I’ve been mountain biking ever since I could drive a car and over the last 17 years I’ve wrestled with finding the best way to get my bike to the trailhead and back. In the beginning I’m pretty sure I just shoved my bike into the back of my Mom’s van or my 1987 Dodge Aries station wagon. In college I “upgraded” to a trunk rack that allowed my pedals and bars to scratch the crap out of my car. Later mudhunny and I both dropped serious coin on roof rack systems that were a little inconvenient and prone to being forgotten (and subsequently damaged) in parking garages.
So when I got the chance to test the Kuat Sherpa hitch-mount bike rack I was hopeful that I’d find a better solution. The Sherpa holds two bikes upright and can handle wheel sizes from 20-29″. The company makes it clear the Sherpa isn’t meant to carry DH or FR bikes but this seems to be based purely on weight considerations (the stated weight limit is 40 lbs. per bike). The rack required some assembly out of the box and the whole process took me about an hour. Admittedly I installed the hitch receiver upside down but that’s more of a reflection of my mechanical abilities than the quality of the instructions.
Attaching the Sherpa to a car hitch is easy – just insert the receiver, thread the locking pin, and tighten the hand clamp. The hitch receiver works with either a 2″ or 1.25″ hitch so it should be compatible with 99% of the set-ups out there. And while the rack folds up easily with the flip of a lever when you’re not carrying bikes, I found it’s so easy to install and remove that I usually only put it on when I’m going riding. Fortunately the rack is pretty lightweight at 27 lbs. so lugging it in and out of the house isn’t too bad.
Securing bikes to the Kuat Sherpa is a cinch and literally saves me 10-15 minutes every time I ride compared to my old roof rack. Since the rack holds bikes upright, there’s no need to remove a wheel (a big deal for those of us with non-QR thru-axle forks). Upright racks like the Sherpa are also a good option for those with tight frame geometries that don’t play nicely with hanging-style racks. And because the rack is much closer to the ground, mudhunny can load her own bike at the end of the ride instead of making me lift her rig up onto the car!
The rear wheel straps offer plenty of length to wrap around even the burliest mountain bike tires and the cinching mechanism works well in both directions. Ratcheting fork arms feature push-button operation and have enough range to handle both my 29er and muhunny’s standard wheels. I found it’s important to place the arm over the wheel as close to the front of the bike fork as possible; otherwise the bike will start to move around en route. With everything correctly in place, neither speed bumps nor highway speeds caused the bikes to move an inch.
Kuat says the Sherpa provides 13″ between bikes when transporting two rigs and clearly in our tests this was more than enough room. With handlebars getting wider and wider these days, you really can’t have too much space and fortunately the designers kept that in mind. The rack itself sits well away from the vehicle so there’s no chance of bar scratches on your trunk.
Unlike other rack systems we’ve purchased in the past, the Sherpa includes a lock that doubles as both a way to secure the rack to your car AND a means for securing your bikes to the rack. It’s really an elegant solution where one key (and one lock) does it all.
Now, let’s talk fuel efficiency. You may not realize it but carrying bikes on top of your car creates serious drag which can burn 15% more fuel by some estimates. To put that into perspective, one day trip with a $50 fill-up includes $7.50 of EXTRA gas you need to buy just to cover the drag from your bikes. With a hitch rack the bikes are tucked in behind the car where there’s far less drag. Trunk mounted racks, while better than roof racks, still leave the bikes higher and more exposed than a hitch mounted rack like the Sherpa.
After driving around with the Kuat Sherpa a bit I noticed the rack scraped the pavement a few times (speed bumps, driveways) and I eventually realized I had installed the hitch receiver upside down (oops!). Still, depending on the height of your vehicle this may be an issue, especially if you’re in a sedan vs. an SUV or truck. Also the gray plastic cap on my rack doesn’t fit securely and falls off sometimes, though as far as I can tell this piece is mostly cosmetic anyway.
According to Kuat, the Sherpa is designed for bikes up to a 44.5″ wheel base and clearly my size large 29er is pushing the limits. Fortunately the rear wheel cups pivot enough to attach my bike to the rack, though whether this puts excess strain on the cups over time is yet to be seen.
To me, getting bikes to the trail is one of the least enjoyable parts of mountain biking so I’m stoked to have such a great solution after all these years. With a lifetime warranty, the Kuat Sherpa is a solid rack that’ll get your bikes to the trail safely, efficiently, and in style for years to come. It’s like having your bike delivered on a silver platter every ride!
Thanks to the folks at Kuat for providing the Sherpa bike rack for review.