Kuat Piston Pro X Review
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Kuat Piston Pro X
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|Pros||No frame contact, easy loading/unloading of bikes, great security features, integrated brake lights, wide range of bike fit||Easy tilt release function, durable, fat bike compatible, tool-free installation||Sturdy and stable, high weight capacity, optional ramp for loading heavy e-bikes, security features||Reasonably priced, highly versatile, solid construction, user-friendly tilt release, comes with locks||Pivot design enhances vehicle access, remote tilt lever, durable|
|Cons||Very expensive||Hefty, pricey||Expensive, heavy and bulky||Sits slightly closer to vehicle than some, some assembly required||Heavy, pricey, limited tray clearance|
|Bottom Line||If you're willing to spend top dollar for the best, this model should be at the top of your list||Impressively easy to use and highly versatile, we think this is the best hitch-mount rack on the market||This heavy-duty hitch rack can handle any bike in your stable and is great for transporting heavy e-bikes with the optional loading ramp||A versatile hitch-mount rack that provides a high price to performance ratio||A platform hitch rack with a swing-away feature for easier access to the back of your vehicle|
|Rating Categories||Kuat Piston Pro X||Thule T2 Pro XTR||Yakima StageTwo||RockyMounts MonoRail||RockyMounts BackSta...|
|Ease of EveryDay Use (20%)|
|Ease of Removal and Storage (20%)|
|Ease of Assembly (10%)|
|Specs||Kuat Piston Pro X||Thule T2 Pro XTR||Yakima StageTwo||RockyMounts MonoRail||RockyMounts BackSta...|
|Bike Capacity||2 (Up to 4 with add-on)||2 (Up to 4 with add-on)||2 (Up to 4 with add-on)||2 (Up to 3 with add-on)||2|
|Lock?||Locking hitch pin, security allen cam, and 12mm security cable||Yes||Locking hitch knob and security cables||Yes||Yes|
|Rack Weight||63 lbs 11 oz||51 lbs||63 lbs 8 oz||44 lbs 2 oz||60 lbs 3 oz|
|Max Weight Per Bike||67 lbs (42 lbs RV) - dedicated 2" receiver version only, 60 lbs per bike - 1.25" receiver version||60 lbs||70 lbs (60 lbs RV and 42 lbs Off-Road rated)||60 lbs||60 lbs|
|Min/Max Wheel Size||18" to 29"||20" to 29"||20" to 29"||20" to 29"||20" to 29"|
|Max Wheelbase||53" or 1,346mm||50" or 1,270mm||52" or 1,320mm||50" or 1,270mm||50" or 1,270mm|
|Max Tire Width||5"||5"||3.25" (up to 5" with fat bike kit)||5"||5"|
|Other Sizes Available?||Comes in 1.25" and 2" receiver sizes, 1 and 2 bike add-ons sold separately||Yes, 1.25" receiver and rack add-on for 2 additional bikes||Comes in 1.25" and 2" receiver sizes, 2 bike add-on sold separately||Yes, 1.25" reciever, single bike add-on sold separately||No|
|Cross Bar Compatibility||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A|
Our Analysis and Test Results
Kuat has been making high-end bike racks for many years, but they really one-upped themselves when they created the Piston Pro X. While it is arguably one of the most expensive ways to transport two bikes (or three or four with the 1 and 2-bike add-ons that work with the 2-inch version of the rack), this well-designed rack is full of interesting tech and features that helped it climb to the top of the ranks in this review. While the price may be hard for many to justify, we can't deny that its overall performance makes it one of the best we've ever tested.
Ease of Everyday Use
Most hitch-mount tray racks are inherently easy to use by the nature of their designs, but the Piston Pro X takes it to another level, especially when compared to other tire-hold models. This rack seems like it was designed with ease of use as one of the top priorities, and we think Kuat achieved what they set out to accomplish. Features like the tilt-release lever, self-opening ratcheting tire arms, and quick/easy adjustments for varying wheel sizes make loading and unloading bikes a breeze. Additionally, the rack only makes contact with your bike tires, so there is nothing touching your frame or wheels that could potentially do damage to the paint on your fancy bikes.
When the Piston Pro X is already on your vehicle, press the large tilt-release lever with your foot or pull it with your hand and tip the rack down into its flat position. A quick press of the One Tap levers actuates the hydraulic pistons, and the tire arms automatically extend into their open positions. When you're balancing a bike with one hand, this slick feature is very helpful as the rack does the work for you. Then simply lift the bike into position with the tires centered in the tire arms and press the tire arms in and against the tires until they are snug on both ends of the bike. Pushing the tire arms in requires little force thanks to the light ratcheting action, although you can feel and hear the clicks as the ratchet engages. This process is impressively quick and easy and doesn't require the use of any ratchet straps or multiple hands to press down on wheel clamps. With the bikes off the rack, just push the tire arms down all the way and they lock into place in their lowest-profile stowed position.
Should you need to adjust the tire arms for different wheel sizes, you'll want to do that prior to lifting the bikes onto the trays, but Kuat has made it quick and easy to do so. In the middle of each tire arm, the tire cradle that makes contact with the tire can be shifted up or down into several positions, 700c/29", 650b/27.5", 26", 24", 20", and fender kit (requires a special fender kit for fender equipped bikes). These five positions allow it to work with a wide range of wheel sizes by simply squeezing the two tabs on the back of the tire cradle, sliding it up or down, and releasing the pegs in the corresponding holes for the desired wheel size. This does involve an additional step compared to racks that clamp down on the front wheel, for example, but it is very quick and easy to make the adjustment regardless.
While the trays themselves do not offer any lateral adjustment, you can adjust the bikes themselves laterally between the two tire arms to help reduce bike-on-bike conflict. The trays are also tiered slightly with the outer tray a little bit higher which may also help reduce bike conflict and increase ground clearance. When not in use, the rack folds up vertically against the back of the vehicle and is impressively low-profile. It can also be tilted down away from the back of the vehicle with or without bikes on the rack to allow you access to the hatch or tailgate. As with any rack, extra caution should be used when tilting the rack down with bikes loaded.
Ease of Removal and Storage
While it is quite easy to install and remove the Piston Pro X, there are other models that perform better in this metric. It is still fairly user-friendly, but there are several steps involved in the process that make it a little fiddlier than some other attachment systems. Similar to most other hitch mount tray racks, it is also pretty heavy and takes up a bit of storage space.
While some other racks have attachment systems that make it quicker and easier to install or remove them from a vehicle, like those with Speed Knobs, for example, the Piston Pro X has a slightly more involved process. Some of the steps are related to the rack's security features which are quite robust. First, you need to insert the receiver arm into the hitch receiver and align the hitch pin holes. Insert the hitch pin and install the hitch pin lock. At the end of the receiver arm, there is a small hole for the FlatLock cam that is tightened/loosened with the 8mm security hex key that is locked in place at the end of the center beam. Use the key to unlock and remove the 8mm hex key, then use it to tighten the anti-wobble cam in the receiver. Once tight, return the security hex key to the end of the center beam and lock it in place so it is always there when you need it. Reverse these steps to remove the rack from the vehicle.
Should you choose to use the LED light feature on the Piston Pro X, you will also need to attach the cable to do so. A flat 4-pin magnetic cable is included in the parts bag. The cable attaches to the vehicle end of the rack's center beam into a magnetic fitting hidden under a plastic hatch and the 4-pin connection attaches to your vehicle's 4-pin trailer light socket (an adapter may be needed if you have a different style of socket). Two included magnetic clips can be attached to the cable and stuck to the rack and hitch receiver to help manage the cable.
At 63 pounds and 11 ounces, the Piston Pro X is the heaviest tray-style hitch rack that we've tested, and carrying this rack to and from its storage location can be a little awkward as a result. If you leave the rack on your vehicle most of the time and only remove it seasonally, then this isn't too much of an issue. If you install and remove your rack every time you use it, however, this weight may be more of a concern. Like other similar racks, the Piston Pro X is also somewhat bulky and takes up a fair amount of space in your storage location. In its smallest collapsed size, it is 59.5 inches long, 23 inches tall, and 15.5 inches wide. While it is a little more streamlined than some other options, it certainly doesn't disappear in your garage or shed.
One place where the Piston Pro X is certainly not lacking is its versatility. With a high per-bike weight limit and tire arms and cradles designed to fit just about any wheel size and tire width, this rack is ready to transport just about any bike in your fleet. It comes in both 1.25" and 2" receiver sizes, and add-ons are available to increase carrying capacity.
The 2-inch version of the Piston Pro X has a weight limit of bikes 67 pounds per bike. That limit decreases slightly to 60 pounds per bike for the 1.25-inch version. Either way, it can obviously handle your road, gravel, or mountain bike, and it's capable of transporting most electric bikes that will fit on the trays. Kuat sells an aftermarket e-bike ramp to make it easy to roll your heavy bikes up onto the trays. One and two-bike add-ons are also available for the 2-inch version to increase capacity to 3 or 4 bikes. With 3 bikes the weight capacity goes down to 50 pounds per bike, and down to 40 pounds per bike with 4. Only the 2-inch receiver version is rated for use with RVs, although the per-bike weight limit drops to 42 pounds. If intending to use this rack with an RV, it is recommended that you check out Kuat's RV compatibility warning. This rack is intended for on-road use, although smooth gravel roads fall into that description.
In terms of bike fit, the Piston Pro X can handle wheel sizes between 18" and 29" with simple changes to the position of the tire cradle within the tire arm. They also sell a fender kit to make it work with bikes with front and rear fenders. The tire arms and cradles will work with any tire size from the skinniest road bike tire up to 5-inch wide fat bike behemoths. It will fit up to a claimed maximum wheelbase length of 53 inches, or 1,346mm, which should be adequate to handle all but the longest of downhill mountain bikes.
While no security features should ever be considered infallible, Kuat has done a great job of making both the rack and the bikes you carry as secure as possible with the Piston Pro X. This rack is quite expensive on its own, so we appreciate the included hitch pin lock and security allen key to keep it safe on your vehicle. The long and beefy cable lock also makes it easy to lock your precious cargo to the rack.
An expensive rack like the Piston Pro X could be a target for opportunistic thieves. Thankfully Kuat includes a heavy-duty metal hitch pin lock as one layer of security. Should that layer be compromised, the rack still can't be removed without the 8mm security allen key to loosen the cam within the receiver, and that is locked in place at the end of the rack's center beam. For the bikes, Kuat has included a 12mm thick coated steel cable that is long enough to be looped through both bike frames and all four bike wheels before locking into the rack on the top of the center beam. This cable is thicker than most included cable locks on other racks which should theoretically make it more challenging to cut. Still, we'd recommend those leaving their bikes on their rack for extended periods consider adding an additional bike lock for added security and peace of mind.
Ease of Assembly
Kuat has made the assembly of the Piston Pro X a relatively straightforward process, but there are several steps involved that take a little time. If you buy this rack at a shop, the assembly will likely be taken care of for you. If you buy it online as we did, however, it will be shipped to your door in several pieces with some assembly remaining. Regardless, the instructions are easy to follow, it comes with all the tools you need, and it takes less than 30 minutes.
Our rack arrived in a large box in excellent condition with all the parts secured and well-protected inside. The rack comes in five main parts, the receiver arm/center beam assembly, and four tray pieces, as well as a few smaller parts and the tools needed to do the job. The user manual includes thorough written instructions with exploded diagrams that detail every step in the process. You can also scan a QR code that brings you to an assembly video or you can find it on the Kuat website. All of the pieces are labeled with letters that correspond to the steps in the instructions and the order in which the pieces are attached. Kuat recommends inserting the receiver arm/center beam assembly into your hitch receiver for assembly, although it can also be done off of the vehicle if necessary. Install the tilt-release lever followed by the two bike trays. The innermost tray goes on first, and Kuat has included small EasyClip tabs that allow them to hang on the center beam while you install and tighten the thru-bolts.
If you're shelling out the big bucks for the Piston Pro X, you'd hope that it's going to last. While we haven't had enough test time with ours to make any definitive assessments on its long-term durability, it's clear that Kuat has made this rack with longevity in mind. Considering the mostly metal construction, powder coat finish, and quality hardware, we foresee this rack having a long lifespan.
In terms of materials, metal generally lasts much longer than plastic and Kuat claims the Piston Pro X is made with 99% metal. While there are some small bits of plastic here and there on the rack, it is, in fact, made almost completely from metal parts. Those metal parts are connected with "308 Stainless Steel, 750-hour salt spray automotive grade hardware" with quality name-brand Igus bushings for the moving parts. Everything is finished with TIGER DRYLAC, which is "a class-leading powder coat". Not only does it have an attractive appearance, but this powder coat should help keep it from fading, withstand moisture and road grit, and reduce the chances of corrosion. The pistons themselves feature a Genuine Kashima Coat as you find on high-end mountain bike suspension products. Not only does it look fancy, but this hard-wearing coating helps reduce friction as well.
During testing, we've had our test rack on our vehicle during one of the harshest winters in Tahoe history, and it has seen more than its fair share of snow, slush, and sloppy road conditions. It still works as flawlessly as the day we got it, and all of the moving parts function properly without even a squeak. A friend who has been using a Piston Pro X for over six months gave us a similar report, saying that when he hoses it down occasionally, it looks brand new. Of course, if you back into a tree or something you can probably do some damage. The LED lights also seem like they could be a weak point if they happen to get smashed into something.
Should You Buy the Kuat Piston Pro X?
The price of the Piston Pro X is undoubtedly a significant barrier to entry, but if you have the means to afford this high-end rack, we think it's one of the best on the market. This fully-featured model has all the bells and whistles, holds bikes securely with no frame contact, and comes equipped with well-executed security features to keep both the rack and your bikes safe. With a high per-bike weight limit and a wide range of adjustability, it can carry just about any bike, and clever features like piston-actuated tire arms make it impressively easy to use. With bright LED lights, Kashima-coated stanchions, a powder coat finish, and a sleek design, it's also sure to turn more heads than most other racks out there.
What Other Hitch Bike Racks Should You Consider?
If you're looking to save some cash for bike parts or apres ride meals and beverages, we feel the Rocky Mounts MonoRail represents the best value in a hitch mount tray rack. For way less than half the price, the MonoRail gets the job done in a slightly less refined package. If you have a little flexibility in your budget, the Thule T2 Pro XTR will still save you several hundred bucks compared to the Piston Pro X, and its performance earned it our Editor's Choice Award. It foregoes the lights and Kashima bling, but it's well-designed, incredibly easy to use, and carries your precious bikes securely.
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