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.

roadhouse

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.

sutra

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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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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