Hacking the Kona to be a better commuter

When I bought a Kona Dew Plus late last year as a cheapy backup commuting bike, I didn’t plan on making any changes to it.

Then, something strange happened – the Kona started to become my daily ride. The cheapest, ugliest bike I’ve ever bought became my (almost) favourite bike.

It’s the perfect commuter bike — it’s inexpensive (I paid about $400 new), has front and rear disc brakes, 700mm road wheels and being painted a rather metallic minty green, it’s hardly a theft magnet.

Most of the components on this Kona are low end and will get replaced with better stuff as they wear out. However, there were a couple of additional changes I made to improve the daily ride.

Pedals

The first thing I changed were the pedals. I have Crank Brothers Eggbeaters on my other bikes, so it only made sense to add them to the Kona. It was a little strange that the backup bike now had the nicest pedals, but at least I could hop on without having to worry about changing shoes as well.

Rear rack

It’s been years since I rode with a rear rack, as I could never find a good one that would fit nicely on either of my other bikes. Because of the disc brakes, your choices for racks are limited, and even within those there are some good ones and some not so good ones.

Eventually, I settled on a Topeak Explorer Tubular rack with the disc mounts. It fits nicely, installs relatively easily and has good mounting points for my panniers.

Handlebars and riser stem

There was nothing really wrong with the stock flat bars that came with the bike, but they didn’t give me enough hand positions for comfort.

So, I added a set of Salsa Bell Lap cyclocross drop bars, which also required different shifters and brake levers because of the bar’s different tube size. I found a set of Shimano bar-end shifters and went to work swapping things around. After a few hours work and lots of derailleur and brake finessing, it was ready.

I didn’t like it.

The bike is fairly short (front to back) for me and I felt really scrunched when I was riding. Adding a longer stem didn’t help either, and I started getting some nasty back aches. Off came the drops and back on went the flat bars. And off came the bar end shifters and road levers… grr…

I started looking around at tri-bars, but didn’t like the prices and they’re not really (IMHO) a good commuting bar. I also discounted the Titec H-bar simply because of the price. Eventually I landed on a set of Norco trekking bars, also known as butterfly bars. They were cheap — about 1/5 the price of the drop bars I bought — and I could use the original shifters and brake levers.

I loved these bars, but my knees didn’t. Again, because the bike is fairly short and because the trekking bar setup brings the shifters closer to you, my knees would hit the shift levers ever time I got up in the pedals.

A bit of fine tuning on the angle of the bars and the addition of a longer stem and a stem riser helped solve the problem, and I’m now a huge fan of the trekking bars.


Brake upgrade

The Kona Dew Plus came with Hayes MX4 manual disc brakes. They are okay, but when the time came to replace the pads, I found out the pads weren’t overly cheap at any of the LBSs.

Looking online for pads, I stumbled across some Avid BB7s on sale at Performance Bike. They were half the cost they were locally, and only $10 more per brake than simply getting new pads for the MX4s. I have the BB7s on my Cannondale and love them. The ones on sale also had larger rotors than the stock Hayes ones, which means better cooling and better stopping power.

One of the things I’ve always liked about the Avid BB7s is how easy it is to install them. Within about half an hour both front and rear ones were installed and tuned. Sweet!


What’s next?

I’m trying to keep in mind that this There are always things to upgrade on a bike. (Or at least I can always find an excuse to upgrade things.)

Next on the list is:

  • An upgrade to the rear derailleur
  • A better chain
  • Winter tires (Schwalbe Winter Marathon) – this will be my first try with studded 700mm tires

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5 Responses to Hacking the Kona to be a better commuter

  1. Gerard Stocker October 14, 2009 at 10:29 am #

    Good info; thanks. I just got a Dr. Dew, which I like but have had some troubles with, largely because it’s considerably shorter than my old mountain bike. In retrospect, the mtb must be ludicrously stretched out but my bad for not bothering to measure. I’ve already lengthened out the stem to 105mm, do you think I’d need to go to 120 if I was to install the trekking bars? Looking forward to hearing how you fare with the Dew in winter. Don’t think I’ll dare that this year especially as my 15k commute is all uphill.

  2. elliottzone October 14, 2009 at 8:20 pm #

    I agree about the short frame size, and it’s even more noticeable now that I’ve got my larger winter cycling boots on and my front wheel is doing the “snow mush twitch” – the wheel’s connected with my feet a few times, but since the snow means I’m going fairly slow it hasn’t been a big deal.

    I’m running a 120mm stem and the measurement from the center of the stem to the center of the trekking bar’s ends is approx 40mm. I found I needed that length so my knees didn’t keep hitting the shifter arms. There are some adjustable stems that let you adjust the up/down height. I didn’t try one of those, but it might be something worth looking into if you run into sizing problems.

  3. Jill April 4, 2012 at 9:46 am #

    What kind of panniers do you on your rear rack?

  4. elliottzone April 6, 2012 at 1:17 pm #

    I have a few different bags I use with my racks. I have an old pair of Serratus panniers and a newer but smaller pair from MEC. I also have a rack top-bag I use from time to time as well.

  5. josh b. March 2, 2016 at 12:30 pm #

    this is great and a good post I,m looking to expand my kona dew plus to a long distance commuter and this is what I was looking for thanks for the post and looking forward to any changes or upgrades you have made to this and other bikes

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