Bike Test: The Kona Unit Singlespeed
In this day of dual-suspension mountain bikes, with their heavily defended patents, licensing agreements, rising rates, falling rates, single pivots, multiple pivots, pedaling platforms and special tools just to set them up properly, there are riders who long for a simpler time when you could just hop on a bike and go riding. Kona senses their frustration and offers the Unit, a bike of simple sophistication.
WHO IS IT MADE FOR?
This bike is geared toward the rider who is at his wits’ end with today’s complex dual-suspension mountain bikes. It is also made for the rider who may be a little burned out on the local trails and wants to change things up and challenge himself at the same time. It would be a good bike for a rider looking to improve his skills or any rider looking for top performance from a bike priced under a grand.
WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?
The frame is good old butted chromoly steel with shortish chainstays, tons of tire clearance and cable guides (should you ever decide to add a rear derailleur). There is a not-oversized 1 1/8-inch head tube, and there are mounts for two water bottle cages. The rear dropout is a sliding affair that allows easy adjustment should you want to change the bike’s gearing. The wishbone fork is also made from tapered steel tubing.
WHICH COMPONENTS STAND OUT?
In this day of billboard-wide carbon fiber wings in place of frame tubes, the diminutive, perfectly round steel tubes look so clean. Now touch them. That flat white paint feels like powder coating. That big 7-inch brake rotor up front and the custom-made WTB Valcon saddle catch your attention, but the simplicity of the Unit is what everyone you meet on the trail will notice.
HOW DOES IT PERFORM?
The only setup tip we can give you is to make sure you’ve checked your tires’ air pressure and the chain tension. There is nothing else to do on a rigid single speeder.
Moving out: We’ll go out on a limb here and state that the Unit delivers the best pedaling platform of any bike we have ridden this year. After years on hardtails with 4-inch-travel forks and dual-suspended bikes of all travel lengths, the Unit is an eye-opener from the first crank revolution. This bike shoots out of the blocks like Usain Bolt. There is nothing lost in translation. Get out of the saddle, pick your line carefully and hammer. The resulting acceleration will bring a smile to your face. The gearing is spot on for flat-surface starts.
Cornering: The trick with any single-speed is to stay off the brakes as much as possible and maintain all the momentum you can. The Unit’s 29-inch wheels help, but its lack of suspension requires the rider to stay loose and out of the saddle as much as possible. Riding to the limit of traction is a skill the Unit will force its rider to develop.
Fun units: This bike will challenge and motivate you. It forces the rider to get back to the basics.
|Simply simple: The dropouts allow for plenty of drivetrain options. A sweet little head badge. Open-ended gusset for added strength.|
Climbing: How bad do you want it? The Unit forces you to pick your battles, because your legs only have so many hard efforts in them per ride before they throw in the towel. The bike’s light weight made extended fire-road climbs more palatable. There is no trick to steeper climbs. Think pumping iron. The Unit can only put out what you put in.
Descending: Riders used to ample travel can get into trouble quickly on the Unit. Coming into a corner too hot and getting on the brakes hard will send a jolting reminder through your arms and into your upper body that the only suspension working for you is the flex of the tires’ sidewalls. Picking your lines, flowing instead of making jerky movements and staying out of the saddle with arms and legs bent is the way to get it done.
The workout: You will be hammered after a ride on the Unit, but it is a good hammered. The more you ride the Unit, the less you notice the beating. That’s because it is making you a better rider.
TRICKS, UPGRADES OR TIPS?
Tire selection is a matter of trade-offs. We liked the Maxxis Ignitors for their low rolling resistance, a real plus for this single-speeder. Switch to a fatter tire for a bit more cushion? That will cost you rolling resistance. At the end of the ride, we’d rather have the performance of the Ignitors than whatever comfort would be gained from fatter and slower tires.
The Unit will force you to be a better rider by breaking bad habits brought on by lazy riding (something we all fall into from riding bikes with 5 inches of travel at each wheel). It can transform tired old loops into challenging new adventures. It will have you focusing on the best line, pedaling smoothly and staying off the brakes. And all these new skills will make you better on your other bikes. Even if you only ride the Unit a few times a year, it is a wake-up call we could all use. For riders in areas without major climbs and flowy trails, it is not crazy to think of the Unit as your only bike. And how many sub-$1000 29ers come in at less than 27 pounds?
The Unit is a single-speed with more than a single purpose.
Country of origin
Bottom bracket height
Top tube length
Head tube angle
Seat tube angle
Rigid P2 29er
Alex EN-24 (29″)
Maxxis Ignitors (2.1″)
Avid BB7 mechanical Disc
Kona Energy (28″ wide)
SRAM w/ guard (32)
13.5 feet (per crank rotation)
13.5 feet (per crank rotation