I’ve liked my aluminum tri-drilled Kookas a lot, and they’ve held up very well. A thousand miles plus now with no adjustment, loosening, or issue of any sort. Although I have heard that Kooka has historically been one of the strongest aluminum cranks, so maybe that is why.
On the climbing difficulty you mentioned, it may be due to flex with the steel rim that you are not conscious of because you’re busy climbing, but it nevertheless adds to the effort needed. When I bought my first coker, stock w steel rim, etc., I noticed a clicking sound on my wheel whenever I was doing a semi-steep climb or descent. It wasn’t there on the flats. Turned out it was my computer magnet hitting the “reader”, and the reason it was hitting it was due to wheel flex. I would not have really noticed the flex if it wasn’t for that noise.
That said–and just my humble opinion Terry–but I think you’re over-thinking this whole steel stock versus airfoil versus crank material versus blah topic. You’re serial posting. I think one challenge may be the relatively short comparison rides on the different models you’ve tried. The “feel” of any given one could be influenced by a number of factors, and it takes multiple longer rides (in my view) on any given beast before you can really assess or make strong comparisons. When I first got my GB4 36, it felt strange to ride after my stock coker. The sage advice I got from U-Turn was to put on some miles. And then some more miles. Then see if I still felt the same.
My reco would be maximize around the wheel first, meaning get the Airfoil rim, wide hub, and the strongest wheel build you can afford. You’ll ultimately benefit from the extra strength and longevity, and knowing how you like to hop around, if you had a steel rim you would one day give in to the temptation to do some curbs or something, and you’ll eventually mess it up. Ask Harper…who was fine for thousands of miles on his stock coker, then decided one day to get into the stair hopping business.
If you can save some on crank weight, great, but personally I’d maximize around other factors like preferred Q, etc. In case of my current setup, I maximized around flexibility. While the Kookas are not the lightest of aluminum cranks, the tri-drill option gives me flexibility to change crank lengths, which suits the kind of riding I do. For a while I had a pair of steel 140s that were quite heavy, but they worked great and I got used to them quickly and they would accelerate and climb fine. Once you get into a good wheel and frame, the other details make less of a difference…you’ll get used to anything once you’ve put in some miles.