Product Reviews July 31, 2013

Kona 'Grand Wagon' Single Speed Bike Review

My last bike purchase began from a simple desire to own another bike. As simple as that. It had nothing at all to do with need. I didn't even know what I wanted. It needed to be new and something different. I already owned a sexy Summer racer bike, a rugged Winter bike and Single Speed commuter bike. What was ‘missing’……….?

I noticed a Bianci ‘Pista’ that had been reduced by £100 in M's Cycles, my local bike shop (LBS) in Shoreham. Trouble was, it was a 56cm frame. I needed a 58cm. And even if it is was 'ok' John wouldn't sell it to me because it was 'not right for you'. I enquired if there was a 58 cm frame available but there wasn't, so that was the end of that. No Pista for me. £700 averted.

However, predictably, I continued, 'just looking'.........

Whilst attending (but not participating) in an especially dull conference call, (and as a consequence missing an evening out with my German colleagues), I (dangerously) stumbled upon the 'Foffa' bikes website and started playing. By the time I'd finished, I'd racked up nearly £1200 on a single speed racer complete with drive train upgrades and a custom paint job. It looked fantastic. I got as far as the 'My basket' payment process. Then I clicked the 'X', top right. Browser closed. Bike disappeared forever.

However, I continued, 'just looking'........

I don't typically shop at ChainReaction, only because I find either wiggle or the LBS between them have everything I want (or rather need). However during one mis-spent browsing session I had found a 2010 Kona Grand Wagon, Single Speed racer (which apparently, was what I was now looking for). Not only that, it was available in my frame size and half price. Bargain? There was every chance, but to be certain I investigated further.

My first port of call was lfgss via twitter - London Fixed Gear and Single Speed forum. Prior to buying the Trek District I had consulted these folks before and they seemed to know their belt drives from their flip/flop. The common consensus was that this bike was substantially overpriced to begin with (originally pegged at £1900), but was now a good deal. The rest of the opinion focused on the potentially unfavourable handlebar geometry. However, worse case scenario, this would not cost too much to alter if it was uncomfortable. (For the record, it didn't look comfortable). Thus withstanding and after some discussion it was purchased one Sunday night. 

The bike was delivered, as promised, on Wednesday. I was very impressed. A very marginal piece of assembly was required, but within 10 minutes it was ready to go. A multi function tool and bike spanner had been supplied, as well as a bottle cage and bottle, plus front and rear lights. You literally had everything required to get on the road. Superb service. So what about the bike

It is aggressive; it feels like it means business the moment you sit on it. The handlebars are 'pista' track style and narrow at that - just 42cm wide. The drops were quite deep and it was really only practical to operate the brakes from the drop position because of their positioning on the bars. It would take a while to get used to. Other than that, I was pleased with it. Although it was a Kona branded bike the frame was actually hand built by Dedacciai. SAT bronze welded chromoly Tubing, it looks like it was born in race. The frame is complimented with Mavic Ellipse Track wheels complete with 30mm deep aero-type rims. R600 brakes and R650 levers are provided by Shimano. As far as contact points are concerned, I fitted Shimano SPDs and left the Selle Italia retro flight saddle alone. No need to change that and colour scheme wise it perfectly matched the rest of the bike. In terms of transmission, it is fitted with a Sugino SG75 crank, ratio, 45T:16T. This would provide a stern test on the roads over the South Downs.

Remind me, what was the point of buying this bike? 

I wanted another single speed bike, but a genuine 'old school' racer this time. Grand Wagon has a classic look; it feels like you should be racing as soon as you mount it. It is completely different to the rest of my bikes. (Like the Genesis Day One), the steel frame provides a smooth ride, but the steering is much more responsive. Grand Wagon wants you to ride on the drops. It has been built with purpose; it wants you to invest as much energy as you have in it and it will reward you with an exciting, thrilling ride. All you need to do is keep the pedals turning. If you want an easy-going ride, this is absolutely not the bike for you. 

The recent extended commute has offered a chance to test the bike out in a more day to day situation. Interestingly, it has taken the longest and equal shortest time to and from work. Against the wind, with no opportunity to gear down, the ratio is simply punishing. It was similar to riding the fully-laden Genesis, only without the panniers. On the return leg though it was like riding a rocket. High cadence, wind behind me, I averaged 35km point to point. An exhilarating, albeit unsustainable ride.

So far I've not ridden more than 65km on it. The gearing fatigues me much faster (or efficiently) than the Trek (District) and I need to be careful to choose a route that is at most, 'undulating'. Steep hills are definitely an issue if they last for more than a couple of hundred meters. I am simply unable to sustain the necessary cadence to maintain sufficient forward momentum. Typically, It demands that I am out of the saddle early on. 

It needs power! 

It demands rider commitment!

In short, if I need a work-out, this is the bike to ride. Grand Wagon is not a 'feel good' bike like my Specialized/Zipp combination. It is a full-blooded racer - simple - period.

I will be visiting Calshott velodrome, most likely in the New Year. I hope to use the Grand Wagon there and use it as it was truly intended, hurtling around the 147 meter indoor track. It can't wait and neither can I. I will need to switch the rear hub around and practice using Grand Wagon as a fixed wheel bike which will be a new skill to learn. Until then, it will continue to toughen me up on the roads of East and West Sussex. However, the jury is out on whether the handlebar position/width/posture is right for me. I suspect there may be more to follow.....

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