Review: 2009 Kona Sutra

Overview:

The first thing that pops in my mind when I’m asked about the Sutra is “heavy”, the next is “versatile”.  You can probably stop reading right there; those two words truly do sum up the Sutra.  Weighed with a set of plastic flat pedals, and a seat bag containing a spare tube, CO2 cartridge/inflator and a tire lever, the Sutra weighed in at 31.6lbs.  I primarily used the Sutra for commuting and small errands around town, both with clip-less and flat pedals.  Clip-less pedals for efficiency on my 17mi one-way commute, flats for general around town errand use.  [Note, I’m not a daily bike commuter, but am able to pull off two to three days a week.]
The Ride:
With a chromoly frame and fork, the Sutra was expected to provide a comfortable ride.  The Sutra damped road acne and took the harshness out of larger hits, but not to the level I expected.  I suspect this is due to several factors.  Though steel and equipped with touring tires at 80psi, the Sutra frame is a sturdy piece designed to carry heavy loads and last a long time.  The wheelset is likewise stiff, built with 36 spoke Mavic 317 rims.  Don’t get me wrong, the Sutra is comfortable for long rides in the saddle, but wouldn’t be my first choice for a relaxed century.

The Sutra has comfortable relaxed geometry with stable, deliberate steering. If you must ride hands-free, the Sutra won’t bite you for it.  Though named the Sutra, this bike won’t twist you into any awkward positions that require an advanced degree in Yoga.  Riding on the hoods of the Sutra results in only a slight forward lean for efficient pedaling and aggressive maneuvers.  Not that this is a bike for aggressive behavior, but if you like to bash up and down curbs, the Sutra will oblige.
The Sutra handles like a lighter bike until you head uphill.  Here the bike makes its weight known and demands fitness from the rider if you’re in a hurry.  If you’re not in a hurry though, the Sutra will spin up almost any hill with you.  The deep gearing (triple front, MTB cassette rear) lets you spin mountains into molehills, just as long as you don’t have any Contador dreams!  Downhill, the Sutra’s geometry makes one confident, however I found the brakes (Avid BB-7 mechanical disks) lacking if you’re activating them from the hoods.  Down in the bar drops however the brakes worked admirably, this tells me the problem is not in the brakes but rather a lack of leverage on the brakes from the hoods.  I consider myself to have average grip strength, but am a bit heavy at 185-190 lbs ready to ride, throw in 20 lbs on the rack and that’s turning into a lot of mass to slow down.  A great benefit of disc brakes is that they remain pretty effective in the rain, not an issue here in So-cal, but I’m aware of this issue from my mountain biking experience.
Racks:
The Sutra definitely taught me a lot about running errands with a bike!

The very nice rear rack (this is not the flimsy unit that came stock in previous years) will hold almost anything you’d want to pedal around (30kg rating), but regardless of how nice the rear rack is, it’s nearly useless without a good set of panniers and/or bungee cords.  I was halfway tempted to attach a laundry basket to the rack after being shocked at the price of a good set of pannier bags.  If you’re a dedicated bike commuter though, a good set of pannier bags are a necessity and will last quite a long time.  I admit, I never utilized the Sutra’s front rack.  Though it attached easily enough and seemed sturdy, I definitely couldn’t see myself ever utilizing it on anything other than a bike tour.  Speaking of touring, this is where the Sutra begins to blur typical bicycle category definitions.  The Sutra is overkill for commuting use but seems great for touring if you don’t mind the short head tube length (for a tourer).
Conclusion:

The Sutra is a bike you must consider if you’re looking for a touring bicycle.  If you’re looking for a commuter bike, I’d reccomend that you really assess your needs.  Do you want/need a rear rack, front rack, disk brakes or 36 spoke wheels? If you answer yes to at least two of those, I could see you staring hard at the Sutra, which is a pretty good value since all of that is included.  If you’re a larger person, the Sutra’s weight probably won’t be an issue, and you could rest easier knowing that you have a sturdy set of wheels that’d be at home on a mountain bike.  Myself and my 34mi round trip aren’t going to miss the Sutra, but I know I’ll miss her when I want to make a local errand run to the grocery or hardware store.  Check out the upcoming 2010 model here! It even includes fenders!


16 Comments

  1. Andy September 16, 2009 6:37 pm 

    Looks like the back rack can more easily hold panniers AND a trunk bag. It’s difficult to do this otherwise because most panniers have their clips set too low.

  2. Ghost Rider September 17, 2009 3:24 am 

    Did you mean “top tube” length rather than head tube? The head tube appears to be about the same length as the KHS TR-101 tourer, and substantially longer than the Trek 520 — but the top tube is not nearly as stretched. You look a bit cramped on that bike!

    No matter what, I love the Sutra concept…it looks like a bruiser. Disc brakes are great for a sloppy-weather commuter (perhaps not so common in California, but VERY common here in Florida). That rack looks plenty substantial, too.

  3. 2whls3spds September 17, 2009 3:41 am 

    You should have gone ahead and gotten a milk crate…

    Aaron

  4. Ghost Rider September 17, 2009 4:10 am 

    Milk crate! The unofficial “must have” accessory of a true transportational cyclist!!!

  5. Elizabeth September 17, 2009 2:06 pm 

    I love the fenders on the 2010 model, along with the metallic brown color. This would be a great tourer.

  6. cafn8 September 17, 2009 2:33 pm 

    I see that for 2010 the brake has also been moved from the seatstay down to the chainstay, which I presume eases fitting of the rear rack (and possibly also opens up more options for those considering a replacement rack).

    If I were in the market for a commuter/ tourer in this price range, this would definitely be at the top of the list. Perhaps a Surly Long Haul Trucker would be too, as it’s in a similar price range. Can anyone who’s ridden both of these bikes comment on them?

    Nice looking bike, especially for a big guy like myself who doesn’t care much about weight. After all, 31.6 lbs is curiously close to the weight of my mountain bike when in full commuting garb.

  7. Mike Myers September 17, 2009 5:04 pm 

    I do like the looks of the Sutra. I think disc brakes are an excellent idea for a commuter bike, especially since I live where it rains a lot.

    The color is nice. I’m partial to green. This may be a bit vibrant for my taste, but darned if it isn’t attractive.

    I was thinking the bike looked a bit small for you. But I have peculiar fit issues.

    Panniers can be expensive, but unless you’re touring a cheap set can do fine. I have a really nice set of Carradice Kendal panniers on one bike. Yes, they were expensive and hand made. They will last a lifetime. But the bike they’re on is never out of my sight. Another bike wears a pair of Nashbar ATB panniers. I got them for TWELVE BUCKS. I use them when running errands. They work just fine and have a lot of room.

  8. Powerful Pete September 19, 2009 10:34 am 

    I commute on a Kona Jake the Snake, having added an Old Man Mountain rear rack and Arkel panniers. Very, very satisfied.

    I believe that it is more than enough for most commutes – a 36 spoke wheel and disk brakes are probably a bit overkill for the average city commute.

  9. flypaca October 24, 2009 1:09 pm 

    it wasn’t so long ago that 36 spoke wheels were standard and only super racers used less, with tandems rear only using 40. This bike looks like a definate comuter for where the streets are not well maintained with flat resistant tires should be super!!!

  10. electric January 23, 2010 4:01 pm 

    Well, about the uphill knock. I’d like to know what you are comparing it to? I’m pretty sure the source of the complaint isn’t really the weight of the frame but the longer chainstays.

  11. Martyn February 18, 2010 4:03 pm 

    Yep I sure like the Sutra, hav’nt realy read any critical reviews even with the older models. I just love the looks of the 2010, it’s the bike for me I think but have yet to see one in the flesh so to speak. I’m keen to do the lejog (Landsend to John o Groats)ride here in the UK so a rock solid ‘retro’ looking tourer would be great. I’m only 5′ 8″ so the short top tube could be okay for me. Thanks for the honest frank review.

  12. aaa5 September 8, 2011 2:57 am 

    i was wondering about the bar end shifters and how they are to use? i have never used this kind of shifter. the shifters I have are Shimano XT SL‑M770, and are right next to my brakes, on a relatively straight handlebar, hence I can reach both the brakes and the gear shifters relatively easily without taking my hands off anything.
    So, how does it work with these bar end shifters? How do you ‘shift’ with them? palm of hand, or take hand off steering to change with fingers?

  13. Ghost Rider September 8, 2011 4:22 am 

    @aaa5 — you can shift them with both methods you mentioned. It can take some getting used to, but after a while barend shifters are just as intuitive as other shifter styles.

  14. aaa5 September 12, 2011 11:59 pm 

    Thanks for reply. I’ll have to try them out one day…

  15. Tom August 5, 2014 7:32 pm 

    I’ve had this bike for a while now.

    Like the reviewer, I struggling a little with the brakes from the hoods. After riding on the bike for four years, I think I’ve finally diagnosed the problem.

    The bike comes with BB7 road calipers, designed for short road style cable pull, but with tektro levers that deliver long v-brake style cable pull.

    Anyone else have experience like this?

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