Posts Tagged ‘Kona’

Kona – what’s going on?

Posted: February 22, 2011 in 2011, General

I was on the ‘phone to a well known Kona dealer yesterday (not local) and too small and specialist to be Evans and it appears the UK distributor Paligap have lost the contract. Distribution in the UK will now (it seems) be based in mainland Europe. So what? you may ask. The implications are that the new setup will be similar to other major distributors and bike shops will have to commit to buy large numbers of bikes and hold them in store (as opposed to ordering what they need, when they need it). In recessionary days such as these, this may be a big ask and I predict you will see Kona becoming the preserve of the big boys such as Halfords, Evans etc. This will be a real shame if it happens because Kona make some really nice machines and in my opinion, there really is nothing like the service you get from your local bike shop (assuming it is a good one of course). With my bargain hat on, there may be some opportunities to snap up some bargains as shops move on their old stock.

A  little digging and I found this to back the story up.

O a more serious note, it means that the Kona Major Jake will probably not be available as a frameset only which is a shame as it looks like a real stormer. Geometry is different from the 2010 bikes though so it may not suit me as well as the Jake the Snake. It doesn’t matter really, as I’ll never get to find out now. 😦


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!


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!


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……