Kona have had the Jake series of cyclo-cross bikes in their range since.... ooooooh, a long time ago, 15 years or so, way before the recent swell in cyclo-cross popularity made other manufacturers whip out their note-books, scribble down a design, colour it in and e-mail it to the factory.
Kona have sponsored some prominent 'cross racers over the seasons and a carbon Major Jake is currently under European & British National CX champion Helen Wyman, but that doesn't mean Jakes are just for the stupidly fast, they've been a steady favourite with weekday bumpy tarmac bashers and those that simply like to muck about off-road on an inappropriate bike ever since they appeared.
The 2013 Jake The Snake sits below the all-singing all-racing carbon Major Jake and above the triple-chainsetted disc-braked Jake and all-steel mile-chewing Rove in the Kona cyclo-cross range, and it's very orange. You may have noticed that already. The frame is made from Kona Race Light 7005/6061 aluminium, as the name might suggest it's a lighter, more performance-orientated fabrication of your common or garden 7005/6061 tubing, custom butted with wall thickness shaved wherever they can be. Starting at the front with a zero stack tapered head tube the top tube is inverse triangle shaped at the front end to lessen head tube yaw and it morphs smoothly to be flattened top and bottom at the seat tube end, as is the fashion for shouldering relief. The down tube is pretty chunky and look closely - you'll see that the tube isn't round but a fat hexagon, albeit one that's been squashed vertically at the head tube and horizontally at the bottom bracket to keep things taut under steering and pedaling respectively.
The chainstays are tall and slim where they meet the oversize BB30 bottom-bracket, potentially giving the benefits of lots of stiffness and mud clearance around that area before they taper towards the cowled dropouts where a replaceable derailleur hanger lies. By comparison the seat stays are almost boring, being dead straight in all aspects and the seat tube is similarly straight up and down with no stimulating bulges or bends. Day to day usability is supplied via twin bottle-cage mounts, mudguard eyes and seat stay placed rack mounts. The Kona Full Carbon CX fork has oversize fork blades to give steering precision, absolutely no brake judder and plenty of mud room and comes with mudguard eyes for wet workdays. The rear brake cable runs internally through the top tube and the gear cables run inside the down tube to come out via ports near the bottom-bracket. This gives the bike a nice clean look and means there's less to snag on if you're carrying mid-race.
The Jake was ridden up and down the road just to check that everything was in the right place and the gears and brakes worked, then the next day it was ridden up and down another road for 7 minutes as part of an inadequate warm-up and then it was lined up at the start of a cyclo-cross race. And this wasn't your standard round a field in a convoluted mess of marker-tape CX course, this was an up a proper hill and down a proper hill in proper muddy slippy conditions, with added steep bits race. In the course of an hour any plusses or minuses of the Jake The Snake would be quickly highlighted. Baptism of fire then. Cold brown liquid fire.
Turns out the only thing to disappoint were the legs, but they're usually the poor component choice on any bike I find. The front end of the Jake The Snake is designed to keep the bike going where you want it to and with the tapered head tube, oversized fork and chunky down tube there's absolutely no steering wander at all; grab the front end by the scruff and tell it where you want it to go and it does so obediently, and there's no front brake judder either, if you're scared of that sort of thing, meaning you can confidently throw the Jake down things without fear of it getting a bit interesting once you pull the brakes on.
Steering manners are further helped by the bike's geometry - the slightly longer top tube than is usual for the size is tempered by a slightly shorter stem than normal so the saddle to bars reach pretty much remains as you would expect but there's the added benefit that the stubbier stem nips up the steering and makes the JtS really fun and flickable if you're slithering through the trees. It's a sharp steering trait that's especially noticeable in slidey mud race situations where it can be flicked back on line instantly, especially useful on the last lap when reactions can be a bit drained.
As much as the front is dedicated to keeping you going straight the rear is devoted to making all your effort go forwards. With fat chainstays mated to an oversize bottom-bracket the Jake The Snake fairly squirts forward with a terrier enthusiasm, but it's not so stiff out back that the bike gets all rigid and skippy under power, something you don't want when you're scrabbling for dirty traction anyway. Thanks maybe to those deep chainstays tapering toward the dropouts and the seatstays being just normal that efficient rear end doesn't batter your behind. As well as being hammered for an hour round CX courses the Jake was taken on longer rides away from the confines of red-and-white tape and across real hills - and found to be just as capable for that sort of thing, where its race character didn't turn into a complete nervous handful making you want to stagger off the bike after a short while.
Bottom-bracket height is an old fashioned 285mm high, which is quite tall now that the trend for cyclocross bottom-bracket heights is getting lower and lower. This doesn't make the Jake unstable but it can sometimes make the bike feel a bit tall and tippy in slow corners. On the plus side this higher BB means that the Jake The Snake likes to be chucked about a lot. If you treat it a little bit like a mountain bike, which is where the Jake's Kona bloodline truly lies, stand up, stick your knees and elbows out, you can toss it about between the trees with a lot of giggles.
All the bits and pieces on the Jake The Snake did their job without much fuss. The Avid Shorty 6 brakes work as well as any other basic cantilever, offering the traditional acceptable amount of slowing down you'd expect, and they don't squeal. Which is a plus. At this price and at this point in time some might like to see discs but there's just as many racer types still quite happy to keep using cantilevers, and the Jake the Snake's heart is up there pounding in the red zone. For those that need discs there's the cheaper Jake to look at, with a less sophisticated alloy frame and fork and a triple chainset.
The 20 spoke rear, 16 spoke radial front Shimano RS10A wheels are sturdy hoops despite their low spoke count, needing very little in the way of wobbles being tweaked back straight, despite some willfully enthusiastic hooligan behaviour on the urban 'cross route, which is a good thing as the spokes are oversized and you'll need to buy a special spoke key to fit the nipples. Shimano cup-and-cone hubs are on the heavy side but for those that know their way around with spanners and a grease gun and can be bothered with routine care it will ensure the wheels go on for a long time. The Maxxis Mud Wrestler tyres are really very very good mud tyres. They're not noticeably sluggish on hardpacked surfaces, be that tarmac or dirt, and they're predictable there too, not nervous like other mud-specific tyres, but they really excel in the slop, letting you keep pedaling when your legs might not want to any more. Unfortunately the rear was showing appreciable wear by the end of the test, but the Jake had been subjected to an enthusiastic and rigorous testing over all sorts of terrain. With skids.
The Kona branded components, whilst not exactly sexy and exciting, worked fine, which is just what you want. The seatpost has a small amount of layback and with its twin bolts makes adjusting the saddle angle a simple micro-adjust job. That Kona liveried WTB Volt Comp saddle has a Love Channel central groove for those that like that sort of thing and is comfortable enough, although to this bum it feels a little bit perchy-on-top, but not enough to want to swap it right away. The Kona XC/Road Deluxe stem holds onto the Kona bars that are an off-road useful 44cms wide centre to centre giving oodles of control when things get bouncy and the shallow drop helps with getting down into the bend without needing the core flexibility of a yoga master.
Gear shifting is handled mainly by Shimano 105 with an Ultegra rear mech to catch your eye on the showroom floor and it works just as well as Shimano always does. Light touch quiet and easy clicking through the gears with a little bit of trim on the front mech. No complaints there at all. The 12-28 cassette blends well with the 36/46 chainrings on the FSA Gossamer cranks, be that for the rigours of the race circuit, trials of tarmac or the struggles of the real off-road should you be more inclined to find your fun on the, er, inclines.
Unfortunately the Jake The Snake is sadly blighted by a couple of minor, but incredibly annoying problems. Firstly the internal cable run of the rear brake, whilst it has clean line and shouldering positives badly affects the brakes performance, to the point of stopping them working. The internal cable routing is sleeved, which makes it easy to replace cables, thank god, but that sleeve quickly fills up with all the muck and rubble that you might expect to pick up on a cross bike and it only took a couple of rides for gritty friction to enter the system and make the rear brake stiff to use, a dozen rides later and it became impossible to brake from the hoods, which was awkward. Simply dribbling a bit of lube down the cable soon sorted the problem - handy to know as the issue also started to affect the internal rear gear cable a bit too.
Next up on the niggles - mud clearance in the rear is severely compromised by the chainstay bridge. Despite the chain stays being tall and thin around the bottom bracket giving the promise of lots of clearance the bridge fills that gap effectively and provides a very efficient mud-shelf for the grass and grime to ball up in. Tell-tale paint rub on the inside of the chain stays tells all the story you need to know. And while we're on the little annoyances, the adjusters that are on the gear cables would be more use on the brake cables, allowing for brake pad wear tweaks without having to reach for the tools. And purely on aesthetic grounds the finish on the front end of main triangle is different to that elsewhere. The joins around the head tube are nicely rounded and smoothed off whilst all other tube junctions show welds, those welds aren't ugly per say but the mix of styles seems a little odd. Although that's the sort of thing that won't bother most eyes. Hmm, that's quite a few little niggles isn't it? Not quite enough to take the zest out that orange though.
The Jake The Snake from Kona is a real do-it-all cyclo-cross bike. It's great to race on, light, efficient and nippy but also versatile enough to go from tarmac to gravel to dirt to mud and back again with ease, with a handy day-to-day mudguard and rack capability. The cable issues and mud clearance are the only things that take the tang out of that Tango bike frame.
Fast enough for racing, fun enough for playing.
road.cc test report
Make and model: Kona Jake the Snake (2013)
Size tested: 56cm
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Frame Material - Kona Race Light 7005 Aluminum Butted
Fork - Kona Full Carbon CX
Chainset - FSA Gossamer Compact 36/46t
Bottom Bracket - FSA Press Fit BB30
Chain - KMC X10
Cassette - Shimano 105 12-28t 10 spd
Front Derailleur - Shimano 105
Rear Derailleur - Shimano Ultegra
Shifters - Shimano 105
Brakes - Avid Shorty 6
Headset - FSA No.57B
Handlebar - Kona Road Bar
Stem - Kona XC/Road
Seatpost - Kona Double Clamp
Seat Clamp - Kona Clamp
Tape - Kona Cork Tape
Saddle - WTB Volt Comp
Wheels – Shimano RS10A
Tyres - Maxxis Mud Wrestler 700x33C
Colour - Metallic Orange
Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
Race, commute, train, then do it again is what Kona say about the Jake The Snake. Please, be our guest they continue, our Jake the Snake does it all extremely well, at a price that only amplifies the smile quotient. We constantly hear stories of people's love affairs with their Jake the Snakes, everything from winning amateur cyclocross races to battling through downtown snow. Because we're constantly evolving, we've found a way to improve the JTS's chainstay shape, effectively increasing power transfer even more, propelling you to the podium, or to work, on time. Fender eyelets for year-round ridernauts and a wicked Kona Orange paint job top off our most versatile ride.
I'd agree with all of that, it's a great bit-of-everything bike with a proven provenance. 'Ridernauts' is making me feel a bit ill though.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
That's some vibrant finish to a well built frame, the smooth joins at the front and naked welds in the back is a bit odd though.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Kona Race Light 7005 aluminum butted frame and Kona Full Carbon CX fork.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Pretty normal 'cross geometry tweaked a little with a longer top-tube and a bottom bracket that's a bit of an old-fashioned height.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
A teeny bit longer in the top tube than others of a similar size, offset by a shorter stem.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Despite the oversize tubing the JtS was a comfortable bike to ride, be that for just a fast hour or longer romps across the hills.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
No, no undesirable noddliness or harsh stiffness anywhere.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Yes, it was keen to nip forwards.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? The lively side of neutral, helped by the long top-tube with a short stem.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
It handled pretty much like a 'cross bike should, but with added cheeky steering.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
All components worked well together, the bars were wide and shallow which is handy when it gets rough, the saddle wouldn't be my first choice, but overall no swaps required.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
Nothing felt too flexy or too rigid.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
Nothing seemed to hold the bike back, if you were going to use the bike for racing maybe some lighter wheels at some point in the future, just maybe.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
A Shimano 105 and Ultegra based drivetrain, no complaints.
Wheels and tyres
Tell us some more about the wheels and tyres.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels or tyres? If so, what for?
Sturdy if a bit chunky wheels and excellent mud tyres.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
Nothing fancy but all the contact points were fine.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes, very much.
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes. But then I have a thing for orange 'cross bikes, and Konas are one of my 'like' brands.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes.
About the tester
I usually ride: It varies as to the season. My best bike is: The one I\'m on at the time
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, cyclo cross, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb, Fun