The Küat Piston Pro X Hitch Rack Has No Equal

The Küat Piston Pro X Hitch Rack Has No Equal
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Photo credit: Trevor Raab

Photo credit: Trevor Raab

Takeaway: With the Piston Pro X, Kuat elevated the hitch-mounted rack from a practical necessity to something much more desirable. It includes features never before seen on a bike rack, including:

  • Integrated lights that plug into any vehicle’s trailer wiring harness

  • Steel hitch and aluminum trays and frame

  • Hydro-pneumatic arms open with the push of a lever and ratchet close

  • Kashima-coated pistons

  • Holds bikes up to 67 pounds, with tires up to 5-inches wide without adapters

  • Fits wheels from 18 inches to 29 inches

  • Available Spring 2022; less expensive versions coming fall 2022

  • Costs a lot more than other racks, but less expensive versions will be available.

Price $1,389
Available
Spring 2022

To accurately describe the Küat Piston Pro X, and then fairly compare it to other hitch racks, we need to create a new classification, because our current framing falls short. When you consider this rack’s construction, list of features (many of them never before seen on a rack), price, and elevated style (even compared to Küat’s existing models, which are already known for their good looks), it stands alone. It’s a superrack.

I tested the new model for the past month, and it’s an impressive piece of cycling equipment. With the Piston Pro X, Küat elevated the rack from something purely utilitarian to a desirable piece of gear that’s easier to use than any other, has smart features like integrated brake and turn-signal lights, can carry more bike sizes (and more weight) than almost any other rack on the market. The price of the top-end Pro X model is nearly 50 percent more than even the most expensive hitch-mount racks currently available, but it also promises to be more durable and maintain its good looks, thanks to all-metal construction, with powder-coated parts and stainless-steel hardware.

Photo credit: Trevor Raab

Photo credit: Trevor Raab

Bigger, Safer (and Easier to Use) Wheel Mounts

On the most basic level, the Piston looks similar to Küat’s NV 2.0, but with a new style of wheel-clamping system that uses elongated U-shaped arms to hold the front and rear wheels (instead of the J-shaped arms on prior Küat racks). It’s a style popularized by 1Up, and that other brands—like Thule—have also adopted.

Compared to the older style, the new clamping system accommodates more wheel diameters and tire widths, is easier to operate, and because there’s a U-shaped clamp for each wheel, eliminates the pesky ratcheting strap used to affix the rear-wheel to the tray. Because the arms attach over the tires, and not against your fork legs, there’s no rubbing or scraping against your bike’s carbon or metal parts. The ratcheting mechanism is tucked into the rack base and away from your hands, so there’s no chance of pinching fingers in it like you could with J-style arms. That’s a significant change for Küat helps the brand keep pace with its competitors. But, it’s a few other other changes and features that set the Piston apart.

Photo credit: Trevor Raab

Photo credit: Trevor Raab

Adjusting the arms to fit different wheel sizes only requires pinching a spring-loaded lever on the tire chocks, and then, sliding them into the proper position. It takes a second or two with one hand, and the system will fit wheels from 18 inches, to 29 inches, or 700c, and tires up to 5 inches wide, without adapters. That is something no other rack can do. Over a month of testing, including plenty of miles at or above highway speeds, and over some rough dirt roads, my bikes stayed on secure. However, I did notice that some 29ers with wider tires wobble some. I could see Küat adding a higher clamping point on later versions.

Slick Hydro-Pistons Allow One-Handed Operation

The rack’s name comes from its four hydro-pneumatic pistons (a pair on each of the two bike trays) that, with the press of a lever, release the arms holding your bike wheels. When you need to load your bike, a quick pop-pop of the two levers (one for each U-Shaped arm) opens the rack so you can load your bike. Then, repeat when you’re ready to unload. It cuts a few seconds of work and adds a lot of enjoyment to the process.

It takes some effort to depress the levers once your bike is loaded, but most will be able to do it with one hand (my eight-year-old-son can, but my seven year old needs two). It’s a feature I never knew I wanted, let alone needed, but see the value. It allows you to hold your bike with one hand while prepping the rack for loading with the other. I can’t even count the number scratches on Nissan Xterra’s rear quarter panel from hurriedly leaning my bike against it to free-up both hands to open the arms on my previous racks. In terms of convenience, it feels almost as significant as when we moved from quick-releases to dropper posts.

If you go with the Pro X model, like the one here, those pistons are Kashima coated. The slick gold coating reduces friction and should make everything slide smoother and easier to operate. Küat has never shied away from bright accents, and the pistons will nicely match Kashima-coated mountain bike forks and shocks, if you have them. But, like those shocks, I suspect most of us won’t feel much difference. I wouldn’t spring for the Pro X model just for those, but the other features below do make it an appealing option.

Photo credit: Trevor Raab

Photo credit: Trevor Raab

Lights, Locks, Magnets and Other Cool Things

It’s hard to out dazzle Kashima-coated pistons, but the integrated lights on the Piston do just that. LED Light strips on outside edges of the rearmost bike tray add tail light features, when plugged into a vehicle’s trailer-wiring harness. Of course, you need a wiring harness to make them work. But if you do, the appropriate one blinks when you turn on your turn signals, and they both light up when you touch the brakes. And, just like your car’s or SUV’s rear driving lights, they illuminate at night.

The small cable that runs from your wiring harness plugs into the front of the rack, above the hitch. It is held in place by magnets, which makes removing the rack just as easy as any other. The cord has two smaller magnets that you can slide along its length to help manage the cable, and prevent it from drooping below the rack where it could snag on a curb, rut, or anything else. As cyclists, we know the importance of visibility. I hope more racks start coming with lights like this one.

Photo credit: Trevor Raab

Photo credit: Trevor Raab

The base two-bike model uses a large pivoting handle on the right side of the rack’s base to raise the rack when not in use, or to drop it down to create more space for opening rear tailgates. It pivots on large Igus bushings and feels solid. You can either pull it with your hand, or push on it with a foot to operate. The foot operation is cool, though you still need to coax the rack up or down with a hand. Using your hand to operate is less convenient, because you still need the other to lift or lower the rack. It’s the one area where Küat’s competition wins out. Racks like Thule T2 and 1Ups EV have handles on their end that allow you to raise and lower them with one hand. But, if you add a third or fourth bike tray to the Küat (it comes with two and can accept up to four), those extensions have a handle.

There is also a semi-integrated cable lock. The locking mechanism is built into the frame of the rack, and clamps down on the end of the cable when inserted. Managing a separate cable requires more work compared to racks with fully integrated cables, but has advantages: It’s faster when you have two or more bikes, it allows Kuat to use a larger and stronger cable (so you can lock the wheels too). The 12mm cable that comes with the rack is noticeably thicker than the ones you’ll find on integrated systems.

Made for the Long Haul

The effort Küat put into making this rack last as long as your bike (assuming you’re not on the new-bike-every-season program) is notable, especially given the price. Living in the Northeast, where we ride through the winter, and often travel salted roads to get to the trailhead or group-ride meeting spot, I’ve had excellent and expensive racks rust and fade to the point where I wanted to replace them after just three or four seasons.

That shouldn’t be a problem with the Pro X. Küat built the thing to last a decade. It is made entirely of metal, with a steel hitch and aluminum frame. All of the hardware is stainless steel. It looks stronger, sturdier, and better designed than any rack you can currently buy. There’s real value there if you really can get 7 or 8 years out of this rack (let alone 10) without losing performance or the rack looking too seasoned by the weather.

The rack’s hitch mount is solid, and better than previous Küat systems. There’s a locking pin to hold it in place, and an expanding cam to secure it in the receiver. Smartly, Küat designed this part so you can’t over tighten it, and provided a stow space for the required 8mm tool in the back of the rack. Once you slide the tool in, it’s held in place by magnets and you can further lock it up with the same key you use for the hitch pin and bike cable.

Photo credit: Trevor Raab

Photo credit: Trevor Raab

Some Important Comparisons

A month of testing revealed a lot about this rack. Its sturdiness, its ease of operation, the worthiness of some features (like the LED lights), and questionable appeal of others (Kashima-coated pistons). It’s also given plenty of time to compare this one to other racks I’ve owned, tested, and tried—more than 12 in all, including the Thule’s T2 and Helium, Küat Sherpa, Rocky Mounts BackStage, and Yakima HoldUp. There’s no question this one offers a better set of features, especially when it comes to safety, security, and easy operation.

Photo credit: Trevor Raab

Photo credit: Trevor Raab

It also fits more bike sizes and weights than any other rack. Here’s a quick comparison among the top models you can buy right now. The $800 Thule Helium has a max bike weight of 37 pounds, can only fit 26-inch to 29-inches/700c wheels and tires up to 3.2 inches wide. Kuat’s previous premium rack, the NV 2.0, has a capacity of 50 pounds for bikes and requires an adapter for 20 and 24-inch bikes. The $765 1Up Equip-D Double also has a 50-pound per bike capacity. It fits wheels between 16-inches and 29-inches/700c, but you need tools to accommodate different wheel sizes.

The Piston can carry bikes up to 67 pounds each, making it the only one that can safely hold many e-bikes. It fits, without tools, wheel sizes from 18-inches to 29-inches/700c, and tires up to 5 inches wide. If accommodating different sizes and styles of bikes is important to you, or if you own a e-bike, the value of this rack increases substantially.

But that price, right? As someone who would most likely find my next rack on eBay or local bike club classified page, I can’t tell you that you should feel good about spending that much money on a rack. But I can say that the features and durable construction make it feel at least 50 percent better than any other model you can buy. So, the price seems fair. If you have a fleet of bikes, or are willing to pay extra for a rack that’s nicer looking and more enjoyable to use than any other, you shouldn’t have any concerns about dropping that amount on this one.

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