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.