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Load bikes are the new rock'n'roll apparently. More people want an alternative to their cars and, dare I say it, bikie types might want something more practical than another urban fixer. Current players on the scene are the Surly Big Dummy, the Yuba Mundo and Kona's Ute, with the Extracycle conversion kit as the joker in the pack. The Dummy and Mundo are probably better suited to shifting big loads than the Ute, but don't assume that Ute is merely a fashion item.
If you think of the Big Dummy as a Transit, the Mundo as a pickup truck and the Ute as a family estate you'll be on the right lines. And an excellent family estate it is too.
The first thing that strikes you about this bike is the length. It's a pretty big beast and you'll need a decent amount of space to keep it in. It's handsome too, with a glossy chestnut brown paint job and a tasty looking slab of wooden deck covering the load bay. Looks are not what this bike is about though, first and foremost it's a beast of burden. The fairly conventional (and fairly upright) front end is mated with an extended rear triangle that sports big racks and a nice wooden platform for attaching things to, or sitting freeloaders on.
The oversized tubing used for the rear load bay keeps the whole frame nice and stiff but it's too wide for standard pannier fittings. Happily the Ute comes supplied with an enormous Big Ute pannier, something which effectively knocks about £80 off the price compared with its rivals, none of whom spec luggage as standard. The pannier is big and the pannier is waterproof but it is still the Ute's biggest weakness: it's just not a very good pannier. For a start it's far too floppy. I loaded it up with a weeks worth of shopping and had to stop a few miles down the road because the bottom of the pannier was fouling the rear mech and causing ghost shifts. Swapping sides solved that problem, but as you'll be wanting a second pannier (available to order for about £80 from your local Kona dealer) you'll have to load the drive-side bag with care, or fashion some kind of box liner.
Secondly, the pannier doesn't have conventional fixings: it's just a bungee and hook arrangement riveted to the rear panel. It actually seems to be more robust than it looks, but I have my doubts about how long it will last when used in anger, and since it's a proprietary system you can't just swap it out for another bag. I'd certainly like to see a greater range of luggage options available. Heavy or bulky items can be strapped to the deck with bungee cords. Kona don't list a load limit for the deck, but I wouldn't want to push it much beyond the weight of a person, say 70kg.
In use the Ute was great fun to ride. The high and wide riding position feels a little strange at first - at least it did to me - but it soon becomes second nature as you glide along surveying the countryside from your lofty perch and revelling in the superbly smooth ride. The massive swept back bars were a delight, putting the controls exactly where I wanted them and keeping me free of hand-tingle and back ache. Of course it's ideal for shopping, but it became my default choice for pretty much everything else as well. I even took it on a hundred miles of hilly Devon audax. Sure, I knew that I'd been lugging around a much heavier bike than usual and the super squashy saddle (easily swapped out, of course) wreaked havoc on my backside, but minor moans aside it was comfortable and very capable. It's certainly an amazingly versatile bike and long way off the ponderous heavyweight that I had been expecting.
Other long wheelbase bikes may have the edge in terms of sheer load lugging practicality, but the Ute has an appeal of its own: as an off-the-peg, for-the-masses solution that doesn't require you to be either a mechanic or a full-on bikie it wins hands down over its more extreme rivals. It's far more than just a load lugger for the weekly shop and I absolutely fell in love with it. It's going to be a sad day when it has to go back. The package as a whole is let down a bit by the bag, but the bike itself is just great.
A brilliant do-anything bike. Needs better luggage options though.
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Make and model: Kona 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
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?
Say Kona:- "Bikes are civilization's perfect tool for transporting you and your stuff, and the UTE can do that better than any car, yak, buffalo, sherpa, or rickshaw. Buy a UTE and send it to your local congressman. Write us to let us know how it went.
The Ute is a well priced, versatile load hauler, striking the balance of being fun to ride unladen and stable-footed when lugging home the groceries."
I won't be buying one for my MP, he can claim one on expenses like anyone else. Otherwise, yup, that's what it's for alright.
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
It's a distinctive looking frame, what with it being longer than your average day-to-day bike. The overbuilt looks certainly inspire confidence. The chestnut paint job looks classy, in an understated sort of way although it chips rather easily, which might be a problem if you're not keen on the rugged and battle-scarred look. Kona's P2 fork is a tried and trusted friend on many a study workhorse.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
It's made of 7005 aluminium, nothing terribly sexy but strong, stiff and relatively light. Which probably counts as sexy for a utility bike. The P2 fork is steel.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
It certainly feels pretty relaxed, this isn't a race bike. For those who care about such things it's got a 71 degree head tube angle and 74 degrees on the seat tube.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
The Ute only comes in two sizes, 18" and 20". I'm 5' 8" and the 18" model fitted me nicely, once I'd hoisted the saddle up to the correct height. It also fitted my wife, who is a more petite 5' 4". You get loads of standover room, thanks to the low slung down tube.
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Sublime! Being so long and having road sized wheels with massive tyres it's amazingly smooth. I normally suffer with tingly hands on flat bars, but the huge swept back Kona Riser bars fell in exactly the right place to keep my hands and back happy. Even after a hundred mile ride I felt comfortable and ache free. It's a relaxing ride too, you just have to sit up and admire the scenery, which feels great.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
As it's a load bike you'd expect it to be heftily built and extremely stiff. The frame certainly delivers that, but the tyres and bars take the edge off as far as the rider is concerned. Loaded up I couldn't detect any nasty flex from the frame although you do get some sway. Only to be expected with a load of weight at the end of a long vehicle. The only quibble would be with the rear wheel which is only a standard 36 spoke design and flexed noticeably when put under pressure.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Yes, it's a stiff frame and picks up pretty well.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
There's a hint of overlap with the front mudguard, but not enough to be a problem. Clipless pedals would make it even less of an issue because riding on flats would bring your foot further back on the pedal.
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Even with such wide bars it\'s actually quite lively.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
It's a very different feel to any other bike I've ridden. It actually feels very relaxing to ride.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The bars are superb, I absolutely loved them. The saddle was less popular. It's far too soft and I'd swap it straight away if I'd bought the bike myself.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
When the time came I'd swap the 36 spoke rear wheel for a stronger 40/48 spoke tandem wheel.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
It's a load bike, not a road bike. I would fit better pedals though, the bog standard Wellgos that it came with were cheap, nasty and rough.
Even the Manx Missile would struggle on this.
The long wheelbase and big wheels make it very stable, although a full load does have an effect.
It cruises superbly. Not sure about the speed though!
Fine. Less so when loaded.
You won\'t want to throw this bike around on corners.
It\'s heavy and those bars aren\'t designed for out-of-the-seat honking, but it coped with some pretty stiff Devon hills extremely well and it\\\\\\\'s got low enough gears to get you over pretty much anything.
Reliable and robust.
Good, well proven kit.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
It worked well, the gears changed with a pleasing 'clunk' and it was the kind of kit that you'd expect on a bike at this price. Gearing is ideal for this kind of bike, 36/26 on the front and 11-32 on the back gives plenty of crawler gears for lugging weighty loads and the higher gears are plenty big enough for a fast cruise.
The tyres are superb. Fast rolling and very comfortable. The wheels are robust items but the rear wheel isn\'t quite stiff enough for a bike like this. A tandem wheel would be better.
Like the drivetrain, they\'re robust and reliable without being flash.
They aren\'t light, but you wouldn\'t expect them to be.
Brilliant. Having a huge air pocket on 700c wheels makes for a fantastic ride.
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?
The Conti City Contact tyres are just brilliant. They roll way faster than such a fat tyre has right to and they'll cope with pretty much any surface. Riding the Ute unladen and without trying too hard up hills, the wheels are fine. Once you load it up or throw it about a bit on hills the amount of brake rub on the rear wheel would suggest that a tandem wheel would be more appropriate. It isn't a deal breaker by any means. Hubs are user serviceable so they should last a good while. Oh and you'll be needing a spanner because the front wheel isn't QR.
The Alivio shifters give a crisp and reassuring shift.
The shifters and brake levers are well placed and easy to operate.
Anything else you want to say about the componentry? Comment on any other components (good or bad)
There's nothing flash here, the only carbon was in the designer's pencil, but it's all good quality kit. Looked after properly it should last years.
The cork bar grips are rather good, I liked them.
The pedals supplied were nasty and cheap. I'd swap them for some double sided SPD/flat pedals like these
The kickstand is a mixed blessing. Handy if you're completely unladen, but next to useless with anything bigger in the pannier than a hearty lunch. It simply isn't up the job and if I was Kona I'd replace with a longer, single sided stand.
The saddle is horrible. Soft, squashy saddles might seem like a great idea but once your butt cheeks have been ground against each other for a while you'll feel like you've been molested with a file. My personal preference would be for a sprung Brooks but anything would be better than the spongy horror that comes as standard.
The front mudguard is a little too short to be properly effective, you still get wet feet, and for some reason you don't get a rear 'guard, which means that the frame and underside of the deck get covered in cack.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes, immensely
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Definitely
Anything further to say about the bike in conclusion?
I absolutely loved this bike. It was great fun to ride and it's immensely practical, straight off the shelf. More luggage options would make it even better.
Age: 40 Height: 5\' 8 Weight: er....86kg
I usually ride: GT Rave - singlespeed conversion My best bike is: Guess SC1 scandium
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: time trialling, commuting, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed,