Gear Review

New on the block: The 2016 Kona Sutra LTD

If you know me, you are probably aware that I’ve been a fan of Kona for quite a long time. Five of the eight bikes that I own are made by them, and I have my eye on the new Private Jake for the upcoming season of cross. I worked at a couple different Kona dealers over the years and have gotten to know the folks over there fairly well. I’ve always been impressed with how they run their show, and their attitude and aesthetic are in line with mine. When they approached me early this year to test out a new bike, I was curious about what they had in mind. It turns out they designed a bike for exactly the type of riding I like to do. So that’s pretty neat!

Kona is primarily known for their mountain bikes, and for good reason. Joe Murray was their first bike designer, and in the 25 plus years they have consistently innovated and pushed the industry. They’ve taken some risks in that time, some of which have paid off and other that have not. These days they offer a wide variety of cross, road, and commuter bikes to round out their catalog.

In 2013 they dipped their toes into the adventure bike market with the introduction of the Rove. This little niche called “bikepacking” was beginning to move from the shadows to the mainstream, and the Rove had the ability to mix it up on all sorts of terrain. But it didn’t quite handle as nimbly once loaded down with camping gear, although I’ve known quite a few people who have ridden their Rove’s on some incredible tours (hey Charlie!). At Kona, Ian Schmitt handles the production of this particular category of bikes, and he wanted to create something capable of much more. That is where the Sutra LTD comes in. (Spoiler alert: I love this bike!)

For 2016, both Sutra models received an updated geometry, although the classic model maintains the Brooks saddle, rack, fenders, and 3×9 spec. The LTD differs with a 1×11 SRAM Rival drivetrain and hydraulic brakes.

Across the size range, they maintain a 72mm BB drop and 71 degree head tube angle. The fork is offset 50mm and has mounts for waterbottles on each leg. I am 5’8″ and have been riding the Medium(52cm).

The bike is equipped with the standard array of rack mounts, but I prefer soft bags for off road touring. Porcelain Rocket makes excellent gear for this purpose, and I’ve used this setup on the Oregon Outback and a handful of 2-3 night trips since receiving the bike.

Adjusting to the drop bars took a bit of time, but the hydraulic Rival hoods and wide bars are quite comfortable. The 1×11 shifting is crisp and I rarely run out of gears, either top or bottom. The 36×10-42 setup offers enough variety to tackle just about any terrain it would seem. The brakes are smooth and have plenty of modulation, which is new for me after using BB7s for the last couple of years.

It’s hard to really know a bike after a short amount of time, but a few things have been clear from the start.

  1. On long days, I don’t feel like I’ve been fighting the bike all day. I feel very comfortable on the top, hoods, and in the drops, and I attribute this to the riding position.
  2. The bike climbs quite well. I keep wondering if I’m in good shape, but that can’t be it.
  3. I feel almost too confident when descending. The bike tracks well on loose gravel and packed trails.
  4. The frame is slightly heavier than I would have expected, but the ride is smooth, especially when carrying gear.
  5. The fork really cuts down the chop on washboard, and choppy roads. This also contributes heavily to fighting fatigue on long days.

The rims on the production are Tubeless ready WTB Frequency Team i23, so you can swap out the road tires for some decent knobs. I am currently using a pair of WTB 2.0″ Nine Line’s on the bike, but the clearance is pretty tight in the rear triangle.

There are a couple things I would like to see changed, such as wider clearance in the rear triangle to fit bigger tires, mtb tires instead of the Mondials, and a dyno hub. These are the types of things that I’m looking for in a bikepacking bike, and I don’t think I’m alone. It would be great to see a company offer an adventure-ready bike, and the lighting/battery system is quickly becoming a necessity. I imagine the cost of the hubs and lights make this a long shot, but nonetheless I would love to see this happen.

This is Kona’s first real entry into the bikepacking world, and it’s a solid offering. I’m excited to see what Ian and the crew over there do next year to push this model further, because they’re really onto something. In the meantime, I’ve got some more trips to plan on this really sweet bike…

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