Sooner or later, you’re going to need to transport your bike. At first you might be fine with the idea of stuffing it in the back of your car, but eventually you (or possibly your spouse) are going to find a reason why trying to cram your precious bike into the back of even the largest SUV is not only a pain in the you know what, but it also puts both your bike and your car’s interior at risk.
When it comes to rack options, there are plenty out there. We have always preferred tray-mounted racks. Call us paranoid, but there’s just something about having our wheels (especially our race wheels) dangling in the breeze that always made us a bit nervous. Küat is no stranger to the AeroGeeks garage, and over the years you probably noticed a couple of their Sherpa tray-mounted racks being used to transport our fleet of test bikes. But then we started to stare enviously at the Sherpa’s big brother, and we wondered whether its mountain lineage would translate to transition. The only way to know for sure was a long-term review, and now after a season mounted to the back of our AeroGeeks SUV, we are finally ready to render our final verdict on the most envious of Küat racks – the NV.
The Küat NV
The NV is Küat’s top-of-the-line rack. Available in 1.25” and 2” receiver options, the NV can support two bikes with a max weight of 120 lbs. You can buy an optional add on (2” hitch only) that adds room for two more bikes and ups the max weight to 160 lbs. The NV has three positions—folded up when not in use, parallel to the ground when traveling, and tilted away from the car to let you easily open the back of an SUV or van. The tilt is set via a lever on the passenger side of the rack that is plenty wide enough and provides more than enough leverage for anyone to grab hold of.
The bikes themselves are secured to the NV via ratcheting straps for the rear tires and a ratcheting arm that secures the front tire / fork. There is no metal on frame contact to risk damaging your bike – something we really appreciated. The rear strap can be adjusted laterally to ensure that, no matter the wheelbase of your bike, it can be accommodated.
To ensure each cockpit has enough room when loading two bikes, each bike is positioned on the rack in opposite directions. We routinely carried two bikes at once and never had any issues with clearance.
The NV itself is secured to your hitch via included hitch pin and lock. The NV uses a simple knob to make it snug in the hitch, which means you can easily swap it between cars if need be. Though at a hefty 49 lbs, it can sometimes be a two-person job. To protect your bikes, the NV includes a built-in security cable and lock. No need to remember if you grabbed your cables on the way out the door, the NV always has you covered.
At the rear of the NV is the TRAIL DOC – a built in repair stand. The DOC is designed to allow you to easily complete simple maintenance or repairs at your ride or race site. The tightening mechanism is a simple screw design that was built with mountain bikes in mind (the opening is a bit limited and doesn’t quite fit the more aero seat posts of bikes like the Shiv and IA). Despite that, we made good use of this feature in more than one instance with our Specialized Shiv and Trek Speed Concept test bikes (more on that below).
We don’t often start with the build process of a new product, but with the NV, we really have to. The NV in the box is broken into five distinct pieces – the main bar with the hitch and lever, and the four crossbars for supporting the bike. And as we mentioned above, the total package weighs in at 49 lbs. So while the build is easy, it is a bit unwieldy. We definitely recommend phoning a friend on this one.
Once installed, the NV is a breeze to use. To load your bike, simply pull on the bottom lever to swing the NV into the horizontal position. Then swing the arm open and press on its top button to extend it. Make sure the ratcheting strap is open and is located laterally where your rear wheel will go. Then simply place your bike on the NV, close the rear strap, and press down on the arm so that it’s tight against the spot where your wheel and fork meet. To get the bike off, just do everything above in reverse order.
One thing we quickly found is that the rear wheel straps on the NV are a touch smaller than on the Sherpa. So initially, we were not being able to get bikes with wheels deeper than 72mm onto the NV. The good news is that Küat sells an extender strap for the NV and Sherpa that allows you to easily accommodate deep wheels.
Another challenge is when you want to carry a bike with disc wheels. Since the rear strap typically goes through the spokes and over the rim to lock down the wheel, there is no place for the rear strap to go with a disc. Our solution typically was to flip the bike around and use the locking arm on the back wheel and the straps on the front wheel. While this did not create as secure a setup as when properly installed, we were comfortable doing this for quick trips across town. For longer trips, we would opt to install a standard wheel for the drive and throw the disc in the truck. And if you just had to keep that disc on for travel, we’d recommend going back to throwing the whole bike in the back of the SUV.
Speaking of throwing items in the back of the SUV, the NV’s ability to tilt out of the way of the rear lift gate while still holding a bike is fantastic. After all, we’ve all been there… you’ve just finished locking down your bike after a long ride, and you’re beyond wiped. All you can think about is heading home for a shower and breakfast, but then you realize you’ve left some important item in the trunk. Chances are, unless it’s your keys, what ever it is, it’s staying back there until you get home. It’s moments like this when you’ll quickly realize just how great it is to be able to simply pull a lever and tilt down the rack. Your bike remains securely in place, and you can grab what ever you need in the back. Sometimes it’s the small things that can make all the difference.
We’d mentioned the TRAIL DOC repair stand earlier, which turned out to be a pleasant surprise once we gave it a try. At first, we weren’t sold on its usefulness for the triathlon community. However, that quickly changed when we traveled to this year’s St. Anthony’s Triathlon with one of our bikes locked securely to the NV. Unfortunately, we were pummeled with heavy thunderstorms on the drive up, which meant our chain had a thick coating of road grime. To solve this, we decided to give the TRAIL DOC a chance. To use the built-in repair stand, leave the NV in its vertical (hidden) position. You then unlock the repair stand’s arm and raise it to the right position. Unfortunately the clamp of the repair stand could not open wide enough for the SHIV’s seat post, so instead we wrapped the top tube in a towel and clamped there. One note of warning about that as this is definitely not the preferred place to clamp a carbon bike. The top tube is not built to withstand clamping force, so definitely attempt this carefully and at your own risk. In our case, however, beggars could not be choosers. So we clammed gently and padded the area with a towel for some extra protection. Once we had the bike on the stand, it was a simple matter of grabbing our chain cleaner, cleaning everything up, and re-lubing. We also used the TRAIL DOC to help swap a rear tire on our Fuji Transonic, and this time we could successfully use the clamp as intended on the seat tube. Overall, we were fans of the concept. It was a handy tool for us when we needed it, though we hope they can find a way to accommodate aero seat posts in future models.
The last thing we wanted to cover was the built-in locking cable. Considering that many of us treat our tri bikes like our first born, never needing to remember your locking cable was a final added bonus of the NV. The cable is hidden away inside the cross arms of the NV. When you want to lock your bike up, simply grab the cables from the arms, run it through your wheels and frame, and you are set! This was a great feature for us when commuting or dropping our littlest AeroGeek off at school.
We envied the NV for months before we finally got a chance to try it, and after a year of use, we can tell you that this is definitely a rack worth coveting. While we were (and still are) big fans of the Sherpa, the NV’s built-in locking mechanism and TRAIL DOC made it that much more useful come race or ride. We also appreciated the ability to handle almost any size bike, so if we decide an XTERRA is in our future, we know the NV has us covered. At $549 the NV isn’t cheap, but considering we use it daily, leaving it mounted to our car full time, we are comfortable with the price. After all, the last thing you need heading into a race is worrying about your bike being flattened by a semi after it falls off your car. And after a year of using the NV, we can tell you that we always arrive at our race sites that much calmer knowing our bikes are safe and sound. And if they need a small adjustment once we reach the destination, the TRAIL DOC has you covered. Talk about icing on the cake.