Kuat Highline Review
Cons: No security features, may inhibit trunk access, bike frame contact
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Highline is a trunk mount bike rack from one of the industry leaders, Kuat. This lightweight rack is highly adjustable and can fit onto a large variety of vehicles from sedans to SUVs. The model we tested can accommodate 2 bikes and it supports them by the frame and attached with integrated ladder straps. The rack's adjustments and attachments are user-friendly and the rack collapses down small for easy storage. Our biggest gripe with it is the lack of security features to secure the rack or the bikes to it. Otherwise, we found this rack to be well designed and an affordable option for light-duty users who don't prioritize rack security.
Ease of Everyday Use
As far as trunk mount style racks are concerned, the Highline is relatively well suited to everyday use. If you're the type that removes your bike rack between uses, this rack is quite straightforward to put on and take off the vehicle, it just takes a few minutes. Kuat also includes some protective film layers that you can place on your vehicle where the rack makes contact to protect your paint job. Assuming you're the type who leaves the rack on the vehicle between rides, all you need to do is fold the support arms out into position, then lift the bikes up and place them in the cradles on the support arms before securing them with the ladder straps.
Loading a bike is relatively easy thanks to the fact that you can leave both wheels on the bikes, unlike some roof racks which require the removal of the front wheel. The low loading height also means that you never have to lift the bikes too far off the ground, it's roughly the same height as most platform hitch mount racks.
Once the bike is in place on the rack, you simply secure it with the two integrated ladder straps over the top tube. Kuat has also added an adjustable anti-sway strap, one for each bike, that wraps around the seat tube and helps to prevent the bikes from shifting due to wind or bumpy roads. The straps are easily loosened using the quick release closures and they are attached to the rack so you don't have to worry about misplacing them.
This rack may conflict with access to the trunk of some people's vehicles if you set it up so that it rests on the bumper. The position of the rack on the car varies by the vehicle's style and size of the trunk or rear door.
Ease of Removal and Storage
Storage is one of the Highline's strongest suits. This rack weighs just 13lbs and 15oz making it incredibly easy to pick and move around. It also folds down quite small with a collapsed size of 23" x 22" x 11" making it easy to stash in your trunk when not in use and taking up very little space in your garage or shed. Trunk mount racks like the Highline or the Thule Raceway Pro 2 take up less storage space than any of the roof or hitch mount style racks we've tested.
Due to the nature of the Highline's design and attachment system, removing the rack from your vehicle takes a little more effort than some of the hitch mount racks. You need to loosen each strap and detach it from the trunk, and there are a total of 6 straps. Once the straps are detached, folding the rack down to its smallest size is simple and involves pressing the tabs that control the hinges and the support arms and folding the rack.
The Highline is a highly versatile rack that will work with virtually any vehicle that has a trunk. The includes the majority of sedans, min-vans, and SUVs. The rack is highly and easily adjustable and we tested it on the trunk of a Subaru WRX sedan, as well as the steeper trunk of a Subaru Forester. The rack has a bike weight limit of 35lbs per bike, which should handle the vast majority of road and mountain bikes, though it won't work for some heavyweight cruisers or e-bikes.
The Highline loses some serious ground to other racks in the versatility department due to its support arm design and bike attachment system. This rack holds bikes by supporting them by the frame on top of its two arms and securing them with straps that tighten around the frame. Anyone who is highly concerned with the finish of their bike's frame will certainly want to look at other racks with no frame contact. Another drawback of this style of rack is that it works best with more traditionally shaped frames with long straight top tubes. Modern full suspension mountain bike frame designs may prove more difficult to fit. Fortunately, Kuat makes the UBar an adapter for use with oddly shaped frames.
Overall, we found the Thule Raceway Pro 2 trunk rack to have a slightly more versatile design that allows the support arms to be adjusted laterally for greater frame compatibility. The platform hitch mount racks are far more versatile than any of the trunk mount racks, especially those that hold the bikes by the wheels.
Ease of Assembly
Unlike some of the trunk mount racks in this review that come fully assembled in the box, the Highline does require a minimal amount of assembly before use. This process is incredibly quick and easy and they provide the only tool you need to get it done. The upper rack support comes separate from the rest of the rack and needs to be attached with the included hardware before use.
All of the straps used to secure the rack to your vehicle also need to be attached before use, fortunately, they are labeled and this process is incredibly quick and easy. Simply thread the end of the webbing through the cam locking buckle, making sure that it locks the strap when you pull tension on it, and you're good to go. The entire assembly process of the Highline takes about 5 minutes. Of course, it's far easier to pull a fully assembled model out of the box and go, like the Saris Bones 2-Bike, but this small amount of assembly is by no means a deal breaker.
One of our biggest gripes with the Highline and most other trunk mount racks is the lack of security features. This rack doesn't come with locks to secure the rack to your vehicle or the bikes to the rack, so if security is a priority you're better off looking elsewhere. Generally speaking, we find that platform hitch racks, like the Rocky Mounts MonoRail, and roof mount racks, like the Yakima Forklift, provide a higher level of security
The rack itself attaches to the vehicle with 6 nylon webbing straps that pass through cam locking buckles. This system of attachment is relatively standard and it feels solid and can easily be adjusted to tighten the rack down. Unfortunately, there is no way to lock these straps, and the webbing can easily be cut by anyone with scissors or a knife. We're much more impressed by the Thule Raceway Pro 2 in this regard, with steel attachment cables that can be locked in place.
The trays and ratcheting ladder straps that secure the bikes to the Highline are easy to use and securely hold the bikes in place on the rack, even during windy conditions and at highway speeds. Beyond that, however, there are no locks of any kind integrated into the design of this rack like the cable locks on the Thule Raceway Pro 2. If you want to lock your bikes to the Highline you'll need to get an aftermarket cable lock to do it.
The Highline appears to be a well made and durable product. It weathered our test period with flying colors and looks roughly the same as the day we took it out of the box other than a little road dust and grime.
The rack is made from lightweight aluminum tubing that is attached to plastic fittings by the hinges and the feet. The adjustments at the hinges and for the rack's arms are plastic tabs that can easily be pressed one-handed and look highly durable assuming you make adjustments with the least bit of care. The ratcheting ladder straps and bike attachments are all plastic and very user-friendly, though like any ladder strap they can be prone to damage if used carelessly. These straps are somewhat similar to those found on the Saris Bones 2-Bike, and we prefer this style of bike attachment over the rubber band system found on the Thule Raceway Pro 2.
The straps that attach the rack to your vehicle are solid, as are the metal cam locking buckles and rubber coated hooks. Since the straps themselves are made of a nylon webbing it stands to reason that they will eventually break down from the effects of use, weather, and sun exposure, though this will probably take around a decade before it happens. That said, we're more impressed by the steel cable straps used to secure the Thule Raceway Pro 2 to the vehicle.
The Highline is best for less frequent bike rack users who drive sedans, mini-vans, or SUVs. It works best with standard shaped frame triangles, like those found on most road and hardtail mountain bikes, and it may have some compatibility issues with oddly shaped dual suspension mountain bike frame designs. This rack is relatively quick to attach and remove from your vehicle, is lightweight, and folds up small for storage. It does make contact with your bike's frame and it lacks security features of any kind, so those are important things to consider based on your usage.
With a retail price of $219, we feel the Highline represents a pretty good value. It is over $100 less expensive than our Editor's Choice Award-winning trunk rack, the Thule Raceway Pro 2, and offers a very similar performance minus the security features. There are less expensive trunk mount racks out there, but they don't even come close to the quality and user-friendliness of the Highline. We feel this it represents the best price to performance ratio of all the trunk racks in our test earning it our Best Buy Award.
The Highline is a quality trunk mount bike rack from Kuat, a great option for the less frequent bike rack user who prioritizes storage and convenience. This rack is lightweight, folds up small for storage, and has quality user-friendly adjustments and bike attachments. The most glaring drawbacks of this rack are the bike frame contact and its lack of security features, so if that matters to you at all you'll be better off looking elsewhere. Otherwise, we feel this is a great trunk mount option and a solid value, the winner of our Best Buy Trunk Rack Award.
Other Versions and Accessories
The Highline is available in 2 colors, grey (tested) and black. In addition to the 2 bike model we tested, Kuat also makes a 3-bike version which retails for $249.
Kuat makes the UBar, $35, an adapter for oddly shaped frames that may not otherwise fit on the Highline.
The Glass Pack Accessory Strap, $19, is also offered as an adapter to secure the straps of the Highline in the back window of certain SUVs.
— Jeremy Benson
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