Kona Rove LTD Review: Long-Term Roving
Joe spent six months last year on the Kona Rove LTD. Even with limited opportunities for far afield adventure, he took it on multiple bikepacking trips in New England and on countless day rides. Following Kona’s recent announcement of its 2022 Roves with essentially only a color change for the LTD, we share this review…
Kona’s Rove LTD is an all-road bike that is ready for mixed terrain day rides and bikepacking trips alike. It feels stable and planted, it holds tenaciously to a high-speed line, and it graciously copes with whatever rugged conditions thrown at it. It’s a flat-out great looking bike, with paint and details that pop and glint. For someone who gets along with a somewhat unyielding feel and wants a neutral geometry that makes the slightest nod to a long cockpit/short stem style, the Rove merits consideration.
- Angles (54cm): 71° Head tube, 73.5° Seat tube
- Stack/Reach: 588mm/388mm
- BB Drop/Chainstay: 72mm/435mm
- Bottom Bracket: Threaded 68mm BSA
- Hub specs: 12 x 142/100mm (R/F)
- Seatpost Diameter: 27.2mm
- Max tire size: 650B x 50mm
- Price (complete): $2,599 USD
Kona Rove LTD Ride Feel
I’m as guilty as any bike nerd of conjuring notions of what a bike is likely to feel like given its geometry, the materials of construction, and the general ride aesthetic of the company that produced it. We sometimes wear it as a badge of achievement that we can look at a table of numbers and speak allegedly authoritatively on how a bike rides. My better self wants to resist that, what with our endless capacity for confirmation bias, rationalization, and selective attention. I don’t pretend that I can achieve some kind of wholly pure sense of feel in a bike, but I want to at least aim for a faithful report of my impression of the feel of the Rove LTD after riding it for many months.
Here is a distillation of my notes from the live experience of riding: The Rove LTD is purposeful and stable, stiffer than I’d normally prefer, and better in a straight line downhill than going uphill or twisting through the woods. There was more of a “sitting between the wheels” sensation than I usually expect in an all-road bike, reminiscent of the contrast between 26-inch wheel mountain bikes and 29ers, where the former can feel like riding on top of the bike while the latter more within. It turns out that I appreciate that more in an MTB format than in an all-road format. The LTD felt a bit plodding when trying to sprint up to speed. But then while cruising along, it was comfortable and confident, with no sense of twitchiness or uncertainty. At first, I felt acutely aware that the front wheel was perceptibly further ahead of the bike than I’m used to, but of course that sensation went away. Performance at the extremes is notable. At very low speeds there is wheel flop but a reluctance for the bike to radically change its direction. At very high speeds, especially in moderately chunky contexts, it’s as placid and relaxed as one could want. I didn’t have any trouble achieving a comfortable fit in the size 54 that I was testing, so it was easy to be happy on the bike, position-wise, for long days.
Stepping back and reflecting a bit, let me try to make sense of those impressions. Bicycles exhibit their most in-your-face habits in the first few minutes of riding them and especially when switching from one to another. After that, an embodied familiarity erases any feel of alienness, punctuated by occasional reminders that a bike requires different inputs than one expects or prefers. I quickly enough got used to the feel of the LTD, but comparing it to several of my personal bikes always revealed again those differences, and thinking about a ride at the end of the day gave some perspective on the hard-to-articulate flashes of reaction that I was having to it. For me, my reactions to the feel of the LTD mostly have to do with frame stiffness.
My knowledgeable framebuilder informants tell me that one of the main drivers of whether a bicycle feels stiff is the downtube. Stiffness in this context is torsional stiffness, namely the propensity of the frame to resist twisting forces. One custom builder recounted a fun and revealing but time-consuming experiment of building a frame and then cutting out and welding in downtubes of different diameters and wall thicknesses to test a range of variations. The main variables are diameter and tube wall thickness. For butted tubes, like the ones the LTD has, wall thickness isn’t uniform and is instead thicker near the welded ends, thinner near the middle. The Rove LTD is easily perceptibly torsionally stiffer than all of my personal steel bikes, including my mountain bikes. Beyond feeling it, I can even see the difference when climbing out of the saddle and pushing into the bars. A less torsionally stiff bike can present visually as almost wagging at the junction of the top tube and head tube. On this test, the LTD is comparable to carbon race frames I’ve been on.
Now, if a frame isn’t sufficiently torsionally stiff, it can be hard to handle at speed on descents because the wheels are shifting out of alignment. A bike that is too torsionally stiff can feel solid but a bit dead, and it will be harder to find a resonance between one’s pedaling motion and a kind of spring-back sensation. This is what Jan Heine calls “planing,” though that may not be the happiest descriptor. The difference seems available at the moment you’re attending to it but, again, it disappears from attention pretty quickly to leave behind the vague sounding subjective sense that a particular bike presents itself along a continuum of compliance and lifelessness.
So, what does all this mean with respect to my reaction to the Rove LTD? I had a hard time enjoying it due to its stiffness. I’m not talking here about static comfort per se, that is, the feeling of a bike from just pedaling along. That cushy feeling of a bicycle is often a function of how much tire pressure you’re running. In the vertical plane, the diamond frame of a bicycle isn’t going to admit to much variation, but one can achieve enormous differences in feel with tire pressure and tire construction. Thus the amusing but not completely irrational fetishization of tire suppleness. Seatpost length and flex can also play a role here. At any rate, I’m not complaining that the LTD is uncomfortable. It’s more like the LTD had its own unyielding presence against the movements of my body, versus the feeling of the environment yielding and, in the best cases, cooperating.
Kona confirms that the LTD’s downtube is 31.8 mm in diameter. (My personal steel gravel bike has a 35mm diameter downtube with very thin-walled tubes.) Kona won’t reveal the internal butting dimensions other than to say that its walls are .1mm thinner compared to their Sutra, a more rack-and-panniers touring platform. And the tubing stays the same throughout the size range of the LTD, so, for example, a size 58 LTD potentially ridden by a much larger and heavier rider will have the same tubing as a smaller bicycle potentially ridden by a lighter rider. It’s hard to blame Kona for specifying the tubing that they do, or for their overall engineering approach. A production bicycle has to achieve a plausible feel for an enormous range of bodies. It’s not so much a matter of the quality of the frame as it is the rational decision to build fairly conservatively, since Kona can’t know the weight, let alone the taste, of the riders who will ride their bicycles and they have to build toward the larger sizes. For the record, no one would confuse me for a featherweight at 155 lbs/69.5kgs.
All of these building decisions are made more complicated by the manufacturer’s knowledge that we consumers want it all. That is, we want a bicycle that is going to feel great on a fast three-hour group gravel ride where we’re trying to flog our lycraphile friends on rolling terrain, but we also want the same bike to graciously take on 30lbs/13.5kgs+ of bikepacking bags strapped here and there to be underbiked through rock gardens or pointed at the sunset during a long zone out journey. In my experience, those mandates can’t all be optimally met at the same time.
As if tubing considerations weren’t complicated enough, questions about ride feel are all posed against the backdrop of an interaction with bike geometry. Kona indicated to us that they think of the Rove as their most well-rounded drop-bar option, with a geometry that aims for neutral handling. I see where they’re coming from and the LTD does, in my view, fall within the broad range of “neutral,” but it’s out on the end of slow and plodding, and not particularly energetic. The somewhat longer wheelbase than I prefer plays some role in this. The LTD’s headtube angle of 71 degrees in the size 54 is middle of the road enough and the 50mm fork offset is intended to give the bike decent manners with a handlebar bag. I had no toe overlap.
On Bikepacking Trips
The Rove LTD became notably more fun to ride while bikepacking. So much so that I’d argue that Kona missed their goal to make a gravel all-rounder, yet achieved a decent enough bikepacking platform. In a way that is good news, since you’re reading this review on a bikepacking site and presumably there is a high likelihood that you’d take the LTD on short and long camping trips. Speaking for myself, though, I’d like my gravel bike to be biased toward shining on a gravel ride with just a couple of bottles and a burrito bag and being merely capable on a bikepacking trip. So, in my opinion, Kona has pushed this bike too far in the direction of bikepacking.
But never mind the unloaded feel for a moment. When it is loaded up, the LTD maintains a well-mannered feel at speed and doesn’t require very much handlebar input when carving a steady arc through a curve. It also behaves when climbing out of a rut to change lines, or when trying to cling to that off-camber dry section going around a mud hole. My read on it is that leveraging against the frame in those circumstances translates into immediate power and wheel placement where you’re hoping for it. That’s the upside of lack of flex in the overall system. I’ve ridden plenty of bikes where the luggage load overwhelmed the capacity of the frame to keep a line, and that results in having to apply constant body English in answer to a trembling, wandering platform. The LTD is admirably not at all like that. In summary, if the terrain is presenting an argument against your forward motion, and when you’re carrying a weekend’s worth of gear, I’d say that the Rove LTD’s feel moves from poor to good.
I found the LTD’s frame paint and details gorgeous, and the bike received steady compliments for its appearance. The rich wine color of this last year’s model exhibits its depth nicely in changing light, and the small details remained a joy to look at. For 2022, Kona has changed the color to dark chrome which, from the photographs, maintains the high aesthetic commitment. And they’ve kept a great patterned design on the inside of the fork and attractive iconography on other places on the bike. I interpret the bison silhouette as a nod to Wood Buffalo National Park—the largest in Canada and one of the largest in the world—established in 1922 to give space for bison to rove. None of this matters at all for performance, of course, but it’s nice to have a great-looking bike and the Rove LTD delivers on this score.
There are bosses for carrying a bottle under the down tube, rear rack mounts, and front and rear fender mounts. Kona is aiming for functional versatility, and that’s very welcome. The bottom bracket is threaded because everyone complains when it isn’t, the thru-axles are 12mm front and rear, and the brake calipers are flat mounted.
The tapered headtube accommodates the carbon fork. It’s sometimes claimed that a tapered headtube increases the feel of frame stiffness further, which, given what I’ve said above, decidedly wouldn’t be desirable for this bike. But my framebuilder sources claim that the effect is minimal. The main reason for a tapered headtube is to achieve smoother curving transitions for the carbon fiber around the crown area of the fork and larger carbon steerer tube diameters.
The Verso carbon fork itself is a nice and premium bit of trim on this bike, as it keeps the weight in check. I don’t hesitate at all to take bike trips with a carbon fork (or a carbon frame, for that matter) and this one has a trio of mounts on each blade for bottle or accessory cages. Kona has advised us that they recommend no more than 5lbs/2.3kgs of accessories or bottles per fork blade. There is no internal brake line routing through the fork, which I regard as a huge plus for packing the bike. Without internal routing, the front brake caliper can be unbolted and the fork can be removed and completely disconnected from the frame to stick wherever it fits in a small box or case when traveling.
The Shimano GRX drivetrain was as expected, namely effective and decent for the price point. I found the rear derailleur was a bit finicky and prone to coming out of adjustment, but it wasn’t intolerable by any means. I will say that GRX feels like a step down in terms of materials and precision compared to Shimano 105.
It was somewhat strange having a front derailleur after spending so much time on 1x systems. Obviously, 2x is a fine solution to achieving a reasonable gear range, and the LTD answers the typical criticism that bikes like this aren’t geared easily enough by speccing it with 31/48t in front and an 11-34 cassette.
The WTB Venture 650b x 47mm is a great tire, and over the last couple of years, I’ve spent more time on them than any other. They lose a little bit of efficiency to, say, the WTB Byways but the additional traction in dirt well makes up for it. There is reasonable clearance for these 47mm tires and the 48mm Byways, but I wouldn’t be confident in mounting a much wider tire than 50mm. Some owners have reported wear on the inside of the carbon fork from mud build-up on the tire, though I didn’t experience any. The wheels and tires are ready to be set up tubeless, but my test bike arrived with tubes and I left it that way.
I’m not a fan of wide-flaring bars, so I found the modest flare of the Kona badged drop bars pleasant and usable. The WTB saddle is fine, though I swapped in my Brooks C15 Carved for bikepacking trips.
SPECS AND WEIGHT
The following specs are for the 2021 model of the Rove LTD. The only changes for the 2022 edition other than the paint are to the saddle (from the WTB SL8 to the Volt) and to the rims (from the WTB KOM Light Team i23 TCS 2.0 to the WTB KOM Team i23 TCS).
- Frame Material Kona Butted Cromoly
- Sizes 48, 50, 52, 54, 56, 58
- Fork Kona Rove Verso Full Carbon Flat Mount Disc
- Crank Arms Shimano GRX 810
- Chainrings 31/48T
- Bottom Bracket Shimano 68mm
- Chain Shimano 11spd
- Freewheel Shimano 105 11-34T 11spd
- Front Derailleur Shimano GRX 810
- Rear Derailleur Shimano GRX 810
- Shifters Shimano GRX 600
- Brake Calipers Shimano GRX 400
- Front Brake Rotor Shimano RT54 160Mm (Centerlock)
- Rear Brake Rotor Shimano RT54 160Mm (Centerlock)
- Brake Levers Shimano GRX 600
- Headset FSA No.1/12B/44
- Handlebar Kona Road
- Stem Kona Road Deluxe
- Seatpost Kona Deluxe Thumb Offset 27.2mm
- Seat Clamp Kona Clamp
- Grips Velo Shock-Proof Bar Tape
- Saddle Wtb Sl8
- Front Hub Shimano 105 100X12mm
- Rear Hub Shimano 105 142X12mm
- Spokes Stainless Black 14G
- Rims Wtb Kom Light Team I23 TCS 2.0
- Front Tire Wtb Venture TCS Dual 650X47C
- Rear Tire Wtb Venture TCS Dual 650X47C
The 2021 size 54 complete stock build weighed 24.25lbs (11kg on the dot). I put it on the scale with no pedals, bottles, or bottle cages, and with tubes in the tires.
- Model Tested: 2021 Kona Rove LTD
- Actual Weight: 24.25lbs (11kg)
- Place of Manufacture: Taiwan
- Price (2022 Complete): $2,599 ($100 more than 2021 model)
- Price (2022 Frameset): $769 ($20 more than 2021 model)
- Manufacturer’s Details: KonaWorld.com
- Stable descending, especially with bikepacking bags
- Premium finish
- Solid design and spec choices, neither all the fads nor lamentable boomer grouchiness
- Sluggish and dull handling in twisty conditions
- Not especially a bargain (but not absurd, either)
I have no trouble imagining a rider who will love this bike. It’s a person who is going to load it up for gravel bikepacking trips, will appreciate its confidence and stability, and will revel in the premium presentation. Throughout my test, I wished for a more compliant ride feel. It’s a better bet for a person who rides a bike in the larger size ranges, though that’s not categorical, of course. In my view, Kona bends the Rove too far in the direction of bikepacking adventures for it to serve well as a fast pedaling unloaded gravel machine and it definitely does not give the impression of a road bike. But that’s a decision about use-case, not a critique of quality. If I was in the market for a steel bike around this price point, I’d in addition test ride a Surly Midnight Special with the thought of upgrading to a carbon fork if I felt I needed it to reduce weight.
Kona loaned us the Rove LTD for this review.
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