By Luke Friend
If you're in the market for a gravel bike from a brand with serious off-road pedigree, you could do a lot, lot worse than Kona Bikes.
Founded in 1988 by Dan Gerhard and Jacob Helibron in the Canadian city of Vancouver, the duo honed their bike-building skills on British Columbia's thrilling mountain bike scene.
Working with designer Joe Murray, their early efforts focused on hardtail steel-framed mountain bikes. They progressed to more radical pursuits designed to match as radical pursuits: freeride machines that could both climb and descent and remain in one piece. Cycling's first sloping top tube? A Kona creation.
An industry staple, in 1995 they moved across the border to Washington State. They had already introduced a road bike to their line-up in 1992, the titanium Haole, but it was with the launch of the Jake the Snake cyclocross bike that Kona truly announced themselves as an innovator of drop-bar bikes that flourish off-road.
Today, Kona remains a rider-owned company with Gerhard and Helibron still at the helm. The brand's DNA also remains intact. In many ways, its expanded line of drop-bar bikes resembles its bikes of old: built to withstand the demands of the real world.
On the road, this means models created to handle less-than-perfect surfaces; bikes that excel as all-weather commuters and winter road machines. Off-road, the bikes are built to venture - and perform - from gravel to cross-racing to bikepacking.
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Kona drop bar and gravel bikes
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Kona surely sees the three-model Libre range as a light and fast gravel bike to ride and to race. It's an out-and-out drop-bar adventure bike created to excel on long riders across varying terrain.
Both the Libre DL and the CR include a carbon race light frameset and the geometry points to a stable and comfortable ride, thanks to its generous stack height, slack headtube and long-ish wheelbase. Tyre clearance adds to the Libre's plush riding credentials.
The CR/DL has 700c x 45mm rubber as standard, while the CR opts for 650b x 47mm tires. Kona continues to cover all bases, offering the CR/DL with a Shimano GRX 1x drivechain and the DL with Shimano's 2x GRX 600 groupset. New for 2021 the top-of-the-line CR/DL comes with a dropper post as stock. To accommodate longer dropper posts Kona have reduced the Libre's standover height by 20mm from previous years.
The Libre AL is the first aluminum bike in the Libre range. Equipped for long days in the saddle, it's budget-friendly but still delivers many of today's gravel bike standards, such as thru-axles, flat-mount disc brakes and an array of frame and fork mounts.
The Rove was first launched in 2013. Positioned as a do-it-all adventure bike, the Rove has a far-reaching appeal, has developed every year since its 2013 launch, and Kona offer it in four options: three stud, one aluminium.
Regardless of material that the bike is built around, Rove includes a generous tyre clearance to make it off-road ready. A range of frame and fork mounts position it as both commuter and touring rig.
The top-of-the-line Rove LTD features a butted steel frame paired with a full carbon fork. Components include Shimano's GRX 810 groupset and 650b WTB rims and tires. The Rove LTD retails for £2,099/$2,399.Other options include the Rove AL 650, which, unsurprisingly, utilises a 650b wheel size, and comes with a budget-friendly 2x 8 speed drive chain; the Rove DL features a Sram Rival 1x chainset and the brand's steel Project two disc fork.
The essence of the Sutra bike hasn't changed since its emergence a decade ago: it's a functional and reliable touring bike. Mudguards, a rear rack, bar-end shifters and a 3x10 drivechain adorn its steel frame. All touring staples. There's even a leather Brooks B17 saddle for good measure. However, the Sutra isn't a relic. It features flat mount disc brakes and uses the additional clearance to run 40mm tyres. It also boasts thru-axles and comes with tubeless compatible rims.
Taking the original bike's blueprint and adds more off-road capability is the Sutra LTD. It's still built around a forgiving and durable steel frame but the triple chainset is replaced with a more gravel-friendly 11-speed SRAM Rival 1 set-up. Its multi-day bikepacking credentials are aided by a set of 700c x 50mm tyres and a slew of frame and fork mounts.
Newer still, the Sutra ULTD, is a drop-bar steel-framed mountain bike. It's also one that challenges convention, featuring 29 x 2.25" tyres and a dropper post. Like the LTD it too opts for a 1x drivechain but this time with a 36t chainring to get you up even the gnarliest of dirt ascents.
Kona's Jake the Snake cyclocross bike first hit the market in 1997, named after the company's founder and Canadian cyclocross champion Jacob Helibron.Winners of national championships and World Cup races, they remain a fixture on the CX scene. But they also excel as a fast commuter, a rugged winter trainer and a gravel grinder. It's a do-it-all drop bar bike.
The current Jake line-up stays true to this heritage. It features two models, the Jake the Snake and the Major Jake. Both are created to be race-ready yet equally at home on quiet gravel roads and busy urban streets. There are plenty that unite the two bikes. Both come with UCI standard 700 x 33c tyre, and both feature hydraulic disc brakes, thru-axles, internal cable routing and commuter-friendly mudguard mounts.
But the differences are noteworthy.
The Major Jake is positioned as the more complete race machine and its carbon frameset makes it the lighter option of the two. If you're looking to compete at the head of a race this could well be a deciding factor.
The Jake the Snake model, while still featuring race-proven geometry, features an aluminum frame and carbon fork. It's more affordable, which likely makes it a more commute-friendly option. Other differences include a SRAM Rival 1 gruppo on the more expensive Major Jake, while the Snake opts for a blend of SRAM's entry-level 1x groupset, Apex 1, with an FSA chainset and TRP's HY/RD brakes.
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