Kona Sutra Redux: A New Build

Effy and her Kona Sutra
Effy and her Kona Sutra

[For more images, please see the gallery at the end of the article]

The legend of the Kona Sutra is that it is a great platform upon which can be built many different types of bicycles: touring, gravel, adventure, or even a rigid mountain bike. It has been my favorite for quite some time. It offers plenty of tire clearance (Max. 29 x 2.25 / 650b x 2.6), compact geometry that allows for more maneuverability, and excellent Chromoly steel construction. For those looking to build a bike that meets their exact needs or satisfy a few at once, this is a great option.

Due to the warm reception of my Kona Sutra Dream Build that I completed last year, I had a request to customize another one. Of course, I jumped at the chance: who wouldn’t want to give back to the community an opportunity to ride an amazing bike? It has been almost two years since I built my Sutra, and I have gained quite a bit more bike-building experience during that time. I was eager to put this new knowledge to the test on this new bike.

I was asked to do a similar build to mine, except different. Effy wasn’t very specific about the nature of the build, only that she wanted the same Simworks accessories: Honjo Fenders, Rhonda stem, and Beatnik seat post. Getting the bike to look good was not a problem. That left me to change up the drive train and the wheels.

DT Swiss 350 hub as seen through the valve hole.
DT Swiss 350 hub as seen through the valve hole.

I started, as I am wont to do, with a custom wheel build. I used what I believe are some of the best hubs for this type of bike: the venerable DT Swiss 350. These hubs are remarkable. They are sturdy, easy to service, and the star ratchet is upgradeable for better engagement on the dirt. I laced them to 32-hole WTB i29 ASYM rims. They are a reasonable price and quite reliable. Effy is not super tall, so she agreed to lower the whole bike by using 650b wheels instead of 700c. This has the advantage of bringing the bottom bracket down for a little bit more stability. She also liked the gum wall look of the WTB Byway 650b x 47 tires.

Effy Sutra derailleur detail
SRAM Apex derailleur detail

The drivetrain, like mine, would be a 38-tooth single-front chainring with an 11-speed, 11- to 42-tooth rear cassette. Having had this ratio on my own Sutra for a while now, I have found that it is perfect for city commuting and light adventure and gravel riding. There is plenty of bottom end for climbing. Since no one will be racing these bikes in stages, the top end is just high enough for those early morning Cat-6 commuter showdowns. The major difference between Effy’s and my drivetrain would be hers is mostly SRAM.

When I was first working on my build, the SRAM Apex was not available, and SRAM Force 1 was way too expensive. In order to have STI shifters and an XT derailleur, I had to add a pull adjuster in order to make the system work. Not so for Effy’s bike. The Apex was a nice, cost-effective solution that achieves the same result. No pull adjusters needed! I did, however, stay with the Shimano XT crankset and Wolftooth chainring as I like the look better than the Apex cranks.

Effy's Sutra in its resting place.
Effy’s Sutra in its resting place.

Like my Sutra, I chose the Simworks by Honjo Turtle 58 fenders in black. These fenders do not come pre-drilled, allowing for an exact fit on whatever bike they are installed. With all the other black parts on this build, I thought it would be a nicer look than the brass ones I used on my own bike. After these were drilled and fitted, I wrapped the bars in Brooks leather bar tape to match the B17 saddle that came with the bike.

Effy riding her new Kona Sutra
Effy riding her new Kona Sutra

Effy was pleased with the final product. The fit was right and the bike looks great. The possibilities that this bike offers are, for Effy, unlimited. Sure, she is not going to blaze down singletrack trails. But if she finds herself on gravel, fire roads, or tarmac, she will be able to ride comfortably. Hopefully she will get a lot of good years out of it. Please check out the gallery below for more shots of this awesome build.


Sarah and her 1987 Bianchi road bike.

Rides a 1987 Bianchi road bike.
Shot on Ortega Street in Santa Barbara, CA.
Shopping for rompers. (Yeah, you read it right)

Bicycling is exercise. “Exercise creates endorphins. Endorphins make you happy.” I don’t often paraphrase Elle Woods, but she had a point: people who exercise are usually happier than your average couch potato. Sometimes we get super growly people coming into the shop. But most of them are either just in a hurry or they just witnessed a homeless guy take a dump in the planter just outside. Most of the people that are on their bikes consistently who come in for service or whatever are generally happy. Sarah is no exception. She blew me away with her confidence and awesome attitude. She was riding a very well-preserved and cared-for Bianchi from when I was like a junior in high school. She was emitting the type of awesomeness that makes you think she would mash this thing down Anacapa at top speed during rush hour. What else do I have to say? She’s legit. So’s the bike.

Usually you only see bikes like this in images on the Google Image Search…or eBay (for lots of cabbage)…or on some random forum somewhere. This bike certainly wasn’t top of the line back in ’87, but it sure was representative of its time. These bikes were heavy, durable and faster than your average mountain bike. Most of my peers opted for a Specialized Stumpjumper or a Cannondale SM. But I was in love with thin steel tubes, down tube shifters and drop bars.

I am going to sound old now. Prepare yourself.

<rant> I know that I am in the business of selling new bikes. But sometimes it surprises me how all these young kids end up with these incredible steel bikes. Most of them, Sarah included, have no idea they are riding something that induces a sense of nostalgia in others. These machines, even the lower end ones that weren’t made from Tange/Reynolds/Columbus steel were extremely liberating. If they could only get on whatever P2P file sharing mess they are entertaining themselves with and download Breaking Away, they would know what I was talking about. Sometimes I just want to grab these kids by the pancreas and shake them and scream: “Take care of this bike!”</rant>

Honestly, you never know who may have rode it before you. That is all.