Kona Sutra 650b : a Dank Build

2017 Kona Sutra 650b Conversion

2017 Kona Sutra 650b Conversion

This bike is now featured on Kona Cog Dream Builds!

Image gallery below at end of article.

There’s absolutely no reason to convert a perfectly good touring and adventure bike like the Kona Sutra to something other than what it is. No bicycle is perfect. People have different needs and wants. This bike happened to be a great commuter and touring bike. But I wanted something more. It is a great platform for upgrading. There wasn’t anything preventing me from doing it other than the expense. So over the course of a year, I waited: watching and comparing prices, gathering, mooching, convincing my SO of the need, nay, the destiny of my dear Kona. It must be rebuilt! I ended up with the dankest of dream builds.

I have had this particular Sutra since it debuted in early 2017. I was drawn to the metallic flake paint job and easy-going geometry. When commuting to work, I found it to be extremely comfortable. Out on the trail, it handled very well, making it not only an excellent commuter but a hardy adventure bike. With all the new categories of road/gravel/adventure bikes out there, the Sutra is like a do-it-most bike that seems perfect, albeit just a little too heavy. But that is Kona for you. Their frames are built very well. Steel, though. I will deal with the extra weight if I can have the durability!

Always on a quest to build my a better bike, stock off-the-shelf rides usually don’t last too long in my household. Even though this bike performs really, really well, I wanted to do a few things to it that required some major surgery. I agree that the bike is good the way it is, however, there is always room for improvement.

The Sutra standard (not the LTD) comes with a Shimano Deore mountain triple crankset. My relationships with the many front derailleurs in my life have been awful. Always adjusting, rejecting the new technology like SRAM Yaw and that tooth-pulling new Ultegra FD-8000 derailleur that Shimano dropped on us last year. I decided that the best place to start my Sutra upgrade was to convert the drivetrain to a 1x, and kill the FD with fire (seriously, I think i tossed in into a friends BBQ). I already had a Shimano XT M8000 crankset handy, but I wanted more teeth. I purchased a Wolftooth Components DropStop 38T chainring. Believe it or not, this part of the conversion was the easiest part.

Sutra9153

Shimano XT M8000 crankset with Wolftooth 38T DropStop chainring.

The harder part was getting the rear derailleur and cassette sussed out. I really like the way the Shimano XTR Shadow Plus rear derailleur felt. For me, Shimano has always has had the smoother-shifting feel. Believe me, I realize that something like SRAM Force 1 would have been easier. But to build the dankest, one must be a bit of a nonconformist. Problem was, in order to use the XTR with the Ultegra shifters and the 11-42 cassette, I needed some Batman-style gadgets.

Wolftooth Components, being as clever as they are, had two nifty devices that I could use. The Tanpan pull-adjuster for the Ultegra-to-XTR cable path, and the Goatlink 11 which would allow the normally 11-40 XTR compatible with 11-42. Though it sounds like overkill, it actually works really well. The shifting is smooth and accurate. When routing the inner cable through the Tanpan, it must be really tightly pulled through the pulleys and the cable bolt. Otherwise, the barrel adjusters will have too much slack to tighten the action.

2017 Kona Sutra 650b XTR Goatlink Tanpan detail 2

2017 Kona Sutra 650b XTR, Goatlink, and Tanpan detail

I also wanted wider tires and stiffer wheels. So, again, doing something completely unnecessary, I decided to build some 650b wheels. Both are 32 spokes, cross three, laced to WTB Asym i29 rims. I also put a DT Swiss 350 rear hub in the back wheel.

The handling is pretty nice. Even with the WTB Byway 650×47 tires, the effective diameter is still just short of what they were with the 700s. I need to get smaller cranks. Other than that, the bike handles like a dream. The stiffer wheel gives a great response on the road and the dirt. The wider tire certainly allows for better cornering and comfort as well.

Because I am always upgrading, eventually I want to get some Paul Components Klamper brakes and a new headset (suggestions welcome). I already have some Simworks Honjo brass Turtle 58 fenders that I need to tweak to fit as well. But that is for later. I hope you enjoyed checking out my dank bike. Build list, image gallery and comments below.

Build list (other than standard equipment):

Overreaction to Winter: a Birthright of the Santa Barbarian

studded tires

Studded tires outside the Presidio in Santa Barbara. Sign of subtropical Winter.

Back when I was in college, I met a girl from Oregon. She grew up outside of Eugene and moved down here to go to college. Her first impression of Santa Barbara was what giant pussies we all are when it comes to the weather. She was surprised, for example, that when the temperature dipped below 60 degrees Farenheit, Santa Barbarians would don huge jackets, top boots and scarves. Cyclists around here tend to wear multiple layers of lycra kit on top of arm warmers, knee warmers and the occasional balaclava if they can see their breath.

I guess people from outside Southern California (yes, Santa Barbara is in Southern California) are made of stronger stuff than we are. For example, when it rains, cycling for the most part stops. You might see the occasional Rufus out on his K-mart special going to wherever, but all the serious cyclists tend to hide. I mean, it’s just water, right? How do they take a shower if they are so afraid of water?

I guess it’s all relative. Our perspective is skewed. That girl from Oregon? She kept complaining that it was always too hot. And me? I just spotted a bike outside with studded tires. It doesn’t even snow here. The overreactions are astonishing.

End of line.

Quick Review: 2015 Specialized Roubaix SL4 Comp Disc

2015 Specialized Roubaix SL4 Comp Disc

2015 Specialized Roubaix SL4 Comp Disc

Gallery below!

I am slowly getting to like Specialized. I mean, if you’re going to purchase a crabon bike to shed grams and pretend like you’re on a team, then Specialized, I think, is one of the better big-company bike companies out there.  I am not doing this review here to claim that Specialized is the best. Far from it. I am merely giving you a run-down of what I would choose if I were in the market for a crabon endurance bike. That said:

The 2015 Specialized Roubaix SL4 Comp Disc

Since I have made the conscious choice not to race anymore, I have resigned myself to near-Fred status. Yes. Expensive bicycles capture my attention. The only differences between me and an actual Fred is that I cannot afford to purchase the above-pictured bike and I possess the intellectual capacity to realize that I don’t really need it. I can, however, borrow one for a whiles to assess its potential for actual Freds who can afford one.

The extremely long and exhaustive name of the Roubaix Comp Disc gives away its most noticeable attribute: the Shimano 785 hydraulic road disc brakes. Finally,  a really heavy person (I don’t discriminate based on gender, but some of you dudes are huge) can ride a really light crabon bike and be able to stop on a dime. And though I am pushing a hefty 160 pounds, I found the brakes to be extremely responsive and quick to get used to. And when I say “get used to” I mean it takes a couple of stops at a slower speed to master not falling down (the bike is really light and the stoppage is immediate). Not only that, but the calipers have fins on them for those people who love good heat dissipation.

Moving on to the drivetrain, I found the Shimano Ultegra 11-speed setup quite nice. No Di2 needed here (especially at this price point). The Ultegra shift levers are quite responsive and almost Fred-proof. The PraxisWorks 50/34 compact-double chainrings were a nice addition and a good way for Specialized to keep the build cost down. Not to mention, it’s kind of cool having a crankset named after an exploded Klingon moon. A full Ultegra drivetrain is not necessary unless you are looking to brag about having a crankset that is overly expensive. And I wouldn’t bother bragging about anything less than Dura Ace or SRAM Red anyway. My only gripe is that I would rather have an external bottom bracket rather than the press-fit BB30 that comes on this frame. I can see lots of loosening and noise in the future especially if a climber buys this bike.

Speaking of climbing: there is a noticeable frame flex when climbing. Out of the saddle, it started to feel a little noodly on the long climbs we have around here.

The geometry is awesome. I am 5′ 10″ and I tested the 54cm. I felt relaxed and not too aero. For a long-distance ride, I think this bike would be perfect. I also had my reservations about the effectiveness of the Zertz inserts on the fork, seat stays and seat post However, they proved to be quite effective. The bike certainly lived up to its cobblestone-inspired name as it did a really great job of dampening vibration. The bike does glide, people.

For the 54cm  model, the 72-degree headtube angle was just slack enough to give me a comfortable ride. The steering was extremely responsive and smooth. At slower speeds (read: in a footdown contest), it was great. However, I don’t think I will be playing bike polo with it anytime soon. The wheels are another story. The Axis wheels are good, but I found them to be a little heavy to match with this frame. If I were suffering from chronic Fredness, I would definitely upgrade to a set of Mavic Kysirium SLS. But if you’re actually looking at the price of this bike, those would set you back at least another six large on a swap with your LBS, bringing this beast to over four grand.

Conclusion

If you have enough cabbage and want an effective crabon endurance ride, I would recommend, nay, advocate for the Specialized Roubaix Comp Disc.  It’s just at the bottom end of Fredness while still being pretty awesome. In fact, I would say that the only thing holding this thing back from complete Fredability is the fact that it doesn’t say “S-Works” on the downtube. And, like all of the SL4 road bikes that Specialized puts out, it makes a great platform for future upgrades.

*End of line*

 

 

 

Light Action: A Lesson in Patience

Shimano Light Action Bar End Shifter

Shimano Light Action Bar End Shifter on Paul Components Thumbie

If you’ve read any of my posts you would probably infer that I hold bicycles pretty high in the hierarchy of super important things that humans have invented. Indeed, the bicycle as we know it evolved from a long history of rich people’s toys and false starts. I find it rather unfortunate that the modern bicycle finally began to be taken seriously about the same time cars and airplanes were invented. Indeed, if horses didn’t poop so much and weren’t so damn skittish, maybe we wouldn’t have bothered with the automobile. Imagine a world where people went places by bicycles and horses. Nope. Too easy. Humans would rather go to great expense to suck oil out of the ground to make a vehicle so energy inefficient that the only plus side is that it makes it easier for teenagers to make out in private.

So what does this have to do with the picture above? It’s to illustrate my point at how awesome bikes are. There’s beauty in simplicity and patience. How such dysfunctional race of beings that infest a planet they don’t care about can make such a simple machine that, despite its drawbacks (it’s not as fast as a car) can get us where we need to go just blows my mind. Seriously: we can ride a bike anywhere given enough time. Not only that, bicycles have a low cost of entry (pretty much anyone can afford one), they are cheaper to fuel (burritos give the best milage per unit), and they can be stunning examples of simplistic beauty. No matter what kind of bike you ride, they are all beautiful not only because some can be aesthetically so. But even the cheapest POS from REI still does the same thing as a Rivendell or S-Works Tarmac Disc…it has two wheels and moves you forward. You need at least one leg and a lot of patience to operate one.

<nonconformist_view>
         Patience, Dear Reader, is something that cars have destroyed — a hundred years ago. They have literally sucked it out of the earth as if they drank our milkshake.
</nonconformist_view>

I’m not saying that we should all hate the automobile. I just think that, deep down inside, they are ugly and dirty.

End of line.

Cyclocross Films: For the Love of Mud

I am going to try something new here. Usually I don’t feature work that is not my own, but I just saw the teaser for a new cyclocross video and I am so excited about it. It is called For the Love of Mud by Benedict Campbell.

I am excited about it for two reasons: First, because it is about cyclocross, a sport that I have been following for a while now. But because there are so few ways to explain it to people. I think this film, will do that. Second, the videography is amazing. The feel of the visuals and the music mixed in with the pain of the riders just gives me goosebumps.

When the full film drops, I will get back to you all here for a review.

I’m famous…

So I have been dabbling in video lately. The bank that I work for wanted to put together a series of social media videos about their new mobile app. There was no budget so I just raised my hand and did it. The only catch was, it would have to star yours truly. So check it out. It has very little to do with bicycles, but they’re in there somewhere.

George Gets Surly and Rides Again

George and his Surly Disc Trucker

George and his Surly Disc Trucker

A little while back we met George and his old Trek. It was his only form of transportation and he really loved that old bike. Then, a few weeks back, a drunk driver crashed into his bike while it was locked up on the sidewalk. That’s what happens when you combine enabling, alcohol and really large, metal vehicles that weigh more than 150 pounds. But that’s another story and one of my main problems with cars in general.

As you may have guessed, the bike was totaled. I mean, now the frame is hanging on his wall like a broken guitar. Sort of a weird but beautiful piece of art that reminds him of a different time.

In order to move past his old Trek, George came in an bought himself a Surly Disc Trucker. Talk about an upgrade. In my opinion, the geometry and versatility of tire sizes and rack mounts make this the perfect bike to fill the slot as George’s one and only mode of transportation. He rounded out the purchase with a nice Brooks B-17 Imperial saddle and a bitchin Kryptonite lock. And now that Surly is equipping the LHTs with a Shimano XT drivetrain, his new bike will be super reliable and able to tackle more varieties of roads and hills.

It’s almost as if the drunk driver enabled George to go further on his bike than before. Bicycles, my dear reader, are huge enablers. Enablers of awesome. See gallery below of George’s new bike:

Death of Tallboy

Whenever you have to saw in half the frame of a $3000 bike, you die a little. Indeed, I never thought I would see the day when anyone would commit such a crime. However, in light of the situation at hand, it was a necessary evil.

Whenever a carbon frame develops any sort of defect or crack, it must be destroyed if being sent in for warranty replacement. Often, the bike company, in this case Santa Cruz, will request that the bottom bracket shell be sawn out of the frame for return. This is to ensure that the manufacturer gets proof of the serial number being exchanged for warranty. It is also to ensure that the damaged or defective frame doesn’t get rebuilt into another bicycle. If that were the case, a catastrophic failure can occur, injuring or even killing the rider. So we had to sacrifice the carbon for the greater good of the mountain biking community.

What is done with the rest? Do you have any suggestions? Let us know!

 

 

The Militarization of the Police Bicycle

This is what cops ride in Okinawa. Mamachari.

This is what cops ride in Okinawa. Mamachari.

Having been all over Japan in the past decade or so has led me to believe that America is a land of excess. We are so used to getting what we want (and easily, at that) that we end up buying things we don’t need. Sure, if you use a bike for transportation, you don’t need an S-Works Tarmac Disc with Dura Ace Di2. But as long as we’re spending money on a bike, why not get the best possible? After all, if we settle for spending less on a lower-end ride, we may “outgrow” it. Case in point: here in the good ol’ USA, when we need to equip our police force, we make sure they only have the best. However, sometimes the best is too much. Kind of like obese people who develop diabetes on account of their excessive diets (and for some reason chefs are celebrities here). Take the Kona Safariland, for instance. It’s a short-drive-train “patrol” bike with an adventurous name Really it’s just a beefy hybrid. The thing is built like a tank and would probably be awesome for touring across the African savannahs. A quick look at the website, however reveals a more segregated market. Only cops can buy them…presumably to run over criminals trying to escape on foot. Event the website for the bike has a popup (as of this writing) that politely informs you that “The Safariland Group, holsters.com, forensicsource.com, tacticalcommandstore.com are all under one roof”. As if websites had roofs. Or holsters. But now that I am here I have been looking for a holster for my .454 Cassull revolver. I need it to crack engine blocks with extreme prejudice.

Take the image above. The Okinawan Police, like other police forces in Japan are equipped with exactly what they need. Their style of policing is such that this bike is totally adequate. If a perp escapes, he will most likely run into another set of cops two blocks away. Our cops? Who knows how they’re organized? They are truly never around when you need them. “But we are fighting a war on terror and a war on drugs!” you say. “The criminals have machine guns!” True. So do cops. However, I am willing to be that the aforementioned drug dealers don’t have overpriced, tank-like bicycles with which to deal said drugs. So if we are using the “bring a gun to a gunfight” analogy, a bike, no matter how solid and military-esque isn’t going to win any battles against a drug lord and his gang of car-driving thugs.

Oh yes. I was about to mention the cost of the above bike as compared to “patrol” bikes like the Kona Safariland. The mamachari pictured above probably cost the Okinawa Police about ¥20,000 or about US $200.00. The Safariland? Almost 10 times as much. Your taxes at work, ladies and gentlemen. A local shop even had one on display for a while (even though no one but the cops could buy it). It has Shimano Deore/SLX on it. Really. It also weighs like 29 pounds. If you are one of the select few that can buy one, be sure to get your riot gear and body armor (available on the same site)…you’re going to need it when you are doing crowd control on your giant military bicycle.