A review of my bike, the Kona Sutra

My current bike, the Kona Sutra (2009 model), is a couple of months old now. I have ridden it for over a thousand kilometers on a variety of terrain : highways, broken roads, and muddy, sandy and rocky trails I also use the bike almost everyday for commute. This post is a review based on my experiences.

For those lazy to read the specs, this bike is a steel frame touring bike with MTB-ish geometry, equipped with 700C 1.25" tyres, Avid BB7 disc brakes, and bar-end shifters. The bike does not ship with pedals or mud-guards(fenders). I have equipped my bike with inexpensive local pedals.

The Sutra looks deceptively like a road bike. Unlike road bikes, it is not light. It weighs in at 30 pounds (official specs), as much as an aluminium MTB !

The good things:

The first thing one feels after getting on the bike is how stable it is. This feeling I cannot explain; it has to be experienced. The steel frame seems to have some kind of shock damping capabilities. It feels much smoother to ride than a road bike. Some shock absorption makes it easier on the body, but nothing like an MTB.

The saddle(seat) took a couple of weeks to get adjusted to. I am comfortable on it now, and have ridden upto 150 kms in a day without any issues. However, I will be upgrading to a Brooks Classic saddle soon.

The wheels seem to be strongly built. I have ridden the bike on some true MTB terrain (including downhill) to come to that conclusion. Don't take that to mean that you can ride fast on MTB terrain; the lack of shock absorbers will ensure you'll give up pretty quickly. But do take it to mean that you can navigate through harsh terrain with a loaded bike without worrying about whether the bike will hold up.

A clever design allows you to use tubes with either presta or shrader valves. The stock tubes are equipped with presta valves, held in position using a circular piece of plastic. Remove the plastic piece to plug in a shrader valve. Sweet !

The disc brakes are very very effective, and I simply love the way I can modulate them.

The chain stay is sufficiently long, ensuring that my legs don't touch the panniers when I am touring. I have toured extensively on a hero thunder MTB, and really like this aspect. This is expected to be a standard feature of all touring bikes, but I think mentioning this explicitly might help.

The smallest chainring on the Sutra is 30. Many consider this kind of high for an all purpose touring bike. Typical MTBs have a 22. I was aware of this aspect before buying. I feel that very steep inclines will be difficult to negotiate with the Sutra (especially in loaded conditions for a tired rider!), but haven’t tackled any tough climbs of late to measure the impact. However, I have observed that this bike lets me climb the everyday inclines (flyovers etc) quite efficiently.

Possible pitfalls :

I may have a small problem w.r.t bike fitting. You see, I calculated the frame size a method, which essentially says : measure inseam, multiply by something and boom - there's your frame size. I measured an inseam of approx 86 cms, and purchased a 56 cm bike (incidentally, this was the only one available). The Pune based dealer had only one Sutra available, and that too of size 56 cms. So I thought I was lucky to get the right size. Looks like that may not be completely true. I have a feeling I am needing to stretch a little more than I should, that the bike may be slightly larger than what I needed. But I am not too sure about this yet. Moral of the story : it is better to buy a bike after trying the fit ?

Commuter "pain points":

I use the Sutra for everyday commute to office, a small distance of 5 kilometers from my house. I find that my trousers get stuck to the front chain-ring (the "gear" in the front) very easily. Most of the time, you end up with torn trousers. This also greases the pants thoroughly.

The bike doesn't come with a stand. Parking is a pain. I am forced to use the nearby walls, trees and poles as support. Doing so has caused a few painful scratches on the frame already. Once, a dog pushed over the bike in its pursuit of some food, causing scratches all over the bike. The scratches are eminently visible since the frame is painted green. I am used to scratches now, and have stopped worrying about them. I haven't found this to be much of a problem while touring. I use panniers while touring and am typically happy letting the bike rest on them.

To a daily commuter like me, the biggest pain seems to be locking the bike. I have one of those unweildy cable locks. My life was so simple with the frame lock on the Thunder MTB. I'm planning to get a frame lock added to both the front and the rear wheels. Lalu (my trusted mechanic) tells me that thieves are beginning to understand the simplicity of the quick release. So I am thinking of using a small frame-lock for the front wheel too. Can't wait to get rid of the ugly cable lock.

Carrying a bag on my back everyday is also something that I am beginning to get tired of. This bag causes my back to sweat needlessly. I ride 5 km to office and my back looks as if I've ridden 50. I'm considering adding a spring loaded carrier to make my life better.

I can't help wondering why the bike dealers don't make these small, but painful changes that we need to make to these expensive imported bikes ! I am sure that these small changes, if made by default, will make the average commuter's life easier...

One aspect of the design of this bike has annoyed me: usage of a fairly non-standard star-shaped allen key to adjust the placement of the disc pads (of the brakes). This tool isn't part of most standard toolkits, and it beats me why they didn't consider usage of a standard allen key. Who wants to carry umpteen tools after paying a bomb for a bike. Not me, for sure !

Finally, some cables are routed from the top of the top tube. I would have liked if they were routed below it. This would make it easier for me to keep a cable lock attached to the frame. Doing so currently scrapes the paint off the top tube.

Damages caused to the bike till now:

My friend KP calls my body a ಕತ್ರಿ (scissor) sometimes. He complains that I care very less for my equipment. In some cases, he is right. But in a majority of cases, I cant help thinking that there is something about the way I do things that stresses the equipment beyond what many people do. These stresses perhaps lead to equipment failures that don't plague most people.

I've suffered two punctures on the front tyre. One of them was a nasty neck puncture that made my life difficult. I'm not sure why this happened. The other puncture was due to a bamboo thorn.

One morning, I woke and find that a few teeth on the middle chain ring were bent. I can only guess that this could have happened due to pushing the bike over a few stones when the rear end of the bike was loaded. Using a flat metal piece and a few blows of the hammer, I was able to straighten the bent section on the chainring.

Bike features that I haven't used yet:

The rear shifter can be operated in both indexed and friction mode. Indexed mode is the typical thing. Friction mode can be activated by turning a ring on the shifter. While touring, one can use this mode to ride without bothering about derailleur adjustment. This is also supposed to make it possible to use any available deraileur. Handy while touring long distances, but I haven't met that situation yet.

General Observations:

The 1.25" tyres on this bike make it very difficult to climb gradients which have some gravel, loose stones, etc. In earlier days, I absolutely hated pushing my bike. But now-adays, I am more comfortable with pushing my bike a bit !

There is a provision on the frame to accomodate V-brakes. The mount point for the V-brakes are covered with a plastic/rubber piece on either side. One day I found that one of them was missing, and promptly removed the other one and kept if safe somewhere. If you own a Sutra and don't want to lose it, then make it a point to remove these pieces and keep them somewhere safe.

Overall :

I needed a bike that was easier to ride in the majority of the roads I intend to ride on. Even while touring, most of the roads we pass through are of decent quality. So why waste energy on wider tyres ? I also wanted a do-all bike, and the Sutra seemed to fit.

And I must say that I am happy with the bike overall, and the way it has taken some thrashing comfortably.

Comments (24) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Have you done riding with front panniers? does it make handle stiff?
    For commuting to work why don’t you try Doodhwala cycle. A brand new one costs just 2900 Rs. and comes with stand, rack lock , bell etc ; upgrade it with a leather seat. Also you never ever have to worry about someone stealing the bike or wheels 🙂

    Thanks for the review.

  2. @Mallik : I haven’t tried riding with front panniers. This bike ships with a front rack, but I haven’t bothered attaching them. I don’t have space to keep too many bikes, but I’ll see how good a Doodhwala bike fits 🙂

  3. Thanks for the info. It will help me in my transformation from moutain biker to a tourer! Happy riding..

  4. Shree: I have a simple method to keep the grease off the pants. I fold it up half way through the calf and roll down the socks. Works fine. That wear jeans all days help too.

    Thanks for restarting writing. Enjoyed both the posts.

  5. @Boni: Good to hear that. I fold up my jeans too. This solution does not work well with track pants that I use during touring, since tracks tend to unfold. Many MTBs come attached with plastic guards next to the highest chain ring. These are available as spares I believe. The idea behind pointing some of these issues is to show how much work (not to mention the additional expense) is needed to adopt expensive bikes to suit local conditions. Some of these accessories are difficult to procure too.

  6. I faced the same problem Harsha and i found a simple solution. I carry 2 clips and clip it at the end of my pant’s legs from behind. this shd wrk.

  7. Hey,
    That is great that you are enjoying your new bike of your choice…

    I still feel when you purchase a bike worth more than 50K then it is the manufacturer should provide with the most basic stuff for the bike which is a peddal,stand and if possible mudguards…
    If they are not providing that,then it is synonymous to the DELL company providing a Laptop without a mouse and a keyboard.

    Regarding your pants getting dirty,you can always use a safety pin to pin your looses end of your pants.

    Enjoy touring and take care..

  8. thanks a lot for much awaited review

    i gotta find out what makes this bike stable… is it moc, geometry, or something else

    accoording to you 1.25″ tyres arent very suitable for rough climbs…. 2″ waste effort on good roads… what do you think is the ideal size for indian roads?.. btw what was the pressure in your tubes?

    somehow i am still not convinced that its a value for money… i always wonder how much such a bike wud cost if manufactured in india

    happy riding!

  9. @Sunil: Not sure which Harsha you are referring to here. Clips are a good solution too, and are available as accessories somewhere.

    @Ketan: These are imported cycles, and getting people to buy accessories is big business there. But finding accessories for the bikes is a big pain here. The 2010 model of this bike comes with mudguards.

    @Anand: I doubt if there is any such thing as an “ideal” size. That is very much dependent on the kind of riding one wants to do. Thin tires don’t have offer much in terms of grip, and fat tires don’t offer much in terms of economy of effort. If most of your riding (like mine) is on roads, then it makes sense to go for thinner tires, and take a little bit of hit on the rough roads. Regarding you other question, the air pressure in my tires was probably 60 or more (the tires are rated 60-80).

  10. Great to read the review. As far as crooks getting used to QR, I saw some U-Locks at RR Ulsoor the other day. You could use them and Sheldon Brown’s two lock strategy to save your wheels. And another thing I’ve seen people do abroad is park the bike and take the saddle+seatpost out (if you have a QR there as well that is). Will be handy after you get the Brooks I’m guessing.

    I love my 32mms but yes I agree about the climp up very steep slopes with loose gravel. Have a short one on the alternate commute and I rely on my granny gears.

  11. Great to read your review..
    for greasing of pants, i wear these wide rubber bands over the pants.
    It stops them from getting stuck in the gear.

  12. @Vinay, Abhishek: Thanks

    @Abhishek : I have changed to the Brooks saddle already. The seat post doesn’t have a QR. Also, it looks ordinary enough; so I suspect the local thieves won’t find it attractive ! I’ll check the U-lock at RR.

    I missed adding my comments about the chainrings, so updating it now. The smallest chainring on the Sutra is 30, whereas typical MTBs have a 22. I was aware of this aspect before buying. I feel that very steep inclines will be difficult to negotiate with the Sutra, but haven’t tackled any tough climbs of late to measure the impact. However, I have observed that this bike lets me clim the everyday inclines (flyovers etc) quite efficiently.

  13. Nice writing as usual. Good review too.. The rubber/plastic piece to cover up the mount point of V-brakes on the frame is, IMO, to avoid water/dust to enter in to the frame. Hence, I feel it is better to keep them there rather removing them to keep it somewhere safe. Let me know if I’m wrong.

    Special mention : Every post on your blog, right from the first, has amused me. You have been an inspiration in many aspects. Thanks !

  14. @Sagar: Thanks for the compliments. Good point about the rubber/plastic piece. I checked the frame, and indeed it is hollow. So I do need to cover it to prevent dirt getting inside. The fork has a provision for V-brakes. However, there the holes are covered using allen bolts. Since the rubber/plastic piece does not stay in place with rough handling, I am thinking of finding additional bolts to seal those holes.

  15. Use rubber / elastic bands to wrap the trouser tail to your legs, that way they won’t come in the harm’s way, just a thought.

  16. Can you load ur laptop bag on the pannier and ride this bike?

  17. @Vinay : I hate carrying laptops on my back – too much sweat and discomfort. So, yes, I do this whenever I take my laptop to office. I have a pair of “luggage ropes” permanently tied to my carrier. I keep my laptop bag on the carrier, secure it using the ropes, and keep moving.

  18. Can you please share photos of how u tie the laptop to the carrier?
    I need to do the same on my hero hawk.

  19. That looks like a really beautiful bike…bikes meant for city commutes like this one shud be provided with a carrier atleast.

  20. @Janit: The bike does come carriers – both front and back. I am using the back carrier (see my earlier post http://www.shreekumar.in/?p=368 for a picture). However, it does not come with mudguards – which are essential for local conditions. Also, the rear carrier is not well designed. The carrier itself is strong, but the way it is attached to the frame is a big cause of concern. Under load and vibrations, it gave way during one of my short tours..

  21. Really enjoyed all the posts and discussion points. The Kona Sutra seems to be a great bike. Would love to tour in the Indian subcontinent some time.

  22. Hi Shree,
    Thanks for your review. It makes me happy because I can feel you are happy with your Sutra like me.
    I am a Thai biker. I bought a Sutra by end of 2010. It’s my first and still now my only bike. It’s my new year resolution of 2011 that I would use a bike as my core commuter in Bangkok, Thailand instead of driving a car. The traffic in this city is very bad. The Sutra has not made me down since then. Now my Ford Fiesta is rarely used.
    I feel the same as you on the good side of the Sutra.
    The painful incidents, from the weakness of the design, is the rear rack. Where the rack attached to the lower part of the frame, near the drop-outs, is the point. Kona use 4-5 rings and long bolts to attach the rack to the frame while allow room for the rear disc brake set. The bolts are screwed into a small metal ring welded to the frame, each side (sorry for my broken English that I cannot find a proper word, but I believe you know what I am talking about). Long bolt cause very huge force to those tiny metal ring when full loaded with panniers. The force broke the rings from the frame twice, first on the left then 3-4 month after followed by the right. I had to ask a mechanic at a motorcycle garage shop to re-weld them back to the frame. Painful indeed. Luckily that these 2 incidents happened when I rode it in Bangkok. If they happened during my long trip to upcountry, on remote road, it would be very worse.
    Owing the Sutra for more than 3 years is my happiness. I just had a 1400 km trip in southern part of Thailand in March this year. The cumulative distance now almost reach the 30,000 km line.
    I am not sure that you are still own your Sutra or not. But with your review … May I call you my Sutra Comrade, Shree. 🙂

  23. Impressive review am in the process of upgrading to a tourer and your review has helped me. But my lame question is where can I get it in India? Kindly assist plz

  24. You are my intake , I own few web logs and rarely run out from to brand.

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