Hailing from Springfield, Missouri, Kuat has been making bike racks since 2008. Starting with the lightweight NV, it was made from aluminium, didn’t touch your frame, and wasn’t an eyesore sticking out of your hitch receiver. Over the years, the range has expanded, and Kuat racks are wildly popular in the US, but are still fairly new players here in Aus.
The majority of their racks are quite sensible, and some have nifty features like integrated workstands. However, when Kuat launched a hitch rack with Kashima-covered hydro-pneumatic arms, we chuckled at the ridiculousness of a literal gold-plated version of the veritable 1UP rack it’s modelled after. Unnecessary bling aside, with integrated lights, a cable lock that will at least slow down a would-be thief, no frame contact and adjustability for wheels ranging from 20in to 29in — and up to 5in wide — requiring no tools, the Piston Pro X ticks A LOT of boxes. But all of that comes with a pretty heavy price tag to boot.
That version is not currently available in Australia. However, Kuat’s local distributor FE Sports is bringing in the stripped-back Piston Pro. This is essentially, the ‘Performance Elite’ version of the rack which ditches some headline-grabbing features but still maintains the nifty OneTap levers. The Piston Pro is anything but a cheap rack, are the auto opening arms just a gimmick or a nice thing to have?
Credit where credit is due, Kuat packages this rack exceptionally well and makes building the thing as user-friendly as possible. Think Ikea, but with fewer parts and labels corresponding to what you’re looking at in the instructions.
Be warned however, this rack is made entirely of metal, and it is anything but light. Kuat says it weighs 30kg, and after the noise my back made when I first tried to move the box into my garage, I believe them.
Assembling the rack is essentially tightening a couple of bolts and attaching the tilt handle. Kuat recommends wanging the central column into your hitch receiver to bolt everything on, which makes the whole process considerably less fiddly. Side note: this is a great tip for building any rack of this style.
The anti-wobble hitch cam is operated via an 8mm security hex and backed by a locking hitch pin. The tool needed to snug everything up is not integrated into the rack, meaning it is something you’ll need to keep track of.
Additional trays are available, and Kuat says the Piston Pro can handle four in total. If you do decide to go this route, you’ll need to be conscious of the rear overhang, as it may be pushing the legal limit depending on your vehicle and what state you live in.
Loading And Unloading | This is where the magic happens
Car racks are one of those things that mountain bikers are shockingly passionate about and we’ve never quite been able to put our finger on why. And the hydro-pneumatic Onetap levers will undoubtedly rile a few of these bike-carrying-afficinados.
From closed, a squeeze of the lever releases the ratchet and allows the arms to spring open. They move with meaning, and by the time you reach over to squeeze the second one, the first wheel loop has fully extended.
Is the auto-opening function of the wheel loops a necessary feature? No way. Is it better than most of what’s currently out there? Absolutely.
There is no messing with wheel hooks, trying to prevent them from crashing into the ground or trying to hold a bike up, bobbling bits of a rack while also trying to have things crash into the other bike. Nor do you need to lean your bike against the car or lay it down in the parking lot to prep the rack for loading. Just press both levers and grab your bike.
With a weight capacity of 30kg per tray with a max wheelbase of 1,350mm, it is long travel, full power e-MTB friendly, and the arms can be manually rotated to point straight down if you’re using a ramp to load your bike. You can also use this if you need to access the bike mounted on the inside but don’t want to unload the rack fully.
The wheel chocks adjust to wheel sizes from 20-29in without tools, and there’s a red warning indicator to let you know if it isn’t fully locked in place. Then it’s just a matter of pushing the wheel loops back into your tyres. You will need a few PSI in your tires, but the loops don’t have to be overly snug for a solid hold, and there’s no worry about parts of the rack rubbing against your fork or frame.
Rotating on oversized Igus bushings the Piston Pro has a tilt feature with a large handle designed to be operated with your foot.
In terms of keeping the rack secured to the car, the Piston Pro is more or less on level pegging with most racks in this price range. The included locking hitch pin is beefy, but could be dispatched should someone be motivated enough. There is an argument that the 8mm security hex bolt that locks in the anti-wobble requiring a separate tool adds a degree of security, but given these can be obtained at Bunnings, I’d call it a wash.
The included 12mm locking cable used to secure bikes to the rack is significantly more substantial than any of the integrated cable locks we’ve come across on a rack to date. We’re still talking about a cable here, and we wouldn’t trust it on the street overnight. But, it will take something more than a good set of wire cutters to dispatch it while you’re in the shops. It’s also long enough to thread it through the frame and both wheels of both bikes.
The trouble however is that the cable can’t be stored in the rack, meaning there is the potential to leave it at home, or in your other car. I’d also love to see a plug or cover for the lock core itself, as the mechanism is one of the few steel parts on the rack, and it’s left open to the elements.
There is no getting around the price of this rack. At $1,899 AUD, it’s one of the most expensive rear platform racks on the market. And there is no doubt this is a really good rack, but it does have some shortcomings.
As with most racks of this style, the bikes will obstruct your lights and number plate, and as dictated by the road rules in most Aussie states, you’ll need to buy a light board.
While we can get over the Kuat scrubbing the Kashima coated tubes and integrated 8mm security hex, for a rack that costs nearly $2K we’re disappointed the integrated lights weren’t trickled down into the Piston Pro. That said, high-end hitch racks from Thule, Yakima, iSi and others suffer from the same problem.
Being made just about entirely of powder-coated aluminium, with a few bits of steel for good measure, this thing is a tank, and it will probably outlast your current bike and the next one.
The only real failure point we can see would be the Onetap levers, as hydro-pneumatic parts do go bad every so often. We have confirmed with Kuat’s local distributor, FE Sports, that they are in fact, covered under Kuat’s No Worries Limited Warranty. This covers bike racks and accessories for defects and workmanship issues for the life of the product, for the original owner. Even outfits like Shingleback don’t offer lifetime warranties on their racks.
We’re not going to pretend that after years of wheel hooks and frame clamps, you need a rack that automatically opens with a squeeze. That said, it does make loading and unloading bikes easier, which is the whole point. Combined with the construction and warranty, if you can afford it, the Piston Pro is a fantastic car rack.