MSRP $449; Kuatracks.com
I’ll never forget my first bike rack. It was a farewell gift from my coworkers whom I worked with at a REI-type store in Boston. My gorgeous Lemond Zurich, my Jeep Liberty and I were headed west for my hometown of San Diego—the ultimate solo road trip for a young single girl in her 20s. The rack was basically a large, clamp-like device that hung over my spare, and gripped the top tube of my bike like the Jaws of Life. During my cross-country journey my bike bumped and swayed in the wind—but hey it never fell off—and so I felt the rack did its job. Even when I’d take it off every night and notice the little scratches and bits of paint being ripped off my cherry red bike frame I figured “Meh, isn’t that just what bike racks do?â€
Over the next several years I had a variety of bike racks that were admittedly an improvement over that first model, mostly ones with large rubber straps that were royal pains-in-the-ass to secure (and often broke or had to be replaced). I had racks that strapped two bikes so closely together that it was a given that the handlebar tape of one or both bikes would have to be redone at the end of the trip. As a typical bike enthusiast, my arsenal of rides increased, as did their monetary value over the years, and I eventually began just throwing them in the car instead of on the rack systems whenever possible.
Recently my husband, large dog, two bikes and I headed north to Central Oregon, and between the amount of luggage and the amount of room my Rhodesian Ridgeback would take up in our SUV, it became apparent that the bikes would have to be strapped to the back. But this time, I wasn’t taking any chances with them.
I chose the KÃ¼at Sherpa bike rack, a hitch-mounted system designed for people as obsessed with their bikes as I am. Designed to work with any standard hitch (both 1.25â€ and 2â€), the Sherpa accommodates two bikes and a total carrying capacity of 80 pounds. The Sherpa rack only weights 29 pounds, meaning even I could take it on and off the back as needed, and it can fit up to a 44.5â€ wheelbase, up to a 2.75â€ tire, and between 20â€ and 29â€ wheels. The Sherpa can handle pretty much any two types of bikes (although downhill and Freeride bikes are not recommended). The rack folds up easily when not in use and also tilts down for easy vehicle access with both bikes on (a feature our dog appreciated very much as she was stuck in the very back of the car for the three-day journey.)
The hardest part to this rack was the initial assembly, which I’ll admit took my husband and our senior editor Jay Prasuhn roughly an hour to put together, but once they did it was a snap to secure into the hitch. The way the bikes slide into the rack is true design genius: you simply place the tires into cradles, ratchet them in place, and then slide a large lever down over the front tire and clamp it into place. We timed it, and it took precisely 45 seconds to put two bikes on the rack, and 30 seconds to get them off.
Once on the rack, the bikes are safe and snug as a baby in a carrier—and more importantly they are 13â€apart from one another, so there is absolutely no rubbing of any part of one bike against the other one. The ratchets, similar to ski and cycling shoe ratchets, click down securely without much effort.
Being able to easily tilt the rack down, even with the bikes on it, was a great featured to have during an extended road trip. We could easily lift the entire back hatch of our car up to let our dog out and to grab necessary luggage. The Sherpa also comes with a handy external cable lock and hitch pin, so we could lock the bikes to the rack and head out for a bite to eat without worrying about them being stolen.
After two days of driving, we encountered our first real “weatherâ€ issue. High winds, rain and even snow flurries descended upon us as we headed across the California/Oregon border, and I kept a close eye on the bikes. They had barely moved a millimeter during the earlier part of the drive, and even in the high winds they were still incredibly secure.
As with any rack system, you can expect some gas mileage to be eaten up, but honestly it wasn’t very noticeable. And the security I felt knowing my bikes weren’t just safely secured to the back, but also weren’t rubbing or being damaged along the way, was well worth a few extra dollars in gas.
Now that we’re in Bend, I’ve used this rack to quickly head out to new riding spots, and I haven’t once even considered throwing my bike in the back instead. It’s simply too easy to use the Sherpa, and it’s easier on the bike as well. If only my poor Lemond Zurich could have experienced the same road trip luxury …