In contrast to many other hitch-mounted racks, with their decidedly industrial 'function over form' designs, Küat's NV is a visual treat. Its elegant lines, fetching grey metallic paint, golden-orange anodizing and extruded aluminum construction wouldn’t look out of place on any number of high-end vehicles.
Thankfully, it does a pretty good job of holding and transporting bikes, too, though a few details belie the company's relative newcomer status. Loading couldn't be easier: simply lift your bike onto the tray, lock the front wheel into the deep aluminum and plastic cradle with the ratcheting main arm, secure the rear wheel strap and off you go.
In total, loading a pair of bikes – even often awkward downhill machines – takes less than a minute, with no bike disassembly required. The padded main hooks grip securely with a very positive ratchet action, giant 29in tires are easily swallowed, and the sliding rear wheel straps have an enormous adjustment range.
We were at first disappointed that the tray spacing isn't similarly adjustable but eventually realized that it simply isn’t necessary. Küat include an ample 33cm (13in) in between the trays and also rotate them slightly away from each other. As a result, we never got any saddle-handlebar interference, no matter what combination of bikes we tried – well done, Küat.
Keep in mind, though, that the optional two-bike add-on kit will tighten that spacing up considerably. In case your trip involves a short stop along the way, there's an integrated cable lock tucked inside the aluminum trays, and the entire rack easily pivots down and out of the way to provide access to your vehicle's rear hatch.
Once at your destination, unloading the bikes is just as easy, and in case you need to do a bit of last-minute maintenance (shame on you; your buddies are all waiting and you should have taken care of that at home!), Küat have included their trick Trail Doc repair stand with its rotating rubber-lined head and telescoping main mast. Even installation into your vehicle's receiver hitch is a breeze, with the integrated wedge mechanism effectively eliminating play at that interface and an included locking pin to ward off thieves.
So what's not to like? Ah, details, details. Unlike powerhouse rack makers such as Thule, Yakima and Saris, Küat are still pretty new on the scene and several spots betray the company's relative lack of experience.
For one, the poorly engineered main pivot quickly developed enough play that bikes rocked up and down in the rear view mirror a disturbing amount while driving on even relatively smooth highways. This was actually an improvement over our first generation tester, whose laughably primitive design we'd have deemed utterly unacceptable.
Küat tell us the tolerances have been tightened up further since our tester's production run but even so, a lack of proper bushings or dedicated wear surfaces means the issue will undoubtedly creep up again over time. To be fair, we never feared for losing a bike off the rack at speed but the NV's excessive movement is disconcerting nonetheless. For comparison's sake, our heavily abused, four-year-old Thule T2 is still as slop-free as when it was new.
Other particulars are similarly disappointing. Though convenient and functional, the repair stand head's jaws are too narrow to provide a truly secure grip and its telescoping main mast is secured by an underengineered clamp, the once-striking color anodizing was badly faded and tired-looking after just a few weeks of service, and the integrated cable lock is only barely long enough to reach through a pair of bike frames and rear wheels if you're careful, leaving the front wheels unprotected.
Moreover, the cable lock and locking hitch pin curiously use entirely different cores so you've got two extra keys to carry around instead of just one and despite what the aluminum upper construction (the base is still steel) would suggest, the full NV rack still weighs 20.4kg (45lb) – a far cry from the 11.3kg (25lb) claimed figure of 1up USA's all-aluminum Quik-Rack.
Do we like the NV? Overall, yes, shortcomings and all. While a bit sloppy (literally) it's easily the best looking rack of this type we've encountered – and depending on your priorities, aesthetics are important. Functionally it gets the job done, with some neat features tossed in for good measure, and recently added changes (such as the slick quick-release Lynx hitch base) we saw at September's Interbike show look to improve it further still. However, the NV still has a ways to go before we can say its function matches the promise of its appearance. Almost there, guys, almost there.