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):

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.

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.

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.

Andrew

Andrew and his 2013 Kona Paddy Wagon.

Rides a 2013 Kona Paddy Wagon single speed.

Andrew is probably going to kill me. He asked me not to post this picture under any circumstances. All I can say is that I don’t like good photos to go to waste. Not to pat myself on the back, but this is a damn good photo. If this doesn’t make him more popular with the ladies, I don’t know what will. Actually, he’s already got skating, surfing, motorcycling and being super badass covered. In any case, the fact that he thinks this photo will do anything except hurt his image is just ridiculous. Sorry Andrew, you’re wrong. I’m twice your age and you must listen to me. I know what I’m talking about. Now get out there and slay thirty more co-eds before your next session. That is all.

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.

Ky

Ky and his 2011 Kona Operator downhill bike.

Rides a 2011 Kona Operator downhill bike.
Shot on Ortega St. In Santa Barbara, CA.

All mountain bikers are f**king crazy! Let me explain:

Craziness, especially when it comes to bicycles is not necessarily a bad thing. Sure, one can totally overdo it. However, I think these nutbags are in the vast minority. No, I think most mountain bikers just want to have a good time. Some feel they need to barrel down a hill with rocks and roots and snakes in order to get the right adrenaline rush. Hey, the more the merrier. It’s just not my cup of tea. Not my bailiwick. Not in my wheelhouse, so to speak. The last time I rode a mountain bike was in 1989. It was a Made in the USA Marin that was a gnarly day-glo chartreuse color and it had zero suspension. I was 19 and my joints could barely take it. Maybe that was what turned me off to it. Maybe I am not cut from the same cloth as others my age who remember mountain biking in its infancy. In any case, one of these days, I’ll get a demo bike and try it again when I feel like breaking a femur. Now if I can only puck a f**king wheel size. Jesus.

Fred*

Fred and his Intense Carbine

Rides an Intense Carbine Dual Suspension Mountain Bike.
Shot on Mission Canyon Road near the Inspiration Point Trailhead.

As I was coming down from the Inspiration Point trail, I noticed this guy getting rad on his extremely nice mountain bike. We see a lot of dual-suspension mountain bikes in our neck of the woods. Seldom do I see an Intense Carbine, though…I guess I am just biased because I work at a shop that sells Kona and Santa Cruz. Intense is one of those brands that really isn’t in the vocabulary for me. I mean sure, every now and then I see an article over on Bike Rumor about their latest offering. But I remain stuck in major brand land. But that’s okay. To me, a lot of these bikes are just differences in frames and rear-suspension linkages. All the other stuff like the suspension and components tends to be the same.

That said, the Intense Carbine is one of those bikes that just wants to be in the air and sideways. All the time. This guy didn’t look like he was going to be spending too much time in the air. But I have been wrong about appearances many times. I am always told by my mountain-biking friends that the older set will still give you a run for your money. And this guy did growl at me.

*All riders who do not give me their name are automatically named Fred or Frieda.

George

George2

Rides an early 80s Trek road bike.
Shot on State Street in Downtown Santa Barbara, CA.
In for routine maintenance.

I am in no way belittling George as a person. He is a very cool guy. I’m just saying that sometimes looks can be deceiving.

Let me explain: Working in a bicycle shop on State Street in Santa Barbara, I see many different types of people. A lot of the time, there are guys who are down on their luck and can’t afford a new tube. Most of the time, these folks come in looking for a free tube and they ask for it. Nothing wrong with that, right? Curiosity only kills cats, I always say. But George here (and I know I am going to get flak for this, sorry in advance) didn’t look like he needed anything. He was a really nice guy who came in to get his bike checked out. He didn’t ask for anything for free. While conversing with him, I found out that this old bike, which he picked up at Bici Centro for a song, was his only transportation. I would have at least pegged him for a 10-year-old BMW.

Sorry again, if I have offended anyone. But it goes to show that people’s money and how they look or act don’t always equate. Like today, I had a woman come by today that looked like she had been sleeping outside all her life. She didn’t smell so great and her clothes were super tattered. She asked for a lot of advice on what kind of bicycle to buy for her son for college if he was going to live off campus. So I showed her a really nice 2013 Kona Dew Plus hybrid. Plenty of gears, hydraulic disc brakes, great 700c road wheels and upright riding position. Without even so much as a protest about the $899.00 price tag, she bought it. And I helped her load it and the helmet, floor pump and lock into her Mazda SUV. Let me just say that nothing surprises me anymore. I do get kind of annoyed, though, at people who try too hard to look they they have money when they actually have money. What’s the point of that? Just keep it real like George here.