Kona Jake the Snake Review

Posted: January 25, 2011 in 2011, Product Reviews
Tags: , , ,

I have ridden JTS enough times now for the “new bike” gloss to wear off and to get an idea of how it rides, handles and to have a grasp of some of its’ characteristics particularly in comparison to my MTBs and full on road bikes.
Jake the Snake

This is a 2010 flavour JTS and was a home build as opposed to a complete bike purchase. It has an odd mix of components here and there but the main thing is, they all work!
The build then:
Jake the Snake 2010 frame – 62cm
Kona Carbon Fork
Bontrager Bars (46cm c to c)
Easton EA50 90mm Stem
FSA Orbit Extreme Headset
Ultegra/105 combo levers and shifters
Shimano Tiagra Chainset
Shimano M959 pedals
Shimano 105 front and Rear Mech (KCNC Jockey Wheels)
FSA in line seatpost
SDG Bel Air saddle
Fulcrum Racing 7 Wheels
105 Cassette
Tektro canti brakes
Kenda Small Block 8 folders

I haven’t bothered to weigh it, but it is certainly not a heavy bike, reassuringly it is not a featherweight either.

So what is it like to ride? I have ridden it on and off road, on tarmac, muddy lanes, fire road and single track. I have not raced it which is more to do with a mis firing engine (see ver 1.0 Legs) than any shortcomings on the bike’s behalf.

My first impression was of solidity and strangely enough, familiarity. The bike had a solid, planted sort of feeling rather than the skittish, thoroughbred feel of a full on road race bike. I knew I was on a road type bike but it felt like any one of my mountain bikes. A little fettling to adjust the seat post is all I have had to do. On the road the bike felt totally at home, comfortable and responsive. Put a squeeze on the pedals and the bike responds quickly although I must admit that off road tyres and tarmac do not generate masses of speed! Climbing is easy and there is none of that front end lightness you sometimes get with mountain bikes. I have some large volume slicks on order so I can evaluate the on road performance better.

The frame comes with plenty of eyelets so mudguards and panniers would not be out of place if you wanted to use this as a touring bike or a winter commute. Long distance rides (80 miles plus) don’t generally do it for me, I prefer intense blasts of around 3 hours with the occasional four or five hour ride but somehow, I get the feeling that I could ride this bike into the setting sun and beyond.

Off road the bike is a totally different kettle of fish. It eats fire road. Sections that I power through on my mountain bike are despatched in a fraction of the time and I know there is much more waiting to be discovered in terms of additional speed. Handling is not that important on this type of trail but with weight distribution well forward the bikes holds its’ line without being pinged off course by small clumps or ruts. The fork and the large volume tyres (700 x 32) eliminate a lot of trail noise and it feels that the only limiting factor is the rider and his power output. Compared to a mountain bike, when going is soft, you quickly find the bottom as the narrow tyres cut through the slop onto the firmer ground beneath. There is plenty of grip but the bikes quickly feels sluggish – though I think this may be a function of the rider once again.

Single track was an interesting experience. I ride a 29er as well as a 26 inch bike so I am familiar with the performance characteristics of large wheels in tight trails. Riding some of my favourite single track in Thetford was a curious experience. The new position (even riding on the hoods) made me feel quite strange, even uncomfortable at first, until I got it worked out. Head suitably in gear, the bike sprung to life and charged at the trail with boundless enthusiasm… too much enthusiasm as it transpired! As I threw it full pelt into the first berm, the front wheel skipped out and I headed for a tree! Luckily the tyre found some grip again and I learned to moderate my approach to bends. The overall impression was one of riding slowly in the tight stuff but I caught some MTB riders up quite easily; I don’t know if that was a reflection of the bike being fast or their being slow; the only way to find out is to ride with some of my normal riding mates and see how far off the back I am at the end! One thing that did strike me was that roots, rocks or ruts running across the trail just wiped any speed off in an instant. Normally I would try to lift the front wheel at least but the combination of tight trails and weight being well forward just didn’t give me the time to respond. Maybe this is something to work on as it could just be a technique failure. As far as singletrack is concerned then, this isn’t a mountain bike, it will not perform in the same way and certain things about it will surprise you at first but, I have a feeling that if you play to its’ strengths, the trails are firm and flowing enough, with a hint of fire road now and then you will get more out of this bike than you might anticipate.

What we have here is a big wheeled, rigid on and off road capable hybrid that can be huge amounts of fun to ride and is sprightly enough to be competitive on the race scene. I love it. Buy one……NOW!

EDIT UPDATE:

A little more time on the bike has reaped dividends. I forced myself to change position into something I knew would be racier and maybe a little more uncomfortable. I lowered the bars by about an inch. I also took the Slime strip out of the rear tyre. Although I have bought a smaller chainring, I resisted the temptation and continued to run it on the standard 52 tooth.

For on road use I fitted some Schwalbe Durano wire ons. Large volume, puncture resistant tyres, lot particularly light but relatively low rolling resistance. It was a bit of a transformation but to be honest it just rode pretty much like a road bike with large tyres. Fast enough, not twitchy, nice and comfortable and that was it. My initial opinion hasn’t changed.

Off road I put the Kenda Small Block 8s back on and pumped the back up to 80psi and 70psi in the front. Rolling down the road to meet my mates (on mountain bikes) I was apprehensive about the tyre pattern, worrying that they might impede forward progress (there is no central ridge) but I shouldn’t have worried, they were fine. Once we got onto the mud there was a real shock in store for me. Obviously I have regained some of my fitness and strength but it was as if someone had put a rocket up my backside. This bike is fast. The ground was firm but not like tarmac, with the occasional sloppy/boggy section. I stayed in the big ring and rode at a sensible pace (we were on a social ride after all) but occasionally the urge took me and I opened her up a bit. Once up to speed the handling characteristics changed and it became as responsive (handling) as fast and as sure footed as any thoroughbred road bike. The only disconcerting thing was occasionally hitting the rim as I rode through something where I should have unweighted the wheels first. My excuse is that the cleats on my shoes are a little worn and need replacing – any out of the saddle efforts were rewarded with instant unclipping! Climbing was easy and if I wanted extra power it was there in spades. I have not found the top end of the bike.

I always have a rigid mountain bike available and usually prefer it to a fully suspended XC machine but it does take a toll on the body. As we were winding down last night my riding mate said he liked the idea of a cross bike but it must play hell with your arms and your back. It was then that I noticed something extraordinary. I had not needed to take time out, rolling along smooth sections, to stretch my back, my arms and shoulders felt fine and overall I was not as fatigued as I normally would be after a mountain bike ride. OK there is a carbon fork, ok the tyres are 700 x 32 but that doesn’t make up for the fact that I normally ride 29 x 2.4s. I am going to have to look into this a bit more and maybe adjust my position on my mountain bikes to match the crosser. Anyway, my only explanation for the lack of pain is that I was able to bowl along off road at a fair old whack (>14mph) for 26 miles without trying too hard thus relieving stress on my lower back.

My recommendation to go out there and buy one of these bikes… so much fun, you can’t be without one!

FINAL EDIT:

A lot more miles under my wheels, mainly fire road, byways and singletrack. This has become my ‘go to’ bike. When I open the shed door it is always the first one I look for. As my fitness has returned, it has developed a new characteristic. It is as if the bike has come with its own mini devil that sits on my shoulder urging me on, ‘it is only a small hill – SPRINT’, ‘ooh look, what a lovely stretch of trail let’s see how fast you can ride it’ etc etc. The net result is that after every session I am wrung out, every last ounce of energy has been drained from me yet I still want to go back for more. That has to be the sign of an awesome machine.

6 months or so in….

I am still finding more under the bonnet, I guess I haven’t found the optimum riding position yet. The most recent tweaks have been dropping the post 1/4 inch and setting the bars 2 x spacers lower with profound impact. Power output seems vastly improved and singletrack handling has become awesome. I rode it ‘in anger’ for the first time yesterday and was impressed, no…. very impressed at the way it handled in singletrack. Some stutter bump sections were too much for it but otherwise it rode like it was on rails and coped with tight and twisty trails with aplomb. Bearing in mind this is a big frame, I was able to throw it about as if it were a smaller, mtb bike and it didn’t answer back once. Acceleration out of bends was phenomenal and apart from a twitchy front wheel (twitchy in comparison to a mountain bike) it was as good – in the tested environment – as any other bike. In fact, with a better pilot on board, it would have thrashed the mountain bikes. Oh yes, it goes without saying that fire road riding was blistering. I’m enjoying this bike more and more……

Advertisements
Comments
  1. Ross Burton says:

    That’s all fine and well, but are you going to subscribe to this strange sport where you pick the bike up and run with it the moment mud appears?

  2. Fred says:

    Yiu convinced me… Jake the Snake it will be.

  3. Fred says:

    … And I got it last friday !
    It’s an awesome bike. I positively like it !

    • I have ridden around 2,000 kms with the 2010 model size 56 and I really love it. Greek roads are full of potholes and as such it was the only sensible choice for me as a road bike. I love it, but thought of selling it after I purchased my 29er. Thank God something stopped me-although I had no troubles finding buyers for it!- and it now occupies the best place in my garage as a road trainer, commuter or “gran turismo” partner! For the summer I replaced the Contis with Bontrager H4 Eco- amazing tires for the price, with tons of grip-. Just do yourself a favor and go buy one, you will never regret it!

  4. slowjo61 says:

    Glad you like it, I was a bit worried there, particularly if you hated it!

  5. Fred says:

    Punched in it around 800 km last month. I think I’m in love ! Perfect bike for my horrible sloppy roads in Great Northern Canada.

    Added Aksium rims, Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires and Ultegra cassette et Voilà ! I have a very decent road bike that convert into a magnificent CX in a couple of seconds. I will switch back to the RS10/ Mudwrestler this autumn.

    Almost perfect bike, the braking system is a bit weak tho… Whatever, it adds some thrills and chills =)

    Thanks again for your priceless advice !!

    • slowjo61 says:

      How about a photo of your bike in its’ natural environment? Covered in mud etc? Upload to Flickr maybe and I’ll add the link.

      I really enjoy riding my JTS, great bike, sort of pure fun all wrapped up in aluminium!

  6. justinhx says:

    This is a great allround bike! Usually, this isn’t such a good thing, but in the JTS case…it’s all good!

    I know this bike perfectly. I’ve put a little more than 10 000km on it in the last 2 summers, and one thing’s for sure, it will compete in any way you ride it.

    Here in Montreal, I ride with peletons on the Gilles Villeneuve F1 circuit (not with the stock tires obviously), I go through gravel and sand on the path to the top of Mount Royal, I’ve crossed Canada with this bike. It’s tough, yet it’s not heavy. And you don’t feel your going to break it in half if you go down the sidewalk.

  7. Nick says:

    Hey slowjo61,

    I was wondering about the sizing – I see you got the 62 cm. What are your dimensions (height, weight, inseam)? I am 6’2″, ~180/185 and was thinking of a 62 cm since that is what fits me in a full race machine like the Trek Madone. Did the 62 cm in the Jake the Snake give you sufficient flexibility to play with the adjustments?

    Thanks,
    Nick

  8. slowjo61 says:

    Hi Nick

    I am a gnat’s under 6 foot 4, 200 lbs but, I have quite a long torso so the 60cm would have been too short. I had plenty of room to play with the adjustments but…sometimes I feel myself wishing I had been able to make the 60cm work. This is usually when off road and I feel a little too stretched out, even with a 90mm stem, if I am riding on the black stuff it is really comfortable. I am sure this ‘too long’ syndrome has something to do with the fact that I mostly ride mtbs nowadays.

  9. Nick says:

    Thanks for the reply slowjo61. Yeah, getting everything dialed in is really time-consuming but important. I have a 92.5 cm inseam (crotch to floor), and getting the right weight distribution on the bike for neutral handling is always a chore. My road ride is wonderfully responsive, an old Masi 3V, but on fast 40+ mph downhills, but I really have to pay attention and slide back.

    I am hoping to drive down to Portland this next weekend to try out a 59 cm 2011 Snake the Jake so that is why I was interested in your experience with fitting the STJ. My current road ride fit would be too far forward for a good cyclocross fit, ie. downhills would be a bit unbalanced on rough CX course, so I want to make sure I am a bit more back or upright. OTOH, if I were to buy a CX specific frame, I would also want to use it as a dual-purpose bike, e.g. self-supported or credit card touring. In that latter case, I would want it to be a bit more stretched out. Yes, I could put a longer stem on it, but everytime you change something like that, it will change the weight distribution on the bike AND the handling. In reality, it amazes me sometimes on the frames people use, particularly small ones with long stems and then they are surprised at the difference in handling.

    Any more insights on fitting the STJ?

    Thanks again,
    Nick

    • slowjo61 says:

      Just a thought. Instead of changing the bike at the front i.e. stem length, how about playing about with seatposts? I had a Thomson Elite layback post but it didn’t really work so I switched to an inline and that made all the difference, particularly off road. A layback would give you more of a stretched position, the only think is, it might make the steering a little light; the only way to find out is to try it. See if any mates have spare seatposts they could lend you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s