The day I bought my new Kona Esatto road bike was a bit bittersweet.
The new bike (an Xmas gift from my wife) was, of course, the happy part. But I also knew that I was going to be, at least partly, saying goodbye to my venerable Motobecane Mirage Spirit. I likely am going to keep it as backup so I will still have it – but it will probably be only ridden occasionally.
The Motobecane served me well, despite the relatively moderate price that I bought it for, and the fact that the Motobecane name was only a name now and not a symbol of quality like older Motobecane models were. I barely had to even tune it up once a year and never had any problems with it except the occasional flat tire. It shifted nicely, was fast, looked nice, and carried me thousands of miles without incident as well as through a few bike races and events (including third place in one small bike race) and even a team triathlon. I was going to sadly miss it, but the components were not the best and there was no getting past that. As it aged I am sure that lack of quality would start coming into play with wear breaking things down. And I would not miss the funky geometry and not-so-stiff frame that made high-speed downhills a little terrifying.
While the Black River Adventurer’s Bike Shop in Watertown, NY is a perfectly fine establishment I wanted to go to my favorite LBS (Local Bike Shop) – in this case not quite as ‘local’ but worth a little trip.
Mello Velo (they are in the process of moving to a newer and better location at the time of this posting) in Syracuse, NY is so good to go to, not only is there a great choice of bikes – new and used, as well as parts – but the people there are some of the most helpful and honest-seeming human beings. The place just has a friendly and laid back atmosphere. You can feel right at home there, whether you are a new rider or an experienced one.
I really liked the bike the moment I saw it. While the other bikes they showed me that were around the same price range were nice and fine bikes (and some used ones); the quality of the Kona seemed to be a step above the others. Some of the other bikes I was shown even looked to be contemporary to my Motobecane design versus the Kona series which looked like a whole generation (or more) ahead.
Kona’s are sold through dealers for the most part, and I think perhaps Mello Velo is the only dealer in this area. The Esatto has a lifetime warranty on the frame and a year warranty on the rest of the bike. The Kona company started in 1988 and worked their way up to a full range of bikes of all types, the parts and frames being manufactured by factories around the world to the company’s specifications. Like they say on their About page – they are not a large company, nor are they a small company, they just want to make bikes for people who love bikes. And it shows in the quality and thought behind this bike.
The Esatto looks much, much beefier, yet is about the same weight as the Motobecane, around 21 pounds I believe. It’s marketed as an endurance bike, more about this later in this post but basically an endurance bike is about making a road-bike slightly more relaxed and comfortable for more long term use over varying terrain. And with a smoother ride and ability to traverse more varied conditions (whether that is a gravel road or a bad spot in the pavement), indeed it can take larger tires of various types. You might compare the idea to the concept of Cyclocross bikes but it is meant for everyday use, not so much racing itself.
Sitting on the Kona in the shop I knew right away, with a little fitting adjustment, it would fit me like a glove. I could just tell that the 54 CM frame was pretty damn perfect for my size (5′ 10″). The Motobecane sizing always seemed slightly off, though close.
The bike itself is relatively light, despite a larger-seeming frame tube diameter on some sections. The design geometry seemed to have a lot of thought behind it, especially considering the niche it is fitting into. And it was sure more relaxed than the Motobecane’s somewhat aggressive frame shape, yet the frame that Kona has designed doesn’t seem to sacrifice performance and handling and indeed excels at these – at least for me.
The only thing that really gave me pause was the ‘newer’ (at least to me) compact crankset system and the larger 28mm tires.
The tires could of course be easily switched out. I’d had a previous bike with 28mm tires and I had started running 28’s on my main road bike during the Fall and Winter (though the Winter had been so terrible that I hadn’t ridden outside for a good portion of it). But I wasn’t sure about buying a new bike that I would want to switch the tires out on once I started riding it. Really, though, that was a minor sort of thing – tires can be replaced and changed easily enough.
The compact crankset was a bit more of an issue – I’d never used one but I had read lots and lots about them. And I figured it wouldn’t be that much to get used to the actual mechanics of switching. I would have a similar upper and lower range I’d lose some individual gears in between. While I’m not a big person on hill-climbing we do have lots of hills here, some quite steep and long, and I DO like to practice hill-climbing on certain days for training and for fun. Losing some gears, especially for climbing, was more of a concern for sure. But from what I had read about it I likely wouldn’t notice anything appreciable myself, being a pretty experienced cyclist. And the absolutely crappy day meant I’d be doing something you really shouldn’t do – buying a bike without trying it.
So I loved the bike, and despite not being able to (gasp) actually ride it first I knew it was the one for me. As I said; there was a bit of a snowstorm, -6 degree temps and wind on that day of buying it – I wasn’t going to try it outside but I sure got a great price on the bike – thanks to Mello Velo and a crappy time of the year.
My first ride was on a cold 25 degree day here in Northern New York (okay – maybe technically my first ride was making sure everyone was out of the way in the house and jumping on the bike and riding it briefly from one end of the house to the other; I couldn’t resist). But with the proper cold-weather clothes a ride outside in this weather is do-able and not altogether terrible 😉 In fact any day during the Winter that I can get outside is a good day, and it was especially fine with a new bike. Unfortunately it’s also hard to evaluate the various aspects of the bike when swaddled like a baby in cold weather gear. But as the weather got quickly better over the next month I was able to gradually see that I had made a good spur of the moment decision; that normally I would not have done as quickly if the quality of the bike hadn’t been as clear visually and from just sitting on it.
One of the first things I noticed was that I had to get used to the more conventional shifting. On my Motobecane there was a push-button for down-shifting – which made for very quick/almost instantaneous, very easy down-shifting. It was also a bit easier shifting with heavy winter gloves on, where the Sora’s are a bit more awkward to shift with anything heavy on the fingers because of having a pair of levels instead of just one and a push-button.
But this is my issue and nothing really to do with the bike, as many people ride perfectly fine in the Winter.
After a bit I was already finding myself quickly getting used to the shifting, though once in a while I still would awkwardly shift. I confess the uber-fast thumb-shifting of the Shimano 2200 STI on the Motobecane will be one of the things I may miss versus the full-level action of the Shimano Sora but I am getting faster and faster with it for at every ride. More about this below.
Probably the biggest thing I noticed, and likely way before even shifting the bike for the first time; is the relative stiffness of the frame. Frankly, the Motobecane frame seemed like jelly compared to the Kona frame and forks. Getting on and putting a foot on the pedal seems like less of a balancing act and easier – or is it my imagination? Maybe, but it doesn’t seem that way. Part of it I suspect is that the frame geometry is just, well; better. And the size fits me perfectly. My wife even remarked that I seemed to be even steadier on the Kona than on the Motobecane.
Riding is gloriously stiff; as are down-hills, getting off the seat, uphills, or just balancing in place in traffic. Though it’s not so stiff that the frame isn’t yielding enough to be comfortable on longer rides.
And the third thing I’d have to say that I was noticed was that it is a beautiful bike.
Again, my worrying about not actually riding it before I bought it was all for nothing as I indeed seemed to have made the right decision. But I would normally urge you to actually ride a bike before buying it 😉
After a few rides I found myself quickly shifting and learning to combine a personal quick learning curve with the action of the compact crankset for much better acceleration, and an ability to maintain a burst speed for longer versus what I could do with my old bike or any of the others bikes I’ve had. Flying around the Public Square in Watertown with moderate traffic was much easier done for example – faster acceleration, smoother pacing to keep up with cars, and a better high-end speed. It was a big surprise for me as I supposed this bike wouldn’t necessarily be any faster. I still have a long way to go to get that ‘muscle memory’ shifting hammered out of my neurons and new ones to replace it, but I am getting there. I was frankly as impressed with this acceleration factor as anything with this bike – despite my earlier thought that the Motobecane’s cheaper but fast shifters were so very much faster. The shifting may have been fast but the overall bike wasn’t, and the smaller gear range makes up for the slightly slower action of the shift levers versus the push button shifting of the Motobecane, perhaps.
The shifting and speed at the high-end isn’t necessarily going to allow me to go faster long-term of course – I still need to work on my own speed and endurance.
The other thing that concerned me about the compact 34/50t crankset (with the 9-speed rear giving the bike a total of 18 speeds); hill-climbing; doesn’t seem to be much of an issue. I still am figuring out what the best gearing combinations, shift-points, and effort is needed for me for the best climbing on various hill elevations and grades. There seem to be pluses and minuses to the compact system in hill-climbing. Sure, I’ve lost some in-between gears but still have a good full lower (and upper) range, comparatively. And using my own understanding of how my body works as well as learning the differing bike gearing seems to be allowing me to climb the hills in what is a comparable effort overall. And parallel to what I am “more used to”. I even found myself doing some of the hills that I consider my nemeses (yes, that’s the plural) in much better time with less effort – is it the bike, or Winter bike training on the bike trainer? I don’t know.
I’d say – just from my own personal observation – a person who is not used to hill-climbing, needs more work on their leg muscles and cardio, or maybe is not quite as biking-to-human-knowledgeable as I; might want to stick with the more traditional three-gear crankset until they advance a bit. Not that I don’t think that the compact crankset isn’t perfectly usable by any level of bicyclist – it certainly would be simpler in general which would be a benefit for those just starting out.
Having a full range of upper and lower gears without having so many in-between shift points makes for some fast shifting as long as you know what you are doing to take up the slack. And it all seems to go against the modern “more is better” philosophy of, well, pretty much everything. Including in biking. But I find myself really liking it more and more. It seems almost retro, but isn’t by any stretch once you start using it; the difference in the big and small ring is very noticeable.
The rear is a Shimano HG200 11-32t 9spd with the Sora front and rear shifters. Cable routing is through the upper tube of the frame as much as possible, which makes for a nice bit of neatness.
Brake levers are of course the Sora integrated brake/shifters, and the calipers are Tektro R359 – lots of nice adjustments here and after a bit of tweaking to make the brakes more responsive I have perfectly adequate braking power. The 28mm tires and firm frame makes for some good and stable stopping power for sure, whether downhill or in an emergency. I’d personally perhaps wish for disc brakes if I were riding a lot through traffic and stop-and-go situations, or doing a lot of steep downhills. But that would be the same for any bike I’d have.
The chain is good ol’ KMC Z99 9-speed chain.
Kona says that there is more Titanium in the Aluminum Butted 7046 (this link takes you to a Wiki entry on 7079 – no entry for 7049 but needless to say it is a lightweight but strong alloy). Tapping the various parts of the frame with your fingernail yields different sounds – the main structural load/stress-bearing elements are thicker while others are thinner for better weight saving. You’ll notice the aerodynamicness of the various sections of the frame right away.
The frame comes in 49cm, 52cm, 54cm, 56cm, 58cm, 61cm – 54 fit me perfectly at 5′ 10″. ‘Like a glove’ is a phrase I believe that I used above, and the phrase (and bike) does fit me damn nicely. The guy at Mello Velo knew right away that the Motobecane was a bit aggressive frame-wise and mentioned the more relaxed fit of the Kona Esatto, which I appreciated. No real major issues riding the Motobecane but the aero stance was definitely noticeable over long distances. A slightly more upright relaxed stature is nicer on long rides. I’m not racing, even when I do a bike race it’s not racing for glory; it’s just for fun and as good a time as I can get without killing myself effort-wise.
Kona’s website describes the frame as “Kona Endurance Geometry” and made for comfort, stability, and versatility with taller head tubes, shorter top tubes, longer chainstays and wheelbase, and a lower BB (Bottom Bracket) for stability, as well as a tapered head tube and lots of tire and fender clearance. Indeed this seems to be the case from my casual observations and use.
Cosmetically the color is matte black with various blue, navy blue, and silver decals with the company name in a greenish shade along the side. Joe at Kona told me via e-mail that they recommend using Maxima Racing Spray’s SC1 on it for keeping the frame clean and protected. The stuff is a bit on the expensive side but is highly recommended by bicyclists with matte black finishes and others as well as ATV and dirt bike riders. I think here you really might have to be careful with the matte black finish and not use something that will buff or polish it – like regular wax. I could be wrong – it could be coated or something and it would not matter in the end but it is something to consider. Many people use good ol’ Pledge. Yes – Pledge; it’s a multi-purpose cleaner and protectant. A quick test on the underside seemed to yield good results and I have started to use it on all of my bikes; it cleans, and it seems to protect as dirt and mud wipes right off pretty easy.
As mentioned above I noticed the stiffness of the frame right away. Even with getting on the bike and just starting out for a ride you can feel it. The longer wheelbase and chainstays, as the company says; makes for nice stability too.
Riding it you start to feel and appreciate the stiffness and frame design and length for that stability, and more so with high cross-winds. And even more so with something more extreme like steep downhills combined with gusty cross-winds. Some of our somewhat terrifying hills with crazy crosswinds are feeling so much less so now to me. There’s no flexing, and no harmonic vibrations on long downhills that I sometimes had with other bikes. But it’s not so stiff that it’s completely unyielding and uncomfortable, or rough.
And wow – getting up off the seat and really putting some torque into uphill climbs or fast accelerations is not only noticeably but amazingly better. The amount of torque that can be poured into it while standing equates to some really awesome accelerations for sure.
Heck, even coming to a stop at a red light behind a car is more stable, and I am able to balance in place a bit longer. A testament right there to a nicely designed frame – geometry design-wise, material-wise, and structural-wise.
By the way, you could easily put larger or much smaller tires on this bike than what comes on it – 28’s. Plenty of clearance, for larger tires as well as fenders.
The short video above is an example of the bike’s stability on a rough, uneven surface with crosswinds at high speed.
Kona is marketing this bike as an ‘endurance bike‘, which is a good designator for it. Hence the 28mm tires. These make for a comfortable ride suitable for pretty much any condition you will come across on a road or road-like surface – including the ability to comfortably ride on gravel and rougher areas. It’s not a mountain bike nor a hybrid – but you are not limited to a smooth, perfectly surfaced road either.
And I am liking the larger tires more and more for this purpose – for example; on bad roads, especially during crappy Spring conditions. They are still fairly fast tires, with a smooth grippy road-bike middle area and a bit of a tread pattern along the outer edges for better cornering grip. You can run these at a lower pressure than you would for a 23mm tire normally, and not risk pinch flats. And in fact you probably want to run them a little lower than the manufacturer maximum or nominal pressures for better rolling resistance (read some science about it at the links below or here).
Are you going to win any races with the Continental UltraSport II 700x28c tires? I don’t know – it depends on how good of a rider you are. But you are going to find that riding under all kinds of road conditions is going to be easier, safer, and generally just plain better.
The tubes installed are something like 700x32mm or 700x35mm; so you can easily go up to a larger size tire without having to get new tubes, or you can go down to a small size tires. They work fine in a 25mm tire, not sure about 23 – it could be a squeeze.
When Summer rolls around likely I will switch to Continental UltraSport II 700x25c‘s – a good compromise between the 28’s and 23’s (the rims and frame will take smaller or larger easily as mentioned). The UltraSport’s have always seemed like a good tire, they won’t break the bank yet they are durable and long-lasting enough. They do have a stiff band around the bead for structure and durability. It makes changing tires a little bit harder but it is not bad if you are careful (and make sure you don’t break a tire lever).
In case you are not familiar with the idea – currently the science seems to support that the 25mm tires are perhaps the best and fastest overall for general road conditions, over and above the previously in-vogue 23’s; as I said above – a good compromise. If you are not familiar with the science involved in this there are many websites that will explain more about this – it can be confusing but with some thought you should be able to wrap your head around the basic science behind it. You’ll probably find yourself with less flats, especially fewer pinch flats, and more comfortable rides if you are considering switching to 25’s or even 28’s or more or whatever.
But preferred and recommended tire sizes can sometimes be a little faddish. The trend now is 25 mm, but heading perhaps to 28.
But wow – discounting trends and science and all the rest; the bottom line is that the extra tire size means the ability to go on a wider array of terrains without picking my way through them.
The wheels are just fine and match the bike real well, though some people seem to think the R500’s are a bit heavy. Considering the fine weight of the bike and the ‘endurance’ moniker these are probably just the right wheels that should be on this bike. They look nice, fit lots of tire sizes, and they work great. IT sure seems light as hell while holding the rim in my hand without any tire or tube on it.
The frame gives you lots and lots of clearance for a variety of tires sizes and fenders. I did briefly try fenders – just attaching them to see how the clearance was – and there was no problem with the plastic fenders that I had, and I doubt there would be a problem with most any other fenders either.
The crank arm is FSA Vero Compact with cool laser graphics. There’s plenty of clearance here for crank arm sensors of various types.
The seat is designed by Kona and as seats go it’s something you’d expect on a fairly good bike. Not a cheapo and quite nicely made and put-together; overall very good quality and somewhat comfortable. It’s something you can ride on for many miles and indeed for most riders it’s going to be a perfectly good seat for long-term use. The seat colors go along well with the overall color scheme of the bike, size-wise it is smaller than medium but by no means a thin racing saddle. The rail on the right side has measured graduation marks for positioning and a seat bag fits it just like any other bike seat.
For me I found it okay for short to medium-length rides but after many years of biking I find myself gravitating to something that is going to be ergonomic with anatomical relief properties- both for long-term health as well as long-term/long-distance comfort.
On my previous main road bike I had used the Planet Bike 5020 Men’s Anatomic Relief gel bike seat (see my quick mention of it in this blog post) and experimenting with the Velo Wide: Channel M Bicycle Seat (see my blog review here) on my bike trainer during the Winter. Both work real well, especially the Planet Bike one; which has taken me many thousands of miles (but developed an intermittent squeak). But I decided that since I got a new bike maybe I should also get a new bike seat and give the Planet Bike saddle (which is heading in the general direction of needing replacement perhaps) a rest. See my review of the Adamo Prologue Seat in a later blog post. Unfortunately I didn’t like the Adamo and went with a more conventional anatomical relief seat which pairs nicely with this bike.
The handlebar is a Kona Road Bike handlebar – pretty standard angles, wrapped nicely in a black (Kona) cork tape with little corky speckles. There’s plenty of room and space on the handlebar for accessories, of course. My Garmin Virb Elite (see my review here) mount fit it fine with the cable routing for the brakes/shifting being out of the way enough not to obstruct the view of the camera. There’s plenty of room for other accessories too, like a bike computer or phone holder. There are spacers so you can drop the handlebars a bit without changing anything else, pretty standard.
I found myself much more able to drop down low on the drop bars and hold this position for longer periods – though really this is more of a benefit of a somewhat relaxed frame than the handlebars themselves. It is a slightly more upright position for sure, and after a time I swapped the spacers out and dropped the handlebars all of the way down.
Cable routing is through the top tube, which is nice. If you’re putting this bike on a bike carrier that has top tube arms you don’t need to worry about the arms pinching the cables (see my review of the Swagman XC2 Hitch-Mount Bike Carrier for a little more about this). Cables are slack enough for good movement, taut enough so there isn’t too much. Everything looks very neat here.
The bike itself looks so good, with an almost retro hotrod matt-finish and touch of blue. With the slightly uncommon name and look you may get questions 😉
Mine came with front and back reflectors, but I took them off and went with a bike light on the rear of my bike bag.
This ‘problem’ isn’t a negative against the bike itself. Because of the extra brace along where the chainstays attach to the bottom bracket and the cable routing along the bottom bracket being very close to the frame I am not able to attach a conventional kickstand. One idea I had was to modify a kickstand with a notch right there, but I was afraid that this would compromise the strength of whatever kickstand I used, plus really there was no way to get a good contact between the kickstand mount and the chainstay on the side where the cable is routed. It just didn’t seem like it was going to work putting a regular kickstand on. And yes, I’m sure certain bike weight weenies and such will gasp and stop reading when I mention the word ‘kickstand’, but I really don’t want to set my brand new bike on the ground or against something. My bikes will have kickstands.
I contacted Kona and they mentioned that most standard kickstands should fit, but I couldn’t see that this would work because of the architecture of the chainstays and bottom bracket and cable routing.
I considered and researched lots of alternatives to the conventional kickstand and location; the Upstand, the Click-Stand, Topeak’s Flash Stand, the Greenfield SKS2-305B (see my review of it here). Nothing seemed like it was something I wanted, liked, or would work right for me.
Eventually I did find a different kind of kickstand that I hadn’t seen before that was exactly what I wanted – a retractable kickstand that would attach to the dropout via the quick release. It’s probably not as stable as a regular chainstay-mounted kickstand and I certainly wouldn’t want to put a lot of weight on it (you shouldn’t with any kickstand unless it’s made for it) but so far it is working perfectly. The quick release skewer is taken off, and threaded through the kickstand’s mount and a small adjustment is made in a sliding piece of the kickstand mount that then fits into the actual drop-out slot. You use this to make sure that it is vertical, and then the quick release skewer is then re-fastened and tightened. The rubbery plastic end of the kickstand can be rotated and clicked into place, with each rotation adjusting the length up or down. Problem solved. I don’t know who manufactures this, or if it has a specific model name but the link is here.
The only other thing I had to do (outside of a minor adjustment on the brakes for my personal preference and a derailleur tweak likely resulting from normal cable stretching – but I had a free tune-up at Mello Velo so they did the final tweaking) was flushing some sand out of a link in the chain. Again, not a direct problem with the bike nor the chain really – the roads in the Fall around here are pretty nasty with sandy and salty remnants floating in deep puddles along the road. Apparently after a wet ride with lots of puddle splashing resulted in an errant bit of sand working its way into a link, causing a maddening ticking sound as it struggled to stiffly makes its way around the gearing.
Which caused me concern as I wasn’t able to diagnose the problem until I got home, and also when I did I was worried about the link completely locking up. And this is what happened on my previous mountain bike and which was so bad that it bent the rear derailleur.
After finding the stiff link (thanks to the Magnet Steel bike trainer – my review here – as a make-shift mechanic’s stand since it was kinda cold to use my bike sling out in the garage) I immediately could hear the sand grating inside the link when I moved it back and forth with my hand. Sheesh – thanks Northern New York Winters. After two flushes and soaks with Liquid Wrench and each subsequent re-lube following the flush I think I have the sand flushed. And have the link well re-lubed and working perfectly. My first OCD thought is that since it’s a new bike I’d like to replace the chain but I doubt the issue was a real problem with the chain; more of a just-one-of-those-things sort of incident.
The more I ride the Esatto the more I like it. I haven’t had it long enough to consider this particular blog post a long-term review but after a few months of fairly steady riding (weather permitting) I find myself enjoying the rides on this bike a lot, whether short or long. And wow, is acceleration fast, shifting is getting fast, and the ability to turn right off a main road and shoot across gravel is fun.
With this bike I find myself wanting to go on more rides, even when the weather isn’t exactly conducive. And even if it’s a short ride I will take it. Yea, I really like this bike, and it’s probably the best bike I have owned so far. It looks great, it handles excellently, and the components are very high quality.
Are their pro’s and con’s? Sure, as with any bike. The somewhat relaxed frame geometry and somewhat stiff frame makes riding it long distance much more comfortable, as well as riding it over any road surface or moderate off-road conditions and bad spots. And dropping onto the drop bars and using them for longer distances is easier, yet you still are in a nice aero position.
The gearing is fast, moving through the gears quickly is faster than a more conventional gearset of course – just ’cause you have less that you need to get through. And it and becomes faster the more I use it and get used to the compact gearset. But are their times I wish for the in-between gears? Sure, but usually that’s pretty briefly.
So if you are looking for a comfortable road bike that can handle long distances and various and varying conditions (see ‘Endurance Bike‘), the Kona Esatto series might well be what you are looking for – with options ranging from the Esatto, Esatto DDL, Esatto D, Esatto TI Disc (full Titanium frame only), and brand new this year Esatto Fast (straight handlebar version, with some other tweaks).
SPECIFICATIONS (From the Kona Website)
|FRAME MATERIAL||Kona SuperLight Aluminum Butted 7046|
|SIZES||49cm, 52cm, 54cm, 56cm, 58cm, 61cm|
|FORK||Kona Carbon Race|
|FREEWHEEL||Shimano HG200 11-32t 9spd|
|BRAKE CALIPERS||Tektro R359|
|BRAKE LEVERS||Shimano Sora|
|SEATPOST||Kona Thumb w/Offset|
|SEAT CLAMP||Kona Clamp|
|GRIPS||Kona Cork Tape|
|SPOKES||Sandvik 15g fr / 14g rr|
|FRONT TIRE||Continental UltraSport II 700x28c|
|REAR TIRE||Continental UltraSport II 700x28c|
|PAINT COLOR||Matt Black w/ Silver, Navy & Blue Decals|