Like Specialized’s Langster, Kona’s Paddy Wagon is named after its creator, in this case Paddy White, and is the result of someone at Kona wanting a track bike they could commute on year round. The resulting machine is in essence a track bike with road bike comfort and practicalities – namely more relaxed head and seat tube angles, mudguard eyes, two sets of bottle bosses, cable guides and drillings for two brakes. Fixed and singlespeed bikes have long been popular among the despatch mob for their speed and low maintenance, and are now being adopted in increasing numbers by other cyclists for the same reasons.
Here we’ve tested the 2006 bike, with the only significant difference for 2007 being a better set of wheels, and £50 higher price tag.
Sprightly workhorse with good detailing
The substantial Deda chromoly frameset could readily pass for aluminium, bearing a striking resemblance to the Pearson Touché. Tipping the scales at 5.8lb the 58cm frame is a whopping 2lb heavier than the Pearson and over a pound on Surly’s Steamroller. But the latest breed of ready-to-ride fixers seems built with practicality in mind and the heavier gauge tubes will shrug off the daily bumps and grinds of street furniture leaning and locking better than more glamorous offerings would. Clearances are ample without feeling gappy – there’s room for 700×32 tyres if you forgo guards or 28mm with. The slightly sloped top tube is far less aggressive than Kona’s traditional trademark designs. Sensibly it features a forward facing seat collar slot, which in itself will prevent a good deal of water ingress entering the frame. However, the chain stay bridge mudguard mounting point on the test bike was more pronounced than some, allowing small traces of water inside, so a healthy application of frame saver would be advisable.
As we’ve come to expect from Taiwanese built frames, TIG welding is both neat and uniform and attention to detail is spot on. The seat tube was properly reamed, allowing the black Kalloy post to slide in and out without scratching or the need for excessive tightening. A quick peek at the bottle bosses revealed no tell tale traces of paint choking the threads either – a good sign of high production values. Frame ends are very substantial yet easy on the eye and the matt blue paint manages to be classy, understated and resistant to chipping. Binding inner tube around the top and other tubes would be a wise precaution to prevent dents and scratches when locking to street furniture. This also disguises its identity from those stealing to order.
The straight bladed Project Two fork is a weighty yet interesting departure from the ubiquitous unicrown designs. At 2lb it continues the bike’s theme of practicality – carbon might be chic, but in my opinion a good steel fork is more desirable on an everyday bike where spills and accidental damage are more commonplace.
Behaves in excellent proportion
Cunningly disguised as a responsible nine-to-five working bike, put the hammer down and the Paddy Wagon will really entertain. Thanks to a relatively short wheelbase, from-the-off acceleration is brisk and rewarding, reminding me of a custom-made road bike I had built 15 years ago. It was like being reunited with an old friend, whether sprinting away from the lights or speeding through the lanes. On the climbs its prowess was such that it hides its 22lb mass, the combination of the tight rear triangle and the oversized down-tube minimising flex, particularly around the crucial bottom bracket area. Indeed I firmly believe, heavier fork aside, it would give the Pearson a real run for your money. Large flange hubs make for livelier feel than their small flange counterparts, adding to the zippy feel. Steering is just the right side of neutral; steady and dependable enough when tired or hurtling downhill, yet even with an 11cm stem which left me feeling a little stretched, it was still sharp around town, where a quick tug on the 44cm bars snatches you round opening doors and other hazards.
Using power forks in the early nineties filled me with initial scepticism but it is clear Kona have done their homework and, despite my best efforts to provoke an uncivilised backlash from the Paddy Wagon at every opportunity, it behaved impeccably with no discernable shimmy. This was probably also helped in no small part by the Continental Ultra Sports tyres, which roll faster than their 28mm width might suggest. Tektro dual pivot callipers are more than a match for the bike’s mass and although lacking the bite of a well honed cantilever, allow for confident, unladen descending. Unlike on more compact frames, I was inclined to skirt around pot holes and other obstacles as a miss-timed bunny-hop might result in a painful encounter with the top tube.
Well thought out blend of branded and unbranded parts
With the exception of perhaps track, in fixed circles groupsets per seare a rarity, as bikes tend to be conceived using whatever parts are available to make them behave in good proportion. The spec sheet hardly makes my keyboard smoulder and I would term the parts as ‘sociable loners’ in that they are perfectly adequate if unremarkable in isolation, but surprisingly good all working together.
Black resin coated crank arms are broadly similar to those featured on Fuji’s track bike and are sufficiently hardy to shrug off the ravages of the salt monster that chomps through polished alloy on winter roads. Their 175mm length provides excellent leverage when using the fixed sprocket (take the wheel out and flip it around for a freewheel option) without grounding a pedal. That said, the unsealed bottom bracket, although functional and viceless, smacks of penny pinching. Sealed fit-and-forget units should be standard on a bike designed for year-round use.
Braking for some is less of a consideration when riding fixed as some braking is afforded by holding back on the cranks, but aside from the legal requirement for a rear brake when using a freewheel, I like the security of a rear brake in hilly conditions or poor weather. Silver, long reach Tektro dual pivots allow clearance for mudguards and are sufficiently rigid to allow comfortable modulation and power. The shapely levers are very comfy when riding on the tops, offering excellent feel and some nice touches such as a quick release button, allowing the blocks to be released a little to compensate for small irregularities in rim truth while on the fly. If you should happen to meet a pothole though, the easy calliper mounted QR should let you limp home.
A fixed’s drive train is simple by definition and the Kona’s KMC chain is pleasingly quiet for an OEM offering, although the unbranded freewheel piped up in sympathy on our maiden voyage but this was improved with a few drops of middle weight oil.
Finishing kit remains a mixture of branded and unbranded parts which can be blessings in disguise. They allow money to be spent in more crucial areas and equally, around town, make your steed less appealing to thieves or in some cases vandals. The Dia Compe aheadset is smooth and serviceable and should remain so with periodic service and mudguards during the winter months.
Although the four-bolt stem might not be eye catching, it is a real wolf in sheep’s clothing, combining with the oversized FSA anatomic drops to make a rewardingly stiff cockpit. Try as I might on steep climbs or long descents I couldn’t detect any flex and the stem’s belt and braces fourbolt clamp offers a vice-like grip – good news for powerful riders. Finished with some fairly hardwearing cushioned tape, there’s nothing here I’d change in a hurry. Similarly, unless you were fussy about shaving grams, the Kalloy seat post is a good fit and offers plenty of length. Saddles are a very personal choice and an area where money is frequently saved, although I found the WTB perch incredibly comfortable even after hours of non-stop riding.
Although black components can age quicker than silver or polished counterparts, these have an above average finish quality, and in the event of them losing their lustre, I’d be inclined to strip them in anodise remover and have them powder coated or polished.
Low weight, durability and style
Budget bikes tend to have functional rather than sexy wheelsets, and on paper the Kona is no exception. Black Alex hoops are unlikely to set any pulses racing and their lack of machined sidewalls is a touch bargain basement. But in fairness, they’ve been stout enough – though, while the braking was adequate, I would be tempted almost to sand the sidewalls or give them a coat of Nitromors. I suspect the particularly fetching, flip/flop (rear) hub is made by Formula, sporting smooth running cartridge bearings which, with basic care, should see a winter or two before needing attention. I’d be happy to build them into a new rim when the time came too. Solid axles, although heavier and easier to bend than hollow units, are safer for riding fixed or for locking up.
Call me Doubting Thomas but recent experiences have not convinced me of the reliability of two-cross spoking patterns on budget wheels. So, I deliberately rode these hard along poorly surfaced lanes, and to their credit they remained true and evenly tensioned throughout. However, I am reasonably light at 70kg and would have preferred the rear laced three-cross as an extra insurance. However, the spokes are at least stainless and the black finish rounds off the co-ordinated look.
The 2007 Paddy Wagon will come with, amongst other small equipment changes, better Sun MZ-14 rims and a £50 higher price tag of £500.