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):

In Defense of Rim Brakes

Paul Neo Retro Touring Canti

Paul Neo Retro Touring Canti

It was a long struggle with pneumonia. It was close…real close. I am still not back on the bike but I am getting there. While I recover, I wanted to talk about brakes.

Probably the most invasive technology in the cycling world (aside from crabon everything) is disc brakes. They are becoming more common on bikes these days and it seems you can’t event spend as low as $770.00 on a bike without getting some hydraulic discs in the package. Indeed, where just a couple of years ago, hydraulic disc brakes were the sole property of bikes costing over $1,500.00. Nay, mountain bikes costing over $1500.00. Now they are everywhere. And for good reason: they stop a bike more efficiently, function on warped rims and are great in wet weather. Hydraulics do not suffer a much from that annoying zing-zing sound that mechanical disc brakes are so fond of making. Once the exclusive domain of mountain bikers, they are sneaking onto every other type of bike being offered for sale to consumers. The drawback to these things? There are two that I can think of: weight and maintenance.

Weight is a minor issue on entry-level bikes. Most riders who are out getting exercise and enjoying the fresh air are not looking to shave grams, They are looking for a solid bike for the lowest price. The trouble with putting hydro discs on an entry-level hybrid is evident immediately to the entry-level rider purchasing said bike: the maintenance. If I were to mention reservoirs, brake fluid and bleeding to this type of bicycle consumer, they would imagine a greasy-faced auto mechanic in coveralls holding up a master cylinder in front of their face saying: “Now there’s your problem!” But the truth is, today’s hydro brakes can be maintained with just a little practice or for a modest fee at you LBS. Even a brake-bleeding kit only costs $25.00.

So are rim brakes obsolete? Some may say so, especially the members of the weak-minded spandex army of Freds because they are easily moved by marketing. However, the other drawback that I mentioned before, weight, can have a serious effect on a sub-16-pound road bike. There are some companies, like Giant for instance, that have appropriated side-pull brakes for their road bikes. I think this is an interesting concept. Take the 2015 Giant Propel Advanced SL 0. This is their highest-end road bike and it retails for a whopping $10,800.00! And it has side-pull rim brakes. Granted, they are getting pretty aero with these, mounting them behind the forks, so there’s a good way to subtract some milliseconds to your stage time. The weight is pretty light, too. Just when you thought manufacturers were going disc crazy, here comes Giant with the weakest style of rim brakes on their most expensive consumer road bike. It is truly mind bottling…you know, when things get so crazy it gets your thoughts all trapped like in a bottle? But hey, these brakes are super easy to maintain and they are super light as well. That should be very pleasing to the Freds out there.

To be honest, I am rather fond of a good set of cantilever brakes. Sure they may be a pain to adjust, but they are the best at stopping power aside from some of the higher-end calipers out there. Plus they make my bikes look all steam-punky. That’s always a plus with the ladies. End of line.

Quick Review: 2015 Kona Hei Hei Deluxe

TJ and the 2015 Kona Hei Hei Deluxe

TJ and the 2015 Kona Hei Hei Deluxe

Ah Kona. Kona Kona Kona. Always surprising me with something I didn’t expect. I mean, after last year’s lineup, I thought that the maker of the overbuilt-yet-surprisingly-finessable Process line of compact all-mountain shredders would never be able to top themselves. After all, we have been waiting for a crabon Process to emerge in 2015 only to find that we will have to keep waiting. But never fear: Kona has, for some reason, been able to produce an XC Race in crabon for those who feel they need to go really fast on not-so-paved surfaces.

Coming away a little nonplussed after the whole Hei Hei Hei thing last year, Kona has finally unscrewed their naming convention and has returned this year with a race bike that is, for lack of a better word, spongeworthy. The 2015 Hei Hei Deluxe seems to be the end result of a lot of trial and error that has finally produced a winning design.

With Kona being able to produce some of the most killer aluminum bikes for those non-weight weenies who just like to go out and shred, their crabon lineup is surpisingly competitive. The Hei Hei Dee’s frame is extremely strong and stiff. Made from Kona’s awesome Race Light crabon, the bike, as large as it is, is extremely responsive. The whole entire bike weighs in at a svelt 28 pounds and change: awesome for a dual-suspension 29er. The look of the frame, for those who care, is sleek, without that extra futuristic bullshit that makes most crabon bikes look like Logans Run rejects which are destined to be put out of their stylistic misery after they get too old.

Suspension? Naginata please. Anyone who wants to complain about a 100mm travel 29er with Beamer suspension maybe shouldn’t be buying this bike (#firstworldproblems). Combined with the 120mm Fox Float 32 CTD Evolution front fork, this combination is sure to produce a sufficiently sphincter-puckering response whilst screaming across all Creation, birds, snakes and bears diving out of your way. The combination is perfect. So shut up.

So what else will the snobs complain about that I can just refute right now because this bike is so awesome? Ah yes, the Shimano SLX group with XT rear derailleur component build. Well, look people: this is not the Hei Hei Supreme. If you are a Fred (or Frieda) that fancies him/herself a pro rider, then fine, by all means complain. But this is the mid-range bike, folks. And besides, SLX these days is extremely reliable and smooth. This build is not only affordable, it is right up there with the XTR and SRAM X0 stuff that is out this year.

The wheels are perfect for this build level. Not for the pro but for the average racer, Stan’s ZTRs are a great set of hoops. I would probably go with a tire upgrade, though as I have never been a Maxxis Ikon fan. But hey, snobbery aside, the wheel package for this level is just fine. Grind the tires down and upgrade when ready.

To sum up. The response of this bike is amazing. It is light, fast and has all the features that anyone getting into XC Racing would want. As I always like to say, it is a very affordable race platform that will easily last several seasons. After you beat the shit out of the SLX group and the Fox Float forks, upgrading is always a good idea. I am not sure, what with the styling and frame materials, that getting another bike after a couple of seasons would be necessary. Just add your own parts later and make it your own. Just don’t go upgrade-crazy right out of the gate. Kona has definitely produced a great build that is sure to see some trophies this year.

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*

 

 

 

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:

Quick Review: The 2015 Kona Humuhumu

Yours truly on the Red 20-inch Kona Humuhumu

Sexy chicken leg. Yours truly on the Red 20-inch Kona Humuhumu.

Its not often that a bike company will bring an older model back to its original glory simply because you wished it so. I don’t normally subscribe to faith or the belief that positive thoughts always have a physical manifestation…but in this case, maybe I should actually read that copy of The Secret my mom gave five years ago. I wonder what else I can come up with? Anyway, read below and check out the gallery.

Up for review today is the 2015 Kona Humuhumu. A bike that was once thought lost and given up on. A bike that started out awesome and had a good run with a longer moniker, the Humuhumunukunukuapu’a. It was awesome…chromoly all over the place! That is, until the brain trust over at Kona R and D decided to replace it with the Humu…a bastard aluminum homunculus of the original that looked like it belonged in the back alley of a favella grog n’ puke. But I digress. As mentioned above, I was wishing in the back of my mind that Kona would get their shit together. They did. Well…almost. Lemme ‘splain:

The 2015 Kona Humuhumu, a partial revision of the original klunker-inspired piece of awesomeness that was the original (don’t make me type out the name again), has almost already sold out of its first production run. Chromoly butted frame and converted to a 29’er (with a 700c x 19 WTB disc wheelset), the new incarnation is not quite the phoenix I wished it to be, but it is a damn nice piece of metal and rubber. Seeing that the trend for cruisers seems to be foregoing the traditional in favor of the accommodating-giant-dude variety, it’s no surprise that Kona converted this machine to a 29er. The tire variety alone is enough to please any of the hardcore customizers. I’m sure I will be seeing this thing with 700 x 23 tires on it rolling down the street soon. The disc brakes and modern rear dropout configuration add a nice feeling of adaptability and stability. And who can resist the new klunker crossbar handlebars? Well played, Kona. Well played. But I have some questions for you:

<rant>Why would you stop so short, K-dog? I thought we had something, you and I. I thought we had a telepathic connection. I thought that if the bike ever did unfuck itself, it would be perfect. I wanted you and I to go all the way! But alas, that is not reality. Gone is the original Cook Brothers Racing-inspired curved top tube of the past. And don’t even get me started on the saddle: it looks like you all just threw in a bunch of reject Dew saddles that you had laying around, it almost as laughable as the Wellgo Christmas-stocking gift pedals you graced this bike with. And the buffalo logo on the seat tube? Did someone let a hipster slip into the graphics department in the middle of the night? Am I supposed to imagine riding this thing around the campsite whilst drinking craft-brewed IPA from a mason jar in the latest Wes Anderson film?</rant>

That’s all I got against this thing, really. Even with the few things that I dislike about it, I want it. Badly. Not because of the nostalgia factor, but because it looks awesome, it rides very well and I look awesome riding it. WOB recommendation: Buy it. Customize the shit out of it and kill some street. Full specs here. Gallery below. Check it out.

2014 Jake the Snake: Quick Review

Like I was saying earlier about cyclocross: the bikes that some companies are coming out with are just fantastic. If you are looking to get into cyclocross, Kona might be a good place to start. There are four bikes in the Jake series for 2014: from entry level to high end they are the Jake, Jake the Snake (pictured), Major Jake and Super Jake. The reason why the Jake the Snake is a better choice than the jake is mainly the price. For MSRP of $1,699 US, you get some pretty nice features. The main one that impressed me is the tapered headset. You get an FSA 57B internal with sealed cartridge bearings. The tapering is important: even though the frame is made of the same Racelight 7005 Aluminum and is stiff to begin with, the tapered headset gives much more stability and response. That’s important when you are barreling down a decline surfaced with a mix of mud, gravel and dry grass. Also, the biggest bang for your buck comes from the Shimano Ultegra group and tubeless-ready wheels. It’s a great platform to learn on and you can upgrade it with nicer parts after you beat the crap out of the stock parts. If you want a good sub-$2,000 do-it-all bike, this may be the one. Yes, I know I am always saying that Surly is the way to go on account of the steel awesomeness they create. But Kona is a great company that makes race-worthy bikes and their employees do a lot of personal R and D on the frames. The Snake is definitely not Fred-worthy, so they deserve a test ride at your local Kona dealer with a subsequent purchase. You will not be disappointed. Plus it looks great in pictures!

Tyler

Tyler and a 2014 Kona Jake Cyclocross Bike.

Tyler and a 2014 Kona Jake Cyclocross Bike.
Shot in an alley off Ortega Street in Santa Barbara, CA

Some of you may not know about cyclocross. It’s a sport that has been around for quite a while but has really blown up lately. It started out as a steeplechase format where you would ride your bike from one point to another across fields and fences, rivulets and hills in relatively straight line. Nowadays, it is done on a preset track loop with a certain amount of dirt, mud, inclines, etc. What it boils down to is you ride a road bike with knobby tires through the mud and gravel, getting dirty and rad the whole way. There are sections where you must dismount and carry your bike up steps or inclines. The bikes needed to race cyclocross used to be just modified steel road frames that used cantilever brakes and knobby 700 x 35mm tires. Now, there are special models available from a number of manufacturers made specifically with cyclocross in mind. The Kona Jake line is a good example of where cyclocross is heading. Disc brakes are becoming more common and aluminum frames are reserved for the lower end price ranges.

But due to the less-than-aggressive geometry of these bikes, they make fantastic commuters. I myself have a Surly Crosscheck that I built up with a SRAM Force road gruppo and a Brooks saddle. Although it has a steel frame, it is light enough to get the job done and I don’t have to worry about being delicate with it. Cyclocross bikes are sturdy, comfortable and fast. The 700c wheel size means you have tons of options for tires and a larger cassette ratio means you can tackle the hills on your commute or on the course. Whether you call them CX, cyclocross or if you’re a Fred, a ‘cross bike, they are truly an awesome fit for lots of uses.

James

James and his Raleigh Misceo 2.0

Rides a Raleigh Misceo 2.0
Shot on Ortega Street in Santa Barbara, CA.
On his way home from work.

The one thing about Santa Barbara is that it is relatively flat. Perfect for riding a bicycle wherever you need to go. For some, a single speed will do. For others, many gears are required to get to their destination if it is on the top of one of the few hilly parts we have around here. The core of downtown is filled with commuters. There are many people who find using a car in such a small city ridiculous. However, Santa Barbara has its share of casual drivers who don’t give any relief to cyclists out on the road. This is due, in part, to our transient student population and the insane amount of tourists with rental cars. Surprising that such a convenient town for cycling is wrought with motorists who just don’t care.

Bike Pron Vol. 7

Stem of a hand-built cyclocross bike by Gold Coast Cycles.

Stem of a hand-built cyclocross bike by Gold Coast Cycles.

So it has been a couple of weeks since I have been able to add a little bit of bike pron to tickle your funny parts. What gets in the way of this? Work. Designing stuff. Lynda.com (fascinating what you can learn there). But when I look back to see all the cool pictures I have, like close-ups of juicy bicycle parts, I feel lost. I feel like I could be giving you something more. I feel like all I see on the internets of the Google Machine nowadays are close-ups of juicy bicycle parts that I would never be able to afford. Which brings me to another dilemma I’ve been wrestling with lately. Grab a cold one and kick back for a second:

I have been wanting more photographic opportunities lately. Especially where bicycles are concerned. So I recently took it upon myself to research this year’s NAHBS. For those of you who don’t know NAHBS, it is less commonly known as the North American Handmade Bicycle Show. (Side note: is there a South American Handmade Bicycle Show?) Really, it is live bike pron. It is where thousands, nay, tens of thousands of cycling deviants go to look at hand-made bicycles and masturbate silently inside their own minds. It is a giant room filled with some of the most amazing bicycles you have ever seen. A lot of it can be called art. So my dilemma is this: do I buy a ticket to North Carolina and a hotel room? Or do I buy a new bike I’ve had my eye on for a while? Which would give me more pleasure? Taking pictures of polished lugs and hand-brazed frames? Or actually riding a brand new bike?

If you haven’t guessed already, the beautiful specimen of locally hand-crafted cycling specimen above was at last year’s NAHBS. In fact, just having a local connection, Rudy at Gold Coast Cycles, is kind of awesome. He built the geometrically awesome bike in the picture above. So I guess I could say that, with all the bike pron on the internets these days, I could just wait for someone else to take pictures whilst I ride my new bike. And out on my adventures, I can take my own pictures of other people and their bikes. There. It’s decided.