Küat NV Core Hitch Rack
Assuming you’re a committed cyclist who’s already forked over an couple hundred bucks to install a trailer hitch on your vehicle (or paid extra for it when you bought your car or truck), the NV Core is a more user- and bike-friendly alternative to throwing your rigs on a roof rack.
Thanks to the Küat, I put the trailer hitch mount on my old 4Runner to use for the first time since I last used it to haul a moving trailer in 2006. And I’m not sure what I was more excited about: Using my trailer hitch again or having a bike rack on my SUV.
The NV Core, Küat’s base model hitch rack, comes without a cable lock for bikes, hitch lock and the ability to convert the rack into a repair stand. As a result, the NV Core is $110 less expensive than Küat’s signature NV model. I can’t say where or when the mobile repair stand would come in handy for my purposes, but a simple cable and padlock to lock my bikes and the fact that the rack’s hitch bolt screws into its coupling inside my hitch mount offered plenty of security for me.
Each rack tray can hold a bike weighing up to 60 pounds, which covers some, but not all, electric bikes out there and pretty much every people-powered cycle. The whole setup weighs 41 pounds, which was light enough for me to install by myself.
After my first weekend with the NV Core, I don’t how I lived without one for my entire driving/biking life. I just popped either my road bike or mountain bike into the tray, cinched down the strap holding down my rear wheel, and then slid the telescoping arm around my front wheel and shoved it down against the front tire as close to the fork as possible. The whole operation took 4 seconds. Getting the bike down took 3 seconds—the telescoping arm releases by pressing a button on the top of the arm and pulling it out. Easy. In fact it was so easy, that I found myself offering to drive buddies to the trailhead instead of mooching rides off them.
Whether I was carrying my 29er hardtail or a full-suspension rig, loading the bikes was not an issue. The NV Core takes nearly any adult bike (kids bikes with 20-inch wheels or smaller require a different telescoping arm, sold separately).
On the road, I didn’t notice a difference in how my vehicle drove. With the bike and rack tucked behind the SUV, I saw no noticeable decline in acceleration or mpg like I was used to seeing whenever I threw my bikes on my roof rack. The seat and the edges of my wheels were the only things popping out from my 17-year-old Toyota’s profile. I suspect on today’s wider and taller vehicles, no bike parts would pop out from the car or SUV’s wind shadow.
Assembly was a piece of cake as well. Once I removed the rack’s parts from the box, all that was left was screwing together 4 long bolts that hold the trays’ arms onto the support arm. The process from opening the box to installing the rack and my bike on my SUV took 40 minutes using the tools included in the box. However employing a ratcheting hex key that would fit the bolt could’ve easily knocked that assembly time in half.
While the NV Core was a solid rack, it is only a bike rack. And unlike a roof rack and some hitch racks that hold bikes from their top tube, the Küat can’t be converted into a ski rack or carry kayaks with some attachments. And that’s the biggest drawback to these hitch trays; they’re not versatile.
This Küat does fold up vertically when not in use, but I still couldn’t see it out of the back of my 4Runner. This made backing up a little more stressful than normal, as I knew the rack was there, but I had no idea how close it was to the BMW that I was heading towards. I was also worried that, over time, I’d forget the rack was there and absent-mindedly destroy it by backing into something (I’ve done this before).
While the NV Core did fold down to ostensibly allow me access to the rear of my SUV, it didn’t fold down low enough for me to lower my tailgate and let it lay flat. This was enough for me to rarely use the vehicle’s cargo area, and when I did, I accessed it by crawling over the rear seats.
On dry pavement, using a hitch rack keeps bugs from splattering your bikes, but in a downpour or on a dirt road, note that the bikes will get filthy with road grime and dust.
One last quibble: With my road bike, I couldn’t find a comfortable point to lock down my front wheel. The hook that wraps over the front tire has a small indent to better secure a road tire, but even so, I had to push the arm down one click beyond my comfort level to really lock down my bike. Letting a little air out of the front tire helped, but doing so meant I had to haul my floor pump with me and then pump up my front tire when I got to my destination. I ended up following this protocol on trips involving freeway speeds, but if I was driving around town at 25-40 mph, I didn’t bother.
During the height of cycling season, which I was and still am in, the Küat NV Core has made it easier for me to say “Yes” to taking my bike to a distant trailhead or meeting area and enjoying more satisfying rides in the mountains. But once the trails close in the fall, or if I need better access to the cargo area to haul dogs or mulch, I’d have to remove the Küat and clear out some precision space in the garage to store it. I suspect that going through the process of removing and installing/storing the Küat more than once may leave me yearning for its roof-rack brethren that sit ready and waiting on their vehicles 365 days a year.
How We Tested It
The Küat NV Core was attached to a 1995 Toyota 4Runner outfitted with a dealer-installed trailer hitch mount. Bikes tested included a 22-inch 29er hardtail mountain bike, XL-commuter bike with 700c wheels, a 63cm road bike with 700c wheels and a 26-inch wheel, dual-suspension mountain bike. Fully loaded, the rack was tested at speeds of up to 80 mph in dry, yet often, windy conditions over the course of more than 100 miles spread across 4 separate trips.
The products featured in this test have been loaned to the Gear Institute. For more on our policies regarding editorial objectivity and sample returns, see here.