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 Sutra 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 others 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 Kona Sutra LTD comes in. (Spoiler alert: I love this bike!) Kona Sutra 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. Kona Sutra Kona Sutra 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. Kona Sutra Kona Sutra Kona Sutra 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.
Kona Sutra 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. Kona Sutra 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… Kona Sutra

11 Comments

  1. It’s kinda a stretch to call this a bikepacking bike as it barely fits a 2.0 Nine line which are very skinny tires ( ~48 mm wide). Seems like more of a monstercross or heavy duty touring bike to me, The stack height is also low which can be a problem in setting up dirt drops correctly. It’s super nice to have options and the Kona seems like a good bike for dirt road touring but there are better choices for drop bar bikepacking bikes

    • Jason Britton

      Thanks for your reply Mike.

      The term bikepacking is so loose that it’s hard to define it, and many people have their own definitions in place. This bike is indeed great for dirt roads and a lot of singletrack, which is where I spend a lot of time when I’m out bikepacking.

      Is it the perfect bike for every route? Hell no. Is it made for super tech single track? Not even. But it’s fast, fun, efficient, and if the rider is willing, it will go where they want. And I’ll be honest, I’m willing and I’ve been riding this thing on just about anything I can manage.

      Hope to see you out on the road someday!

  2. I have that ’13 Rove and I love it as an multi-surface road bike. I’ve taken it on a couple tours and many long days and it’s a comfortable and steady ride. I just wish it had a triple, for those steep BC logging roads, and more fork offset for toe clearance. Not a replacement for my mountain bike when things get really technical, but a very capable bike for 75% of the riding I do.

    This edition of the Sutra looks nearly perfect, though. You may have talked me into giving even more money to Kona. Thanks.

  3. Pingback: Kona Jake VS Cube cross race

  4. I recently purchased the ’17 version of this bike…. thus far, it’s so damn much fun! I’ve yet to take it bikepacking but it goes anywhere well. I’ve set it up tubeless, switched the chainring to a 32 and the headset to a Chris King but the rest is left stock… thus far.

  5. Hi,

    How much does the bike weight?

    Thanks

  6. Hi Jason,
    I recently became a proud owner of the beautiful Kona Sutra LTD 2016.
    Thinking to switch the tire to WTB Nine Line 2.0
    Could you please tell how tight is the clearance in the rear with those tires.
    Thanks.

    • I have tried to fit 2.15 tires (Schwalbe Marathon Almotion) on my Ltd 2016 model, but they can just barely be pushed into rear triangle. I think 2.0 tires can be used without problem.
      I have also tried to set up original Marathon Mondials tubeless, only to find that these are not tubeless compatible.

  7. Excellent review and comments. Just ordered a sutra ltd 2016 in the sale .can’t wait for it to arrive. I intend to use it mainly on mixed terrain and local routes. Anyone riden big miles on the road on it ,a sportive etc

  8. CrankClanker

    I just got the 2017 model about a month ago, and I really like this bike. It’s a little bit heavy at 25 +/- lbs, but it’s very solid and surprisingly nimble for its size. To date, I’ve done a couple 64 mile mixed surface rides and one 64 mile gravel grinder, and it’s proven to be comfortable and responsive. I particularly like the 45mm WTB Riddler tubeless tires and the SRAM 1×11 (36×42) drive train. I’m still trying to find the right saddle, but I’ve got some serious, off-road adventures planned for later in the summer, and I’m confident this bike is the right bike.

  9. Thanks for the write-up, it helped me decide on the Sutra LTD. I’ve been riding my 2017 for a few weeks and I’m really happy with this do-everything bike. Looking to bring the center of gravity inwards a bit though with some accessories.
    What kind of front rack do you have there? I’ve been having trouble figuring out what fits with the available fork crown bolt and water bottle bosses. Looks like Nitto or Velo Orange? Thanks.

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