I usually only review bikes
I like. I loved reviewing the Kuota K-Factor. It is an absolute
feast of a bike.
Kuota is the little Italian company
that can. They compete against some of the largest bike manufacturers
in the industry. As a relatively small boutique bike company
they face an enormous task. The little Italian bike company
has to take on the rest of the bike world, and they have to
do it on the merits of their bikes alone. There is no Tour de
France team on Kuota bicycles; the brand has very little recognition
in the U.S. compared to the top three makers like Trek, Specialized
and Giant. Kuota will not spend seven figures on marketing and
promotion this year. The fact that many of Kuota’s designs
eclipse these big manufacturers is one of the reasons why finding
Kuota is like discovering a delightful out-of-the-way Tuscan
café on a sunny afternoon in Italy. Kuota is simply a
pleasant surprise. The reason why people buy Kuota bikes is
because they are nice bicycles. It certainly isn’t because
of a well planned marketing campaign. Quite the contrary, this
year Kuota’s marketing plans took a real tumble- more
on that in a moment.
Kuota is popular with Euro-triathletes but just emerging
in the U.S.
|Kuota is a hit in Europe, where the bicycle
buying public is more about function and less about fashion
and brand identity. The little Italian Kuota has won the
hearts and minds of euro-triathletes with its incredible
durability, nice ride quality and most of all (as we’ll
see) their ingenious and diligent nuts and bolts designs.
Kuota, and the K-Factor in particular, is about the details.
Kuota’s K-Factor is a follow on to
their multi-Ironman winning Kalibur. The Kalibur is Kuota’s
low to go high performance triathlon machine ridden to Ironman
victory by the sensational German Normann Stadler. The Kalibur
is another home run from Kuota but it is a bike for a different
customer. The Kalibur is an angry bike with its low head tube
and heavily reinforced lower headset race and bottom bracket.
The Kalibur was designed to go fast. While it is among the most
comfortable of the carbon superbikes its primary design criteria
is putting the rider into an aerodynamic posture and keeping
them their. The Kalibur preceded other carbon superbikes in
the industry by at least a year and continues to be among the
most widely available from a supply standpoint. There may not
be too many Kuota dealers, but the ones there are seem to be
able to get bikes more readily than any of the other aero carbon
fiber bike brands.
|The reason I like the K-Factor
is its function. It is a real bike, neither pretentious
nor banal. There is a lot to be excited about and little
to be disappointed in. Every feature of the bike makes sense
to me, from the front dropout literally to its novel and
industry leading rear dropout. I do understand why these
bikes don’t fill the transition areas at local races
though: U.S. bike buyers generally don’t dig deep
enough into a bikes design to appreciate the little things.
A big part of the K-Factor’s appeal is the little
things. There is simply nothing wrong with the bike and
a lot that is very right. Having said that, I doubt you’ll
ever find a group of U.S. triathletes at the local triathlon
discussing the merits of rear dropout frame design. For
that reason Kuota is likely to remain the brand of the truly
informed and initiated rather than the brand conscious masses.
The K-Factor begins at about $2600 for a complete, all
carbon fiber triathlon bike.
The K-Factor is designed for the entry to step up triathlon
bike buyer. It may be your first bike if you want to buy right
the first time or it may be your “step up” bike
replacing a basic entry level model like a Felt S32 or Fuji
Aloha. It is also the bike you buy once you’ve figured
out aerobars on a road bike simply doesn’t cut it. And
it should be a bike on your short list especially if you are
thinking of going long. The K-Factor is among the very strongest
candidates for Ironman 70.3 distance races (half Ironman) and
above. For every course on the Ironman North America circuit,
if the K-Factor fits your body dimensions, it is a bike without
equal. It seems designed for Ironman North America events.
Part of the K-Factor’s
appeal is its price. Complete K-Factors with their bumper to bumper
molded carbon fiber frame construction and a nice component group
start around $2600. while that is a lot compared to an entry level
triathlon bike between $1400 and $1800 the K-Factor more directly
compares to carbon bikes from other manufacturers than start at
hundreds if not thousands more. The K-Factor is the least expensive
of the really nice carbon bikes. Price dialed out of the equation,
it may also be the very best of them.
When I first looked at the Kuota
K-Factor I went front to back on the frame for a tour of its features
and benefits. Please join me on this pleasant and surprising inspection:
Straight bladed fork with a lightweight carbon fiber steer
The front of the bike starts with one
of the nicest all carbon forks in the industry. Using
a lightweight, strong carbon fiber steer tube the fork
will be around 350 grams depending on where you cut the
steer tube, lighter if you run the front end of the bike
low. Front wheel dropouts are aluminum so when you remove
your front wheel and set the fork blades on the pavement
you won’t damage your bike. This is the first of
the details I noticed.
The steering on the K-Factor is stable and
quiet owing to the 72-degree head angle. There is good
responsiveness since the fork is laterally sturdy and
has a rake of 45. If you want to stay on your aerobars
and reach behind your saddle for a bottle you can do it
on the K-Factor, the bike is whisper stable. The fact
that you may never have to worry about reaching all the
way back for a bottle on the K-Factor is another reason
why the frame is so nice- but I’m getting ahead
The head tube height on the K-Factor is moderate and a little
more realistic than other bikes with low front ends. Realistically,
how low do you want your handlebars for 56 or 112 miles? Most
people will run the K-Factor’s front end with less than
3 centimeters of headset spacers. That is refreshing to me.
What is the point of ultra-low head tubes if you stack 5 centimeters
of spacers over it? In addition to risking damage to your fork
that is compromise design. When the K-Factor was built Kuota’s
designers looked at where athletes like you and I really ride
their handlebars and built the bike for that posture. It’s
a great design. If you build your K-Factor with no spacers on
the steer tube then you will have a nice, low front end perfect
for sprint and Olympic distance. With a turn of the allen wrench
and the movement of one or two spacers you can tune your position
from Ironman comfort to sprint distance aerodynamics with no
spacers under your stem. Again, someone at Kuota was thinking
in the real world when they designed the front end of the K-Factor.
A relaxed head angle and higher head tube make the bike a good
choice for most athletes.
As we move back the bike we come
to one of my favorite features of the K-Factor: Cable routing.
I have a cable routing fixation. If you had to route internal
cables on a dozen aero bikes a week you would too. Since you don’t,
let me tell you why Kuota’s simple, external cable routing
is the choice of top professional racing teams and Tour de France
Mechanics: You can work on it. External cable routing may not
reduce your drag in the wind tunnel by 18 grams (about the same
as extending your pinky at 25 M.P.H.) but it may save your race
on race day. Some currently in-vogue internal cable routing systems
are ingeniously designed but tedious to work on. Picture putting
your bike in a flight case or the back of your car, driving to
the big event and discovering your rear brake cable feels sticky
the night before the race. Will the bike-savvy guy in the hotel
room next to you be able to install a new rear brake cable in
ten minutes with basic tools? On the Kuota K-Factor he will. Cable
routing is basic, easy to work on and simple. It takes only minutes
to change every cable on the bike with no mysterious fishing around
through strange little orifices while peering hopefully into other
holes at the opposite end of the bike hoping for the cable to
pop out. Again, simplicity and elegance proven over years of refinement:
Kuota did their cable design perfectly on the K-Factor.
The external cable routing on the K-Factor is practical
and easy to service.
The main triangle of the all-carbon frame presents a curvaceous
collection of beautifully melded, seam free angles. The top tube
has a rib on either side to add lateral stiffness as it blends
into the head tube. Whether this ribbing is the reason or not,
the front end of the bike agrees with the back end when climbing
hard out of the saddle. This bike will do very well at Ironman
Wisconsin, Canada and Lake Placid. The main triangle is perfect
for climbing seated and out of the saddle when things get serious.
Kuota accomplishes this without absurdly massive frame molding
also, making the K-Factor light in weight and elegant in appearance.
The K-Factor frame is lighter or much lighter than some other
aero carbon frames. On the big races throughout North America
that may make more of a difference to you and I on a long slog
up Richter Pass on the endless succession of hills at Wisconsin
and Lake Placid at 12 M.P.H. than few less grams of drag for the
couple minutes we spend above 28 m.p.h. On most Ironman and Half
Ironman course we spend more time going slow and moderate speeds
than going over 28 M.P.H. at speeds where low drag coefficient
becomes so critical. The K-Factor pays respect to aero design
with bladed tube shapes, but isn’t so preoccupied with having
low drag numbers that it sacrifices weight. Again, it is a realistic
design for riders like you and I.
Two bottle mounts on the main frame mean no more saddle bottle
Speaking of realistic, the K-Factor has two bottle mounts on the
frame. For God’s sake, why is this so hard to do? On a K-Factor
you are liberated from having a behind-the-saddle bottle rack
and the attendant hassles like dropped bottles and transition
area gymnastics while to try to clear the thing with your leg
as you dismount. This also means you don’t have to hang
another half pound of junk on your bike to carry a couple water
bottles. If you haven’t already done a long distance race
then you may not understand the significance of that. Two bottle
cages where they belong: no hassles. It’s the little things
that make this bike such a triumph.
Frame details: The bottom bracket is clean, stiff and precise.
Front derailleur hanger is a bolt-on replaceable unit.
Speaking of the little things have you ever had problems with
a front derailleur hanger on a nice frame? This is a point of
vulnerability on many high end bikes. The little tongue of metal
that protrudes fro the right side of the frame is one of several
Achilles’ heels on high end bikes. For want a of a $10 part
your entire frame could be rendered useless if your front derailleur
hanger becomes bent in transit or in a transition area bike drop.
The front derailleur hanger on the Kuota K-Factor bolts on. That
means it is easy easily replaceable and repairable in only minutes.
Details equal perfection and a good ownership experience.
If a problem develops with the front derailleur
hanger it can easily be replaced.
The bottom bracket on the frame is unremarkable and that is nice.
There is a lot of carbon around the bottom bracket and it is certainly
stiff enough for my taste under big gear efforts. The one place
where any cable goes inside the K-Factor’s frame is after
its trip under the bottom bracket and up toward the front derailleur.
There is no mystery here: You just poke the cable through about
three inches and it comes out the other end on the first try.
No secret techniques needed.
The seatpost binder collar is a standard
part and can be replaced if stripped or damaged.
The seatpost is the standard 27.2 mm diameter- any road 27.2 seatpost
Moving up the bike the seatpost binder collar is free from menacing
warnings about too much torque. The seatpost tightens with an
utterly standard binder collar available anywhere for well under
$20. If you strip your binder bolt the night before the big race
getting another one is easy; nothing exotic, weird or proprietary
here. We found the binder bolt gripped fine at 4 NM of torque
using a 4 mm allen wrench.
The Kuota post is micro-adjustable for angle and has a zero setback
The seatpost itself is part function and also part fashion. There
is a wing shaped treatment to the post. Some wind tunnel tests
suggest that blade-shaped seatposts may be less aero than round.
Whatever the case, consumers seem to like the look of the bladed
ones and this is about the only area of the entire bike where
Kuota played lip service to fashion. The rest of the post continues
the theme of solid, well thought out design. The carbon fiber
seatpost has a micro adjust head that require two tools (the only
mechanical annoyance on the entire bike) a 5 mm allen key and
an 8 mm open end wrench. This is the adjustment to vary the saddle
angle. The head of the seatpost is truly zero setback- real tri
geometry. If for some reason you wanted a different effective
seat angle induced by a different seat post you can install any
27.2 mm seatpost in the frame. You aren’t married to a proprietary
seatpost design. Again, that is good mechanical design.
The rear triangle and wishbone design is beefy, aero, comfortable
At the back of the bike the seat stays emanate from a pretty triangular
wishbone design and get down to business with an exciting pair
of bladed, aero carbon seat stays like the twin tails of a fighter
jet. More than fashion they provide reasonable stiffness but great
The chain stays on this bike are special: Big, square and curved.
They are big struts that hold the rear wheel in rigid alignment
with the rest of the frame. Shifting is crisp and precise since
the back end doesn’t wiggle with these big chain stays.
The seat stays are designed for comfort- the chain stays for strength,
stiffness and good drivetrain performance. It is a nice mix.
Bladed seat stays and chunky, stiff, chain stays complete the
And then there are the rear dropouts.
Kuota: Thank you. I will argue
without concession that these are the best rear-facing dropouts
on any bike from any manufacturer. They are sturdy, adjust easily
over and over, have good threads and most importantly, a replaceable
rear derailleur hanger. The importance of all this won’t
be apparent until you have a problem. Customers simply don’t
look at rear dropouts on a bike until it is too late. Many new
carbon superbike designs use rear dropouts that have an integrated,
non-replaceable rear derailleur hanger. If you bend your rear
derailleur hanger in the transition area, your flight case or
on your car rack you may be able to straighten it- once- but you
also may not be able to. In any case, it amounts to crossing your
fingers and bending it gently back into place while praying you
don’t hear the “snap” that means you just became
a new frame customer. Bent rear derailleur hangers are not a warranty
situation. O the K-Factor the rear derailleur hanger is modular.
If you ever bent or damaged one you just bolt a new one on. Including
the derailleur adjustment, this takes a mechanic about ten minutes.
The seat stays use the "Coke bottle" design and end
at the well designed rear dropouts.
The little rear dropout screws that most customers never see adjust
your rear wheel alignment in the dropout. The Kuota K-Factor’s
have good, sharp threads and the dropout screws turn easily. If
you are going to plunk down a few thousand bucks for a really
nice bike do yourself a favor: Have your mechanic pull the rear
wheel out of the frame and show you how well (or poorly, depending
on the bike) the rear wheel dropout alignment screws work. This
will be an eye-opener for you. One manufacturer (not Kuota) actually
recommended to us over the phone that we glue their bolts in place
permanently and just leave them, removing the ability to use different
tire sizes or align the wheel. They told us this when we phoned
them because the threads in their dropouts were crooked and poorly
tapped. We eventually winded up tapping them out to a larger thread
size, possibly weakening the dropout- obviously, that wasn’t
a bike we could sell to a customer. One of our guys rides it-
The best rear-facing horizontal dropout from any bike manufacturer
replaceable derailleur hanger. This is missing from almost every
other carbon bike.
Fit on the Kuota is another nice surprise. There are four only
four sizes so not everyone can own a K-Factor. If you are below
about 5’6” at most then you are probably shut out
of the geometry chart: They don’t have a frame small enough
for you. I find the geometry realistic and functional and the
fit good for most average to longish torso riders- the majority
of people and the easiest to design a bike around. The K-Factor
I rode was set to an effective seat tube angle of 80 degrees with
the stock Kuota seatpost and a Profile Tri-Stryke saddle. This
is measuring the effective seat angle with a straight edge through
the bottom bracket and up across the center of the saddle, then
placing an angle finder on the straight edge.
This is the seat angle you actually sit at on the center of the
saddle. In the real world you move a degree or two fore and aft
as your change position on the bike with effort and terrain. You
can also induce a more relaxed orientation back to around 75 degrees
if for some reason you’d want to. At 80 degrees the nose
of the Tri Stryke saddle (29cm long, 2 cm longer than a standard
racing saddle) was 1.4 centimeters in front of the bottom bracket.
The shallow head angle meant the bike’s weight distribution
was just fine at 80 degrees. The 45 fork rake meant it steered
well also. Overall, the Kuota K-Factor has very nice geometry
for the average male body type from about 5’8” up
to about 6’2” across the size range of four sizes.
Again, the head tube dimension on this bike makes sense and is
well thought out.
I didn’t ride the K-Factor
much before this review. I wish I had more time to do so. Usually
I like to ride a bike at least two months before I review it,
a year is better. My decision to review the bike early was motivated
by how impressed I am with the bike’s overall design. The
K-Factor is an important bike, and needed to be looked at against
the backdrop of other expensive carbon tri bikes- most not as
nice. Realistically, ride quality is not largely determined by
the frame anyway, but by the fit and position, the tire and wheel
choice and other factors before the frame. I did ride it enough
to know it has good to excellent ride quality with my favorite
wheels (I tried the bike with Easton Vista training clinchers
and the Flashpoint aero wheels you see in the photos- we pulled
the stickers off the Flashpoint wheels because they were unattractive)
and Continental Gran Prix 4000 tires. I’m looking forward
to putting more miles on the bike since it is so nice.
Normann Stadler had a frustrating race in Kona in 2005
but remains an important ambassador for the Kuota brand.
Kuota took a superficial hit in the image department at Kona in
2005 when their star athlete, German sensation Normann Stadler,
returned to Kona to defend his title at the Ironman World Championship.
Stadler won the Hawaii Ironman on a Kuota in 2004 with a superb
bike performance that left the field chasing in shambles. I rode
with Stadler the year before in Thailand on a training ride with
Ironman champion Scott Molina. Stadler was unbelievably strong,
dragging Molina and I through a training ride at over 28 M.P.H.
into a headwind. It was an incredible display of power and fitness
on Stadler’s part. At Kona in 2005 Stadler was the favorite,
and carried the burden of the championship expectations with quiet,
dignified grace. During the race he had a bizarre string of terrible
luck: A flat tire, a bee sting… nothing went right. He rode
a beautiful custom panted Kuota Kalibur that was conspicuous with
its one-of-a-kind floral motif.
Stadler was understandably frustrated as he arrived in Kona with
menacing fitness. Not to in any way discredit Faris Al Sultan’s
excellent win, but one has wonder how the race would have gone
if Stadler had not flatted. When I asked North American National
Sales Manager for Kuota, Paul Thomas, about the flat tire Thomas
had a fair perspective, “The Kuota story isn’t about
one ride, one race, one performance. Normann is an incredible
athlete and continues to be. He was on a good day but had bad
luck. The Kuota story is about more than that, it is about great
bikes at great prices with great supply. That is what matters
to our customers.”
It's hard to imagine a more nicely made bike than the
K-Factor regardless of price.
|I agree with Paul Thomas and
will go one step further than diplomatic salesmanship: If
you go from front to back on the Kuota K-Factor and compare
carefully and thoroughly to other carbon fiber, aluminum
and titanium triathlon bikes you will see the K-Factor’s
well conceived design and careful mechanicl features make
it a true stand out. When you feature in the value oriented
price it shines even brighter. The K-Factor is a fine bike
with a story worth telling.