Hitch Rack Meets Refinement

Hitch Rack Meets Refinement

Those early hitch racks were a lot like trunk racks: not terribly attractive. It was the same way with roof racks. It wasn’t until some time in the 1990s that roof racks became status symbols rather than eyesores. And that’s where we’ve been with most hitch racks until recently.

This past winter I began using a Küat Sherpa 2.0. This was after a giant SUV rear ended me and allowed me a chance to go for a ride in a truck with lots of fancy lights. The old hitch rack (and hitch) fared as well as an earthworm under a size 14 boot, but they really did the back half of my car a favor. Where were we?

Yeah, so I replaced my old rack with the Sherpa 2.0. I’ve been wowed by its big brother, the NV 2.0, but I wondered how much you’d be giving up in going with the Sherpa 2.0. Both carry two bikes and both have the carrying capacity to carry nearly any bike I own: neither can carry my cargo bike or my tandem. The NV 2.0 carries bikes with a wheelbase as long as 48 inches (122cm), while the Sherpa 2.0 will carry bikes with a wheelbase as long as 47 inches (119cm); it gives up very little and is likely only to be an issue with a few mountain bikes.

The NV 2.0 has a carrying capacity of 60 pounds, which seems like overkill when you consider that the Sherpa 2.0 will carry a bike weighing up to 40 lbs. This is likely only going to be an issue for a few select downhillers and ebike owners.

So far as I could see, in my riding life the only feature I’d be giving up between the NV 2.0 and the Sherpa 2.0 was the fact that the NV 2.0 came with a bike repair stand integrated into the carrier. A neat feature, to be sure, but not one I need on a routine basis.

One of the truly genius features of the Sherpa 2.0 was the way the box became an assembly stand for the rack and the instructions were clear and well-written. Assembly took less than an hour.

Security is low-key. There’s a cable that locks in the rack itself, but isn’t retractable. This will keep honest people honest and little more. It’s long enough to get around two bike frames, but it’s nearly impossible to get it through all four wheels and into the lock.

I dig that the release to fold the rack down can be operated either by your hand or your foot. It’s handy (see what I did there?) to be able to push the lever with your foot and then just pull the rack down for bike loading. Pull the lever a second time and it will fold away from the car so that you can get the rear hatch open even with bikes aboard the rack.

Compared to many other racks I’ve encountered, the Sherpa 2.0 is a good deal quieter. By that I mean that thanks to the powder coating of the parts there’s not as much rattling and clanking when the lever is pulled and the rack folds out for loading. Also, there’s a knob to tension the rack in the hitch mount so that it doesn’t bounce around every time the car runs over a bump. Truly, this rack would only be quieter with the addition of noise-canceling headphones.

My one gripe with the Sherpa 2.0 was that the wheel bar doesn’t lower enough to hold a 20-inch wheel securely. I drive bikes with 20-inch wheels (Mini-Shred’s bike and the freestyle bike I’m riding at the pump track here) more often than I drive adult bikes. The only way I found I could secure them was by clamping the seat, which was effective, if inelegant, the way Mad Dog 20-20 will get you drunk but won’t be any fun until you are.

Then I learned about an accessory so that the ratchet arm can hold wheels smaller than 26-inches.

This little doohickey affixes to the ratchet arm with velcro straps. While it isn’t easy to find online, the children’s wheel adapter tends to go for $10 and allows you to secure a smaller bike with the ratchet arm. The remaining problem I see is that some kids’ bikes will still be difficult to carry because the wheelbase is too short to reach from the front wheel cradle to the rear wheel cradle where the ratcheting strap is mounted. But so far, I’ve been able to carry all but our 12-inch-wheel bike on the rack.

The fact that the front wheel cradle folds closed when not in use is one of the rack’s more attractive qualities, something I didn’t realize until I once forgot to fold the cradles closed before flipping the rack up. It also allows the rack to sit closer to the vehicle than it might otherwise, giving you more maneuvering room when you aren’t carrying bikes.

One thing I’ve noticed on some hitch racks is that the bikes are so close together that you have to work to accommodate both bikes due to interference between pedals and sometimes between bars and saddles. When Küat redesigned the Sherpa 2.0, they increased clearance to 14 inches. And they did this while maintaining enough stiffness in the rack that it doesn’t wiggle like an old car antenna.

Küat has managed to redefine my expectations for a hitch rack. Now if they would just come up with a more elegant solution to carrying bikes with small wheels.

Final thought: Perhaps the only hitch rack that looks like an upgrade to the vehicle.

 


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16 comments

  1. AG

    Is the 40 pound weight limit total for both bikes combined? You mentioned carrying only one bike. A 40-pound weight limit won’t accommodate two mountain bikes (at least not the kind that I can afford). So, if I buy the Sherpa I won’t be able to go for a ride with a buddy or my spouse? If the weight limits you mention are total combined, then even the NV would struggle with two mid-grade mountain bikes. Hmmm.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      According to their copy that’s 40 lbs. each. Like I said, that’s only a problem with downhill or cargo bikes.

  2. Lyford

    A general comment on hitch racks(or hitch rack users): I was just at an event where parking was tight, and was frustrated by the number of hitch racks left in the “down” position that made matters worse. An unfolded hitch rack with the arms down is below the driver’s sightline in close quarters.

    Once the bikes are off, fold it up!

  3. Andrew

    Have the NV. Love it, but I’d get the Sherpa and save a few dollars if I were doing it again. Haven’t found a need for the workstand yet.

    The only complain I have about it is that one of my dogs dislikes having to jump into the back over the rack, and occasionally insists on being picked up and placed there.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Let’s get them to invent a doggie ramp that clips onto the rack when it’s in the full-down position. I bet you’re not the only one who experiences this.

  4. Ric Kellen

    I still am a roof rack guy but I certainly see the appeal with these hitch mount racks. My thought is how long before law enforcement starts to take issue with the blocking of license plates that occurs with these racks.

    1. Nick Hutton

      Here in Australia and NZ it is a legal requirement to have an accessory plate visible at the back of your hitch rack. Also, that rack has no lighting of any sort. Thule are years ahead in that respect. How can a driver behind you be expected to make and emergency stop if they cant see your tail lights.


    2. Author
      Padraig

      I’m not sure what you mean by Thule being “light years ahead” with regard to lighting. Here in the U.S. out of six Thule hitch rack designs none have lighting. To the degree that you’re referencing the accident I mentioned in the beginning of my review I should clarify a few things: 1) In the U.S. there is no requirement that hitch racks have lighting; 2) I was using a Thule rack, not a Küat one; 3) my tail lights were visible; 4) the SUV that struck me was pushed into my car after having fully stopped by the SUV behind it, which did not stop. Again, visibility of my tail lights wasn’t at issue.

  5. Fuzz

    I have two buddies with the Sherpa 2 (and two with the NV), so I’ve used it quite a few times. One of the best features is the weight. Years ago I bought a Saris Thelma because all the other racks I looked at were too heavy for my wife to lift. The Sherpa is only slightly heavier, while incorporating all the usual cool stuff we expect from Kuat. Besides the 14″ separation, the bikes are also nicely separated left to right, which is a big deal for MBs – better lateral separation than the NV. The only other rack that seems to garner such consistent user satisfaction is the 1Up, but it looks like a collection of tinker toys, while the Sherpa is a work of art. My one complaint with the Sherpa, and the NV, is that the front clamp can push the brake calipers around on a road bike, and if your road bike has disc brakes like mine, you will want to put some padding in between the clamp and the fork/headtube. This is where the 1Up really wins. I feel like Kuat needs to rethink how the clamp interacts with road bikes in general. It’s not that it’s any worse than a typical front wheel clamp, it’s just that it’s no better, which is unusual for a Kuat product.

  6. RichK

    Best rack? One Up USA. Installs in a few seconds, can handle any size wheel and can be used as a one bike rack that folds up near the rear bumper and doesn’t block rear lights. One of my best purchases, not including my new BMC Road Machine.

    1. Willis

      Agree on the 1Up USA hitch rack. Looks like an erector set but is the best performing hitch rack IMHO.

  7. Jeff G.

    I have an older NV – probably bought it in 2014. After a year in Michigan winter the chrome-plated (I assume) bits got invaded by road salt. The plating peeled away and the rack looked a little shabby. There were chrome pieces throughout the rack, but primarily the front wheel tray arms were the worst. I called Kuat to see if they had heard of others having this problem or if it was just me. They said “yes, we have changed to fully anodized pieces now as that is a known problem”. They then offered to send me replacement parts and two days later a big box arrived with ALL new parts that contained the newly designed pieces. No cost. They sent parts for replacement that didn’t even need replacing. And they were ridiculously nice about it. I’ll never go anywhere else for bike racks because of it. It was purely cosmetic and they essentially sent me a new rack.

    Also, one other thing to note re: the NV vs. the Sherpa – – the NV is overbuilt on purpose to allow for another 2 tray add-on.

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