This bike was tested on the 2016 Trans-Oceania cycling expedition
The bike packing phenomenon has been a godsend for TDA’s style of riding. Traditional touring bikes have never been a perfect fit for supported tours like ours, but the fast-and-light approach of bike packing has led to a multitude of new and exciting bike options. When I got the call to ride for three months across Australia and New Zealand, I of course jumped at the opportunity, but also immediately started pondering a new bike. I’ve written before on how to choose a touring bike, but this time I’m going to write about the bike that I actually chose – the 2016 Kona Sutra LTD.
A note about the build: I started with a bare Sutra LTD frame, and built it up with a combination of new parts, and parts left over from my last touring bike. In the end though, it turned out that the guys at Kona had chosen an almost identical spec for the regular, non-LTD Sutra!
Frame: Kona Cromoly (size large / 56cm)
Fork: Kona Project Two Disc
Crank: Shimano Deore 28/36/48t
Cassette: Shimano 11-36t 10 speed
Front & Rear Derailleurs: Shimano XT
Shifters: Microshift BS-T10
Brakes: Avid BB7 Road
Brake Levers: SRAM S900
Hubs: Shimano Deore
Rims: Mavic XM319
Tires: Schwalbe Marathon Mondial, 700x40c
Two things about the Sutra LTD immediately jumped out at me: the colour, and the extra mounts on the fork. To be honest, I was actually not excited about the blue paint, but it started to grow on me the moment I picked it up from the shop. The fork has two bolts in the middle of each fork blade, instead of the usual one, a style popularized by Salsa. They are spaced the same as a standard set of water bottle bolts, but the bigger space around the fork, as opposed to inside the front triangle, means you can use a cargo cage and dry bag setup. They can also easily hold a 1L Nalgene bottle.
I really appreciated the versatility of all the mounting options on the Sutra LTD. In the Australian Outback, I actually made use of the extra mounts for water, sometimes going through four or five bottles in a day.
I won’t delve too deeply into frame geometry here, but in essence, the Sutra and Sutra LTD have a slacker head angle than usual, making them very stable on dirt and while descending.
I rode the Sutra LTD almost every day for over three months – one month across the Australian Outback, another along the Great Ocean Road and over to Sydney, one down the length of New Zealand, and ten days on rail trails and singletrack around Queenstown.
The Stuart Highway is long, straight, and flat. Not a very difficult test for any bike really. The key there is water capacity, something the Sutra LTD has covered. The rest of my route in Australia was mostly on paved roads, with rolling hills, and only a few longer climbs and descents. With the 32c slick tires that I had mounted at the time, the Sutra handled this typical road riding very well. The weight of the steel frame and bombproof build was only noticeable on the absolute steepest climbs.
In New Zealand, the route took us along a few short stretches of very rough and loose gravel roads. I made the mistake of not switching back to the 40c knobby tires, but the bike was still remarkably stable. I lost traction often because of the tires, but quickly got used to drifting the bike around corners. On steep paved descents, I did feel some of the flex-induced vague steering that is typical of steel frames. It was less noticeable on the Sutra than on other steel bikes I’ve ridden – only manifesting as slight understeer on sharp, high-speed corners.
My trip ended with ten days of loaded riding. I was excited to find out how the Sutra would ride with some weight on it. I wasn’t carrying a full touring setup – no cooking or camping equipment – but it wasn’t that light, as I needed to bring my laptop and mountain bike shoes and gear with me. So how did the Sutra handle with the extra weight? Beautifully. I honestly can’t say that I felt much difference at all, apart from the obvious increase in effort on the climbs. But that’s why they still make triples – in the small chainring, and 36t rear cog, I was able to ride up some ridiculously steep gravel trails and double track, switchbacks and all. The 5 litre dry bags mounted up front were surprisingly roomy – I was able to fit all of my cold and wet weather gear in one, and my cycling and casual clothes in the other.
I really, really enjoyed riding the Sutra LTD. People have been asking me if I liked the bike, and the only answer I can come up with is, “Yes!” You can choose between the regular Sutra and the LTD version depending on what kind of riding you have planned, but either of them would do well in a huge range of applications. There really isn’t very much I would change, except for adding just a little bit more tire clearance – and Kona have done exactly that for the 2017 versions. I can’t help but say that the Kona Sutra LTD is an amazing all-purpose adventure bike – wherever your ride might take you.
Special thanks to Sweet Pete’s Bike Shop for their assistance building this bike.