Kona Sutra Review: Touring Revisited

The Kona Sutra is a perennial classic touring bike that has been around in various forms for nearly two decades. Seeking to shake up his perspective, Lucas spent most of the past year pedaling one around Colorado. Find his in-depth review and a generous helping of photos here…

First introduced in 2005, the venerable Kona Sutra has been reimagined and spun off (find our Sutra LTD and ULTD reviews linked below) throughout its nearly two decades in the Pacific Northwest-based brand’s lineup. And as much as the Sutra, the bike industry, and the broader world have changed in that time, some things have stayed the same. Namely, the simple pleasure of loading up your belongings and heading off toward places unknown on two wheels. The Sutra is an ideal platform for such experiences, and untold riders have propelled themselves near and far aboard some version of the incrementally refined steel workhorse over the years.

  • Kona Sutra Review
  • Kona Sutra Review
  • Kona Sutra Review

I’ve been riding a 2022 Kona Sutra around Colorado on and off for the better part of a year now, and doing so has helped me rekindle the flame that was initially sparked during my first long-distance loaded tours around the time of the Sutra’s debut. It’s technically superior in every way, but riding the steel Sutra nonetheless brings back memories of the four-panniered Surly Cross-Check I bought new in 2007 and pedaled all over the place, the fleet of Schwinns I learned to wrench on and rode into the ground before that, and the early ‘90s Jazz Zig-Zag I can still remember taking on massive 30-mile rail-trail rides with my dad as a kid. Read on for my review of Kona’s nostalgia-inducing touring platform.

Kona Sutra Review

A Modern Tourer

These days, the marketing language surrounding most bikes in our space defaults to describing them as capable of doing absolutely anything and going just about anywhere. In reality, though, no bike can do it all, at least not well, and it’s refreshing that Kona hasn’t positioned the Sutra as yet another bike that inexplicably ticks every imaginable box. Rather, it’s an unabashedly classic touring bike, albeit with some modern touches.

  • Kona Sutra Review
  • Kona Sutra Review

As a bike that’s built to be loaded up and let loose on tours across counties, countries, and continents, the Kona Sutra has remained true to its roots. If you’re searching for a drop-bar bike to race one weekend and rip along rocky trails the next, you’ll almost certainly be disappointed by the Sutra. Weighing around 32 pounds in size 58cm (stock build with front rack), it’s an undeniably heavy bike. It’s constructed with burly steel tubes that don’t offer a spirited ride, but what they lack in liveliness, they make up for in their ability to comfortably and competently haul a rider and their panniers full of gear. In fact, I found that the Sutra sails along better with some additional weight, where less touring-friendly bikes can start to feel a bit wiggly or otherwise off.

  • Highlights (Size 58)
  • Angles: 70.5° Head tube, 72.5° Seat tube
  • Reach/Stack: 400/651mm
  • Bottom Bracket: 68mm Threaded / 70mm drop
  • Hub specs: 142 x 12mm (rear) / 100 x 12mm (front)
  • Seatpost Diameter: 27.2mm
  • Max Tire Size: 700 x 50mm
  • Price: $2,099 (Complete)

The Sutra comes complete with many of the touches you’d expect to see on a tourer from yesteryear and some particulars that bring it up to today’s standards. Its chromoly steel frame features an impressive array of mounting points, including a whopping seven sets of standard mounts on the main triangle (six on smaller sizes) that could be used for a bolt-on top tube bag and frame bag, three-pack mounts on both fork blades, and provisions for racks and fenders. The cable routing is fully external for ease of service, and the need-to-know frame specs (bottom bracket size, seatpost diameter, derailleur hanger, etc.) are discreetly painted on toward the bottom of the seat tube should you need to source replacements while on tour. The Sutra’s frame and fork have 12mm thru-axles and will clear around a 700 x 50mm (~29 x 2.0”) tire without fenders, which opens up possibilities beyond smooth pavement but doesn’t distinguish it from the growing crop of all-road bikes in 2023.

Kona Sutra Review
  • Kona Sutra Review
  • Kona Sutra Review

As for components, the Sutra comes with a sensible mix of parts that prioritize function and reliability over weight savings. A wide-range 2×10 drivetrain with 46/30 chainrings in the front and an 11-36T cassette in back provides all the gears you’re likely to need for spinning up hills and hammering on the pedals to make it to the next town in time for a resupply or dinner. Where previous iterations of the Sutra had bar-end shifters, it now features Shimano Tiagra shift/brake levers. TRP’s HY/RD hybrid mechanical/hydraulic disc brakes provide solid stopping power without breaking the bank, and Shimano’s GRX 400 front and rear derailleurs round out the drivetrain.

  • Kona Sutra Review
  • Kona Sutra Review
  • Kona Sutra Review
  • Kona Sutra Review
  • Kona Sutra Review

Among the Sutra’s touring-focused touchpoints and accessories are a lauded Brooks B17 leather saddle with color-coordinated Brooks microfiber tape, front and rear fenders with mudflaps, and a classic Tubus Tara (the Big Apple version, which fits wider tires) low-rider front rack that’s rated to haul 33 pounds (15 kilograms). The Sutra comes rolling on a set of ultra-practical, time-tested Schwalbe Marathon Mondial 700 x 40mm tires that are hefty and unsexy but can take you to the end of the world with minimal punctures. Find the complete build kit below.

Kona Sutra Build Kit

  • Frame: 2022 Kona Sutra, 58cm
  • Fork: Kona Project Two Cromoly Disc Touring
  • Rims: WTB ST i23 TCS 2.0
  • Hubs: Formula (100x12mm front, 142x12mm rear)
  • Spokes: Stainless Black 14g
  • Tires: Schwalbe Marathon Mondial 700x40c (not pictured)
  • Crankset: Prowheel 46/30
  • Derailleurs: Shimano GRX 400
  • Brake/Shift Levers: Shimano Tiagra (2×10)
  • Cassette: Shimano Deore 11-36t 10-speed
  • Chain: Shimano Deore
  • Bottom Bracket: Prowheel BB68+
  • Handlebar: Kona Road
  • Handlebar Wrap: Brooks Microfiber, Brown
  • Stem: Kona Road
  • Headset: FSA No.1/No.10
  • Brakes: TRP HDC711C Mechanical/Hydraulic
  • Rotors: TRP TR160mm
  • Saddle: Brooks B17
  • Seatpost: Kona Deluxe Thumb w/Offset 27.2mm
  • Front Rack: Tubus Tara Big Apple Front Rack
  • Other Accessories: Fenders w/ mudflaps (not pictured)
Kona Sutra Review
  • Kona Sutra Review
  • Kona Sutra Review
  • Kona Sutra Review

For Full Days

Stripping away its components and accessories, the Sutra’s frame is engineered to comfortably carry you and your gear for days on end. To create a cozy perch, the Sutra has a high stack that gets the bars up, a relatively slack headtube angle for predictable handling, a seat tube angle that puts the rider in a neutral position, long chainstays to add a little stability, and a sloping top tube that offers some extra standover for ease of getting on and off the bike. For reference, the 58cm frame I’ve been riding has 400mm of reach, 651mm of stack, a 70.5° HT angle, a 72.5° ST angle, an 85.4cm (33.6”) standover, and 445mm chainstays. I’m a little over 6’2” with a 35” inseam, and I wouldn’t want to size down to the 56cm frame.

Kona Sutra Review

Kona compensates for the Sutra’s fairly long reach with a shorter stem. On the 58cm, the stock 80mm stem with a bit of rise helps maintain an upright position, and the Kona Project Two Cromoly Disc Touring fork’s long steerer tube enables riders to dial in their fit to get the bars to a suitable height. For me, that’s close to level with the saddle so I can ride with my hands on the tops, hoods, or drops, regularly mixing up my position throughout a long day on the bike (I’d ballpark it at 70% hoods, 20% tops, 10% drops). Having at least dabbled in most cycling genres over the years, I still occasionally enjoy zipping around on bikes with more aggressive geometry and a more substantial saddle-to-bar drop, but I find myself returning to bikes that emphasize a leisurely pace that allows for soaking in the sights and sounds and enjoying conversations with my riding companions. In this sense, I feel right at home on the Sutra.

  • Kona Sutra Review
  • Kona Sutra Review
  • Kona Sutra Review
  • Kona Sutra Review
  • Kona Sutra Review

Ride Impressions

In the time I’ve had the Sutra, I’ve logged more miles on my feathery rando bike with thin tubes and a minimally loaded handlebar bag and my lightweight all-road rig with fancy carbon bits, making the Sutra feel a little dull whenever I’d first hop on it for a ride. However, there invariably came a point on every long outing when I’d gathered enough inertia that I felt like I could keep riding forever. Some bikes are fun for a few laps or a trail or two, but the Sutra is the kind of bike you can point toward the horizon and just go. It doesn’t require a whole lot of input from the rider but instead has a calm and collected feel over pavement and well-maintained gravel.

Kona Sutra Review

I always ran four overloaded panniers in my early touring days, but I admittedly used to haul pairs of jeans, other casual clothes, and way too many spare bits and bobs. Thankfully, I’ve learned better after more than a decade of fairly minimalist bikepacking, and I travel far lighter these days. As such, I’m able to fully enjoy the Sutra’s front-loading configuration, and I appreciate that Kona specced it with a low-rider up front instead of a rear rack. It’s surely almost entirely in my head, but when riding mostly roads with a lightweight load distributed toward the bike’s front, I feel as if I’m being pulled forward rather than dragging something behind. Of course, a front-loading strategy doesn’t work nearly as well if you’re navigating twisty and technical trails, but the Sutra’s not really the bike for that. Mounting a lightweight rear rack is always an option, too, depending on how much you need to haul.

  • Kona Sutra Review
  • Kona Sutra Review

It’s not a steal at its price, but on today’s market, the $2,099 Sutra offers a reasonably good value in terms of its level of parts spec and the thoughtfulness with which everything was brought together. Still, I made a handful of small changes during my time with it. First, living in sunny Colorado, I didn’t even bother to install the plastic fenders that came with the Sutra. I have a fendered bike that I ride on rare rainy days. Further, I swore off plastic fenders forever in the middle of a tour across Europe back in 2012, but that’s another story. I couldn’t find a brand name on them, but the included fenders are of adequate quality. Odds are, they’ll be the first thing to break, at which point it might be worth looking into some metal replacements.

Kona Sutra Review
  • Kona Sutra Review
  • Kona Sutra Review
  • Kona Sutra Review

From experience, I also know that the Sutra’s stock Schwalbe Marathon Mondial tires are great for paved touring and commuting, but I swapped them out for a handful of different wider and knobbier tires throughout the last year, most recently settling on a set of 700 x 44mm WTB Raddlers. The Sutra comes with tubes, so I stuck with them and only had to fix a couple of flats. When they work, they work (my record is two years on one set of tubes).

Beyond that, I left the Sutra as Kona intended it, and I don’t think I’d change much if I had to start over. Breaking in a B17 is never an altogether amazing experience, but mine’s finally starting to soften up now that I’m preparing to send the bike back. I hadn’t ridden the TRP HY/RD brakes before, and I was pleasantly surprised by them. The Tiagra brake/shifter levers felt snug in my hands, and I never had to fuss with the front or rear GRX derailleurs after some initial adjustment. Visually, I find the matte black paint a little lackluster, but I’ve also complained about review bikes being too flashy in the past, so what do I know? Plus, Kona has done away with the black paint, and the 2023 Sutra comes in dark blue.

Kona Sutra Review

WHO’S THE SUTRA FOR?

The Kona Sutra is a little outside the scope of what we typically cover here on the site in that it’s in its element on paved roads and smooth gravel. With a modest price point/parts spec and limited clearance relative to today’s adventure touring bikes, it’s not the do-it-all rig many buyers are searching for. It’s not a boundary-bending bike, it’s less rowdy than its siblings, and it’s not likely to replace your gravel bike or mountain bike.

  • Kona Sutra Review
  • Kona Sutra Review
  • Kona Sutra Review
  • Kona Sutra Review
  • Kona Sutra Review

Could you call the Sutra a bikepacking bike? Sure, but it’s a little outdated and underwhelming when viewed through that lens. Instead, it’s an honest touring bike that comes purpose-built to do a narrower range of jobs. The Sutra offers a stable platform that you can load up and ride on roads until the wheels fall off, and I suspect the stout steel frame and fork will outlast many of the flashier carbon and even titanium bikes that captivate many people today. It’d make a great commuter, too, though it wouldn’t be my first choice there—just buy a Cross-Check or a 90s mountain bike and seek some upgrade advice from the folks at your local bike co-op!

Kona Sutra Review

If you plan to tour—not race—on mostly pavement and regular gravel, don’t foresee a need for fitting chunky mountain bike tires, and can see the allure of a front derailleur, leather saddle, and good ol’ rack-and-pannier setup, the Sutra is worth a closer look. I wouldn’t call it a slam dunk at its price or the bike you should buy within its niche, but many brands expect buyers to shell out several times as much money for bikes that won’t do several times more. If I didn’t already have too many bikes and wanted something for loaded drop-bar riding on the road, the Sutra would be on my list, alongside offerings from Bombtrack, Temple Cycles, and Salsa, to name a few that spring to mind.

Kona Sutra Review

PRICE AND AVAILABILITY

The Sutra is available in six sizes (48, 50, 52, 54, 56, and 58cm) that Kona says will fit riders between 4’10” (1.47m) and 6’5” (1.96m) tall. For 2023, it’s offered in a single dark blue color with gold decals and is similarly specced to the 2022 model reviewed here. It’s still priced at $2,099 USD (the same as 2022 and way up from 2021) and is available through Kona’s website or via your local dealer. The Sutra is only offered as a complete bike, and at the time of publishing, Kona has the full run of sizes in stock.

Riders who like the idea of a Kona and want to venture a little further off the beaten track might want to check out the crowd-pleasing Sutra LTD (confusingly called the ULTD in past years), which is geared more toward off-road touring and costs $2,699 USD.

  • Kona Sutra Review
  • Kona Sutra Review
  • Model/Size Tested: 2022 Kona Sutra, Size 58
  • Actual Weight: 32 lbs (14.5 kg)
  • Place of Manufacture: Taiwan
  • Price (as specced): ~$2,099
  • Manufacturer’s Details: Kona Bikes
Kona Sutra Review

Pros

  • Realistically priced for a complete touring bike in 2023
  • Exceptionally comfortable over long days
  • Handles predictably when loaded up
  • Replete with mounts for bottles, bags, racks, and fenders

Cons

  • Heavy at 32 pounds (complete size 58)
  • Ride feel is somewhat sluggish until it’s up to cruising speed
  • Conservative tire clearance limits applications
  • Paint and graphics leave a little to be desired
Kona Sutra Review

Wrap Up

To summarize my experience with the Kona Sutra, riding it transported me back to a simpler time in my cycling history, stripped away some of my tendencies to want the latest and greatest, and had me excitedly scoping out some portion of the vast network of byways around my new state—roads I’d probably have skipped on a different bike.

I’m rarely one to give a second thought to marketing jargon, but Kona’s scant description of the Sutra on their website references “the feeling of steel across pavement that reminds you why you love turning the cranks on long rides,” which I found unexpectedly resonant while reflecting on my time with the Sutra. Removing the expectation that it would do everything and paring back the physical aspect of pushing my bike up steep tracks afforded me a fresh perspective and helped me tune into the head-clearing nature of spinning the pedals that made it one of my main passions in the first place.

My current cycling interests don’t neatly align with what the Sutra offers, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone who is starting their journey into the world of two-wheeled travel and doesn’t anticipate that foray taking them onto rugged off-road terrain.

Further Reading

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