Tuesday, June 1, 2010

kuat NV Review

While I was wandering around in the desiccating heat of the Outdoor Demo portion of InterBike 2009, I came upon the kuat Innovation's booth, in which they were showing off their very trick NV bike rack. Of course, what also caught my eye was the female mannequin, which was overtly well endowed, Brick House! The kuat marketing scheme was something more along the lines of 'Nice Rack'. Justin of kuat (koo-at) gave me a nice walk through of the rack, and I was very intrigued to test one out. The new NV rack had a plethora (I like that word) of features, first, and foremost, is an integrated bike repair stand, just a simple yet unique idea to add to a bike rack!

Kuat Racks is based in Springfield Missouri, and was founded in 2007 by Luke KUschmeader and Brian ATkinson. In 2008 kuat launched their first line of aluminum 'hanging style' hitch mounted racks, the ALPHA and the BETA. Luke pressed on with a new partner, Guy Mace, and with this partnership, they recently released the NV and SHERPA racks.

The kuat NV comes as a put together kit, and was fairly easy to assemble, sort of a giant tinker toy. The massive bolts that hold the arms to the main body took a long time to get clamped tight, but it certainly made for a stout beast once assembled. The massive welds, large bolts, material, and assembled parts of everything assure for a strong and robust bike rack.

kuat NV - walkthrough from Brian Mullin on Vimeo.

After assembling the rack, it was time to attach the unit to the back of my truck. The unit comes with a nice locking hitch pin, and a cinch tight cam system that wedges the rack's arm tightly into the receiver. Inserting the rack into the trailer hitch was easy, although I did find that a quick spritz of greaseless lube (I used LPS 1) inside the hitch receiver, and on the rack's main arm aided greatly in working with the two entities. The hitch receiver tends to get pretty dried out and dirty with time, and just a tad of the lube really helps.

Aligning the holes so that the receiver pin could be inserted, took some finesse, but that's the same with any trailer hitch work. The pin's lock easily snapped on, and the lock's key hole cover fit snugly, and has stayed on over 4 months of hard use. Once the pin and lock are set, then turn the black cinch tight cam system knob to get the rack from slopping around in the receiver. I forgot to do that once, and I had to pull over, and tighten it down, since I could see the bike jostling around in my rear view mirror. During a 2 foot snowstorm, I drove off a curb into a very deep ditch and broke off the cinch tight knob. The knob is not user replaceable, and the lower hitch section must be returned to the factory for replacement (under warranty).

The NV is a 2 bike rack (future option for 4), that holds a bike with a front tire cradle with an adjustable clamp arm, and a rear tire ratchet strap system, so nothing is contacting the frame. This beefy, yet light rack (48lbs) is made of heat treated 6061 T6 aluminum, and can carry up to 55 lbs bikes. The rack accommodates a variety of bike styles, and holds wheel sizes from 20 to 29 inches, with up to a 3 inch wide tire.

The holding system does a great job of securing bikes during transport, as my multiple test trips over 4 months have acknowledged. I have made a few 6+ hour road trips with the rack, with speeds up to 75mph, in extremely winding conditions, and all were done with my typical aggressive styled driving. The bikes stayed stable, and did not show any adverse issues. The rack has gotten the joy of being in some severe snowstorms, so the rack got its first treat of road grime, salt and gravel. It has also done fine on the typically rutted and bumpy fire roads.

Attaching a bike was very straight forward. Just undo the strap by loosening the ratchet, and pull the clamp arm out as far as possible. Pick up the bike, swing the bikes rear wheel under the strap, center the front wheel in the cradle, rotate the clamp arm up and towards the fork, and give a slight snug down. Ratchet the strap tightly, and then give a good push on the clamp arm and your done. I drive like a crazy man (my Wife would concur), and the bike stayed nice and secure with all my nutty aggressive driving habits.

Removing the bikes is straight forward, just reverse the process. Push the arms in when done, and ratchet in the straps, and then pull the lower gold lever and push the rack up vertical for space saving.

The bike locking system for the rack uses a very innovative integrated bike cable lock, in which the cable lock retracts into the arms when not in use.

To lock the bike, just pull out the cables from their arm receptacle (rear tire cap), stick them up through the bikes rear triangles, and snap the lock and pin together. I worry about my bikes, so if I am going to be leaving the bikes for any period of time, I attach my own long cable lock through the triangles, and the front wheel. I know that's a paranoid, but better extra secure then gone! I do wish it had some lock mechanism for the front wheels?

If you need to access the rear of your vehicle, just pull the gold lever underneath the main rack (by the hitch/receiver), and the rack rotates down enough to egress into the back hatch or door. Originally, I was unable to lower my trucks (Toyota Tundra)tailgate without it touching the NV when it was in its flat or tilted positions, but when I got an upgraded hitch (when I broke the cinch tight knob) it had a shortened stack height (hitch to cradle), so it now clears it by 2+ inches.

The bike stand attachment is called the Trail Doc, and it uses a rudimentary, albeit functional clamp system. To use the bike stand, you put the bike rack in the upward position, and then loosen the quick release lever and move the clamp arm up or down per requirements. Towards the back of the clamp arm, is a small lever that allows rotation of the clamp head between either a vertical or horizontal orientation. I played around with the Trail Doc, and clamped it on the top tube and seatpost, and did some minor maintenance without any problems. It is an effective bike stand, and is a nice addition to a bike rack for doing repair or tune up work while at the trailhead.

I do wish the Trail Doc had some sort of lock for security purposes, else you need to remove it, and store it inside your vehicle to prevent theft. Another small point of contention is the L shaped screw that you use to open and close the clamp head. When you open the clamp towards its maximum size (for oversized frame tubing) the end of the screw sort of falls back behind the slot, and gets kind of caught, so I think just a tad longer screw would solve that issue?

To accommodate bikes with smaller wheels, the rack comes with an adapter for 20-24 inch wheels that fits on the end of the clamp arm. A simple yet effective way to be able to carry kids, and small bikes, which makes it a full fledged family bike rack.

The kuat NV rack is a sweet bike rack that is well built, sturdy, moderately lightweight, easy to use and full of innovative and functional features. Putting a bike in the rack was a simple task using the clamp arm and strap system, and it made for a very secure attachment. The lever actuated rack, has a great fold up and tilt down function, which made it easy to gain access to the rear of a vehicle even when fully loaded. I liked the innovative integrated cable locks, the cam wedge system for the receiver, and of course the integrated bike stand (Trail Doc). The ability to carry 20 to 29 inch wheels was an excellent feature, and really opened it up to an entire spectrum of bikes. The Trail Doc is a nice feature (albeit rudimentary), although I wish it had an integrated locking mechanism of some sort. If doing any sort of driving in extremely rough terrain where the rear end of the rack might scrape (ledge drops), caution must be exercised, else the cinch tight knob can be damaged. The kuat NV is an excellent rack, that is backed up with a lifetime warranty.

-Trail Doc bike stand
-Ease of use
-Tilt feature for vehicle access
-Cinch tight system stabilizes rack
-20" to 29" carrying options
-Integrated cables locks

-Cinch tight knob can get broke off in severe 4x4
-Lack of lock for Trail Doc
-Needs an additional lock for front tire

Overall Rating: 4.5 Flamin’ Chili Peppers

MSRP: $495

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kuat NV Specs
- Heat treated aluminum
- 20 - 29 inch wheels, 3 inch wide tires
- 55 lb bike capacity
- Trail Doc repair stand
- Front tire clamp and rear tire ratchet strap system
- Hitch lock
- Integrated bike cable lock
- kuat’s cinch tight cam system
- 1.25 or 2 inch hitch receiver options
- 13 inch bike separation
- Folds up (storage), flat and down (for vehicle access)
- Lifetime warranty

kuat url: http://www.kuatinnovations.com/
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