Kona Sutra 2014 Preview

UPDATE: My full review of the 2014 Sutra is now online and supersedes this preview. Check it out here.

In 2012 I took a cross-section of the best and most popular mid-range road touring bikes and singled out the Kona Sutra as the one I wanted to take on a long-term test for my ride down the U.S. West Coast.

sutra

I had a good working relationship with the Kona crew and suggested a few tweaks that would optimize a future incarnation, some of which were suggested by blog readers.

Behold the 2013 Sutra, which incorporated all of these changes and made the Sutra a nigh-on perfect mid-range road touring bike. (With the possible exception of the front rack.)

2013 Kona Sutra

So I was intrigued when, at Eurobike last month (that’s the big bicycle industry trade show on this side of the Atlantic), Kona unveiled their 2014 model:

Kona Sutra 2014

Which, as many readers have already noted, seems to look a bit different.

And this is because it is a bit different. In particular, all the big bits have changed. The frame that I was so fond of has been changed entirely for one inspired by last year’s cyclocross-inspired dirt-road-racing success story the Rove, as have both of the racks. And the paint job seems to have been chosen with desert camouflage applications in mind. (Not that the paint job matters, or is anything other than a matter of taste.)

Now, tourers are a conservative bunch. They spend ages figuring out what works, and get unhappy when it changes. Quite understandably, then, people who’d been waiting for the 2014 Kona Sutra were a little bemused. So they emailed me, because I’d written the definitive review of the bike’s previous incarnation and they wanted to know what I thought.

Here’s what I think:

I haven’t ridden this new bike yet. So anything I say at this point is conjecture. And conjecture is pretty worthless when compared to informed, experienced advice.

So I am going to ride the bike and let you know what I think. But in the meantime let’s take an objective peek at what’s actually changed (not just what looks at a glance like it’s changed):

2014 Sutra 2013 Sutra
FRAME MATERIAL Kona Cromoly Kona Cromoly Butted
SIZES 47, 49, 53, 56, 59, 61cm 49, 53, 56, 59, 61cm
FORK Kona Project Two Touring Kona Project Two Touring
CRANKARMS Shimano Deore Shimano Deore
CHAINRINGS 26/36/48t 26/36/48t
B/B Shimano BB51 Shimano BB51
CHAIN KMC HG53 KMC HG53
FREEWHEEL Shimano Deore 11-32t 9 spd Shimano Deore 11-32t 9 spd
F/D Shimano Deore Shimano Deore
R/D Shimano Deore SLX Shimano LX Trekking
SHIFTERS Shimano BarCon Shimano BarCon
BRAKE CALIPERS Hayes CX Expert Hayes CX5
FRONT BRAKE ROTOR Hayes L Series 160mm Hayes V6 160mm
REAR BRAKE ROTOR Hayes L Series 160mm Hayes V6 160mm
BRAKE LEVERS Tektro RL340 Tektro RL340
HEADSET TH 848 TH 848
HANDLEBAR Kona Deluxe Road Bar Kona Deluxe Road Bar
STEM Kona XC/Road Kona XC/Road Deluxe
SEATPOST Kona Double Clamp w/Offset Kona Double Clamp w/Offset
SEAT CLAMP Kona Clamp Kona Clamp
GRIPS Kona Cork Tape Kona Cork Tape
SADDLE WTB Rocket V Comp WTB Rocket V Comp
FRONT HUB Shimano Deore Shimano Deore
REAR HUB Shimano Deore Shimano Deore
SPOKES Sandvik Stainless 14g Sandvik Stainless 14g
RIMS WTB Freedom Ryder 21 WTB Freedom Ryder 21
FRONT TIRE Continental Contact 700x32C Continental Contact 700x32C
REAR TIRE Continental Contact 700x32C Continental Contact 700x32C
PAINT COLOR Matt Raw Steel w/Sand Tint Blue w/Gold & White
EXTRAS Pannier Racks, Fenders Pannier Racks, Fenders

What’s actually, changed then?

Well, if it’s not highlighted in the table above, it hasn’t changed (or it doesn’t matter).

And everything highlighted in blue (rear derailleur, brake calipers & rotors) represents a component for which the only change is the name given to it by its manufacturer.

SLX is just Shimano’s new name for LX.

CX Expert is just Hayes’ new name for CX 5.

Manufacturers do this kind of thing because the industry is an arms race and it’s important to give the impression things are improving year on year, even if the difference is negligible. It’s how these companies stay afloat in a competitive market. Nothing more. Derailleurs still move chains between sprockets. Brakes still stop wheels turning.

In other words: almost nothing has changed on the Kona Sutra between 2013 and 2014.

Except for the rows highlighted in orange and green. Let’s take a closer look at the ones in green, highlighted as such because they represent upgrades over the 2013 model:

  • There’s an extra frame size for 2014 – 47cm; addressing recent revelations that small people go touring too.
  • The pannier racks have been changed for models from Blackburn’s range – most significantly the front rack for the well-established FL1 low-rider, but also the rear rack for Blackburn’s TRX-1 Ultimate Touring Rack. Since the old front rack was arguably the 2013 Sutra’s biggest weakness, this sounds like a welcome upgrade, though I cannot yet speak from experience. Pannier compatibility with the FL1 seems to be a topic of ongoing discussion, but it’s worth noting that this kind of fettling does come with the territory.

Which just leaves the Sutra 2014’s new frame as the sole remaining point of discussion.

At which point, since I haven’t yet ridden it myself, I’d like to hand over to the guy who actually designed the bike. Here’s his email to me last week:

“One of the biggest pieces of feedback we received regarding the previous iterations of the Sutra had to do with the tire clearance. On the previous models it was relatively limited. Moving to the Rove frame allows the user to run 40C tires with fenders which is much better suited for loaded touring in our opinion. The bike comes stock with the same Conti 32C tires which are a good compromise between traction, puncture resistance and rolling resistance. The ability to run 40C tires can’t be understated though, especially as the weight of the rider/gear increases.

 

“The slightly higher bottom bracket could be viewed as a detraction by some users. I can say that for my purposes the bike rides very well with a load in excess of 50lbs front/rear. I’ve gone on two week trips with my better half (I end up carrying the weight) and have not felt any speed wobble or instability when the bike is loaded down.

 

“The most notable boon to the change in frame geometry comes when the bike has no weight on it. It behaves much like a well-balanced and stable cyclocross bike. Slightly quicker handling and more fun on singletrack/gravel than the Sutra of yore. The increased dimensions of the HT [head tube] (44mm ZS) also contribute to the stability and precision of the frame. When loaded on the front there is significantly less flex from the HT/Fork interface.”

My take? Firstly, let’s remember that Kona have a hard-earned (and well-earned) reputation for thoughtful and sometimes eccentric bike design. They have that reputation to defend, and so they won’t take bike design decisions lightly, especially given the Sutra’s booming popularity.

And so it seems that the 2014 Sutra has simply developed into a touring bike that’ll come into its own when heading off on unsealed roads – off the beaten track. And while it might look at a glance like a rather different bike, it really isn’t, as we can see above.

The 2013 Sutra was a world-class road tourer that was built sturdily enough to be taken off-road (as I did in the Californian Lost Coast last year).

For 2014, I’d speculate that Kona have taken the Sutra a step further towards a more exploratory style of touring, focussing specifically on improving the performance of the bike under off-road circumstances, with a better-suited frame geometry and with increased tyre clearance for fatter expedition tyres.

The jury is still out. But regardless of what happens when I get one to take out for a spin, I have no doubt that the new Sutra remains a quality bike built for adventurous bicycle travellers by an experienced bunch of bike builders, and that – changes aside – it will continue to take you wherever you wish to ride it, which, let’s face it, is a rather more important consideration.

My full, detailed review of the Kona Sutra 2014 is now online. Read it here.

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30 Responses to “Kona Sutra 2014 Preview”

  1. Reuben

    I’d been waiting for this for what seemed like quite a while!

    I anticipated you might complain about the toned-down paint job compared with the 2013 model’s. Refreshing to see you’ve kept your priorities where they matter though.

    Looking forward to the road test, and seeing if I can’t just get myself one of these puppies soon…

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      I prefer the 2014 paint job over the garish 2013. Though the classy 2012 is still my favourite…

      Reply
      • Mark

        It’s funny how colour can be a big part of the equation. I fell in love with the metallic brown of the 2010 Sutra and with the honey Brooks saddle she puts a smile on my face just looking at her at the end of a long days riding. Personally I find the 2014 colour a bit bland, the more garish or classy the better I say, but thank goodness we are all different 🙂

        Reply
  2. Jason

    I had held out for a while for this 2014 model one but decided to plump for a Genesis Croix when the initial 2014 model became available – have you had any encounter with that one? Do still like the look of the Sutra but pretty chuffed so far with my purchase.

    Reply
  3. paul

    I’ve a 2013, used it for a nice 3 week tour in france last summer. put 35×700 marathons on it. had to really modify the fenders. I would like to maybe even put bigger tires, or put a fender that fits a fatter tire. Is the new fork available, for sale, for those who would like to change? If so, what color? Surly has their LHT disc fork for sale that would do nicely. BTW I really like the Sutra, great ride, but still, HEAVY.

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      I am not sure about the fork on its own, but there’s no reason you couldn’t use an equivalent one from another manufacturer. The other option is to lose the fender and fit a Crud Catcher…

      Reply
  4. Phil

    Looking at an Edinburgh Revolution Country Explorer as a cheaper alternative to the Sutra – steel frame, disc brakes, racks, low gears etc. Would you say this was a good contender?

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      On paper it looks like excellent value for money and a well thought-out bike indeed. Thanks for putting me onto it!

      Reply
  5. SEA monster

    This (the new 2014 frame) would pretty much kill the deal for me. Effectively, the Sutra line is dead. The new model is Kona Rove tweaked for touring. I don’t know what’s behind this change (possibly cost-cutting and/or production streamlining), but I bet it won’t win the “product management idea of the year”.

    The designer says: “The most notable boon to the change in frame geometry comes when the bike has no weight on it. It behaves much like a well-balanced and stable cyclocross bike. Slightly quicker handling and more fun on singletrack/gravel than the Sutra of yore.” Really? And I thought the whole point about the Sutra model was carrying loads (primarily on paved roads). If I wanted something seriously geared towards off-road touring, then I would opt for (in this regard) much more capable bikes the likes of Salsa Fargo or Surly Ogre. But if they really want to follow this (more off-road) direction, why does this bike still comes with the same Conti 32C tires? Not only they are the harshest tires I ever rode even on pavement roads, but they are hopeless on gravel or anything unpaved. That was the first thing on my Sutra that had to go. Also, what about the drop bars? Why do they come with the same drop bars? They are everything but off-road friendly. If I were designing the model (with more off-road qualities in mind), I’d either drop the drop bars altogether or look elsewhere (Salsa Cow Bell models come to my mind). If they wanted to provide more tire clearance (and yes, that’s a welcome improvement), this could have been achieved via adjustments of the original frame/fork, rather than replacing it with an entirely different frame (of different properties). That’s a lazy and highly peculiar product management approach in my book.

    The should call this new model something else than Sutra, for the new frame has none of the phenomenal touring qualities of the previous models. Fortunately, I managed to buy the 2012 model while it was discounted on CRC and (after some serious upgrading) I love the bike to bits! Thanks, Tom (for pointing out the CRC sale back then)! I would advise anyone interested in the Sutra legacy to see if the the older models (2012/13) are still available, rather than buying this imposter.

    And yes, the 2014 paint job is absolutely hideous!

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      Glad you’re enjoying riding your 2012 model!

      Have you ridden the 2014 one?

      Reply
      • SEA monster

        Hi. No, I haven’t. But I saw the Rove 2013 model at my Kona LBS and was allowed for a short ride around the block. (I believe the geometry is the same for 2014). It feels like a proper CX fit, albeit somewhat heavy for that purpose. But I might be bias in this regard, since my two previous bikes were ‘retired’ professional CX bikes and thus very light (even after my ‘civil’ makeover). I have to admit, I did like the bike. But would I want to sit on a fully loaded CX bike with thousands of miles ahead of me? No. Seeing them side to side (Sutra vs Rove), it was quite obvious that not only the BB but the whole equilibrium of the bike was significantly higher than the one of Sutra. And ‘sitting low’ is what makes Sutra Sutra. Or what it made Sutra, I should say.

        Reply
        • Tom Allen

          You may be right. But it’s unfair to draw conclusions from hypotheses alone without testing them. It’s more useful to be able to read a first-hand account of a tour on the bike in question, even if the conclusion is the one you expected.

          Now all we need is for Kona to get round to sending me one…

          Reply
          • SEA monster

            Fair enough. But having said that, will your own experience and judgement be unimpaired (should you arrive at less than favorable conclusion) by the somewhat materialistic relationship between you and Kona? 😉

            PS: And … the only conclusion I have drawn is that the old Sutra properties are gone (along with the frame).

          • Tom Allen

            My arrangement with Kona (and all previous sponsors) has always been to write honest reviews.

            I do still feel that there’s a trust issue here, so for that reason I made the decision earlier this year that all gear I get in for review will either be returned to the supplier or otherwise passed on after sufficient testing. I’ve always wanted to provide objective buying advice, not get free stuff in return for careless endorsements. Hopefully this policy will help with that.

            Sure, the old Sutra frame’s properties are most definitely gone. It’s a shame on one hand, but on the other hand, we don’t yet know where the new properties are going to lie. They may have inadvertently turned it into a cracking dirt-road bikepacking machine (if the stock tyres were swapped out). The response over the course of a year will be interesting to watch, that’s for sure.

          • SEA monster

            Great! I like the arrangement between you and your sponsors. Not many people would return the stuff. I am not sure I would. 🙂

            And I look very much forward to your review. It was your 2013 review that got me interested in Sutra in the first place.

  6. Ken Lawrence

    As an owner of the Kona Sutra 2014 I thought I could add something to the discussion here.

    Near the beginning of last summer, having done a few daytrips with my old bicycle (not a touring bike, a very old Thompson Cruiser city bike) I decided I really wanted to get a newer and better bike. I did my research and had a shortlist of a few bikes, among which the Kona Sutra. My local dealer had a 2012 model. I loved the way it looked and even though it was much too small I was convinced that the Sutra represented the best value for money for the things I wanted to do with my new bike.

    Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that the 2013 model was impossible to find in my size (I need 61). Then the first announcement came of the 2014 version and based on the pictures I saw online I vastly preferred the colour of the 2013 model. I was not yet aware of the changes to the geometry so yes, shallow as it may seem, the colour was what annoyed me 😀

    To cut a long story short: I searched high and low for the blue 2013 model in my size but to no avail. After having another good chat with the people at my local bike store I decided to take the plunge after all and reserved one of the first mainland European Kona Sutra 2014 bikes in size 61.

    A few months later, around the middle of September, I finally got the news that my bike was in store!

    Off course, I can not compare it to other touring bikes as it is my first. However, I really love it! To me it feels really sturdy, even when packed (currently only at the back; I have removed the front pannier rack as I don’t need it yet) but it’s still fun to ride. I would call it nimble when I am not carrying a lot with me.

    As I read about the geometry of the frame and the way Kona chose to use the frame of the Rove ( a bike which I had been considering but was slightly above my budget especially considering it is rather bare-bones if one wants to use it to transport stuff straight out of the box) I felt like seeing what I could do with the bike if I made it a little more “cyclo crossy” 🙂

    Two days ago I therefore had the Continental Contact tires which shipped with the bike replaced with Schwalbe Smart Sam tires ( 40c ). Although you mention the designer stating that the frame has enough width to allow this kind of tires with fenders my bike store had been forced to remove the stock fenders as the clearance was not sufficient. This was a little disappointing as the amount of off road, cyclo-cross style riding I will be doing would still be quite limited although I do look forward to it.

    However, the store had a good alternative in the form of short fenders which can be easily installed and clip on and off. This allows me to use the bike and not worry too much about getting sprayed by mud (they protect a little less well than the stock fenders). I can remove them if I want to go all out 😀
    On the way home from the store I took a much rougher path than usually, in fact, a stretch on which the Continental tires caused me a bit of concern (I didn’t feel very stable) and the new Smart Sam’s are fantastic! Lots and lots of fun!
    Moreover on Sunday I did a little tour and stuck to normal, well-maintained roads. I was afraid that the wider tires would cause me to loose a little speed but according to the speedometer I was just as fast as with the Continental tires. I can imagine that for much longer stretches I would feel the difference but nevertheless I was pleasantly surprised that the Smart Sam tires didn’t bog me down.

    The “real” test as far as adventurous terrain is concerned will be for the periode near the end of December. I will have a few days off of work and plan to explore some local hills and mountain bike style terrain. I’ll ditch bags and just travel as lightly as possible and will report back with my findings.

    In the meantime should anyone have any questions I would be happy to try and answer them. Remember though that I am new to this so I might not know the answers 😀

    Kind regards,

    Ken

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      Thanks Ken! Really good to hear from an owner. (Still trying to convince Kona to lend me a demo bike myself!)

      I’ve used the Smart Sam tyres too; impressively fast rolling on tarmac due to the tread design, but light and grippy off-road. They were particularly effective in Mongolia in 2010.

      Reply
  7. Tom

    I am one of the lucky few in UK to get a 61cm 2013 Sutra. Had seen the 2012 on offer but in the end the dealer supplied a 2013 instead. I use the Sutra mostly for commuting 42 miles a day and occasional unloaded 60 + mile rides, although I am certain it would / will be great for touring when I have mors time.
    The Sutra is great value but for me most important was its geometry, long laid out position and low standover height.
    Frame construction of the 2013 is excellent, all the right tube shaping and really nice welds. It’s a really solid bike, very sure footed.
    I was a little disappointed by some of the components though. Within 6 monthsI had to change the bottom bracket (LBS would not do, calling it a wear part!), also had to change the chain and changed the cassette, and the headset. For all these I did some upgrading in quality. I also replaced the bar end shicters with integrated shifter brake levers (requires a change of front derailleur due different throw), this was a very worthwhile upgrade especially while commuting in London. The cartridge headset has made the front end super solid

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      Yep, the headset was fairly basic. Doing 42 miles a day I’m not surprised you wore the drivetrain out in 6 months – on a bike at this price, that’s only to be expected, as your LBS said!

      Changing the shifters sounds like a good move for commuting. I’d swap them back for a long tour, though – much less to go wrong.

      Thank you for your contribution!

      Reply
  8. Billy Diamond

    I tested the 2014 Kona Sutra today and was mostly impressed. What surprised me most was the bikes ability to accelerate moderately, the solid feel, control, the lovely wide bars and general ergonomics. I was neutral on the bar end shifters, saddle and brake levers and a little disappointed with the stopping power. No comparison to the ability of my MBT SLX eye popping stoppers. I will order this bike as it will cover my plans to road/train/b&b tour as well as anything I want to do locally which includes enjoying the scenery at an efficient pace. The breadth of use is what I’m really drawn to, having looked into the Rove reviews and its only going to be a little slower than my carbon racer on the flatlands of Holland. I also tested the Giant Expedition LT and the Koga World Traveller. Both of these where FULLY specified bikes and I preferred to Koga even though it had Magura stoppers where the Giant had Hydraulic shimano discs and slx groupset. The koga just felt in a different class BUT even though I can get all the bikes within €200 of each other (Koga/Giant on 2013) the Kona Sutra is just going to be massively more practical unless I go to Mongolia and as I prefer the Cote d’Azure the choice is for the right bike instead of the best value. Which would you choose? Sutra, Expedition LT or World Traveller as my money hasn’t crossed hands yet?
    Thank you for all the shared experience guys, I appreciated it

    Reply
  9. Elizabeth

    Wondering what your thoughts are on the 2011 Sutra to the current one? Have you ever ridden one? Thanks ! I have enjoyed your reviews and comments

    Reply
  10. Simon

    I am looking at a 2013 Kona Sutra on sale. The bike comes with 32C tyres. I am keen to be able to put bigger tyres on it. Ideally I would like to be able to put a 40C on it. Is this possible ??? Thanks in advance. Regards, Simon

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      Hi Simon. I’ve put 35C Marathon Mondials on mine, but had to change the fenders to do so. I’m afraid I can’t speak for 40C tyres. I imagine it would be possible, but close. The 2014 model has much better tyre clearance. HTH!

      Reply
    • paul albright

      32 is the biggest tire possible to put properly on a 2013 Sutra. I have a 2013 Sutra. I did mount 35s, but I had to modify the front fender in a manner that is not satisfactory. You could take the fender off in the front and get a bigger tire, at least a 35, maybe a 40. I put on 35 Schwalbe Supremes. Now, I have changed them back to Schwalbe 32s. This tire is a major upgrade from the Conti that was on it; it weights about 1/2 as much and is much more supple.
      Still a 2013 Sutra would be an excellent buy, especially on sale, even if you need the fatter tires — get it, change the front fork to a Surly LHT fork, available from their site for 100$. Works with discs and has clearance for much bigger tire and fender. It’s black and will look good. Change fenders to a nice pair of hand-pounded aluminum, and you have a really comfortable and capable touring machine. I am currently more pleased with the 32s than the fatter 35s But still, tempted to make this big change just to check out what a really fat tire tourer would be like.
      BTW I’ve used the Sutra on about several long tours in France. It’s a super touring machine. It’s only problem (besides the possible fat tire issue) is that it is heavy. But the ONLY way to get a strong comfortable touring machine that is lighter is to go custom. And even then it’s only 2 to 3 kilos more svelte.

      Reply
      • Steve

        A question, the 2014 Sutra specs show the rims as Ryder 21s, the Ryder site has these handling only a 32 size tyre. Would these handle a 35 or a 38 or would these need changing as well? Anyone have experience on this?

        Reply
        • graeme hogg

          I wouldn’t fit anything bigger than 32 as per the recommendations of freedom ryder . I have replaced the Contact tyres with Schwalbe Marathons ( 32 ) , less responsive but more comfortable than the Contacts .

          Reply

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