Kona Sutra £977.74

Disc equipped steel tourer

BikeRadar score 3.5/5

The jolly green Kona Sutra looks striking and is a joy to ride, but the mechanics required to combine disc brakes and a rear rack is perhaps too much of a compromise. With cantilever brakes and mudguards it would be less distinctive, but it would arguably be a bike that’s better suited to heavily loaded trips.

  • Frame & fork: Well finished, uncompromising, tough-as-old-boots chromoly steel frame and forks with Kona's off-road heritage
  • Handling: Belies the heavyweight frame and fork combo and feels pleasingly sharp
  • Equipment: Generally good quality kit, but the inelegant solution to fitting the – admittedly excellent – Avid disc brakes suggests they’re not the best choice
  • Wheels: Decent hoops and tyres, and without rim-braking the Mavic rims should be long-lasting too

Lean green machine

There was widespread excitement in the BikeRadar office when we heard we were reviewing the Kama Sutra, so it was a little disappointing to find that it was only a bike that came in rather than the Sanskrit guide to, ahem, an exercise other than cycling.

The combined US and Canadian company Kona have given us a bike in a spectacular shade of green – it’ll stand out in a crowd, that’s for sure – made from that classic touring material, butted chromoly steel, in this case Kona’s own brand with an excellent finish.

It’s a bike that seems to scream of a mountain bike heritage. And it’s not only the frame geometry either – the Sutra still has the braze-ons for cantilever or V-brakes, the rear bosses are capped, the front ones used for the rack.

The lack of mudguards is also suggestive of a bike from a company known for off-road bikes, especially one from North America where mudguards – or fenders as they’re known over the pond – are much less widely used. True, a decent pair will only set you back around £20 from your local bike shop and a few minutes’ time spent fitting them, but for a bike designed as a touring all-rounder it seems an unusual omission.

Disc brakes vs rim brakes

Probably the most distinctive feature of the Sutra, though, is its use of disc brakes. Although common on European flat-barred tourers, they’re much rarer on drop bar bikes and the Sutra may demonstrate why this is the case.

The reasons for choosing mechanical disc brakes are simple: they offer great stopping power – once they’ve bedded in after a few rides – and their ability to bring you to a halt safely isn’t related to the condition of your rims. A touring bike’s rims – like those of a mountain bike – are likely to get the sort of abuse at some point that will send them out of true, especially when racking up high mileages over variable surfaces. If you’re about to descend a mountain pass with buckled rims your braking will be compromised. Not a good state of affairs.

Fit disc brakes – and the Kona’s Avids are about the best mechanical disc brakes there are – and you not only avoid this potential scenario but your rims should last much, much longer. And if you’re in the middle of Asia or South America your local bike shop may not be that local.

Great handling – but beware of heavy loads

However, there are potential issues when fitting disc brakes to a tourer and we don’t feel Kona have addressed them all perfectly. Problem: the bulk of the rear disc brake’s mechanism goes exactly where the bottom end of your rear rack’s struts would normally go. Solution: Kona has fitted spacers along the bolt that connects the bottom of the rack to the frame to take the frame away from the brakes.

Not an elegant solution, and it means that a lot of pressure could be going through the end of a bolt. The rack’s designed to carry 30kg of kit – and the bike’s more than tough enough to carry it – but that’s putting a lot of pressure on two bolts.

That’s a bit of a shame really, as the Sutra handles very well. The drop bars offer more positions than flat bars (though fewer than the Kama Sutra!), unloaded it’s sharp through the streets and quick into corners, and the handling isn’t that noticeably affected by a couple of kit-filled panniers. The brakes work a treat too, really enabling you to shoot around town.

A frame of this size and weighing 6lb can easily cope with any demands you’re likely to make of it. But while we’d be more than happy using the Sutra for moderately loaded rides, commuting and everyday trips, we’d be wary of taking heavy loads off the beaten track with its present setup.

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