2013 UPDATE: Kona have now seen fit to move the Explosif into the ultra-niche of 27.5‑inch hardtails; thus I can no longer recommend it as a suitable base for building an expedition bike. Frames of yore (2006–2009), if you can find them, will continue to deal well with off-road adventures, as the article below relates.
Whilst the steel Explosif frame is aimed at the cross-country mountain-biking market, it is not uncommon to see long-distance cycle tourers taking advantage of the increased strength and durability of mountain-bike components, which are naturally more heavy-duty than their road-bike equivalents. We chose the Explosif frame (2007 model) for a number of reasons, not least because we planned to travel in remote corners of the world where tarmac had not yet reached. So far, our expectations have been met, and exceeded in many ways.
We have travelled on flat, blemish-free asphalt, rocky mountain tracks that were little more than river beds, and everything in between. Coupled with the perfectly-suited 100mm-travel Magura Odur suspension forks, the frame’s geometry has made tackling these road conditions a relative breeze. While the set-up might not be optimal for hammering away at the tarmac for hours on end, we’re very rarely covering more than eighty or so kilometres per day, and it’s far more important for us to have bikes which are happy to be taken exploring off the beaten track. For this, the frame is ideal. It hasn’t stopped us covering more than 200km in a single day, either.
We had to make a number of adjustments to the cockpit (the components that dictate the riding position) in the first few weeks due to the nature of the aches and pains that soon surfaced (ideally you’ll test your bike for many weeks before embarking — we didn’t). Each of us have swapped our original handlebars for high and wide riser bars (with bar-ends for variety), and fitted very handy adjustable stems. With 40mm of spacers above the headset, the handlebar position has been raised well above what most riders of this frame would be using. When you’re in the saddle for many hours, however, it’s important to have a riding position that won’t give you back pain. I’ve found the equilibrium and have been riding in comfort for many months.
If you’re into cycling, especially mountain-biking, you’ll know that each frame feels different. The relationship between this unassuming piece of metal and the human sense of touch and balance is a very close and sensitive one. The Explosif is a joy in this department — zippy acceleration, absorbent but not too springy on the bumpier downhills, and a very solid yet forgiving feel overall. As I mounted the bike for the first time before the trip began, I couldn’t believe the quality of the ride, the smooth and tempered feel of the bike, the responsive yet moderated handling — it was like nothing else.
So the frame is sturdy and comfortable enough to meet the needs of the intrepid adventure cyclist. But choosing a touring frame also includes practical considerations. In this department, the Explosif falls a little behind other offerings that are designed with the tourer’s needs in mind — it lacks braze-ons on the seat-stays to accommodate a rear rack, for example, and there are no bottle-mounts on the underside of the down-tube, so you can only mount two standard bottle cages.
However, if you’re serious enough about a frame to be considering the Explosif, you’ll probably be serious enough to be considering a quality pannier rack. Tubus, whose Logo rack we have been using, can supply a mounting kit for attaching their racks to frames that lack the necessary lugs, and we have used this system from the beginning without a problem. The Explosif does in fact have the necessary bolt-holes above the rear drop-outs to attach a rack directly to the frame at this point, which are probably intended for mounting fenders. There are also bottle-cages available that don’t require integrated frame mountings.
The frame fares well otherwise — it has V‑brake bosses to accommodate rim-brakes, which most tourers seem to use, and which we carry as back-up. In the event that you want to fit disc-brakes (as we have done), you should know that in order to both fit the Magura Louise brake caliper and attach the rack to the frame directly, we found it necessary to increase the vertical clearance of the rack by extending the lower mounting point of the rack using parts from Tubus’ rear-axle-mount accessory kit. This required a little experimentation and diversion from the intended use of the various pieces of metal, but the resulting setup works perfectly. There are no rules when building the ride that will take you round the world!
(Note: this was only necessary so that we were able to use the special quick-releases for our Extrawheel trailers, which were not long enough to accommodate the Tubus rear-axle-mount kit which we had originally intended to use to mount the rack. So you’ll only need to do this if you’re fitting a rear Magura Louise disc-brake, a Tubus Logo rack and pulling an Extrawheel trailer. Which would also make you a copy-cat.)
The chunky, machined rear drop-outs are of the sliding variety, which is fairly unusual but carries a couple of benefits for the tourer. Firstly, if you do have a bad-enough crash to bend or snap the drop-out, it can be easily replaced without compromising the frame itself. Secondly (and this might be thinking too far ahead), if you do manage destroy your rear shifting mechanisms for whatever reason, the sliding drop-out system will make the chain-tensioning part of the consequent emergency single-speed conversion much, much easier.
The frame naturally mates well with the full range of mountain-bike componentry that you might be considering if you’ve got this far. See elsewhere on the site for reviews of these shiny pieces of kit.
In conclusion, no frame designed for mountain-biking (especially in today’s market) is likely to be the perfect solution for the cycle-tourer, but the Explosif comes pretty close. We’ve been easily able to remedy the minor shortcomings of a lack of seat-stay rack-mounts and a third bottle-cage mount, and have been riding the frames with pleasure and without a hitch for the duration of our expedition, tackling flat road and mountain trail alike. It’s not for everyone’s cycle tour, but if you’re planning on making similar long-term excursions into the back of beyond, the Kona Explosif comes very highly recommended.
Update: 23 March 2010
No bike is indestructible. Our first Explosif frames suffered 20,000km of fully-loaded abuse on- and off-road before they submitted to the stresses of such use. Both frames developed cracks in the same location — the rear drive-side fork end, where the combined forces of rider, luggage, drivetrain and wheel axle meet. Andy had his frame welded (on the roadside in New Delhi, India) and it continued to ride strong thereafter. I have had a replacement Explosif frame supplied by Kona, but I’m planning to have the original frame repaired for nipping about on.
As countless journeys show, it’s only a matter of time before even the strongest frame fails on long tours — breakages are only to be expected. The choice is therefore mainly one of comfort and functionality, as few frames are built specifically to carry tens of kilograms of kit for thousands of kilometres on all road surfaces. Needless to say, had we been using aluminium frames we’d have been in a right pickle — easy repair capability is why steel can’t be beaten for extended trips.
7 replies on “Using The Kona Explosif As An Expedition Touring Bike”
Do you know what bottom bracket axel length the original bike took?
I really enjoy your content and it has been one of the main sources of reference as I wade into the world of touring. I’m currently entertaining the idea of acquiring a 1994 kona explosif with shocks and I was wondering if it would make a good starter touring bike. It has a suspension fork which I’ve never tried before but word on the internet says these frames are quite good. Would this kind of bike be something you’d recommend for someone starting out? Also, for geometries designed for suspension, could I fit a rigid fork further down the line? Any and all feedback would be greatly welcome. Thanks!
Hi Pablo! A 1994 Explosif would very likely be suitable for adapting for touring. I’m assuming you can get it at a very good price, of course! Regarding forks, are you sure that they are original? I would have thought a bike of that vintage would have been supplied with rigid forks in the first place, not suspension…
Hello, Tom! Thank for replying! Didn’t mean to leave you hanging. I didn’t get a notification of your reply. I just got the ‘94 Kona Explosif. Set me back 265€ but the frame is good. Almost everything else needs love (read money and elbow grease). I don’t know what to do with the fork. I don’t think it’s original. They are rock shoxs. I’ve been using your article on the bike Richard at Oxford Bike Works made for you as a rough guide for my build. You suggest using a threadless headset but while looking for project2 kona forks they all come threaded. What would you recommend for an affordable good rigid fork to fit on my Explosif? Is it really worth it getting a threadless one? Or would an old rigid Kona fork do? Thanks again for all the advice. I’m also reading your Guide to Adventure Cycling and enjoying it! Hope it’s not too long until I can hit the road myself.
I doubt it would be a problem to use a threaded headset if that’s what the original rigid Kona forks require. Would love to see the finished build once you’re done!
Hi. I bought my alloy MTB back in 2008, it is a hardtail with a decent Shimano deore/Suntour XCM groupset. I have been using it since then mostly for commuting, occasionally for off road activity (apparently most of MTB sold never leave the tarmac). I was never a big cyclist but I decided to change my mind 😉 I am planning to leave Britain and just go toward Iran first and later wherever I can get a visa. It doesn’t matter really now. I am not a fan of a tarmac cycling, rather go off road.
The point is, I want to use my existing bike. So I’ve bee searching over internet and have found panniers and bags and all that useful stuff and I can see there is a big inclination toward steel frames, stiff forks, friction shifters, square tapered BB and so on.
My questions are:
Is it better to ditch my bike now, sell it (can fetch maybe 150 squid) and find second hand steel frame and build a bicycle around it? Or just forget it and go as it is?
Is it not easier just to buy a frame locally, somewhere in the middle of the Middle East, when my alloy frame should break and swap the components?
Hey, thanks for this review. I have a 2007 Explosif frame that I picked up a few years ago really cheap but haven’t built up yet. I’m planning an off-road tour next spring and I’m happy to know that the bike can handle it.