Gimmicky? Maybe. Silly? Kinda. Cool/sophisticated/glamorous? For sure. Those were all the adjectives running through my head when I looked over the Kashima-coated Kuat Piston Pro X hitch rack at Outdoor Retailer last year.
“For when you want to get your bike off the rack REALLY fast,” I joked with my colleagues. Even though a few jokes were had at the Kuat Piston Pro X’s expense, the rack certainly got people talking. Tray style hitch racks have a way of doing that these days. Look through the Facebook comments on this review after it’s published and there won’t be any shortage of opinions. Yes, this design has grown more ubiquitous in recent years and the Piston Pro X is Kuat’s first crack at the hitch rack without its signature ratcheting arm that braces at the bridge of the bike’s fork.
Like the highly regarded 1UP USA racks, or the Saris MTR and Thule Helium, the Piston Pro X uses cradle arms that exclusively contact the tires and not the fork or the frame. Those cradle arms use ratcheting Kashima-coated, hydro-pnuematic struts to secure the bike, and Kuat’s new OneTap levers pop the arms open like a grandmother who hasn’t seen her children’s children in a year.
It was the Kashima-coated struts that garnered the most attention when Kuat launched their rack in 2021, but there are some other notable features like the LED tail lights which connect to the vehicle via a 4-pin connector. When your taillights blink upon locking the vehicle, using the turn signal, or braking, so do the laser-like strips along the base of the Piston Pro X.
Other features include a heavy, 12mm-thick security cable, a FlatLock hitch for a wiggle-free rack when it’s installed, and a lustrous powdercoat finish. The rack can hold 67lb on each tray (most vehicles), has a 5″ max tire width, and a 53″ max wheelbase. That number translates to 1,342mm, since that’s the unit most mountain bikers use to measure their wheelbase. The Piston Pro X also fits wheels sizes between 18″ and 29″ and this can be adjusted instantly, tool-free.
The rack is 98% metal, so there is minimal plastic. Aside from the adjustable wheel chocks in the cradle arms and the LED taillights, it’s hard find any plastic on this rack.
As anticipated, or by presumption after reading these features, one can expect the Piston Pro X to carry a top-shelf price tag. At $1,389, it may be the most expensive two-bike rack we’ve tested.
On the road with the Kuat Piston Pro X
I had refrained from reading up on the Piston Pro X between when the rack launched last year and the time I received a test sample this summer. Installation was breezy. The instructions are easy and I was pleased to touch and feel all of the sturdy metal pieces and thick hex bolts that hold everything together.
When the rack was finished and installed in under an hour later, it sat tight as a wrestler’s uniform in my hitch receiver. It developed a slight amount of play over time, but with the hex key locked into the rack, I was quickly able to tighten it up again.
Operating the Piston Pro X is straightforward. There’s a foot pedal to drop the rack down level to load the bikes. It still requires the use of a hand to pull the rack down. Putting the rack back up, the pedal is in a somewhat odd position between both trays, again requiring two hands to stow away.
The Kashima struts are frictionless and the OneTap levers are a cool touch. When closed tight on a bike, they require a bit more force, but not more than the push of a palm to open the cradle arms. I’ve had some longer enduro bikes around this summer and there has been enough room, but I can tell I’m starting to get close to the limit with one bike that has a 1,250mm wheel base.
The taillights certainly catch attention and I have to admit, I dig them too. I told our editor-in-chief, Jeff, I thought they may be unnecessary, but he told me he’s had people run into the back of his rack more than once, and maybe the lights will help prevent that from happening.
Another feature I appreciated is the hefty, half-inch cable lock that appears to be an actual security measure, unlike some other integrated bike rack locks. Nothing is fool-proof, but these would call for some serious clippers if someone wanted what’s on the rack.
Lastly, the Piston Pro X has a lifetime warranty. On the card that came with the rack they say “If your rack isn’t keeping up with your life, or isn’t performing to your satisfaction, return it to the dealer you purchased it from or call us for a repair, replacement, or refund.”
The Kuat Piston Pro X could have easily been a rack with premium features, lazily thrown together, but it’s not. The almost completely metal construction, the powdercoat finish, and high-quality components signal that this rack is in it for the long haul. My first impressions of the Piston Pro X may have been that some of the features are purely aesthetic, but even the Kashima coated struts seem to help the arms glide as easy as freshly serviced suspension.
But, the Piston Pro X also costs hundreds of dollars more than its competitors. Some may not care and others might think the features aren’t worth the money, which is fair. When it comes down to it, the taillights and Kashima are a hard sell for $400 more than a 1UP or Thule/Saris/Inno when they all transport bikes in nearly the same manner.
So, I think this comes down to whether the flashy features are a must for you and whether the Kuat Piston Pro X can weather many years on the back of a vehicle. For that, we’ll need to check in again, though it may be a while.
- Price: $1,389
- Buy from REI and other online retailers.
- High quality materials and construction
- Integrated safety lights
Pros and cons of the Kuat Piston Pro X
Matt is a staff writer and features editor at Singletracks and lives in the Front Range of Colorado. He served in the Marines and has a journalism degree from MSU-Denver. Want to talk MTB news? Send him a message: [email protected]