle are held in place by a ratcheting arm that wedges between the top of the tire and the fork brace (mountain bikes) or front brake (road bikes) where scuffing is minimized with a soft-but-durable rubber material.

Both racks fold up when not in use and below horizontal to allow trunk access, even with bikes mounted. The adjustment lever is easy to use and secure, though both racks’ pivot did loosen over time. A few moments with a pair of wrenches removed the play and thanks to the Nylock pivot fixing nuts were never in danger of coming off altogether.

The NV and NV Core diverge in three places. First is the attachment mechanism. Using an expanding tongue to reduce distracting wobble, the NV is snugged up by way of a small knob at the base of the rack. This makes installing the rack a tool-free affair. The NV Core uses a simpler system- a locking, threaded hitch pin keeps things tight- but does require a wrench for installation and removal (the provided wrench is actually the wrong size). A sleeve on the NV Core makes swapping between vehicles with different hitch sizes simple.  Both racks come with locking hitch pins, with the NV’s being keyed the same as its cable lock (see “goodies,” below).

Thanks to the increased ground clearance provided by a jogged tongue, the NV Core is actually preferable on passenger cars and other low-clearance vehicles. The threaded hitch bolt is simple enough to use and stays just as snug as the NV’s Hand-Tight system. Advantage: NV Core.

The second major difference between the two comes from the bike spacing. Where the NV Core spaces bikes 10.5in apart, the NV puts bikes 13in from one another. Despite our best efforts to find bikes that just wouldn’t play well together, the worst instances of interference on the NV Core can easily addressed by dropping or raising seatposts or forks- but even this is rarely necessary. Of course there are bound to be combinations that don’t work with every rack- we just haven’t found them. Because we never really benefited from the additional length, the fact that the NV Core shortens the vehicle’s length ever so slightly gives it the (2½ inch) advantage.

The third distinction could loosely be defined as “goodies.” The NV adds an integrated cable lock and simple repair stand to the package. The cable lock, which uses the same key as the rack’s hitch pin lock, stows cleanly in the rack tray when not in use. Unfortunately, the cable is nowhere long enough to secure both wheels and the frames of two bikes. Even as a deterrent, this means carrying a second cable lock for more peace of mind.

The repair stand, on the other hand, is pretty slick. The simple clamp is on the short side, but it is effective and is easy to keep clear of dropper post cables. The stand is plenty stable for pre-race or vacation repair duty- though the bike will be closer to the ground than is ideal. This feature will make you the envy of any campground or pit area.  Advantage: NV.

At $450 and $550, the Kuat racks are positioned as premium racks. Aside from the loosening main pivot, their performance backs this position. Both racks have held dozens of bikes in countless combinations without complaint. Despite my initial concerns, the ratcheting arm hasn’t caused noticeable scuffing on any forks or brakes (just be sure to wipe any dust away before mounting).

Are the hand-tightening mechanism and workstand worth $100 over the NV Core’s asking price? For most riders, the NV Core is the rack to go for. Numerous portable workstands are available for $150 or less and can serve home workshop duty the rest of the time. Also, the Core’s 41lb weight (nearly 20% lighter than the 49lb NV) eats into the NV’s tool-free advantage when it comes time to move or remove the rack.

On the F150 or 32’ RV on which it’s pictured, the NV’s extra 2½in really don’t make much difference- they’re just plain bigvehicles to begin with. Its all-in-one package also means that you’ll never be without a workstand or lock- an attractive proposition. Forgetful folks: your rack is here. If only the cable were a bit longer- it’s a shame to detract from the rack’s clean looks by wrapping it with a second lock.  For most everyone else, the NV is an attractive, functional rack that has some distinct advantages in terms of swapability, weight, and ground clearance.

marc

kuatracks.com

Comments

Fatty - 11/06/12 - 9:31am

Thumper?

Mike - 11/06/12 - 9:36am

“Both racks fold up when not in use and below horizontal to allow trunk access, even with bikes mounted. ”

I would like to see a picture of the F150 with the tailgate down. Sure looks like its going to hit the rack

Ryan - 11/06/12 - 9:37am

Hammerhead Thumper. Great bike. http://www.hammerheadbikes.com

Andy - 11/06/12 - 9:47am

Yes, inquiring minds want to know about the “partial Kona Satori” in the first picture.

The racks look nice though.

Robo - 11/06/12 - 9:48am

I have the NV and I love it. Totally worth every last penny (and, yes, that’s a lot of pennies) it looks great on the back of the car, I never have to worry about wobble or losing a bike, it’s super durable.

I didn’t think I’d use the hokey work stand all that much but I use it all the time. Its nice to hang the bike from the stand and blast it with a hose after a dusty trail ride or muddy cross race. I’ve even done some fairly major repairs from it but it isn’t the most ideal for that.

The short length of the cable lock drives me nuts, though. Some other review somewhere out there actually contacted Kuat and they told them how to properly route the cable to lock 2 bikes but….I ain’t buying it. It’s so frustratingly close to being long enough, too. Really my only gripe about the rack.

Something not mentioned in the review, if you want to do the 2 bike add-on, I THINK you can only add it to the NV with the 2in hitch. The tongue on the core is not strong enough for the added weight. So, something else to think about if you see yourself carrying more than 2 bikes some day.

Lots of customers have a little bit of sticker shock when they see these racks but I’ve used every style of rack from Kuat, Yakima, Thule, and Saris and, even though they all get the job done just fine, the Kuats are such a pleasure to use, it’s worth the price of admission.

brennan - 11/06/12 - 9:48am

Good review sir! It’s nice to see real practical side by side comparisons. As a bike shop employee this can provide so much help in actually displaying the pros and cons of each rack.

One thing I believe you did not address is the ability for the NV Core to take the NV Add-on. I am almost positive the NV Add-on is only compatible with the NV, which could be a pro to some people.

Just my 2 cents.

Keep up the good work!

Mat - 11/06/12 - 9:59am

The cable locks pull right out, lose them and replace with a reputable lock.

Scott - 11/06/12 - 10:25am

Thumper = http://www.hammerheadbikes.com/hammerhead-bikes/

Super Mario - 11/06/12 - 10:54am

Thanks for the thoughtful write up. I’ve been trying to decide which one of these racks to get for a while now and you just helped me settle on the Core.

Chase - 11/06/12 - 11:10am

I’ve had the NV for a year and a half. Love it so far. Good company to deal with also, mine was damaged in shipping due to ups dropping it on the plastic end caps. Kuat responded instantly to my phone call and sent me replacement pieces. I get people at the trail stopping to ask about it everytime I ride. Well worth the money.

tom - 11/06/12 - 11:39am

Don’t use Simple Green to clean the Core (or witch ever one is the black one). It will ruin the finish and it will look ulgy. Other than that, great rack. Fat bike friendly.

Thom - 11/06/12 - 12:28pm

The spacing of the NV gets shortened to the same as the Core when you do the 2 bike add-on. Also, only the NV is expandable to 4 bikes, as the Core comes with an 1 1/4″ arm that gets sleeved to fit the 2″ hitch. It’s pretty much the industry norm that only 2″ hitches are capable of carrying 4 bikes.

silverlining - 11/06/12 - 3:47pm

Loved my NV, until the crimp that keeps one of the integrated cables from coming out let go. Haven’t contacted kuat yet, but doesn’t look like there is an end-user fix. Curious too see what they recommend. So, don’t tug too hard on the cable once it hits the end of travel.

KJR - 11/06/12 - 7:37pm

That Thumper is an obvious clone of a Kona Satori. Same as this RAM Nduro: http://www.ram-bikes.com/eng/galleri_fullscr.php?image_no=NDURO.29.21270348998.jpg

I can’t believe companies can be this blatant sometimes. At least try to change it a bit!

Marc - 11/06/12 - 9:16pm

All,

Keep an eye out for an initial Hammerhead Thumper review soon!

KJR,

While they may appear similar, the Satori is a single pivot design- the Hammerhead and Ram Nduro are true four-bar designs.

marc

Redbird74 - 11/06/12 - 10:24pm

@silverlining: I have the same problem with the lock cable, but after contacting Kuat customer support, they immediately sent me a new design. It is user replaceable and works great after you switch it out.

I can’t speak highly enough about my Kuat rack. I’ve had a couple of minor issues with it, but customer service has immediately solved them, going to great lengths to do so. I can’t recommend the company and the products enough.

Happy owner for over 2 yrs.

KJR - 11/07/12 - 1:20am

Marc,

I’m not talking about the pivot placement. What I mean is: if the front triangle/frame of all three is not identical, meaning geometry, tube sets, hydro forming, all welded on the same production line in Hodaka’s factory, I’ll eat my hat…

Makes these bikes look like catalogue frames. In my opinion, it cheapens the appearance of all three.

Stephen - 11/07/12 - 7:10am

I have had an NV for about 5 months. I like it but the cable lock length is tiresome and it s an absolute pain to get the cable back into the rack, so I rarely use it. Any others have this issue?

Chris - 11/07/12 - 7:32am

I have to echo the positive comments for Kuat! I have an NV, and it is worth every penny. Yes, it’s pricey…but it’s a great product and the customer support is superb!

Last winter, I broke the cam system (that tightens it into the hitch receiver) on my NV. I emailed Kuat with the issue, had a response within 30 minutes, and a FedEx tracking number for the free replacement parts within two hours. The parts arrived the next morning, and I was back up and running! Can’t really beat customer service like that!

I also like that, with one of Kuat’s extension straps, my NV carries my fat bike without issue!

Bill - 11/07/12 - 9:12am

@Stephen, Let me start off by saying that I am an employee at Kuat and would like to help you out. It sounds like whomever assembled your NV rack may have removed the “guide tubes” that run through the center body of the rack. If the guide tubes are removed, it will become difficult, if not impossible to stow the cables. Contact me at bill@kuatracks.com and I can get you fixed up.

Bill - 11/07/12 - 9:13am

@silverlining, again I work here at Kuat and if you are having an issue with your cable lock, shoot me an email and I will get your rack repaired. No charge. bill@kuatracks.com

kyle - 11/07/12 - 3:22pm

i love mine! what a pleasure to use. and the customer service is awesome, it’s like talking to one of your buddies!

kevin - 11/12/12 - 10:29am

My brother test rode one of the Thumpers and he’s pretty finicky but ended up really liking the ride of the HH bike which was surprising since he’s never been a fan of Horst link bikes. He’s looking forward to your review to see if you felt the same way he did.

DaleC - 11/12/12 - 4:48pm

I commented on another Kuat rack thread about the absolutely fantastic customer service that I received from Bill. The anodizing faded on one of the wheel holders after a few weeks. Bill had a replacement to me in a matter of days and sounded like he really felt badly about the whole thing happening. Followed up, too. Awesome service makes me feel better about paying so much for a rack!

Jake - 11/14/12 - 11:23am

Having used the NV and the two bike add on this last summer, I have to mention that it becomes extremely difficult to fit four bikes. To fit the two bike attachment, you have to move the tray. The bikes get all tangled up after that. Not a good rack if you are planning on carrying more than 2 bikes. I am a MTB guide in Utah and I wouldn’t recimmend them.

LB412 - 03/15/13 - 12:28am

Best rack ever! i have the for bike version.

LB412 - 03/15/13 - 12:28am

four not for

LB412 - 03/15/13 - 12:29am

i can load 4 29ers with no issue.

Brian - 03/14/14 - 1:46pm

It’s almost a year since the last comment……. so who knows if anyone will see this. But, have there been any updates on the extended wheel strap for fat bikes. I didn’t see anything on Kuat’s website. I have the NV Core. I assuming the wheel straps are compatible?

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