Cross bikes are fast enough on the road to get some serious winter miles in, but still slice through the off-road filth with remarkable speed. Kona's championship winning Jake The Snake gives you at least a fighting chance of staying upright on the singletrack, too.
Kona states that the bike is race ready from the box and it's certainly gone to town on frame quality. The full Easton Ultralite Race tubeset uses tapering tube diameters and multiple butting profiles for an extremely light and responsive frame. The flattened section at the ends of the top tubes also makes the frame more comfortable for shouldering it and running up the hill when you run out of gears.
It's worth noting that cross bike sizing is not like mountain bike sizing, though. As there's extra forward reach in the drop bars, top tube lengths are shorter than an MTB for the same relative stretch. You'll also have to watch your toes in corners, as bigger wheels and a shorter wheelbase mean that foot/front wheel overlap is quite normal. That's not as lethal as it sounds though, and you'll soon adjust to the occasional toe tap.
Skinny tyres that need to be pumped to 80-100psi to stop pinch punctures if you're regularly bouncing over rocks and hard edges, means cross bikes will always feel harsh and skittery compared to MTBs. In relative terms though, the Jake isn't overly harsh, and the forks have a touch more spring and wrist saving resilience than most carbon or alloy cross forks we've tried. It'll still ping you all over the place on cobbles and jar down flights of steps, but our hands and spine were still fully functional after several hours of hard hammer. We also had a lot more confidence in steel forks when doing things we probably shouldn't have been.
Hit a section of less testing singletrack though, and the Jake will reveal its true racing Snake credentials, leaping down the trail with phenomenal pace and acceleration. The big gears mean it takes a while to get going, but once they're turning, you'll be casually chatting to equally fit MTB riders while they cough their guts up trying to hold your wheel. Just make sure they properly suffer before they get revenge on the next techy bit.
Shimano 105 is roughly equivalent to LX in terms of road group hierarchy, and we had no trouble getting smooth shifts from the long cage mech and Dual Control drop levers. However, while we understand that 48/39 front chainrings are great for the road, we were gagging for lower ratios when riding 'proper' trails. That'll require a change of chainset though, so try and negotiate a swap to a triple or compact drive unit when you buy.
It's no coincidence that many of BikeRadar's testers do much of their mileage on cross bikes, and it's rigs like this one that make both off and on road excursions great fun.
The sweetly balanced rapid reaction handling is perfect for controlling the limited braking and traction resources available, while the excellent frame and smart, understated kit choice maximises the all-round speed and lightweight advantages without breaking the bank. Add in full commute/tour readiness and it's almost certainly the most versatile second bike you could get.