The Kona Electric Ute is a fun companion, and it's given me a glimpse of true, sweat-free utility cycling even in the hilliest bits of hilly Bath. It’ll carry huge loads and the power assistance means that shifting them is a doddle. It doesn't feel like the finished article though; it needs better electrics to fully justify that £1,800 price tag.
So what's in the box, assuming that they make boxes this big? Well, the Ute is built around a 7005 aluminium frame that's fairly standard upright geometry at the front but extended at the back to include room for a massive pannier (one supplied) and a rear platform that's big enough to give a mate a lift back from the pub, or nip round to school with a couple of kids. That's mated to the ever-dependable P2 cromoly fork and Deore/Alivio MTB running gear. The brake set up is reversed from the non-electric version, with a disc at the rear and a V-brake at the front, since the front hub motor isn't disc-compatible. It's all dependable kit and eminently upgradeable if your Ute is destined for a long and hard life.
The electrics are powered by a giant battery that slots underneath the extended rear pannier. At 13Ah it's basically two normal electric bike batteries soldered together in a shiny case, so far as we can tell from the prototype shots. That feeds a hub motor in the front wheel, which is controlled by: a sensor in the rear dropout; a black box (literally) behind the seat tube; and a bar-mounted computer. You get three levels of assistance and it'll also tell you how fast you're going, plus it has a backlight for those winter commutes.
The bike isn't nearly as long as an Xtracycle or a Yuba Mundo, and although that limits the capacity somewhat it really only means that you won't be able to move house with the Ute; everything else is fair game. With a second big bag you could happily do a week's shop for a family of four. Loaded up it's stiff enough, although the long frame and low top tube means you get a bit of wiggle when you put the power down fully loaded. The pannier itself was a bit of a sticking point in the original Ute review, but I didn't have any problem with ours fouling the mech. Whether that's down to a redesign or lucky packing I'm not sure. It's a pity the weather sealing isn't better on it though, and the rain pools in the bottom on wet days as it can sneak in at the top.
The main difference here is the electric system, and given that it adds over a grand to the price does it do enough to justify the extra outlay? The first thing I tried, of course, was to load up the big orange pannier bag with as much shopping as would fit (£38 from Morrisons, adjust for your preferred store) and drag it up the long hill back to the homestead. The steep way. In normal clothes. To the bike's lasting credit it swallowed the groceries and chuffed up the hill (3km, 16% at its steepest) without me even having to break a sweat. That's mighty impressive given that the bike weighs over 30kg even without any shopping added. I arrived at the top thinking, 'this must be what utility cycling is like if you live somewhere flat', and rather wishing that I did.
The power assistance isn't without its faults, though. One downside to using a sensor/front hub system is that there tends to be a bit of lag between stamping on the pedals and getting some help, and that's the case here. Also the bar-mounted computer is a flimsy-looking thing, with clunky switches, and it's fairly hard to read when the backlight's on. Switching between power modes was generally fine, although a couple of times the electrics stopped responding. In the end I just left it on ‘2’ all the time, and it was fine.
A bike like this – that's designed for hard work – needs a more robust power system. I don't need to know how fast I'm going (generally, not very). Just give me a big on/off switch and a couple of LEDs to tell me how much juice is left, and I'll be happy. I'd like to see what this bike would be like with the new Bosch bottom bracket system, which I tried at Eurobike, or the similar Panasonic offering; they seem to be a much more elegant way of powering bikes.
Then there's the thorny issue of battery life. When I see electric bike makers quoting run times I'm minded of a sylph-like girl in a flowing dress, cruising across the flatlands on a calm summer's day That's the only way to get 60km out of the battery on medium power, I'll wager. Our test conditions – lugging a big pilot and bags of stuff uphill in sub-zero temperatures – is right at the other end of the scale, which would explain why we didn't get even half the stated mileage. Everyone else should be somewhere in between. The range is fine, but let's not kid ourselves, eh?
My overall impression was of a bike that's massively useful for chugging around and moving stuff about on a day-to-day basis. If you live somewhere hilly or you just don't have the legs, then the power makes a real and noticeable difference, allowing you to get around with the minimum of fuss and sweat. If you're going to have a powered bike, something like this – that's capable of moving lots of stuff – is the kind to have, if you've room for it. On the other hand the electrics feel a bit flimsy and tacked on. I've ridden electric bikes with much better systems than the one the Ute uses and I'd love to see Kona up their game in the coming years by offering something more robust. It's good as it is, but it could be better. The better it gets, the more I'll want one...
So nearly the bike I've always wanted: a proper load carrier that'll get me around hilly Bath with big payloads and no sweat. It’s definitely worth a look, but more robust electrics would help to fully justify the spend.
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Make and model: Kona Electric Ute
Size tested: 18
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
* Kona 7005 Aluminium Urban Utility Frame
* Kona P2 Disc Fork
* Shimano Deore derailleurs
* Shimano Alivio shifters
* Kona Engraved Wooden Platform Rack System
* Hayes MX4 Mechanical Front/Avid SD-5 Rear Brakes
* Smoky Mudguards
* Big Ute Bag
* Centremount Kickstand
* Continental City Contact 26x1.9 tyres
* 250W/13Ah pedelec electric assist, 3 modes.
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?
The Electric Ute is a battery-assisted version of our very popular Ute, a long wheel base bicycle designed to carry loads of up to 100kg-perfect for transporting goods in the urban environment. The Electric Ute uses a 24-volt x 13Ah, 250W battery assisted Pedelec motor that delivers a lifecycle of more than 700 rides. In power mode, the system can assist riding for up to 30km. In normal mode, power assist lasts up to 57km, while in economy mode, the battery has a huge 100km range. Serious power for carrying heavier loads. Ditch the truck, people.
Ignore the bit about how far you can go and it's on the money...
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Nicely put together and finished
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Well built Alu cargo frame and dependable P2 Cromloy fork
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
I could ride either the 18" or 20", most likely. the 18 was nice and upright
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
It's a massively comfy bike, with the exception of the big saddle which gets a bit much about 5 miles in
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Load it up at the back and you can feel the frame twisting a bit, especially since with one bag supplied you only load up one side
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Power transfer is good, add in the motor and it's super
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? Slow
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
It's a super stable machine that feels more agile than you might expect given its size and weight
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The saddle's a bit of a dog but easily swapped
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
A second bag at the back would distribute the weight much more evenly
Perfectly rideable on the flat without power, electrics add another dimension
Motor makes getting away a breeze, sometimes it forgets to kick in though
High speeds aren't really what a cargo bike is about. some fork judder at pace, speed wobble if you let go of the bars
Cruising is where it's at
Very stable and sure footed
Slow in the turn but very predictable
All that weight means it's happier going straight on...
So long as you're in no hurry it's pretty much unbeatable
Shimano MTB mix is dependable
Should last a while
Not light but not an issue either
Electrics mean you're not getting top dollar elsewhere
No problems so far
Heavy but weight isn't the raison d'etre here
Big tyres for plenty of bounce
Easy position, everything falls to hand
All okay here
Saddle could be better, as could grips
Okay for the money
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes, minor niggles aside
Would you consider buying the bike? It could make perfect sense round here if you're trying to replace a car
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
Anything further to say about the bike in conclusion?
The electrics add another dimension to the Ute, and it's a revelation to be able to do genuine utility cycling in plain clothes with heavy loads in a place as hilly as Bath. That being said it's a big extra cost, and the flimsy computer/control unit isn't confidence inspiring. We'd like a simpler, more robust power train in the next incarnation.
Age: 38 Height: 190cm Weight: 98kg
I usually ride: whatever I'm testing... My best bike is: Genesis Equilibrium with SRAM Apex
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, cyclo cross, commuting, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb, Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling, track
Dave is a founding father of road.cc, having previously worked on Cycling Plus and What Mountain Bike magazines back in the day. He also writes about e-bikes for our sister publication ebiketips. He's won three mountain bike bog snorkelling World Championships, and races at the back of the third cats.