The top-of-the-line rack from Kuat Innovations is the Kuat NV Bike rack.  The NV is available for 2" and 1¼" receiver hitch models.  This platform-style rack is made of heat treated aluminum and weighs in at a modest 47 lbs, which is about 10 - 12 pounds lighter than the competing Thule T2 and the Yakima Holdup racks. The NV is packed with premium features including the Trail Doc, which is a built-in bike repair stand.  Among the most striking features of the NV are the black chrome and orange anodized aluminum finishes.  Without a doubt, the NV is easy on the eyes.

A cursory look over the rack shows attention to detail at every level. So enough gawking, let's get down to using the NV and start by looking at loading and unloading bikes.  The NV, like other platform-style racks, uses a hook arm that ratchets over the front wheel to secure the bike.  The rear wheel is held in place with a single strap.  Unlike other racks, there is no plastic rear wheel tray.  Instead, the rear wheel sits in a "dished" section of the aluminum tray.  This is a big benefit as other competing racks sometimes interfere with bumpers when folded into storage mode.  The rear wheel strap goes over the rim of the wheel and secures into a ratchet connection - simple and easy.

Kuat NV Rear Wheel Tray and Strap
The NV uses a dished section of the wheel tray and a sliding, adjustable ratchet strap to secure the rear wheel to the rack

The hook arm actuates easily with one hand.  When loading the bike, the ratchet arm stays flat, and out of the way while you load the front wheel into the wheel tray.  Once your front wheel is loaded, the rack's hook arm effortlessly moves up and over the front wheel and ratchets down in place.  What is noticeable are the relatively short intervals that the hook arm engages, making micro adjusting to your tire easy and secure - a nice feature that helps prevent over tightening.  Big wheeled riders on 29ers will be glad to know that the hook arm leaves plenty of room to get up and over their big wheels without a struggle.

Kuat NV Loading Bike
The front wheel rests neatly in the tray as you prepare to bring the ratchet arm over the top
Kuat NV Ratchet Arm
The ratchet arm will easily fit over 29er wheels (26" wheel pictured)
Kuat Nv Ratchet Arm on Wheel
When secured, the ratchet arm holds the front wheel securely

Bike removal is just as easy and could be done really quickly.  Release the wheel strap and move to the hook arm and depress the release button at the top of the arm.  We found that giving a slight downward on the hook arm helped release the button easier.  Move the hook arm out of the way and your bike is ready for use.

The NV also stores really neatly when not in use.  The oversized, aluminum lever at the base of the rack tilts the rack perpendicular to the road and an audible "click" lets you know the rack is secured in its storage mode.

Kuat NV in Storage Mode
The NV folds perpendicular to the ground for storage mode
Kuat NV Stores Flat
The NV in its storage mode has a very small footprint
Kuat NV Oversized Adjustment Lever
The Orange Oversized lever is spring loaded to allow you to raise the rack into storage mode, lower it for use, or tilt it away for rear-of-vehicle-access

Most impressive is the angle that the rack tilts away when bikes are loaded in order to gain access to the rear of the vehicle.  Another pull on the oversized lever tilts the rack away from the car - with bikes loaded- for users to lift a hatchback or liftgate.  No unloading the bikes and no interference with rear bumpers.  On the Honda Element, for example, we're able to completely fold down the tailgate with the bikes loaded.

Kuat NV on Honda Element
The NV pictured here on a Honda Element
Kuat NV tilts away for vehicle access
The NV tilts further than competing racks for easy rear-of-car access
Kuat NV Tilted Down on Honda Element
The NV, when tilted down, allows total access to the clamshell opening of the Honda Element

Security is always an issue with bike racks, so the NV comes equipped with an integrated cable lock that stows inside of each of the bike trays.  Kuat recommends wrapping the cable through the rear triangle of the bikes to securely lock them.  We found, as others have noted, that the cables could be a little bit longer and we could foresee trouble trying to lock 2 bikes through the rear triangle.

Kuat NV Bike Lock - Male
The male end of the bike lock stores neatly inside one of the bike trays
Kuat NV Bike Lock Female
The female end of the bike lock stores in the other bike tray, on the opposite side of the rack
The NV bike lock
The bike lock of the NV is designed to pass through the rear triangle of the bike
The Kuat NV Bike Lock
The integrated bike lock is great for 1 bike, but we found it a little bit tight for trying to lock 2 bikes

EDIT 10/14/2010:  After speaking with Kuat about the length of the cable, Bill from Kuat points out, "If you moved it to the inside of the bike that will free up a few more inches and make locking two bikes easier.  It will create the shortest route from point a to point b.  You should be able to lock two bikes 99% of the time if you use the two short routes."

Assembly of the rack, while not difficult, can be slightly time consuming for a first timer.  The payoff is big, though, so don't let this be a deterrant.  Installation into the hitch, however, is really easy.  Simply insert the rack into the hitch, line up the holes, insert the pin through the rack and secure the included lock on the other end.  Next, tighten the installation knob on the front by hand until it's as tight as you can get it, and then use the 8mm hex wrench that is included to finish off the installation, taking the wobble out of the rack.  It's a nice install, where most of the tightening isn't done underneath the bumper, which we appreciated.

Kuat NV Locking Hitch Pin
The NV includes a locking hitch pin which is used to secure the rack to the vehicle hitch
Kuat NV Tightening Knob
The tightening knob pushes a wedge against the hitch to remove the wobble from the rack
Kuat NV 8mm Wrench
The inlcuded 8mm Hex wrench tightens the locking knob as well

For users who want to take the rack on and off every time they use it, we find it to be easier than other competing racks. One thing that left us scratching our heads over was the locking hitch pin was keyed differently than the integrated cable lock for the bikes.  While it did include a handy bottle opener and 3 keys for each lock, we couldn't really figure out why these weren't keyed alike.

Lastly, is the Trail Doc bike repair stand.  We find this to be a well-constructed tool that makes bike cleaning and lubing really easy for most applications, and a perfect solution for cabling and derailleur adjustments that need to be done in the field.

Kuat Trail Doc Repair Stand
The Kuat NV comes equipped with the Trail Doc - A built in bike repair stand
Kuat Trail Doc Quick Release
The Trail Doc raises and lowers using a quick release located at the base

One quirk we found is that you can lift the Trail Doc right out of it's sleeve if you pull up too high.  While not a big deal, it can lead to theft, and the users we have talked with pull the trail doc out of the slot and store it in their vehicle when worried about this. Overall, though, the Trail Doc is a top-shelf accessory for any bike rack, and is sold separately to adapt to the Thule T2, Kuat Sherpa, and the Yakima Holdup.

Kuat Trail Doc Removed
The Trail Doc can be removed from the sleeve if desired to prevent theft
Kuat Trail Doc Closeup
The Trail-Doc has an easy-to-use lever to clamp down to a seatpost or a frame
Kuat Trail Doc on seatpost
The Trail Doc is designed to attaches securely to a bike seatpost
Kuat Trail Doc Carrying Bike
The Trail Doc is adjustable, so you can bring the rear of the bike up or down for derailleur adjustments

Unlike it's cousin, the Kuat Sherpa, the Kuat NV is capable of carrying 4 bikes, with the Kuat NV 2 bike add-on, which was launched in the late summer of 2010.  Turning the NV into a 4 bike rack is especially nice for growing families, since the NV works on all types of bikes, including kids bikes with the included 20" wheel adapters.

Overall, the NV from Kuat gets 4.5 out of 5 stars from the crew at Cracks & Racks.  We feel it is a refreshing design with premium features and really nice, solid construction.  Simplicity is better in our book, and this rack excels at making complicated features perform easily.  A slightly longer cable lock would probably have given it 5 stars, though this was only a minor detail. The Kuat NV bike rack - List Price $499.00, Sold for $475.00