Kona Ute—Rock solid cargo bike

UPDATE by Andrew: Wired linked to Dave’s review. Nice!

I got a chance to try out Kona’s upcoming integrated cargo bike, the Ute. I gotta say, this is one solid ride. The ute’s a longbike: a 29er (update: 700c x 47) with a giant rack built in capable of carrying 4 panniers, a couple of passengers, or just about anything else you can strap to it. Several longbike designs have been around for a while now, the Ute’s take is an integrated design – the extended cargo area’s built right into the frame. This makes the bike super solid. Add in smart design, great components and you’ve got yourself a one-stop cargo hauling go-anywhere machine.

The Ute’s integrated cargo area goes way beyond simply not having to bolt on a rack – being an integral part of the frame means it’s strong. This bike’s got no detectable lateral flex, even loaded with groceries and kids. No having to steer out of side to side way when hauling stuff home, and no trouble at all when standing on the pedals for a little extra power.


The long wheel base and gentle geometry contribute to a very stable ride with no harshness over bumps. Given this I was surprised at how nimble the ride was, slaloming the local playground went great. In fact the Ute handled everything I threw at it with aplomb: steep descents, hard climbs, up and down curbs, (shallow) stairs. Riding the Ute under load’s like driving a volvo station wagon.

Integrated design doesn’t stop with the rack and ride. Low, rounded top tube means you don’t have to tip the bike on it’s side to get your leg over, a huge bonus on a loaded bike. 29 inch wheels and wide Continental tires make for great rolling over any obstacles. Braking design is very intelligent – Hayse mechanical disc brake up front for power where you need it, v-brakes in the back for security. The wide gearing handled getting me back up the steep hills between my grocery store and my house easily. The bike comes equipped with wide, upright handlebars and very nice cork grips which were great for cruising and getting a bit of additional leverage when standing up. An integrated kickstand keeps the bike upright when you’re loading her up.

Carrying capacity is predictably huge. The well designed, large rear deck has cutouts to allow you to bungee odd sized loads down and the cargo area has space for 4 panniers. The bike came with Kona grocery bag style panniers, which were able to swallow just about everything I could put in there: jackets, hats, sweaters, extra helmets, several grocery bags, whatever. Being able to use standard panniers gives you lots of options as well – want water proof? Go for some oyster buckets! Passengers were no trouble at all. A stoker stem and some foot pegs let me haul my 6 year old all over our neighborhood.

My favorite part about the Ute was what it meant for my lifestyle. I was able to take the bike on many trips I wouldn’t have been able to make on a standard bike: Delivering Christmas dinner to some relatives a couple miles away; dropping my kid off at school; groceries and gift shopping were all easy as pie.

One thing to change? Make the bike easier to carry. The integrated rack moves the balance point back behind the seat post, making lifting and maneuvering the bike a bit awkward (especially up stairs to a gate). Adding a utility handle on the rack would help and add a hand-hold for passengers.

Check here , here and here for other Hugger impressions.

Update:: Production bikes will have rubber grips, and the included panniers have a rain proof integrated cover.

Formula One for Bikes?

carbon%20rotor.jpg I was touring CES when I wandered over to the Intel/BMW Formula One Auto Team exhibition. The F1 team had a bunch of displays for people to touch and play with. One impressive display was the steel disc brake rotor for a normal production car…and the full carbon disc for the F1 car. Talk about a huge difference in weight.

I’m not a big fan of disc brakes, but I was wondering why carbon disc brakes are not being built for cycling. Is it cost? Service life?

Touch Screens for Cyclo-computers?

touch%20screen.jpg I saw this touch screen display for a GPS unit while walking about the Sands Expo during CES. It’s clear to me that the technology is very close to having touch screens for cyclo-computers. I’m not sure if that would work out well, since the tactile feedback of actual buttons allows one to actuate the computer functions without looking. That of course could be important for cycling.

CES for bikers: Mainnav GPS

IMG_4710.jpg I found this tight GPS unit for bicycles from Mainnav at CES! You can see where you rode on Google Earth after you ride!

After dropping off the bike at the Intel booth, I went to the Sands Expo hall. This is the same place where Interbike is held every year, so it seems familiar. The Sands was filled with a lot of the smaller companies with much modest booths than Samsung, Hitachi, and Mircrosoft.

There I found the MG-950d GPS unit for bicycling. It’s got a lot of cycling features, but one cool new thing is the software for plotting your ride on Google Earth. You can then click on various points on your ride and get your time, speed, and altitude at that point. Brilliant!

The unit features a magnetic mount for stem or handlebar.


You can find more info at the Mainnav site. Thanks to Cecily Huang for the demo!

Riding the Brompton at CES

So I rode the Brompton folding bike in Las Vegas during CES. I rode from the hotel right into the Intel booth in the same time that it would have taking me to get to the line waiting to buy monorail tickets (to wait in line for the very slow monorail to the waiting point at the station across the street from the convention hall..blah, blah waiting for traffic to cross blah, blah etc…etc).

Setting aside how much I hate the streets of Vegas, here are my impressions:

The folding system works well enough, but the little wheels on the rack, that help keep the bike upright when folded, are right in the path of my heels when I’m riding. Highly irritating.

The 2-speed drivetrain works like a charm. Shifts dependable and tucks in out of the way. It’s light and simple too.

The most flexible (“flexible” as in not good) part of any small-wheeled folder is the handlebar stem, or for these bikes often called the “mast”. This is because the mast has to be tall enough to get the bar to a comfortable height for average stature riders (more on “average stature” later) and yet fold out of the way. I’d say the stiffest I’ve tried is the unit installed on recent Dahon folders, but the Brompton was pretty good. However, there is still much more flex than I would prefer.

But the deal breaker for me is the lack of adjustability for the handlebar height. At 5’3”, I’m distinctly shorter than the “average” rider and I like my bars low. For Byron, maybe the height feels appropriate but once I lower the saddle to my position I feel like I’m sitting in a highchair. The relatively short (compared to say, my Redline bmx) top tube doesn’t help. I can’t stretch out and go.

On the plus side, the handling was quite reasonable. Riding on of these small-wheeled bikes is different than a regular bike, so you will need to adjust to it. The Brompton was very nimble, so as to possibly catch the uninitiated off guard, but I was soon taking advantage of the bike’s low speed agility.

The great thing about a folder like the Brompton is the how easily you can carry it into places impractical for a standard-wheeled bike, but I wonder how it would be to design a bike that used tiny wheels and the S&S couplings. I’d trade-off the ease of folding for a lighter, stiffer set-up tailored to my body.

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