deniz merdano kuat piston pro x cover
First Impressions Review

The Küat Piston Pro X 2-Bike Tray Rack

Words Cam McRae
Photos Deniz Merdano
Date Aug 9, 2022
Reading time

Crappy Racks for Nice Bikes

In the early days of mountain biking, all racks were shit. We didn't know any better, but I spent years tossing my bike on hatch-mounted contraptions that had two arms to hang your bikes on. They bashed together and rubbed and sometimes the whole thing, which was held on with straps and hooks, would let go at an inconvenient time. The first rooftop racks used a fork down approach which meant you needed to find a place for your wheels, but they worked okay. Bikes got beaten up, cars got damaged, bikes went flying; it was not the golden age for transporting bikes on vehicles.

Fortunately, early MTBs could take a beating; they were made of steel or aluminum, got scratched easily regardless, and didn't cost much to begin with. We have recently crossed another threshold with bikes where prices in the teens are not unheard of. New top-of-the-line or even second tier bikes can easily cost as much as a small kitchen renovation or a nice used car you could drive for another fifteen years. And while racks have changed and improved, they often haven't kept pace with our need to protect our investments.

I think it was Bell who produced an ad with brilliant copy; "does your kid have a $20 head and $100 feet?" We've come around to the idea of spending a little more on helmets but for many riders racks are not a priority, despite their fancy bling machines. Küat has identified this gap and produced a rack that is worthy of your pride and joy, along with a price tag to match.

good rack 2

Racks have come a long way...

good rack cam mcrae

but some interpretations are sweeter than others!

An Unsolicited Review

I don't ride with my wife often. She has her riding friends and I have mine, but sometimes an opportunity presents itself. She was heading out and I said, "can I come too?" Because my wife is always rushing she replied, "you can if you hurry." I loaded the bikes onto the Kuat Piston Pro and, because we had our dog with us, drove to the bottom of Mt. Fromme. When we arrived I showed her how to take her bike off the Piston Pro; tap the "One Tap" levers and watch the arms open pneumatically, lift bike off, go ride. If you'd like, you can close the arms so it looks tidy while you are gone, or leave them up so they are ready when you reload. Which is when she said, "Oh my god! This is the best rack ever!" This is high praise for someone who is under 5'3" tall and not much over 100 lbs.

Before I ever read Atomic Habits by James Clear, I sought ways to smooth the process of going riding; water bottle filled, shoes, clothes, pads, helmet etc. all ready, bike maintenance done, tires and suspension at target pressure, and most importantly, I bought a truck for fast, hassle free loading and unloading. Mr. Clear calls this removing friction, which he cites as an effective way to make good habits stick. Like going for a ride. Most bike racks, even the best ones, are like sandpaper on your buttocks, and for your life.

deniz merdano pistons and pivots cam bmw arrival kuat 62

Precious cargo.

The Problem with Racks

Racks that have an adjustable clamp that comes down on the front wheel or frame are pretty good, but you'd better remember to open the strap that holds your wheel down first because that's a two-hand job and you are going to have to get some help or pull the bike down if you forgot. Those straps often go missing as well. Anything that involves hanging your front triangle on poles is pretty much a nightmare, and North Shore Racks' slide-the-fork-crown-into-the-cradle system doesn't work with every fork and requires some height and muscle. All of these issues are resolvable, but each one, in the words of James Clear, adds friction, which is counterproductive to going for a bike ride more often.

I know this because I began riding my bike more after buying a truck in 2006. It doesn't take many rides for me to justify changing vehicles. Throwing your bikes into a truck is the gold standard, assuming you can lift your bike, which may be a 55 lb eMTB, and assuming you are tall enough.* I would call the Piston Pro X a close second for those who can lift heavy bikes, and number one for those who can't.

*the alternative to those problems is dropping your tailgate, placing the bike(s) - assuming you are able to lift them - and then lifting your gate.

cam mcrae Kuat Piston Pro x 1

Very tidy. The trays are tiered and I haven't yet had to worry about two bikes contacting each other. Photos - Cam McRae

cam mcrae kuat piston pro x 5 copy

Even tidier. As bike racks go, this spoils a vehicle's lines less than most.

Küat Piston Pro X Features

One Tap Levers

Why do I (along with my wife) think the Piston Pro X is so great? There are many well-thought-out details that have led me to this conclusion. The one tap levers are the first I'd mention. When you approach your rack, holding your bike with one hand, being able to get the rack ready with just one hand (and your toe) is a nice advantage. It takes about two seconds to tap the two levers which pneumatically raise arms that hold your wheels in place. Once that is done you can lift your bike onto the tray and it will stand there waiting for you* until you are ready to push the arms into place, securing your bike.

*This won't be the case with all bikes I'm sure but with large and XL modern 29ers they stay there just fine on flat ground

deniz merdano pistons and pivots cam bmw arrival kuat 60

The One Tap levers require moderate force, and some smaller people might have to be aware of the arms rising towards their face,* but overall the operation is incredibly slick. You just tap or press firmly on the rubberized end of the lever (the black rather than charcoal portion) and the arms raise if they are lowered or release from your wheels if you are ready to unload your bike.

*use your left arm for the driver's side of the car and your right arm for the passenger side to keep your face clear of the rising arms

deniz merdano pistons and pivots cam bmw arrival kuat 61

Securing the wheels in place is so easy you could do it with your eyes closed. All you need to do is pull them into position and apply a little pressure to each side until you hear each one ratchet into place firmly. Most modern bikes can be placed in the tray and they will stay upright until you are ready for the next step, whether that is loading or unloading. With smaller bikes - and smaller wheel sizes - you might need to keep a hand on the bike when you disengage both arms are before you put them in position.

Flatlock Hitch Cam

I have always been annoyed with racks that rattle around inside your hitch. Küat has added an adjustable cam that pushes a slider into one corner of your receiver to remove any rattling or play. The rack moves with your car, even on very rough roads. The system also adds a level of security because it's not going anywhere, whether the pin is installed or not, once the cam is properly engaged. In order to engage the cam you'll need a security hex key, and Küat has integrated one that is locked into the end of the rack. Just unlock the handle on the hex key and use it to tighten or loosen the cam and then lock it back in place.

Kashima

My 16-year old son's favourite feature on the Piston Pro X is the Kashima-coated struts. Kashima is hard and durable and expensive. The anodised layer of molybdenum disulphide imbedded into the surface of any sliding part should reduce friction and improve durability, but was this really necessary? Kashima was introduced to the bike industry by Fox and the company has the exclusive use of the coating in the bike industry. A fork may move up and down thousands of times over the course of a single bike ride, so improving longevity and reducing friction are worthy goals. Over the course of ten years, if you ride 150 times a year, and there are four actuations per ride, that's 6000 actuations, which you could probably accomplish in a few rides, which leads me to believe the inclusion of Kashima on this rack was a clever marketing strategy. My son doesn't care, he still loves it, but I'd prefer to see $200 (or more?) taken off the price of the rack. Look for Küat to release a less expensive version of the the Piston Pro X without Kashima and several other features in the future.

deniz merdano pistons and pivots cam bmw arrival kuat 54

This is probably unnecessary bling. When was the last time you saw a bike fork that had worn through whatever coating, Kashima or otherwise, was applied to the stanchions? It looks great, but with the number of actuations a bike rack sees compared to a fork, the extra cost seems hard to justify.

LED Taillights

If cops in your jurisdiction are fond of writing up cars with bike racks on them, this could be a very important feature. Or, I suppose, if you are interested in safety. If you have a 4-pin plug on your vehicle, just plug in the rack with the included cord and your signals, brake lights and hazards will all function on the rack, and they are visible whether it is up or down.

cam mcrae kuat piston pro lights

The Küat Piston Pro X features LED taillights with a four pin plug that will plug into your vehicle - if your vehicle is equipped. My Tacoma has a circular 7 pin plug so I had to pick up a converter for $25. I found a video explaining how to do it for our other vehicle, but frankly I'm terrified of the wiring in our 16 year old Bimmer.

cam mcrae kuat piston pro x lights 2

The lights are visible when the rack is up or down.

Foot and Hand Pivot

If you own one of the earlier tray racks that pivot from close to the vehicle, you know how difficult this can be. If you own a four-bike tray with one of these systems, it can often be a two-person job unless you happen to have long enough arms and enough strength to actuate the release at the bumper and pull up on the far end of the rack at the same time. Most modern racks have a solution that allows you to release the pivot from the end of the rack where leverage is greatest. The best of these that I've used is Thule's T2 Pro which has a handle that allows you to release the pivot and then move the rack up or down easily with one hand. 1UP racks has a similar system but it's not nearly as slick. Küat's pivot releases easily but it becomes a two-hand operation because the lever itself doesn't allow you to move the rack up or down. You can tap the lever with your foot and then use one hand to lower the rack from its upright position, but it's still not as simple or convenient as it could be. It's not a bad system but compared to the Thule T2, I'd call it a flaw.

deniz merdano pistons and pivots cam bmw arrival kuat 55

The Foot and Hand Pivot is easily accessible when the rack is up but it's a little harder to get at once it's deployed. You can lower the rack by tapping the lever and then pull it down with one hand but raising the rack, or lowering it further for tailgate access, requires two hands, which means putting down your bike or whatever you happen to have in your other hand.

Semi-Integrated Cable Lock

Like most bike locks, this isn't going to protect your bike for long periods of time in sketchy neighbourhoods. Virtually all bike locks will fail when subjected to a cordless angle grinder. This cable however, is nice and thick and will give potential thieves pause and at least buy you some time if you are close by. It should also

Küat Piston Pro X

  • 99% Metal Construction
  • OneTap™ levers make loading your bikes easy, and fun
  • Genuine Kashima coated struts ensure your rack not only functions flawlessly for years, but drops jaws the whole time
  • No Fade Powdercoat
  • FastFit™ Wheel Chock System allows for changing wheel sizes from 18” to 29” in seconds, tool-free
  • Stainless Steel Hitch Lock
  • No Frame Contact
  • Flat 4-Pin LED Light Connector

WEIGHT

  • 2-Bike, 1.25”: 61lbs
  • 2-Bike, 2”: 63lbs
  • 3-Bike: 89lbs
  • 4-Bike: 111lbs

CARRYING CAPACITY

  • 2 Bike capacity up to 67 lbs. each
  • Holds wheelbases up to 53” and tires sizes 18-29"
  • Dedicated 2” model is able to carry up to 4 bikes with optional Piston™ Pro X Add-On
cam mcrae kuat piston pro x 2 copy

The Piston Pro X lock is incredibly slick. It's a single cable with a loop on one end and a metal plug on the other. You start at the portion you'd like to lock that is furthest from the locking port in the middle and thread the plug through the loop. From there you simply weave the end through whatever you'd like to secure. I managed to lock both wheels, swingarms and main frame of two XL enduro sleds. And then I just plugged it into the port where it locks automatically.

cam_mcrae_kuat_piston_pro_x_12.original 2

The cable is a nicely coated 12mm wire but I'm sure it would be no match for an angle grinder. This isn't a "leave your bikes in Lot 5 at Whistler all day" sort of solution, but it'll keep opportunistic thieves at bay and give you peace of mind if you are close to your bikes.

Loading and Unloading

It's quite remarkable how easy it is to put your bike on the Piston Pro X, and removing it is even easier. To put it on you can lower the rack with one foot and one hand so you can keep holding onto your bike and then with one hand you can tap each of the One Tap levers to open the arms. At that point you simply lift your bike into position and pull the arms firmly against your front and rear wheel. And you're done. Once you are ready to ride, engage each one tap lever to open the arms and pull your bike down. You can close the arms by pushing them down one at a time, or just leave them so you are ready to load once you are done. The video below gives you a demo.

Assembly/Install

This rack was ridiculously easy to assemble. It was less than a one beer job using the Andrew Major scale. You just need to use a couple of hex keys and put it together like Lego. Or very easy Ikea furniture. Installing the rack was easy as well. It's not overly heavy at 63 lbs, but not terribly light either. I just slid it into the receiver, installed the pin and locked it into place with the stainless steel locking mechanism and then engaged the Hitch Cam.

*1UP's two bike racks for 2" receivers are made of aluminum weigh 46 and 47 lbs and hold 50 and 75 lbs per tray respectively

cam mcrae kuat piston pro x 1

The stainless steel lock for security pin, which goes through the receiver and the rack, works smoothly and has a cover to keep the elements at bay.

(Almost) Final Analysis

You know how it goes with bike racks; they sit on the back of your car with little to no maintenance, getting abused by the weather, often year round. Inevitably they get worse with time, particularly if you live somewhere where roads are salted in the winter. What once was smooth can become chunky, things get stuck, and sometimes pieces break. Considering the cost of the Küat Piston Pro X and the importance of longevity and continued smooth operation, I'll report back a little later with any updated findings. So this is a provisional verdict based on a couple of months of use.

Every touchpoint and moving part on the Küat Piston Pro X operates with incredible smoothness and a pleasingly positive and distinct engagement. The rack is elegantly designed despite the majority of emphasis being on function. It includes an excellent (although not foolproof) locking mechanism both for the rack and your bikes. The integrated LED headlights/signals add safety, because it's better if you don't get rear-ended and should keep the Popo off your case, assuming they aren't stopping you because your plate is concealed (a friend's work-around for this was to laminate a copy of his license and secure that to his rack when it is upright).

Loading and unloading are the easiest and most convenient of any rack I've used, the bikes are held securely and safely and it's dead easy to load them so they don't mess with each other. Construction is solid and clean, and I don't mind the way it looks on our vehicles at all. The Flatlock Hitch Cam prevents the rack from banging around inside your receiver, keeping everything solid and adding another level of security.

deniz merdano pistons and pivots cam bmw arrival kuat 58

The most impressive factor for me is this; the Küat Piston Pro X has transformed a task that usually feels like a necessary pain in the arse, into a pleasurable experience that I actually look forward to.

The tricky bit is that this is going to cost you. The Piston Pro X is priced at 1390 USD or an eye-watering 1800 CAD. In comparison the very good Thule T2 Pro is around 800 USD/1100 CAD and a similar model from 1UP racks, made of aluminum in the USA, will set you back between 650 and 730 USD. Neither of these offer the slick, one-handed loading and unloading, taillights nor the level of smoothness, fit or finish of the Piston Pro X, but I'll put up with a lot if I'm saving between 600 and 750 USD. At the same time, if you factor in the cost of the bikes you are protecting and the hassle free operation of the Küat Piston Pro X, that math might work for you.

Fingers crossed that future models will include some of the best bits of the Piston Pro X without some premium features like the integrated lock and taillights, Kashima etc. for significantly less money.

Küat Piston Pro X

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Comments

michel77
Michel Vis
1 month, 3 weeks ago
+7 TerryP Dogl0rd Andrew Major 4Runner1 Raymond Epstein hotlapz NewGuy

Scrolled down to price and saved myself 11 minutes!

Reply

Dogl0rd
Dogl0rd
1 month, 3 weeks ago
0

Pass on the Kashima and wait for the e-bike specific model

Reply

alexdi
Alex D
1 month, 3 weeks ago
+4 Cam McRae Shoreboy Dan bishopsmike

The killer feature of the standard 1Up is that you can run it as an extremely low-profile single. There's also a total absence of plastic and rubber, so the racks don't fade in sunlight or become brittle. I do think this Kuat has a more elegant loading process, but at the cost of parts (like that gas strut) that will eventually need replacement. I'd look hard at the Quikr Mach 2 in this price range.

Reply

4Runner1
4Runner1
1 month, 3 weeks ago
+3 Cam McRae Spencer Nelson bishopsmike

Sweet Touring, Cam!

Reply

DaveSmith
Dave Smith
1 month, 3 weeks ago
+2 Mynameischris Pete Roggeman

I can't unsee all the stack height under the stem on the arrival.

Reply

xy9ine
Perry Schebel
1 month, 3 weeks ago
+2 Dave Smith Pete Roggeman

my only gripe with that bike is that it could use a taller head tube on the larger sizes.

Reply

DaveSmith
Dave Smith
1 month, 3 weeks ago
0

I put on the WR1 high rise bar and an extra spacer under the stem and it's more bueno.

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
Cam McRae
1 month, 3 weeks ago
+1 Niels van Kampenhout

I usually aim for a low stack but the XL is a wee bit long for me so I decided to try lots of spacers. Mixing things up always teaches me things. Also, you can’t reduce the rise of a $200 handlebar if you change your mind. I don’t care what other people think about how it looks and I don’t like the look of high rise bars so it’ll stay like that for now.

Reply

DanL
DanL
1 month, 3 weeks ago
0

How are the Hope Tech4s working out for you?

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
Cam McRae
1 month, 3 weeks ago
+1 DanL

It’s early days but they seem excellent so far. I rode what may be the scariest slab trail of my life yesterday and I was really happy with both power and control.

Reply

DanL
DanL
1 month, 3 weeks ago
0

You will enjoy working on them as well, very solid construction, easy to strip all the way down to parts and rebuild.

Reply

robnow
robnow
1 month, 3 weeks ago
0

Yup, I'm running the 35 rise bars PLUS 35mm of spacers and as unsightly as that is, it feels good!

Reply

Mynameischris
Mynameischris
1 month, 3 weeks ago
0

Exactly why I’m getting the yoshimura stem! 35mm rise for the dad gut.

Reply

xy9ine
Perry Schebel
1 month, 3 weeks ago
0

those are kinda cool, hey? superfluous bolts, i guess, but so much adjustment possibility!

Reply

WheelNut
WheelNut
1 month, 3 weeks ago
+1 dhr999

Wow $1800. It does look nice though. A friend recently bought a 1up rack and I wasn't super impressed with the loading action, but it is well built and people claim it lasts. I have been through a few racks now (most of the Yakima catalogue) and I still haven't found one that really satisfies what I want. Add to that the fact that a 29er with a 1300mm+ wheelbase is so long with both wheels on that it barely fits down a lane and I'm tempted to just built my own dang rear rack. 

Did you just recently buy this car Cam? Looks familiar to me.

Reply

craw
Cr4w
1 month, 3 weeks ago
+1 Cam McRae

Having a really long (1350mm) bike really messes us the rack options. Can't do a tray rack because my bike is a lot wider than my SUV. NSR4 can't get the bike high enough that the rear tire doesn't occasionally drag on the ground (or even bump the bike right out of the cradle). I can't set the rack higher lest I not clear my parkade gate. First world problems.

Reply

shoreboy
Shoreboy
1 month, 3 weeks ago
+2 Cam McRae Timer

Why does it matter if the bike pokes out beyond the side of your SUV? I could see if it were wider than the mirrors it might be a bit of a worry. There are plenty of people with tray racks that have bikes sticking out beyond the vehicle. The 1UP homepage even shows an SUV with bike wider than the SUV they are mounted on.

Reply

Timer
Timer
1 month, 3 weeks ago
0

Good point. If my bike would need to be shorter than my car is wide, i'd be riding a BMX.

Reply

Onawalk
Onawalk
1 month, 3 weeks ago
0

ALTA racks,

2, 3, 4, 5, 6, all on the same vertical rack.

Adjustable wheel baskets, so bikes never touch,

More than high enough for the big bikes,

Can be converted into a table 

Robust construction

And if you get the optional ratchet straps, so sturdy you can proper off-road with it

It’s a winner winner, fried cheese dinner

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
Cam McRae
1 month, 3 weeks ago
0

I’ve had the car since November. Apparently I t was a  North Van car for years before I bought it though - with different wheels.

Reply

4Runner1
4Runner1
1 month, 3 weeks ago
0

Fairly hard to find in nice condition. wagons get used! Always wanted a Touring or an All road.

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
Cam McRae
1 month, 3 weeks ago
+4 4Runner1 Dan Spencer Nelson bishopsmike

The hardest part was finding a stick.

Reply

4Runner1
4Runner1
1 month, 3 weeks ago
+3 Cam McRae Dan Spencer Nelson

Well done, sir. Respect.

Reply

skooks
Skooks
1 month, 3 weeks ago
+1 Chad K

I have a Kuat NV 2.0. it's a very well -made rack that does a good job of carrying bikes. I run the 2 bike version on my small car. 

I have to say though that my NS 4 rack is quicker and easier to load/unload. Not to say that the Kuat is difficult to use, but the NS feels more efficient, at least for non-E mountain bikes .

Reply

hotlapz
hotlapz
1 month, 3 weeks ago
+1 Shoreboy

lmao this cost more than a 1up after the CBSA hits you with taxes. I've had my 1up for 8 years and the best thing about it is that every single part on it can be repaired.

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
Cam McRae
1 month, 3 weeks ago
0 rg-nw hotlapz

Are there duties as well or just taxes? 1Up makes a nice rack but the operation is decidedly clunky in comparison to this Küat. I was checking one out over the last few days and I expected to be impressed but I was quite disappointed. I appreciate the solid state CNC construction and easily replaceable components but I expected it to feel much better and be easier to load and unload. As we were shooting the little video of loading, Pete, who has a 1UP, immediately said, “I’m sold.”

Reply

shoreboy
Shoreboy
1 month, 3 weeks ago
+3 hotlapz Niels van Kampenhout bishopsmike

There are no duties on a 1UP rack....made in the US of A means no duty per NAFTA rules.

Ive had a 1UP for 8 years as well, still functions the same as it did day one.

Reply

hotlapz
hotlapz
1 month, 3 weeks ago
+1 Shoreboy

I've never paid duty on anything ever in 10+ years of foreign mail order shopping. Your 2 bike carrier costs roughly $800 more than my 3 bike 1up setup before taxes at the border.

Reply

rg-nw
rg-nw
1 month, 3 weeks ago
0

I have a 1UP that is less than 4 months old and I'm actually not that fond of it.  It's very difficult to actuate the tilt, the joints have seized on me and have required servicing twice, I bought the black and some of the parts have already faded to a brownish gray (less than 4 months old).  Still in search of the "perfect" 2 bike rack.  This looks great.  The price is not reasonable for me, but I'd pay $1k USD for it.  Maybe the price will come down if they don't sell at the current MSRP?

Reply

shakazulu12
shakazulu12
1 month, 3 weeks ago
+1 rg-nw

I have all the same complaints about my 1up.  Yes, it's solidly built.  But actuating the drop is a pain.  Not sure if it needs to be broken in or what.  The aluminium bar with the teeth that the locking mechanism for the tire bar slides on is rounding in a few spots.  And the anodizing on the red pieces turned burgundy after only a couple weeks.  It's also not very one handed friendly at all.

That said, the actual build quality is amazing and I have no doubts that it will last a long time.

Reply

rg-nw
rg-nw
1 month, 3 weeks ago
0

Yep.  I have no worries that the bike is secure, but for the money, I was expecting the finishing elements a little nicer.  The red pieces on my rack aren't even burgundy, they're just steel grey with no color, literally.  The color faded by the end of the first month.  The blue is still blue, but the red is just gone.  I've wondered the same thing about the actuation needing to be broken in.  There is no way my wife would be able to make it work and a few times I've thought it might need a few whacks with a hammer to get it going.   Maybe the pandemic rush on bike stuff just put them over the limit and their quality has decreased in the last couple years?  It's very stout.  It's not very nice.

Reply

THELEGENDMTB
THELEGENDMTB
1 month, 3 weeks ago
0

Why hasn't somebody developed a cable lock system for hitch mount racks that have integrated cable locks, where the lock connects into your electrical system, much like tail lights on your vehicle, so if some loser tries to cut it they get a good jolt of power to remind them of their bad decisions?? 

Same thing goes for e-bikes, where the cable actually plugs into the bike and then ZAP!! 

hmmmm...my Rockstar hasn't kicked in yet so this all maybe horsepoo, but who knows.

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