The team bike of the Agritubel squad is startlingly light for such a beefy-looking bike, but its appearance hides a powerful climber and rock-solid descender that truly lives up to is name.
Ride & handling: an easy ride with some sports car aggression
The clouds were rolling in quickly and the sun was starting to vanish as I rode the Kuota KOM Equipeup toward the Pisgah Inn high up on the Blue Ridge Parkway, in North Carolina. I remembered this climb from a training camp, but what I didn’t remember was how long it took.
Fortunately I had this light, stiff bike to spur me on, the same bike that the Continental Pro team Agritubel and their French racing star Christophe Moreau are riding in 2008.
There was no way I was turning back – I’d come this far and the top of the mountain couldn’t be that far away, could it? Up here on the Blue Ridge Parkway the KOM Equipe had a good feeling to it – an easy ride with some sports-car aggression added in.
It didn’t ride like a lightweight bike; it felt sturdy and stable rather than wispy and fragile.
The first ride I did was mostly downhill with some pretty fast sections. I loved this bike on the descents; it’s probably the most solid and comfortable bike I’ve ever descended on. It seemed to hunker down to the road almost like it had a spoiler hugging me to the corners.
As I accelerated, there was no sign of the high-speed wobble, twitch, or vibration that can make a rider feel unsafe. I had the same secure feeling tucked in the drops or in the aero position with my hands right next to the stem.
As I continued downhill, I thought about how the bike could be faster. I’m not sure how aerodynamic all the large tubes are, especially the front fork, which must have been an inch wide.
That said, it tracked superbly on corners, and under fast, aggressive braking it didn’t move at all. I didn’t want the fun to stop, but no bike test would be complete without an uphill section.
As I headed up towards Pisgah Inn, I had to start putting some power on the pedals. However, as I started climbing out of the saddle, I couldn’t figure out if the frame or the wheels were flexing – the brakes on the rear wheel were not that close to the rim, but I could still feel them lightly touching it.
After opening the brakes just a tiny bit, the problem went away, allowing me to sprint as hard as I wanted without hearing any rubbing noises.
By the time I reached the Pisgah Inn, I realised the KOM is a bike for the mountains. It is extremely lightweight, yet responds well when it’s time to make the others hurt. It lives up to its KOM tag – King of the Mountains.
The KOM makes a good ride even better. It’s very comfortable and yet when you demand performance, it steps up and delivers. The combination of components and accessories is top notch, not only in their comfort, but also in their performance.
The stiff front end, along with a smaller rear triangle, provides great control and agility. The KOM is great for serious cyclists, but don’t be mistaken – this bike is meant to be raced on.
Its low weight is a major advantage over many other bikes, and its ease in descending and responsiveness in climbing or sprinting will put you near the front of the group each time.
Frame: huge but light
Kuota use a design idea they call Kuota Optimised Shape Management – or different size tubes for different size frames, to you and me. They adjust the size of the carbon tubes and the stiffness of the frame depending on the size of the rider. Kuota also take into account lateral stresses, torque applications and compliance with each size frame.
Now, I’m no Christophe Moreau, but I am the same height (about 6ft 2in) and my Kuota KOM Equipe, which came with a 5cm sloping top tube, was a size XL – the largest they make. That meant I had plenty of toptube – 57.5cm – so I was able to sit up and stretch out to pull efficiently on the bars while climbing.
I had the seatpost extended a regular amount, but if you are any taller than Monsieur Moreau or myself, this frame might not be the best fit. I can’t imagine Kuota making a larger frame, though, because my XL one had some of the largest tubes I’ve ever seen.
But pick the bike up and you’ll be amazed. The KOM is light; according to our test, the full bike weighs only 7kg (thank you to Asheville’s Bio Wheels bike shop for getting the bike ready and for lending us their scales). No matter how many times I lifted it, I couldn’t figure it out – with so much carbon material, how do they make a sub-990g frame?
The answer must lie in the tubing. The bike has an incredibly thin-walled carbon monocoque frame. I could easily press it with my bare hands, similar to squeezing an aluminium can. Because of this, Kuota increase the diameter of the tubes to maintain the strength and rigidity they want to deliver.
However, if you travel to a lot of races or pack the bike for air travel, there might be some concerns. The replaceable rear derailleur hanger is a plus, but I wouldn’t want the handlebars to spin round in a crash and smack the toptube. The “dent” they’d leave behind would probably be rather ugly looking.
Much of the stiffness in the front end that makes the KOM so secure came from the headtube that flared slightly at the fork crown. It’s a new trend in manufacturing, designed to eliminate power loss.
Equipment: Reliable Dura-Ace, all-carbon wheels
The Reynolds Attack wheels were nice all-carbon hoops with a carbon braking surface. The Shimano Dura-Ace brakes had carbon-specific brake pads and braking hard was never a problem. I could wait right up until a corner and then check my speed hard and the braking felt as normal as anything else I’d ridden.
The wheels weigh 1,445g, use Reynolds hubs and are fitted with Vittoria Diamante Pro light tyres. I liked the combination.