Skip to Content


Our verdict on the Kestrel Airfoil Pro?

Written by: Dan Empfield
Date: Wed Mar 26 2008

When I acknowledge the challenge Advanced Sports, Inc. (Fuji American's legal corporate name) has in front of it I know whereof I speak. In 1997 I was running what was Saucony's bicycle division, which at that time consisted of the brand I founded, Quintana Roo. We took a hard look at Kestrel, which in retrospect has more or less been for sale for most of its two-decade existence. But the deal was not sweet enough for us. Instead we bought Merlin. Like Kestrel, Merlin was on unsound financial footing, but had a stellar brand image among its enthusiasts. Our goal was to place the brand on a sound financial platform while not losing the luster.

That's ASI's task with Kestrel. Fortunately (as was our case with Merlin), ASI has a strong product providing it a platform from which to work. This is not an example of a company simply buying a headbadge and no product. The Airfoil Pro is a serious bike for grown-ups.

The Airfoil Pro is like Cervelo's P3C, in that it is a model long in the tooth. Both these bikes were conceived, however, with a sufficiency thrusting them years in front of most in their competitive set. The Airfoil's molds have legs. The model still has some runway.

In its former iteration, owned by Sandpoint Design and headquartered in Monterey Bay, Kestrel advertised itself as “the first name in carbon,” a claim it rightfully made. These monocoque marvels were first introduced in the 1980s (it made the first all-carbon tri bike in 1990) and since then Kestrel has usually been at or near best in class in carbon bike design. Yes, Kestrel makes the Talon and, yes, this has been considered a tri-specific model in years past. But living in a garage doesn’t make you a car, and having only a Talon in your garage still means you’re without a tri geometry bike. Yes, Chris McCormack rode the Talon in triathlons and, yes, Tim DeBoom rode a Trek Madone in the Hawaiian Ironman. Neither are tri bikes. Both are good bikes. But they’re road bikes.

If it’s Kestrel and tri specificity you’re writing about, you can start and stop with the Airfoil Pro. This is a bike built to be ridden in the aero position, and that’s what makes this a tri bike — and a good tri bike it is. Kestrel’s tri-specific bikes were popular even when they were built in two sizes, and even when this company offered only a single size. The Airfoil Pro is built in 6 sizes, making it easy to find one that fits.
In fact, for any rider shorter than 5’8” its shorter head tubes are almost unique in triathlon. The Airfoil Pro’s 47 cm size, with a 76 millimeter head tube, is absolutely unique. There is no tri bike made offering a lower-to-the-ground fit for a rider under 5’4” tall. Keep in mind that this very tiny bike is also quite long. So, a rider will need to ride this bike steep. It's a wonderful choice for a 5'2" woman who rides at 80 degrees of seat angle. It's a less wonderful choice if that same woman rides at 76 degrees.

If you put on your industrial designer’s hat, the Airfoil Pro has got lines that make this frame just plain superior than just about anything else in cycling. Consider the homage (intentional or not) paid to the Airfoil Pro by this year's redesigned Orbea Ordu; if you get rid of the seat tube, the frame's lines appear similar to the Airfoil Pro even though the latter was designed years earlier. Inside the circumscription of industrial design the bike was years ahead of its time. But you have to take the designer's hat off in order to put on your bike helmet, so let’s look at it from a cyclist’s point of view.

The Airfoil Pro is seat-tubeless, which gives the bike a ride quality others can’t duplicate. Is it aerodynamically superior? Kestrel says so, and that includes the "old" Kestrel brass. Is it aerodynamic? I don’t know. But I do know that McCormack switched from the Talon to this model, based on his wind tunnel test results showing that the Airfoil Pro has geometry better suited to McCormack’s new, more tri specific, riding position (McCormack has since switched to Specialized and won his first Hawaiian Ironman while riding his Transition S Works).
Who ought to buy the $3500 complete Airfoil Pro, which is down $500 from last year yet still spec'd quite nicely? Pretty much the same sort of person who'd rightly consider a Felt, a Cervelo, or a QR. These bikes are all made to be ridden steep, because they're reasonably long. If you ride them shallow, you'll probably find them too long, and you'll be too stretched out, or you'll have to ride a very short stem.

Usually, this presents a problem for bikes made with shallow seat angles, because you want to ride the bike steep because that's how you ride, and because the bike's length asks for a steep position. But the shallow seat angle can present problems, since you're trying to get the bike steep but today's proprietary seat posts are not swappable with posts that'll get you into the position you want. In the Airfoil Pro's case, the bike uses a round seat post, so, no worries. Worst case, stick a Thompson dogleg set-forward seat post in the bike and it's problem solved.

Of course, this means the bike is outfitted with a round — these days unsexy — seat post. This you'll have to get past. Me, I don't think this affects the bike badly as to its utility. That established, I would not be surprised if the 09 version of this bike has an integrated aero post. I just hope it's a post that allows for forward saddle mobility.
I do have one geometric beef. Consider the old, very nice handling Airfoil (the first of what would eventually be made in two sizes). It had a front/center of 65cm (bottom bracket to front wheel axle). That was for its 56cm size. But this bike really rode "bigger." It fit me perfectly, and I'm 6'2". It really was functionally more like a 59cm bike. Now, the current Airfoil Pro in size 59cm has 63cm of front/center, and with 73.5 degrees of head angle. In our view the bike in this size would’ve been better with a head angle of, say, 72 degrees. This would’ve given the bike more front/center and, without changing the fork at all, would’ve had a more tri-typical 6cm or so of trail instead of its current 5.4cm in this size.

Still, this is a very nice bike, and I would be proud to ride it. I would enjoy riding it, because it would not only fit me nicely, the lack of that seat tube gives us oldsters (and you youngsters) a bit of compliance in the vertical plane that bikes these days, with their aero tubes, tend to lack.

  

Articles related to this one

There are no related articles

Comments

Love my Airfoil Pro 5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed by: Jason Lloyd, Dec 19 2010 7:37AM

I recently purchased one of the 2009 versions of the Airfoil Pro with the aero seatpost from www.bikesdirect.com. What an awesome ride! It looks fast, rides fast and fits like a glove! I was more than happy to go with another Kestrel since I am extremely happy with the 2007 Kestrel RT700 road bike that I bought 3 years ago. Now, if only Kestrel would start producing Mountain and Cross bikes, I'd only have Kestrel's in my stable!

Love my Kestrel Airfoil and thinking of getting the Pro version 4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed by: Jeff Green, Aug 4 2008 4:03PM

I purchased a used Kestrel Airfoil (Kona limited edition version) as a training frameset since I prefer not training on my racing bike. After I had it dialed into the same setup as my racing bike, I have found the ride quality to be excellent. I can't tell if the bike is more aero than my racing bike but it loses no power when out of the saddle climbing the hills around Georgia and is very comfortable on the long rides in the aero position. I am now considering getting the Airfoil Pro version and making it my racing machine. I would like to see the frame updated with features such as an aero seatpost and hiding the cables behind the steering tube. Maybe it is just psychological but it gives it that much of a sleeker look in the wind!

Not my favorite bike 2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed by: Brian Flora, Jul 26 2008 12:15AM

I've actually ridden the airfoil pro for 2 seasons, off and on. I did an IM on it in 2005. At 6' 1" tall I found the handling to be disappointing, to say the least. The bike was unstable at speed, and anything over 35 mph was absolutely spooky. This was my fourth kestrel bike, but it will be my last. Felt and Cervelo make much better handling bikes for taller riders.

Airfoil Pro Industrial Design 5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed by: Dave Moriconi, Jun 9 2008 11:55AM

The industrial design and all 3D CAD development of the Airfoil Pro was done for Kestrel by the IDE design team in 2003-04. The industrial design began with the largest of the three 650c wheel frames, then designated as a 56cm frame, in February 2003 and was completed in July 2003. The designs for all remaining sizes were completed by December 2003. The lead industrial designer for IDE's design team was Sean Horita, who was also the principle industrial designer of the RT700 (RT800). The lead design engineer at IDE, responsible for all 3D CAD development was Niall Macken. IDE's collaboration with Kestrel began in January 1999 with the design of the smaller 52cm KM40 Airfoil. IDE has been involved with the design and CAD development of every Kestrel bike since, with the exception of the Evoke road bikes. Case studies can be found on our web site, www.ideinc.com.

Best of 5 tri-specific bikes I've owned 5 out of 5 stars

Greg

Reviewed by: greg swanson, May 12 2008 10:58AM

Just saw this review. Other bikes to compare: Profile carbon, Zipp 2001, Corima Fox, Softride. I waited 4 years to buy this bike, until it was made with 700c wheels. After two years of racing on it I may never buy another tri bike. There have been times when I have refused to race it because my training hasn't been up to par - it demands your best. This beast smokes, especially with a disk on back. Short course to IM, smooth as silk. I put a carbon bladed forward seat post on it last year and now ride at 80 degrees, even better. I still ride with an inch or so of spacers above the headset, I can't ride it as low as it will go and still see the road ahead. No mechanical or fit/finish issues whatsoever. I also own a Talon road bike for what it is worth...no issues with that bike either.

Read 13 comments