group test: Kona Jake review

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12th November 2010   Words: Derri Dunn   Photos: Chris Catchpole

You’re probably thinking, what on earth are we doing pitching the humble Kona Jake up against a couple of bikes that retail for hundreds of pounds more? But if you’re talking cross bikes, the Kona range is pretty hard to ignore, as various guises of the Jake line-up have been doing the cross rounds for more than a decade now and they are the established standard.

What’s more, with some fairly major changes to the 2011 Jake in the shape of lighter frame material among other delights, the 2010 Jake, which Kona tells us will be in stock with retailers until at least the end of the year, is being discounted by most to around the £600 mark. Cracking.

In fact, the value looks even better when you note that the Jake sports the Omega crankset (albeit in triple rather than double guise) and has enough Tiagra shift gear on board to match both the more expensive bikes. Undeniably, though it is a bit of a weighty lump next to the Crux, not helped by a chromoly fork and chunky, visible frame welds. There are no complaints in the handling department, but the weight is very evident in the comfortable but not-so-lively ride. Lighter frame material, smooth welds and an alloy fork are all due to appear on the heavily updated 2011, though, if you can wait a few months into the cross season.

A bike for all seasons

One major attribute of this Jake, however, is that its design brief doesn’t limit it to the cyclo-cross course — not at all. All rack and mudguard mounts are present and correct, making it easy to transform into what Kona calls a “do-it-all all-the-timer”. Indeed, the whole package has a sort of friendly, utilitarian charm, right down to the unsexy but street-chic battleship grey paintjob, so it feels like a bit of a natural go-to bike when you just need to jump on and bomb off somewhere.

With relaxed geometry and that heavy but springy skinny-legged steel fork, a great stack of six (yes, six!) spacers under the stem meant the Jake could be set-up for a very laid-back position indeed. Size of the handlebar is tailored to the size of the bike, which meant even more comfort up front.

A decent chunk of the bike’s weight came from the tyre-wheel combo, but quality branded hubs (Formula, Tiagra) and rims (Alex) at this price is no mean feat, and as well as finishing the rims in a fetching shade of blue to lend a hint of urban fixie-style cool, they certainly felt bulletproof. The triple chainset was more gears than we felt the need for either on or off road, but we suppose it’s yet another stab at the Jake’s ultra-versatile brief.

Next year’s Jake range is an exciting prospect, marrying Kona’s cyclo-cross bike experience with some much-needed weight-reducing updates to spec and materials. As, however, this will probably all come at a price, refined it ain’t, but the gritty, versatile charm of the 2010 Jake still has plenty to recommend it at the current reduced price.

Did the Kona feel sluggish next to the gleaming Specialized Crux? Definitely. Would we still rather ride a very long way on it? Yes — unless we were running late for work.

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group test: Cross Purposes introduction
Kona Jake

Specialized Crux Elite
Genesis Croix de Fer

group test: Cross Purposes verdict

This article first appeared in the November 2010 issue of Cycling Active magazine

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