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
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
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
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
|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
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
|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
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
|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
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
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.