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):

Erin

Erin and her Bridgestone Mixte

Erin and her Bridgestone Mixte

Sometimes it rains in Santa Barbara. Years ago, it used to rain a lot. Years before that, it didn’t. But the drought pattern ebbs and flows like waves. Currently, we are in the worst and driest spot since the 80s. Santa Barbarians are made of some pretty soft stuff. Indeed, as I sit here in the coffee shop I am overhearing some roadies complain that it is currently 48 degrees F outside. However, when water does actually fall from the sky, most of us would look up and say something like: “well that’s weird…”

In any case, it was a little unusual to see the rain. Even more unusual, there were a lot of people on two wheels out riding in it looking like they were enjoying themselves. As was the case, Erin came into get a flat fixed. She was sporting a Bridgestone Kabuki single-bar mixte with an awesome basket made from a Maine lobster trap.

The bike was in great condition for its age. It is probably of late 70s or early 80s vintage. The frame was of the lugged Japanese cro-mo variety and seemed better built than comparable bikes of its age.

I would like to know more about this bike. If anyone has more information on it, please leave a comment and I will update the post as information comes in.

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.

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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.

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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.

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Steel is Real: Stinner Frameworks Open House

Stinner Frame Works Open House

Stinner Frame Works Open House

Free beer? Costco pizza? Yes please.

I knew it was coming but I’d somehow thought that I was busy Saturday night. It wasn’t until towards closing the shop at the end of the day that I’d realized a lot of the other Velo Pro bros were heading to Stinner Frameworks open house out by the airport. I felt like kind of a douce driving my car out to a bike event so close to home. But it was night time and F didn’t feel comfortable with the idea. I made it clear that we couldn’t miss it, so after we closed up the shop, I rode home and F and I got in the car and headed out to far Goleta.

I first ran into Aaron Stinner a few years back at the 2nd Annual San Diego Custom Bicycle Show in 2011. It was in a huge conference hall in downtown San Diego and there weren’t quite enough booths to fill the space. So it looked disappointing almost from the outset. There were, however, some pretty awesome booths. Serotta, Soulcraft, and Velo Cult (when they were still  in San Diego) were all repping their skills. After taking loads of images and trying to keep my then girlfriend from getting bored, I decided that I needed a beer or two. On the way out, I noticed Stinner’s booth and (much to the chagrin of my GF) went to go check out his stuff. He had a couple of frames on display and his booth was unimpressive by trade show standards. However, his steel frames were sitting there, easily competing with everyone else’s. The workmanship was phenomenal. I noticed that there were no lugs (pretty much every custom frame in there had lugs). While nice, lugs are super time consuming and have a significant effect on the cost of the frame. In my opinion, I can take them or leave them. Seeing his frames, I decided that I could leave them.

I seriously doubt that he remembers, but I chatted with him for about five minutes. He’s a great guy. I plan someday to get a custom frame made for myself. Now that he is in my neck of the woods, having something local would be epic. Looking at what he offers in the way of custom frames, the whole range is there: mountain, road, cyclocross and custom projects are all offered. You can even design your own paint scheme and graphics. The shops workflow and layout looks solid. The current projects on display were out of this world. If you’re in the market for Santa Barbara steel, look him up. It’s a true small shop with a friendly staff. Check out the gallery below for more pics.

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:

Grass Racer Reincarnate

Mercier Kilo OS Double Top Tube Grass Racer

Mercier Kilo OS Double Top Tube Grass Racer

I have always wanted a nice townie to ride around the city. Santa Barbara is not super hilly and we have a lot of beach here. But I wouldn’t be caught dead on a beach cruiser nowadays as they can be a bit of a a bummer to ride anywhere.So a while ago I bought this double top tube bicycle frame online. It is a Mercier Kilo track frame but with a double top tube reminiscent of an old grass track racer. I think having a double top tube made the bike more rigid. In any case, the original paint job and component spec for the Kilo OS is not great, so I stripped the paint and clear powdercoated it. Instead of the crap wheels and components that come on most track bikes, I speced a build kit that would rival…nay, put all the other townie bike companies out there to shame. I envisioned something completely different while building it up from the frame. This isn’t quite Rivendell quality. But it turned out quite nicely.

First things to add were the Velocity A23 rims and Shimano Alfine 8 hub. I had the folks over at J&B build them for me through the bike shop. They are fantastic wheels. Combine those with Challenge Limus 33 Cyclocross tires and an IRD Defiant Track crankset and I was in business. The final touches came when I was working out the geometry of the frame. The 56cm frame fit me okay with the standover height, but the top tubes are almost horizontal so they are pretty long. Drops, although cool and traditional for a grass racer just wouldn’t do. I decided to make this a more upright and sophisticated ride. So on went some Ahearne MAP bars and a Paul Components Flatbed basket. I tightened everything up with a Chris King GripNut headset.

So to rival a Linus or a Public or a Civilian or the like, this is my attempt at making the perfect townie bike. Before you say anything, I know the tires are too knobby for the street. So I will take the demerit on that. But people are throwing kale and carrots directly into my basket at the Farmer’s Market. How badass is that? See the gallery below.