For the longest time my bike of choice has been my Kona Sutra which I bought just over two years ago, but with my 30th birthday approaching I thought it was time to have a bike that could go just a little bit faster.
Don’t get me wrong, the Kona Sutra is an incredible machine and serves me well commuting to and from work along a rather poor quality hardpack gravel canal towpath. I could load it down with panniers and the Brooks saddle meant I could tour on it all day long without issue.
I had tried a hardtail mountain bike along the canal; the Kona Cindercone, which was ok but only being 27.5″ tyres wasn’t all too fast. So I thought to myself, get a cyclocross bike.
My collegue at work has a rather old Kona Jake the Snake but he still pumps out the miles on it (9000+ so says Strava), I’ve always thought Kona were a bit ahead of the curve on Cyclocross and the new wave of ‘gravel’ and ‘adventure’ bikes, so I had a look and luckily the 2016 bikes had gone to sale.
Like everything post Brexit, the 2017 models had gone up in price. The Jake the Snake Cr 2017 was £400 more than the 2016 version with little improvement in spec to show for it. The 2016 model was also on sale so I saved even more when I gave in and ordered myself the 2016 Kona Jake the Snake Cr in the 53cm size (I’m 5’7)
I cheekily took it for a test ride (the bike was meant to be for my 30th) and it was when compared to my Kona Sutra, like cycling on a rocket.
The Jake the Snake Carbon comes with everything you would expect of a nearly £2k carbon bike; lightweight carbon frame and forks, Shimano 105 groupset, good wheels etc. It is a very well rounded package, made better with the sale price of over £300 off RRP.
The first thing I did note however was how uncomfortable the saddle was; I had been used to the Brooks B17 on my Sutra after all! So I tried swapping out the saddle; which is a Kona branded WTB volt, for the Fabric Line Race saddle that I use on my Brompton.
This I find is a very comfortable saddle, my Brompton uses the 134mm width but after trying it out on the JtS I ordered the 142mm version (£59.99 from Triton Cycles). Being the titanium rail version this shaves around 60g off the weight of the standard WTB Volt saddle (~300g) on the bike as well as the rails flexing a little more to soften any bumps in the road. At the same time I replaced the saddle, I weighed the seatpost which was also around 300g and so could be replaced with a far lighter version.
I also bought the usual bits and bobs; such as Shinamo SPD540 Pedals, Elite Stealth Bottle Cage, Podium Bottle and Topeak mini-rocket bike pump. Finally the bike was kitted out and ready to ride seriously!
So I cycled for about 40miles along the Kennett and Avon Canal, and it performed like a dream; it ate up the miles, the handling was crisp and sharp, it glided over the bumps with the Cement MXP tyres and Fabric Saddle, and the brakes stopped the bike on a pinhead.
It is a beautiful looking bike too; the greens and blues go well against the matt black finish. On its trip out people would get a cheekily glimpse as I cycled past and a few commented on its looks.
After around 30miles, with a few stops to do the usual handlebar angle and seat position and height adjustments I opened her up along my usual commute stretch of canal (really bad rocks and gravel) to see how fast she would go, and I was not disappointed.
Sadly Strava doesn’t give KOMs to hazardous sections (even though I wouldn’t call a Canal Towpath and part of the cycle network hazardous!) but on my first trip out the Jake the Snake could beat 1700+ other bikes. That time was over a minute faster than any time I had done in the last 2 years on my Sutra, I did mention this bike performs like a rocket!
Edit: Since then I’ve been on a KOM rampage and managed to get a few more, and a lot of top 10s on roughpack ground.
On the open road its clearly not as fast as dedicated road bikes; its gearing is only 46 on the outer, and it has large CX tyres. I can still happily cycle along 25mph+ with ease, compared to only around 15mph on my Kona Sutra.
Its not the lightest of Carbon Fibre bikes too, but I think thats down primarily to the finishing kit rather than frame, but again this is a CX bike and not a road so there is I believe some tradeoffs made in stiffening and strengthing it in order for it to withstand the battering it takes. As mentioned the standard seatpost and saddle were heavy, the wheels weigh 1800g+ and the tyres 335g each so my next idea is carbon wheels and road tyres to turn it into a true road race machine.
For example if I buy Wiggles Cosine Disc wheels for under £200 I would save over 300g!
I’ll come back and edit this once I’ve put in several hundred more miles, but till then, buy one, you won’t regret it.
Update (2 months in):
Currently this bike has got me 5 Strava KOMs, so it is still as fast as ever. Sportive season arrived and I’ve changed tyres; gone are the Cement MXPs and now I have Vittoria Rubino Pro G+ (28mm for offroad use still). Kona was a bit cheeky as the OEM MXP tyres are wired not folding, so weigh 430g each!!
I was going to go for the Conti 4 Seasons but the Rubino Pro G+ Tyres were on offer, so I thought I would take a punt. These tyres weigh only 270g each (for 28mm) so with better quality Conti inner tubes I’ve saved over 300g of weight overall for just over £35!