First Impression: Kona Wheelhouse and Sutra LTD

Kona is pretty well known as a mountain bike brand, but it also has plenty of road-going products with finger-in-your-eye mountain bike attitude. While many companies start with road racing bikes and then branch out into adventure, travel and commuting, Kona focuses solely on the kind of bikes you’d expect to see in Bicycle Times.

Each year Kona hosts its dealers and some of us media slime for an event called the Kona Ride. It’s a chance to get hands-on with the new models and hobnob with the Kona employees. Nearly the entire company joins in and it’s fun to match some faces with the bikes named after them. Traditionally held at the brand’s US office in Bellingham, Washington, this year they invaded our neighbors to the north and hosted it in Squamish, British Columbia.

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If you’ve heard of it but you’re not familiar, Squamish is sort of halfway between Vancouver and Whistler, the mountain bike/ski mecca and host of the 2000 Winter Olympics. Squamish used to be the place where you stopped for gas and a pee on your way north, but in the last few years the city has seen a huge surge in popularity thanks to dual booms of interest and investment in outdoor recreation, namely cycling, rock climbing and whitewater.

I was fortunate enough to have a few days to explore town and sample Kona’s latest bikes. A friend and I grabbed two from the demo fleet and set out to get lost.

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First up is the Wheelhouse. A new model for 2017, it starts with the same Reynolds 853 steel frame as the Roadhouse model introduced last year but does away with some of the frills to hit a lower price point, in this case $1,600. Built with a 10-speed Shimano Tiagra drivetrain and a wide gear range, it’s the perfect do-it-all road bike.

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Disc brakes and 30 mm Schwalbe tires give it great stopping power and a smooth ride, especially when combined with quality steel. Kona says it will fit a 28 mm tire with fenders and maybe a 32 mm without, which is exactly what we like to see in a road bike. And a threaded bottom bracket! Rejoice! 

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The Roadhouse model ($3,799) remains for 2017 and gets an even higher end spec: Shimano Ultegra 11-speed with hydraulic brakes, Mavic wheels and a very cool frame that has been welded AND brazed, then clear coated.

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Halfway through our ride we stopped at Fergie’s, a Squamish institution if there ever was one. It’s an indoor and outdoor cafe open for breakfast and lunch. The property also boasts 12 riverside cabins and a whitewater guiding service, so you’ll have plenty to do before and after you fuel up with some amazing Eggs Benny.

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After lunch my friend and I traded bikes and I hopped aboard the new Sutra LTD ($2,000). Introduced last year, it gets an update for 2017 in the form of even more tire clearance. Officially it will fit a 29×2.1 tire, but you might even fit a little more.

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It ships with the new 45 mm WTB Riddler gravel/adventure tires that can be painlessly converted to tubeless with the WTB Frequency Team i23 rims. Despite the quick release axles at both ends, these are straight-up mountain bike wheels and can handle whatever punishment you want to throw at them.

Compared to the Wheelhouse, the Sutra LTD feels like a much bigger bike. It has a less aggressive position and the flared handlebars are nice and wide. It’s not too burly for road use though, as the tires don’t have that annoying vibration that many treaded tires have on pavement. While we only got to explore some gravel alleys, Kona approves of, no actually encourages, you getting it dirty on some singletrack.

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The steel frame has mounts for up to five bottle cages so stay thirsty, my friends. It’s built with a SRAM Rival 1×11 drivetrain and hydraulic disc brakes. It’s also available as a frame and fork for $550.

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While the Sutra LTD takes care of the bikepacking and gravel market its sibling, the Sutra model ($1,400), gets the more traditional road touring treatment with a 3×9 drivetrain, bar end shifters, rear rack, fenders, Brooks saddle and some beautiful, sparkly root beer paint.

Other highlights

We didn’t get to sample any of these new bikes, but there’s a lot to like about the 2017 lineup. You can also read my ride impressions of the Big Honzo DL in our sister magazine, Dirt Rag.

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Jake the Snake: The Jake line of cyclocross bikes gets a few tweaks, and the cantilever brakes are gone for good. The cyclocross/gravel crossover Private Jake model would be my choice.

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Esatto: A disc brake road bike for adventure seekers, not skinny pants racers. It’s available in aluminum, carbon and Ti.

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Rove: Perfect for commuting, light touring or all around adventures that don’t require tires as big as the Sutra LTD. The Rove is available in aluminum, steel and Ti versions. Read my review of the Rove here.

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Unit: Historically a steel, singlespeed 29er, the Unit goes 27plus for 2017, though it keeps the traditional 100/135 mm quick release sliding dropouts. It also gets a whole host of braze-ons so you can build it up for any kind of adventure. It’s also available as a frameset for $525.

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Ute: Kona still makes the Ute.

 

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First Impression: Kona Humuhumu

I was stopped on the side of the bike path, topping off a slightly underinflated tire.

“Hey nice bike. What’s that extra tube for? Must be heavy duty or somethin’. Is it for extra weight?”

The tube in question is the twin top tube on this here Kona Humuhumu. A retro/cruiser/mountainous/classic/singlespeed/bar-hopping/klunkish/commuter. Why is the extra tube there? Because it can. Why does this bike exist? Because fun. #becausebikes

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Note: Leopard print saddlebag and pink Klean Kanteen not included.

The Humu has been in Kona’s line since 1992 and was loosely inspired by the legendary Lawwill Pro Cruiser and Koski Trailmaster. More of a giant BMX bike than an upgraded klunker, the original Humu wasn’t meant to be a hard-edged trail tamer, but rather a less expensive way for fans to fly the Kona flag while getting to class, cruising the neighborhood or generally causing a ruckus wherever they went.

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The current iteration was inspired by a custom build and sports the same classic layout, 4130 steel tubing, moto-style handlebars and let’s-go attitude of the original, but updates it with disc brakes, 29-inch wheels and sliding dropouts.

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Unlike a lot of cruisers, the Humu is available in three sizes so everyone can join in the fun. The Schwalbe Big Apple tires measure a massive 2 inches wide so the ride is magic carpet smooth. The rear hub is nearly silent too, letting you roll in stealthy silence. It’s available in orange or lime for $899.

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So far I’ve had a blast hopping curbs, blasting through alleys and riding like a hooligan. I’m guessing that’s exactly what Kona was going for.

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Watch for my long-term review of the Humuhumu in an upcoming issue of Bicycle Times. Subscribe today and help support your independent voice for cycling.

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Kona adds some sweet road, cross and adventure bikes for 2016

Kona has been expanding away from its mountain bike background lately, and the sneak peak we got on the 2016 models takes things to the next level. Here are the four models that stood out the most to me.

 

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Private Jake – $2,000

An all new aluminum frame offers modern updates like front and rear thru-axles, and geometry that is on the slack and low side for a cross bike. Combine that with sliding modular dropouts and a single-chainring specific design, and this might be more of a “fun bike” than race bike, and that is OK with us. It even has clearance for 40 mm tires.

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Roadhouse – $2,400

Steel road frames and disc brakes aren’t common bedfellows. Which is a shame. The Roadhouse unashedly combines a Reynolds 853 steel frame, flat mount disc brakes and thru-axles for what is perhaps the most modern production steel road bike I’ve seen. But fear not, it isn’t all high-tech. Those looking closely will see rack and fender mounts. I am probably in the minority here, but about the only thing that would make this a better bike is a high-end steel fork.

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Sutra LTD – $2,000

Fear not touring cyclists, the standard Sutra model is still around, still has a triple crank, Brooks saddle, and a rear rack. The Sutra LTD leans more towards use on unpaved roads and dirt. Combine a frame with lots of braze-ons,  a 1×11 SRAM drive train with a wide-range 10-42 cassette, hydraulic disc brakes and 47 mm tires, and you should be ready for anything from long dirt-road tours to detours on the way home from work.

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Essatto Fast – $TBA

We have almost no info about this bike, but we do know there are a surprising number of riders that want the speed of a road bike without the drop bars. This looks like it should fit the bill nicely for those riders.

 

As of this posting, Kona’s website isn’t live with the new bikes yet, but it should be soon.

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Video: Kona Bikes ‘Going Deeper Into Road’

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Courtesy of Kona Bikes. Photo by Blake Jorgenson.

Far gone in the American southwest, in a land shaped by the sun, where people live a hardy, rural life, there hides some of the world’s most adventurous roads. Lined by spectacular rock formations and under an impossibly giant sky, sagebrush and cactus give way to endless dirt and pavement.

At Kona, we design our Road bikes to be a little different. For us, it’s about stories: Those rides that turn to experiences as you go deeper. Located on the Colorado Plateau, the Four Corners area is named after a quadripoint where the boundaries of New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and Utah all meet. It is the only instance in the United States where four states intersect. Home to the Navajo, Hopi, Ute and Zuni Nations, the area is steeped in story and adventure—the perfect place to showcase the huge range and capability imbued in Kona’s 2015 Road program.

From the rough and tumble nature of the go-everywhere Rove AL, to the speed and diversity of the Zone; the performance and style of the Honky Tonk, to the endless endurance of the Esatto DDL, at Kona we design bikes whose boundaries are loosely defined. When the pavement gets rough, and the asphalt turns to gravel, then dirt, and the miles don’t ever want to stop, that’s where our bikes come alive.

To tell that story, we take you along for a ride through the Four Corners on four different Konas. From north to south, east to west, on solitary roadways through one of the most geographically rugged and visually stunning regions in North America. Come with us as we go deeper into road.

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Winter in Finland with Kona’s Dr. Dew

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After catching word that the next Dew Files would take place in Finland during the month of January, Dr Dew’s thoughts were, “Thank goodness it isn’t a Hawaiian shoot!”

Welcome to winter biking’s most friendly city. With more than 750 miles of cycling routes, a little darkness and freezing temperatures doesn’t stop the thousands of Helsinki commuters who ride to work every day through rain, sleet, and snow.

In this installment of the Dew Files, we follow Kona Bikes‘ intrepid bike designer into the heart of winter to find out just how hardy the Finns are. “The Finns show a great enthusiasm for life,” explains Dew. “Their warmth and hospitality made it feel like we were in Hawaii instead of being just outside the Arctic Circle.”

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Video: ‘Growing Up Cross’

Courtesy of Kona Bikes

On any given weekend during late summer through to early winter, cyclocross racers of all ages gather to test their mettle through mud and frozen grass, up and over obstacles, from Europe to North America and beyond. Kona has always loved cyclocross racing, from the camaraderie to the challenge, and of course, the unadulterated fun. As a testament to that passion, we follow three Kona cross racers from age 9 to 33: two racers from Rad Racing NW, one of the top youth development cycling programs in the U.S., and Kona Team rider Helen Wyman, one of the top female cross racers in the world. For us, it’s not only about creating bikes for future champions, but also inspiring a love for cycling that lasts a lifetime.

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Kona debuts new titanium road bike

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Building on its journey along the “Neverending Road,” Kona announced on its blog today a new project to be hitting the streets this summer, the titanium Esatto road bike. Built in Tennessee by Lynskey, the Esatto is designed as an endurance road bike, capable of fitting larger tires (up to 32c) and featuring a more relaxed geometry. Details include laser-etched graphics and hidden fender eyelets.

Highlights:

  • 3/2.5 seamless Ti material
  • Tapered HT (integrated HS design)
  • Ovalized DT and chainstays
  • New Endurance Comfort geometry
  • Kona Carbon monocoque fork with slight curve for smooth and compliant ride
  • Full fender and 28c tire clearance (up to 32c without fenders)
  • “Invisible” removable fender attachment eyelets
  • Available in six sizes (49, 52, 54, 56, 59, 61)

The titanium frame and proprietary carbon fork will retail for $2,499. Bikes are available now, so contact your Kona dealer if you are interested.

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Review: Kona Rove

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Kona designed the Rove as a versatile machine, mixing the practicality of its commuter and touring models with the fit and geometry of its cyclocross heritage. The result is a bike that feels responsive, but still delivers versatility that will keep you rolling all year.

It seems rim vs. disc brakes has superseded Campagnolo vs. Shimano as the debate du jour in the bicycle industry, and there’s no doubt which side I’m on. A mechanical disc brake is easy to set up, simple to maintain, performs well, and inspires far more confidence in this rider than a rim brake ever could. The Rove’s Hayes CX5 calipers did seem underpowered at first, but once the pads were bedded in they stopped just as I had hoped. I’m a little surprised to see 140mm rotors spec’d when 160mm wouldn’t seem excessive.

Read our full review here.

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Meet the Kona Freerange bikes

We’re always debating what these types of bikes should be called. They’re not touring bikes per say, but they can certainly tour. They’re less racy than a cyclocross bike. And I don’t even know what a “gravel” bike is supposed to be.

Kona has dubbed them the Freerange, and I think it’s a great name. The Rove and Sutra share a frame, but sport different build-ups, and if you’re looking for something a little more extravagant, there’s the Rove Ti, built in the USA by Lynskey.

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How bikes make cities cool

Fresh from the Kona Productions Crew, How Bikes Make Cities Cool – Portland, is a five-minute mini documentary that explores the thriving bicycle culture resident to one of North America’s most progressive metropolises. Filmed entirely by bike, with support from longtime Kona Portland dealer Sellwood Cycles and resident Team Kona athletes Erik Tonkin and Matthew Slaven, we spent the better part of a week talking to commuters, following kids to school and capturing the friendly vibe and funky nature of a city that embraces self-propelled commuting at the heart of its identity.

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