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Kuat Piston Pro Review

If you can do without the LED taillights and Kashima-coated sliders, this is the best rack you can buy
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Kuat Piston Pro Review
Credit: Matt Lighthart
Price:  $1,098 List
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Manufacturer:   Kuat
By Joshua Hutchens ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Feb 15, 2024
84
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#2 of 17
  • Ease of EveryDay Use - 20% 10.0
  • Ease of Removal and Storage - 20% 6.0
  • Versatility - 20% 9.0
  • Security - 20% 9.0
  • Ease of Assembly - 10% 8.0
  • Durability - 10% 8.0

Our Verdict

Kuat raised the bar when they released the Piston Pro X; they also raised the price point for a hitch rack. Starting with their flagship hitch rack's excellent design and solid construction, they set out to make a more affordable (think XT vs XTR) rack without the Kashima-coated sliders and LED tail lights. Just like the higher-end model, the rack touches only your bike's tires. The tire-hold load arms used on this rack are the simplest and most effective way to carry a bike. Wide fitment, a high weight limit, and easy adjustability give this rack loads of versatility. Top-notch security, excellent durability, and the easiest loading experience of any rack we've tested make it a clear winner. Undoubtedly, it's very expensive, but this rack is functionally superior to almost every other rack we've tested. Its 98% metal construction and powder coat finish make this rack feel like a solid investment.
REASONS TO BUY
Tire only Contact
Quick load/unload
Excellent security features
Versatile fit
67lb per bike limit
REASONS TO AVOID
Expensive
One color
Ramp is aftermarket
Can be foiled by ice

Compare to Similar Products

 
kuat piston pro
This Product
Kuat Piston Pro
Awards Editors' Choice Award Editors' Choice Award Best Buy Award Top Pick Award Top Pick Award 
Price $1,098 at Backcountry
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$720.00 at Amazon$499.95 at Backcountry$759.95 at Amazon$650 List
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Bottom Line A slightly paired-down version of the best rack we've tested, this rack is all business but still expensiveVersatile and easy to use with an excellent tilt-release functionThis impressive rack is sturdy and user-friendly, with a lower price tag than the premium optionsIf you want a swing-away hitch rack, this is a great option that will allow you to access the back of your vehicleA rugged hitch-mount rack that folds up for compact storage
Rating Categories Kuat Piston Pro Thule T2 Pro-XTR RockyMounts Mono Rail RockyMounts BackStage 1Up USA 2" Heavy Du...
Ease of EveryDay Use (20%)
10.0
9.0
8.0
8.0
6.0
Ease of Removal and Storage (20%)
6.0
7.0
7.0
6.0
8.0
Versatility (20%)
9.0
9.0
9.0
9.0
7.0
Security (20%)
9.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
5.0
Ease of Assembly (10%)
8.0
7.0
6.0
6.0
10.0
Durability (10%)
8.0
9.0
8.0
8.0
10.0
Specs Kuat Piston Pro Thule T2 Pro-XTR RockyMounts Mono Rail RockyMounts BackStage 1Up USA 2" Heavy Du...
Bike Capacity 2 (Up to 4 with add-on) 2 (Up to 4 with add-on) 2 (Up to 3 with add-on) 2 2 (Up to 4 with add-on)
Lock? Locking hitch pin, security key, and 12mm security cable Yes Yes Yes No
Rack Weight 62 lbs 11 oz 51 lbs 44 lbs 2 oz 60 lbs 3 oz 46 lbs
Max Weight Per Bike 67 lbs (42 lbs RV) - dedicated 2" receiver version only, 60 lbs per bike - 1.25" receiver version 60 lbs 60 lbs 60 lbs 50 lbs
Min/Max Wheel Size 20" to 29" 20" to 29" 20" to 29" 20" to 29" 16" to 29"
Max Wheelbase 53" or 1,346mm 50" or 1,270mm 50" or 1,270mm 50" or 1,270mm 54" or 1,371mm
Max Tire Width 5" 5" 5" 5" 3.1"
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 Yes, 1.25" reciever, single bike add-on sold separately No Yes, single bike version and rack add-on for one additional bike
Cross Bar Compatibility N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A

Our Analysis and Test Results

Kuat manufactures some really clever products for moving your gear around. Our most recent review and long-term use of the Piston Pro X has impressed us so much that we were curious to see what sacrifices we'd make with this more affordable model. It's still really expensive, but after testing it and using it with our beloved bikes, we find it really hard to go back to any other type of rack. Several racks use this same basic design, but they are not created equal; Kuat's implementation of this design is much more user-friendly than others. The price may be hard to stomach, but this rack is such a clear winner we can't deny that its overall performance makes it worth the expense.

Performance Comparison



Minimal effort on the part of the rider makes the Piston Pro an easy favorite.
Credit: Matt Lighthart

Ease of Everyday Use


Most hitch-mount tray racks are easy to use due to their designs, but the Piston Pro is even easier, especially compared to other models using the same tire-hold design. Kuat prioritized ease of use and convenience when designing this rack, and it's a delight to use. Every feature has been well thought out and implemented. The PedalPivot tilt-release lever is easily accessible with your foot and quick to deploy at a time when your hands are likely full. The OneTap hydro-pneumatic tire arms are exactly that: one tap. The FastFit wheel chocks make adjusting the rack for different wheel sizes a one-handed job, something most other racks require tools to accomplish. Our favorite part about this style of rack is that it only interfaces with your bike's tires, with no clamps on your muddy paint and no straps over your fancy wheels; there are no worrying wear points.


Loading bikes is as simple as lifting them into position and pushing the arms closed. Pushing the load arms against the bike puts pressure on your tires, so you're pushing against tire pressure while the arms ratchet tighter. We can't emphasize enough how easy this process is; once your bikes are unloaded, you simply push the load arms back to the rack base, where they lock in place. If you want to load a heavy e-bike (up to 67 lbs) or just make it easier to load your non-assisted bike, Kuat sells a ramp that allows you to roll the bike onto the rack.

Loading and unloading bikes is simple, intuitive and can be done with one hand.
Credit: Matt Lighthart

Different-sized wheels are easily accommodated; while it's easiest to make the adjustment prior to lifting the bike onto the rack, the one-handed wheel chock adjustment is incredibly convenient and won't leave you hanging. The tire load arms have laser-engraved markings showing where to position the tire cradles. From the top, the positions are 700c/29", 650b/27.5", 26", 24", 20", and fender kit, which requires an additional part for bikes with fenders. These six positions cover a wide range of fit allowing most bikes to travel safely on this rack; fat bike tires use the 29" setting.

kuat piston pro - the fast-fit chock system shown here can quickly be adjusted for...
The Fast-Fit chock system shown here can quickly be adjusted for different wheel sizes with a single hand.
Credit: Matt Lighthart

There is no lateral adjustment mechanism, instead, you simply move the bikes fore or aft to prevent interference and tighten the tire arms when the bikes are in the desired location. Not having a fixed position for each bike makes it easy to prevent interference between saddles and handlebars; the outer rack is also slightly higher, which helps keep the bikes separate. When not hauling bikes, the rack folds against the back of the vehicle and maintains a fairly low profile, sitting 13.5" proud of the hitch receiver. The rack also tilts down to access a hatchback or trunk. Tilting the rack up or down can be done with a quick kick to the PedalPivot, making it a hands-free operation. If you'd like unfettered access to the back of your vehicle or need additional clearance for van doors, Kuat sells a pivoting arm that goes between the rack and hitch, allowing the entire assembly to swing out 90 degrees.

kuat piston pro - delightfully simple to release, unless you're on a steep incline...
Delightfully simple to release, unless you're on a steep incline, you'll need to nudge the rack to help it deploy.
Credit: Matt Lighthart

Ease of Removal and Storage


Installing the Piston Pro is straightforward and user-friendly, with most of its installation steps related to security. In regards to storage, this is still a big, cumbersome rack that isn't easy to hide in your garage. It will occupy a large footprint and isn't particularly easy to stash away. In its folded position, the rack is still 59.5 inches long, 23 inches tall if balanced, and 19.5 inches deep. Riders who only use the rack seasonally or occasionally might remove the two main tray bolts and disassemble the rack for storage. With most racks, we wouldn't really consider disassembly for storage, but putting the Piston Pro together was so quick and easy that it might be an option for those tight on space.


To remove the Piston Pro from the vehicle, you start by unlocking the stainless steel hitch pin lock and sliding the hitch pin out of the receiver. Next, you use the specially provided 8mm security key to open the FlatLock cam that tightens to prevent the rack from wobbling. You'll need to be responsible for the security key as it doesn't lock into the rack as it does on the Piston Pro X. Led lights are absent on this model, so you needn't plug the rack into your hitch connection.

kuat piston pro
Credit: Matt Lighthart

Weighing 62 pounds and 11 ounces, the Piston Pro isn't exactly lightweight, and moving this rack on and off your vehicle should be minimized. As such, it's a great rack for riders who typically leave their rack mounted year-round or only seasonally remove it. If you remove and reinstall your rack each time you use it, however, you may want to consider a model that is easier to carry and store.

It's a simple process to remove the rack but not something that we'd like to do very often.
Credit: Joshua Hutchens

Versatility


Versatility is the Piston Pro's strong suit; with a 67lb per tray weight limit and tire load arms and designed to fit up to 5" tires, there aren't many bikes you can't carry. This rugged transporter can handle wheelbases up to 53" and be upgraded to carry 3 or 4 bikes. Adding bikes lowers the per tray weight to 50 pounds for 3 bikes or 40 pounds for 4 bikes. Users hoping to mount this rack on an RV should be advised that only the 2-inch, 2-bike version is approved for RVs, and there is a 42-pound weight limit per bike.


Not having dedicated spots for the wheels to rest and using tire hold arms gives the Piston Pro and other racks like it an advantage. Bikes with missing tubes, unconventional forks, strange shapes, it really doesn't matter; only grabbing the bike tires eliminates so many variables that foil other racks. The tire load arms can handle wheel sizes between 20" and 29" and pose no danger to your bike's wheels or rims. There is no minimum width for the V shaped tire chocks, narrow road bike wheels are held just as securely as wide mountain tires. Kuat claims bikes with wheelbases up to 53 inches (1346mm) should fit, which is long enough for most beach cruisers and DH mountain bikes.

kuat piston pro - slide it through the loop and lock it into place, it couldn't be...
Slide it through the loop and lock it into place, it couldn't be much easier than this.
Credit: Matt Lighthart

Security


With a rack this expensive, you'll be relieved to know that Kuat takes security seriously. The included stainless steel hitch pin locks the rack to the vehicle and features a cover to keep dirt and debris out of the keyway. Additionally, the patented FlatLock cam tightens into the hitch receiver to prevent any rack wiggle using an 8mm security key.


Locking bikes to the rack is easy with Kuat's ten-foot-long security cable; the 12mm cable has a noose end allowing you to loop it around a frame or wheel and a terminal on the other end that locks into the rack's main body. The key for this lock is the same key for the locking hitch pin.

kuat piston pro - locking the noose-style cable into the base of the rack is simple...
Locking the noose-style cable into the base of the rack is simple and easy to access.
Credit: Matt Lighthart

Ease of Assembly


Assembling the Piston Pro X isn't a difficult process, but there are a few steps that will save you some time and energy. If you buy this rack online like we did, you'll need to assemble it. Finding this rack at your local bike shop likely means that you can forego that process and get straight to enjoying it. We found the instructions clear and easy to follow, with the two tools needed for assembly included.


Our rack arrived in five main pieces: the centerbeam and the four pieces that make up the trays. The user manual includes written instructions with helpful diagrams that detail the rack assembly process. If you're feeling tech-savvy, scan the QR code, and it takes you to Kuat's assembly video. Pro tip from Kuat: Install the centerbeam into your vehicle's hitch and assemble the rack in place. You can also do this off the vehicle, but it's nice to have the rack supported while you twist nuts and bolts.

Installation is made simple using your vehicles hitch and the included tools, this took 10 minutes.
Credit: Joshua Hutchens

Durability


The Piston Pro is made of 98% metal, and that bodes really well for durability. Our racks are constantly exposed to the elements and UV, which takes a toll on plastic and rubber pieces. Rather than saving costs here, Kuat used all stainless hardware, name-brand IGUS bushings, and an incredibly durable powder coat finish.


The powder-coated finish on this rack is similar to other Kuat racks but notably not the fancy TIGER DRYLAC used on the Piston Pro-X. The rack looks nice when it's clean, but its texture seems to hold on to road grime more than its fancier counterpart. The finish on this is incredibly durable and should provide many years of protection for the underlying metal rack. Despite the tough coating, we did scratch the trays of our rack using carbide tipped ice studs in our tires, fat bikers beware of the damage that ice spikes can do, this isn't an issue of rack durability as much as misuse.

kuat piston pro - capable of cradling 5" tires, a simple pinch of the fast-fit wheel...
Capable of cradling 5" tires, a simple pinch of the Fast-fit wheel chocks allows you to carry a huge range of bikes.
Credit: Joshua Hutchens

We installed our test rack toward the end of fall and used it throughout a tough winter for fat bike testing. During winter testing, we encountered an issue with the ratchets in the piston arms. There were certain circumstances where there rack refused to latch and wasn't able to hold a bike, possibly due to cold and ice. We contacted Kuat, and they recommended using a de-icer spray inside the piston arm where the ratchet mechanism is located. While we found that to work, the issue didn't present consistently. We can't be sure how all the other racks we've tested would fare in snow and freezing temps because many of them can't hold fat bike tires and thus don't get deployed honor harshest winter days. All of the Piston Pro's moving parts still feel impressively smooth and when clean, the rack still looks new. If we're wrong about how durable this rack is, Kuat should back it up with their “No worries” warranty.

The Piston Pro X goes together quite easily thanks to a streamlined...
The Piston Pro X goes together quite easily thanks to a streamlined assembly process, thorough instructions, and included tools.
Simplicity of design and quality materials make this rack an absolute winner.

Should You Buy the Kuat Piston Pro?


Absolutely. Take it from a self-professed rack-geek; this rack is so much better than its competitors that the extra cost seems incidental. Kuat has built a rack that is aesthetically pleasing, durable, easy to use, and not frustrating. After using the Piston Pro and Piston Pro X for months, it feels disappointing to use any other rack on the market; this product is functionally superior. This deluxe model checks all of the boxes for us; we love how its important operations only require one hand (or a foot). We also realize how expensive this model is, and despite its price, we still wholeheartedly recommend it.

What Other Hitch Bike Racks Should You Consider?


If you've read this far, you understand how much we like it, so it should be no surprise. We recommend the Piston Pro X, which is this rack but turned up to 11. It features working LED brake lights, Kashima-coated piston arms, a super durable coating, and tools that lock in place. If you'd rather save your cash for bike parts, check out the Rocky Mounts MonoRail; it's a phenomenal value. For a fraction of the price, the MonoRail gets your bike to the trailhead. Want a rack that is just a little bit less awesome, check out the Thule T2 Pro XTR which has been a GearLab favorite for many years and carries a much more reasonable price tag.

kuat piston pro - weighing in at 62lbs 11oz with hitch stainless steel hitch pin and...
Weighing in at 62lbs 11oz with hitch stainless steel hitch pin and lock, you'll want to minimize moving it on and off of the vehicle.
Credit: Joshua Hutchens

Joshua Hutchens
 

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