Behold, Ironman J’s Kuota Kalibur, test driven today:
A note about the setup: Ultegra components all over, including brakes. Ironman brand aero bars, tri spoke rear and deep rim front. Lightweight, felt under 20lbs. Ironman J is about my size, our hips stood even so I didn’t make any adjustments to his fit other than putting my Shimano SPD-SL pedals on.
The first thing I did was practice getting on and off the bike on the safety of his residential street, making sure before we hit the road that I wasn’t going to fall and break his beautiful ride. It’s one thing to break a store’s model, it’s quite another to shatter a friend’s racing horse. Even rolling onto a street seam on those tires would likely spill me over, so I was cautious the whole ride.
The aero bars were more gracious in their elbow spacing, so I was more comfortable in the tuck, while the bar ends were angled more sharply towards me as well as spaced out in their bend. Overall, these were more comfortable aero bars, although after two hours I was feeling tight in my right shoulder. Not surprising – two hours on a radically different fit after putting in some strong pedaling.
Let me talk about those two hours. A lot of my comments will be in comparison to the Jamis – the only other tri bike I’ve ridden thus far, and as my test drive vocabulary grows I’ll be able to differentiate between the bikes more adroitly. But for now, it’s Kuota vs. Jamis.
The Kuota feels solid, more dense than the Jamis which was featherlight and instantly responsive to power. Riding a complete carbon setup was dreamy – like having shock absorbers for every single bump and almost no bad road vibration. I could feel the road under me, but the texture of the road translated into feeling rather than numbing rattling. Given the expensive tri spoke wheel and deep rim wheel I was on, this makes it hard to know what was frame cushion and what was due to the fancy wheels, but I can say that having a total carbon package makes for one sweet ride. And for the first time *I* was the one going “whoomp whoomp whoomp”, coming up on riders and passing with a friendly, “on your left!” and “good morning” as I zipped by. And I mean zipped.
Speed came quickly and without much encouragement. In fact, as we warmed up on the bike path I was consistently overspinning the gearing trying to stay slow and conversational. Finally Ironman J encouraged me to open up on the bike to really get the feel, so I didn’t concern myself overmuch with throttling back to keep him in sight. Once given permission I engaged the quads and started to push. That took me from an easy cruising speed of 17mph right up to 21mph, just mentally allowing myself to pedal without slowing. Getting into the aero tuck was easier since the spacing of the bar ends and the elbow pads was more comfortable. Because Ironman J didn’t like riding his race bike near the sand we decided to take the bike path north to Marina del Rey, do the Peninsula, followed by north through the beach towns onto San Vicente, the false flat incline of San Vicente into Brentwood, then turn around, heading back after a slight detour north on 7th St and a nice, short climb uphill back towards Ocean. It should have been a two hour ride, approximately 30 miles. I’ve done that route a few times in the past and it takes me about an hour to hit Brentwood – on my road bike. Unfortunately I didn’t start my GPS until we were already in Marina del Rey (I was focusing on the bike, not my wrist). But here’s the data from the GPS, including my forgetting to turn off the timer while we got a post-ride coffee.
28 miles in 1hr 46min and change, with the nebulous unknown of a coffee break. F’ing fast. I think our total ride was 32 miles in just under two hours.
I hit 33.2 mph on the Brentwood downhill, hammering the bike as hard as I could. I admit feeling less strong than usual, even though I’ve been Captain Carb the last week and not working out as much. Even still, I could tell that if I put in regular rides and trained on a bike like that I’d be seeing those speeds go even higher. Plus, without the psychological worry about wrecking a friend’s bike I’d be a bit less hesitant to wail on the beast. I don’t know why the average comes to 15.8 mph. Maybe all the stop signs and lights because every time I checked my speed while rolling I was going 20-21 mph, and on the flats anywhere from 22-26 mph. I asked Ironman J to send me the data from the bike computer, and his data said 33 miles in 1:54.
The Kuota was a really nice ride. Oddly, the Ultegra group shifted solidly, and even a little better than the Dura Ace group on the Jamis. That shouldn’t be right, the Dura Ace group is a higher grade component set. But this bike shifted solidly into gears with a satisfying *thunk*. It was more temperamental in the rear cog and took some up and down shifting at times to avoid the clackety clack sound of a missed shift. That could be my unfamiliar shifting of bar end shifters, or the Ultegra set. It didn’t prevent me from riding and was easy to adjust when it happened.
Here’s the big difference between the Jamis and the Kuota Kalibur – the Kalibur’s brakes worked well. I never had a doubt about the stopping power, while I’ve noted on the Jamis I was nervous about road rides and quick stops. While I love the hidden brake design on the Jamis, I need brakes that work. Especially if I’m going to ride with cars, or buses, as was the case today. I had to stop hard when a bus was cut off by a car and began to drift into my lane on Pacific. I don’t know if the Jamis would have been nearly as responsive. In fact, I know it wouldn’t. That scares me and is enough to keep me looking at other bikes.
I’ve got an invitation to ride my coach’s Cervelo, but I’m hesitant because he has several races coming up and I don’t want to mess with his geometry and fit. Even though Ironman J and I are roughly the same height, I was aware after two hours of a knee wobble on my right and a shoulder knot from my position. A proper fit, even a few centimeters adjustment in the right places, would make that go away. But there are lots of ways to test ride bikes and I’ve got a good list of places to try. The search continues, and I’m grateful to Ironman J for his bike loan, company on the ride, and wealth of information after years of being in the sport.
Would I buy a Kuota Kalibur? Not sure. It’s a good, solid ride. Fun and fast, pretty lines, and responsive. But the Jamis felt like I could take it a little bit faster. I’d certainly do fine on a Kalibur, but I think I’m going to keep looking.