Monday, August 17, 2009

Kona Jake the Snake Review

2008 Kona Jake the Snake

Ok guys... now that I have owned and commuted on the Kona for the better part of a year, I feel that I am in a position to review the bike. And yes, before you ask, apparently August is review Pete's bikes month. So deal. :)

The pictures of my bike are here, on one of my first posts on this blog. No reason to clog up bandwith posting more pics of the same thing, so click the link (or scroll down the page) if you want to see what she looks like! The full specs (I have a 54cm) can be found on the Kona website here.

The Kona is, I am ashamed to admit, the bike that I ride the most. On average five days a week, to and from work, on either an 11 kilometer route or a shorter 7 kilometer one... occasionally, when I have the daylight hours and the weather is good (and I sneak out of work around 17:00), I will extend the home leg of my commute. So this bike does get its fair share of riding, around 80 kilometers a week if I stay on the conservative side.
The bike, as any commuter I suppose, is ridden in any weather, and in the fall and winter, spends most of its time riding after dark with lights. Subject of a forthcoming equipment review, I suppose, but I digress...

My commute is not very challenging either in terms of road surface (all paved, Rome pavement, which is pretty bad, but paved) or in terms of hills - I have a couple of short grades in that can be used to add some pain to the ride, but nothing serious. Having said this, with two panniers full of clothing, a laptop computer and assorted odds and ends (sometimes 10 kgs of stuff), the cyclocross gearing (46/36 chainring up front) comes in handy. The frame is heavy (compared to a road bike), but very solid, and the ride predictable. This is no downhill carving uberbike, but you will have no nasty surprises in handling terms either. The frame comes across as a very sturdy, and with the included eyelets for a rack, is an ideal (IMHO) light commuting bike...

The bike comes with Shimano 105 components, FSA Gossamer crankset, Avid Juicy cantilevers (good braking, hard to avoid some brake squeal, but very low maintenance), Mavic Aksium wheels, and rather gnarly Maxxis tires.

The Mavic wheels, contrary to what I have read on the net, were very poor performers. I apparently got a bad set, they creaked to no end (seriously, people in Rome traffic could hear me from 500 meters away) and the only way I could fix'em was to get rid of them. Replaced with a set of cheap Shimanos, not much better in performance terms, but at least no noise!

After rather poor experiences with the stock clinchers in rainy conditions on asphalt (very exciting... in a bad way) I went through several different sets of clinchers. All poor performers for what I needed. I have now settled for a pair of Schwalbe Marathon Plus... they are expensive, weigh a ton and are not exactly speed racer tires, but punctures are now a thing of the past. And they appear to not be wearing at all, which is also a good thing!

The Gossamer crank is absolute crap. The allow appears to be soft butter. The shifting is only just acceptable, and the rings are not even very true out of the box. I am simply using it because the gearing's right for commuting, and because trashing it will not hurt my inner cycling self...

The 105 components are ok. Very clunky shifting, as I have mentioned in other posts, but maybe there is a bit of lack of love for maintenance on a commuter that affects their performance. They are light years behind my Campagnolo Chorus in feel as well as in ease and speed of shifting. Then again, that is the way it should be, as we are obviously comparing apples and oranges in the two component lines. In any event, the step down in performance from Ultegra (please see my review of the Specialized) is noticeable. If you can possibly spare the cash, go for the better group. And I will be substituting the 105 bits for a hodge podge of Campagnolo parts once I have the chance.

So, along with a set of Arkel T-28 panniers (they are great, by the way), that is the set-up. To sum things up, this is a very capable bike, which is a bit let down by some components (obviously
the spec is built to hit a price point). I recommend the Jake the Snake for light touring, commuting and I cyclocross (I guess, never used it for that, though). The frame is tough and made to last. The components, as you can surmise from my review, can all be changed out for something better.

Hope you found this review helpful!


  1. Nice, I have a serious case of Cyclocross lust going on right now. More eye candy for me.

  2. Thanks 100poundsago. Just do it. It is a very nice bike to ride, especially for commuting!

  3. Hi Pete. Nice to know that the handling is stable under load. What is the maximum you've carried in all?