reviews
editorials
"how tos"
maintenance
race schedules
event reports
 
pageok

 

 

Kuota Kalibur.
By Tom Demerly
Read This About Our Reviews First


The Ironman winning Kuota Kalibur with full Dura-Ace, Visiontech cockpit and Blackwell race wheels.

 

With carbon fiber the new frame material of choice the words “triathlon bike” and “carbon fiber” are synonymous. Carbon fiber is proven. Independent German EFBe engineering tests have shown some carbon fiber frames to be more durable than any frame material. A decade worth of Tour de France victories have been won on carbon fiber. It isn’t a matter of whether you will buy a carbon fiber triathlon bike; it is a matter of which one. One of the earliest and most successful entries in the new age of molded carbon fiber triathlon bikes is Kuota’s Kalibur.


German Normann Stadler of Tri Dubai set a new bike course record of 4:18:23 on the Kuota Kalibur on his way to a second Hawaii Ironman win in 2006.

The Kalibur has become a press darling, used by Uberbiker Normann Stadler to win The Ford Ironman World Championships twice. Stadler set a new bike course record this year of 4:18:23, an average speed of 26 M.P.H. The Kalibur shared two magazine covers with Stadler during the last month. Stadler won Kona on the bike (and in the swim) but the sensation surrounding his victory in 2006 is centered on his ride and he rode a Kuota Kalibur.
This is what sponsorships are for: Win on Sunday, sell on Monday. Stadler has delivered on his Kuota sponsorship in volumes but the fact is if the product isn’t up to the real world demands of consumer ownership then its love affair with the public will be short lived. Is the Kalibur simply a cover-girl hyped by pro sponsorships? History and reality say the Kuota Kalibur is the real deal. It is well conceived and built for the athletes it suits best and is more versatile than most low-slung carbon crotch cannons.

The versatile, well thought out design of the Kalibur is typified by the squat, 1&1/4" bottom race head tube and integrated Kuota fork.

The Kuota Kalibur is at the leading edge of the new generation of fully molded carbon bikes that minimize joints and seams and maximize strength and performance. It isn’t a perfect bike, no bike is, but the Kalibur is an eclectically designed bike that fills a niche with design versatility and practicality. The Kuota Kalibur does more things better than any other currently available low front end, carbon fiber triathlon bike. It is a well thought out bike, designed for hard use in a wide variety for performance envelopes, from flat, windy courses to technical, hilly and mountainous courses usually best suited for road geometry.

Carbon fiber triathlon bikes tend to get engineered into a corner. They are either designed solely around aerodynamics or exclusively designed to be extremely light or extremely comfortable. Few bikes are able to strike a reasonable balance between these often conflicting design criteria. The aero bikes with the low front ends tend to do best on flat courses with few turns, the slacker angled bikes with higher front ends are more at home on curvy courses with big climbs but lose time to the aero rigs on the long, flat sections. The Kalibur does both well.

The proprietary Kuota Kalibur fork melds perfectly with the oversized bottom race and adds steering accuracy and ride quality not found on other low front end tri bikes.

The Kalibur does the best job of any molded carbon fiber triathlon bike I’ve seen moderating design criteria. The Kalibur isn’t the most aerodynamic, it isn’t the lightest, it isn’t the least or most expensive and it is not the most versatile geometry. But it is an amalgam of all these features striking a highly usable balance. It will leave a few triathletes cold and I’ll explain why in a few paragraphs.

I raced and trained the entire 2006 season on the Kalibur. I did sprints and half Ironmans, I did flat races, technical races and brutally hilly races with wild, winding descents. I flight cased the bike, trained on the bike, hit chuckholes on the bike, rode the trainer on the bike and crashed on the bike. What I discovered is the Kalibur is a solid bike, easy to maintain and with the best ride quality of anything I’ve been on in tri geometry. The Kuota Kalibur can be tricky to fit accurately owing to a slack-ish seat angle and a limited number of sizes. This fitting conundrum is part of its strength and its major weakness.

A girder shaped, flat topped top tube is visually striking and may add to the front end stiffness and excellent ride quality.

Starting at the front of the Kalibur the different, and sometimes conflicting, design cues surface immediately. The head tube of the Kalibur is short in all frame sizes. This bike is meant to be ridden in an aerodynamic posture. This makes the rider more aerodynamic, but not necessarily the bike. The short little head tube of the Kalibur is big and beefy.

The head tube of the Kalibur is so wide owing to a unique 1&1/4” bottom race integrated headset design and a 1&1/8” top race. The head tube is larger in diameter at the bottom than it is at the top and melds smoothly into the integrated crown of the Kalibur’s proprietary fork. This is an excellent design. Manufacturers who focus on making the head tube aerodynamic often do so at the cost of front end stiffness, especially at the head tube/fork crown interface. The front of a bike is one area where lateral stiffness is most important to handling, climbing, braking and comfort. The Kuota Kalibur has the best front end, head tube design of any currently available short head tube triathlon bike. Its excellent fork with its massive crown adds to the overall handling and stiffness. It also provides more material to soak up road shock.

External ribbing at the bottom bracket/down tube union reinforce the bottom bracket shell and absorb road shock for a softer ride.

Think about this: What is more important? Having a front end that is laterally stiff and resists side to side flex on a grinding, steep out-of-the-saddle climb at 12 M.P.H. or a few grams of drag savings at 28 M.P.H.? The front end is steady on a winding descent with sure footed front braking. That is a design that will benefit the overall performance of the bike more than simply having a thin, aerodynamic head tube for the time spent above 25 M.P.H. There is more to be gained by head tube stiffness and predictable handling on climbs and descents than there is by the nominal effect of a more aerodynamic head tube. Kuota understood this with the Kalibur, so the bike is optimized for ride quality, performance and safe handling. The aerodynamics come from good rider positioning. These features make the Kalibur a great Ironman and 70.3 bike on courses from Wisconsin and Lake Placid to Lanzarote and Florida. It climbs, descends and corners well and your low posture on the flats could benefit you when the clock stops at T2.

The integrated, oversized head tube design used with Kuota’s own proprietary fork may be the single best feature of the Kalibur. It works perfectly and is brutishly durable. I crashed hard in an intersection onto the front end of the bike and sustained zero damage. The oversized surface area soaks up bumps from the front end- there is more surface area to disperse road shock over. The beefy front is unyielding on steep climbs. If you hit a short, steep hill that requires a big effort you simply stand and give it a few hard pedal strokes. The front end counters the force and holds steady. On the descent you don’t have to learn how to predict where the bike will go. You point the bike and it follows. Cornering is predictable. Handling is one area where the Kuota Kalibur excels beyond almost any tri bike. More on that in a minute…

The seat stays flow into a nicely molded, seamless wishbone design. This also makes braking responsive and solid since there is minimal rear triangle flex.

Moving back on the bike the top tube has an odd flat, girder shape that may further beef up the front end of the bike. It is difficult to quantify the effects of frame shapes like this without some type of finite elemental analysis testing of individual frame shapes and components. My sense is that the flat top, girder top tube does exert an effect of ride quality and stiffness. Since the bike rides so well then I’d say this design either contributes to that or at least doesn’t hurt it. The Kalibur has a distant cousin under a different label called the Isaac Joule that does not have the girder top tube. That may be one reason the Isaac Joule has never gained much traction in the tri market (that and Stadler isn’t riding an Isaac).

The down tube has the mandatory airfoil shape of every triathlon bike these days. It is as much a styling cue as a functional one, and the function of them is debatable. How aerodynamic it actually is remains a question for the wind tunnel guys. The debate over best frame shape is so colored by marketing motives it is tough to unravel. Again, I’ll default to the fact that ride quality is good so whether the Kuota’s down tube is the most aerodynamic or the third most aerodynamic by four grams of drag I don’t know. There is an odd inset of the Kuota graphics into the frame that seems to serve no functional purpose that I could live without.

Traditional external cable routing allows the use of threaded barrel adjusters for fine tuning on the fly.

As you near the bottom bracket on the down tube there is a raised molding of carbon that appears to be a strengthening rib. It’s up to the manufacturers to convince us how much of a difference this makes but if it contributes to the Kalibur’s ride then I say keep it. It is an interesting aesthetic effect if nothing else.

The Kalibur uses two standard threaded bottle mounts on the frame. I like that. Most aero tri bikes only have one mount. The mounts are close together on the smaller sizes so fitting two bottles in the cages is tight as they tend to touch at the bottom. You may want to select cages like the Tac-x Tao that have a more open bottom and are adjustable on the bottle mounts. Curiously, I’ve seen photos of Normann Stadler on his Kalibur with two cages mounted on the frame and with no cages on the frame with a carbon rear cage assembly behind his saddle. The option to use two cages on the frame is missing from most carbon tri bikes and I do like that about the Kalibur since I am not a fan of the behind the saddle rigs. Stadler is also seen frequently using a Profile drinking system in his aerobars- I like those quite a bit when installed properly.

Clean and standard: The bottom bracket cable routing is easy to service and very traditional. This will work well for many miles without hassles.

The Kalibur uses a proprietary aero seatpost design with two binder bolts. Torque on these binder bolts was not specified by the manufacturer. This was a temporary issue. We started out with 5 Newton Metres (Nm) of torque and it wasn’t enough to hold the post in position. Another important feature of the binder bolt is balancing the torque and the gap between the clamping plates equally. Both bolts have to be torqued to identical tension and both the front and back plate of the binder assembly has to be even- one can’t be tighter than the other. We settled on 8 Nm of torque as enough to hold the seatpost in place. I carried a small torque wrench when traveling to verify the adjustment and had no problems. Keep an eye on this when making saddle height adjustments.

The head of the seatpost is a zero setback clamp design that mechanically works fine. It does have that somewhat fumbly adjustment method that requires an open end wrench to adjust seat angle. This is inconvenient. Firstly, because the size of the wrench is somewhat ambiguous; we’ve used an 8mm open end wrench to turn this adjustment. The 8mm really doesn’t fit well and is a little loose but gets the job done. Be careful here. Rounding out that nut would be an inconvenience. I’d prefer an arrangement that used two 5mm allen keys.

Both derailleur cables follow the down tube and use the standard external barrel adjusters.

The cable routing throughout the frame is external with talk of a new version that has internal routing. I will defend the external routing since it is mechanically simple and easy to maintain. Of course, you may argue that internal routing requires less maintenance because it is protected inside the frame. I would counter by saying the Kalibur’s external routing features nice, big barrel adjusters on the down tube for quick derailleur tuning. I like that. Even an inexperienced bike mechanic could build a Kuota Kalibur and get great shifting and braking performance right away.

The seat tube on the Kalibur has a cut-out like all tri bikes and the aerodynamic effectiveness of it is debatable relative to the other designs. There is a decent sized gap between the tire and the frame cut out and the distance isn’t adjustable at the drop-outs on the rear of the frame. Rear drop-outs are semi-vertical and fixed. The derailleur hanger is replaceable- huge bonus here.

The bottom bracket is seamlessly molded into the down tube area with the cable routed underneath. A small hole passes through to the front derailleur.

The chain stays are hefty and both the chain stays and the seat stays have a generous curve to provide ride comfort and frame stiffness. The seat stays are a molded wishbone design.

In general all the mechanical features of the frame are excellent with the exception of the binder bolt requiring added attention and the saddle clamp on the seatpost being a little funky. I especially like the straightforward cable routing under the bottom bracket.

The single most important part of a triathlon bike, or any road bicycle, is the fit and geometry. This is the biggest opportunity for getting it right or blowing it. This is also the place where I have to be diplomatic about the Kuota Kalibur.

The rear dropouts are conventional and semi-vertical which makes wheel placement easy but is not adjustable.

The Kalibur’s geometry features a 76-degree seat tube across four sizes called small, medium, large and extra large. The head tube angle on the first two sizes is a very nice 72-degrees with the two larger sizes being 73-degrees.

If the Kalibur has one significant Achilles heel it is its geometry chart. There are too few sizes and they are too slack in the seat angle for my taste. This may be verified by a recent trend back toward steeper frame seat tube angles- or at least a wider “fit band” that enables the induction of a steeper seat tube angle with a reversible seat post head like Felt and Cervelo.

I struggled with my Kalibur at first to dial in the fit. I simply could not get steep enough on the actual seat angle. There is almost always a difference between a frame seat tube angle and what a rider sits at. I sit at 81-degrees at the center of my saddle, and many triathletes do sit about there. It’s steeper than you may think, but it is what we most frequently measure within a degree or two. Since the Kalibur started out with a center mount seatpost head and a 76-degree frame seatpost angle it was a gap of 5 degrees I had to make up to get where I needed to be. I finally did it by finding the saddle with the longest rails and the greatest overall length that permitted the best nose riding- The Profile Tri Stryke. You can adjust the Profile Tri Stryke all the way forward on its rails. The saddle is 30 cm long as opposed to a traditional saddle at 27 cm long. With this strategy I did eventually get to my own optimal 81-degrees effective seat tube angle and started turning out some decent bike splits and first two mile splits on the run.

These dropouts are generally easier for people to use and work well with an indoor trainer and a wide variety of quick release skewer styles.

Getting the Kalibur to fit me took some creativity. I’m glad I stuck with it since we learned a lot about how to fit customers to these bikes and the bike rides so well. The truth of the matter is I would like to have something with a 78-degree frame seat tube angle though. One thing that does really save the Kalibur is the 72 degree head angle. As the saddle goes forward it causes the center of gravity of the rider to shift on the bike the slacker, more stable head tube angle helps maintain stability. The excellent handling and cornering of the Kalibur even with my saddle all the way forward is testimony to how good the steering geometry, front end dimensions and fork design of this bike is.

Now, I mentioned before that the handling of the Kalibur is one of its strengths. It may be because of the 76-degree seat angle that the Kalibur does handle well in combination with the 72-degree head angle. On a descent or in technical cornering the Kalibur is superb especially if I shift my butt to the rear of the saddle. This evens out weight distribution to likely optimal levels of about 47% rider weight on the front wheel, 53% on the rear. Even riding no-handed on the Kalibur is very good as you sit up toward the rear of the saddle. There is enough wheel base and front center to make the bike stable, and enough front end stiffness to make it respond.

It required a 30 cm long Profile Tri Stryke Saddle to achieve the correct orientation of saddle to bottom bracket on my Kalibur. The final orientation is shown here.
I ride a “Small” in the Kalibur and it measures 51.5 cm from center to top on the seat tube, 45.5 cm center to center on the seat tube. This roughly equates to the dimensions on the Kuota website geometry chart. I measured 53 cm center to center for the top tube and 92 mm for the head tube. Kuota says the top tube is only 52cm on the small- I got 53cm in our measurement. I’m 5’9” with a longish torso. For an average sized guy like me at 5’9” to be on the smallest frame size shuts a lot of people out of the Kalibur’s geometry chart. I am at the higher end of body dimensions for the small but the medium is simply too large for me- the numbers did not work.

On earlier versions of my position I couldn't find the correct reach (too short here). Some saddles did not allow me to find the correct position over the bottom bracket. This is an early version of my posture before it was optimized.
Based on the work I’ve done fitting Kuota Kaliburs I’d say the bike is best suited for someone who has a longish femur bone and rides a trifle on the slack side but has an average torso length. You also need to be at least an average sized person or perhaps a trifle less. If you are below 5’6” there is no Kalibur to fit you. I’m using a 120 mm stem on my Kalibur and the handling is excellent as I’ve said. It took a few different stems to sort out which length was optimal. I’m using one thin spacer under a flat stem and 25 mm risers under my aerobar elbow pads.

The seat clamp on the seat post requires an open end wrench to adjust and tighten saddle angle. This is a little awkward and the 8 mm wrench never seemed to fit well.
The Kalibur is made for the Italian company, Kuota, by Martec. Martec is one of the largest manufacturers of carbon fiber frames in the entire industry building carbon bikes for a number of well known brands. There has been a tendency for companies like Kuota to be quiet about who actually made their bikes and where they were made. That tendency has lead to some cynicism on the part of consumers. That is a shame. Martec has the capacity to make nearly 70,000 carbon fiber frames annually, between 20-25 percent of global production according to Bicycle Retailer and Industry News Magazine. Martec has excellent quality control, outstripping that of almost every smaller volume carbon fiber frame builder. A Martec frame is a lightweight, well built, highly reliable frame and the Kuota Kalibur typifies the very best of Martec’s capabilities. I think bike brands should advertise the fact that they are using Martec built frames for their designs since they are among the very finest carbon bikes available.


Normann Stadler wind tunnel tests his position at the Allied Aerospace wind tunnel in California. The Kalibur relies on rider aerodynamics more than frame aerodynamics.

Another feather in the Kuota cap is their new U.S. Sales Manager Paul Thomas. Thomas earned a reputation as a smart, hard working power-player in the multisport industry before coming to Kuota in early 2006. Thomas knows the industry and he knows the market. He sees the place Kuota fits in and works with dealers to optimize the buying experience for the consumer. Paul Thomas is another big reason Kuota has become a bigger player in the U.S. Paul works long and hard to make sure consumers and dealers are happy with their Kuotas. One of the things you get when you buy a Kuota that you can’t see is the expertise of Paul Thomas and his U.S. associate Patrice. These guys know how to provide good service to both the dealer and to the consumer. You can find Paul posting frequently on the Slowtwitch forum.
In general I liked the Kuota Kalibur, especially the ride and handling. It is rare to have a low front end triathlon bike that also handles well, and the Kuota Kalibur is the very best of them. With some work I was able to get the fit dialed in well but a 78 degree Kalibur would be a welcome addition. I had some great rides on the Kalibur. If my dimensions suited the Kalibur better I wouldn’t want for anything else. The Kalibur is a proven and worthy design. The Kalibur frame and fork with seatpost and integrated headset is around $2400 U.S. with complete bikes ranging from $3400 and up depending on the build specifications. When you consider the bike’s durability, light weight, handling, excellent ride quality and versatility (especially for a low front end bike) it is an important addition to your short list if one of the four sizes fits your dimensions.

Keep an eye on the seat binder clamp assembly and be sure the two sides are equal in torque and position.

There was a significant difference between frame seat angle (76 degrees) and actual seat tube angle (81 degrees) when my position was optimized. This facilitates the best posture on the bike and the best transition from bike to run. It took some work to acheive this on the 76 degree Kuota Kalibur.
 

© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
Site Designed and Maintained by: Intuitive Business Solutions

 
pageok