By Colin Dennis
Sizes: S M M/L L XL
Size tested: M/L (54cm)
If you're riding on a tight budget this autumn, but want a good degree of competitiveness from your new cyclocross bike, Kona’s Private Jake is a great place to start.
Always among the perennial startline favourites, Kona’s endearing range of ‘Jake’ cyclocross bikes, never fails to deliver for the privateer, and the forgiving ride of the Private Jake model bears witness to how Kona continue to get it right – most of the time.
Bar a wheel swap and a few cosmetic changes like frame decals and a switch of knobblies, the 2016 Private Jake is hardly distinguishable from the 2017 version:
RAM Rival 1x11 drivechain, replicated geometry and sizing, plus Kona's durable finishing kit, it should remain reasuringly familiar for Kona die-hards'.
Thankfully, the 2016 bike is still available at many dealers for quite a few dollars less, thus making it a bit of a bargain, as long as you’re not bothered by ‘year model hype’ etc.
Cyclocross had gained huge strides in popularity over the last few years, swelling the ranks of local races dramatically. In response to the growth of the senseless act of riding road bikes off-road, especially in the US, many bike brands now offer a much wider range of CX bikes for clubman and pro-rider alike. Kona, in case of point.
But Kona, being Kona, never a brand to follow convention, have always done things their own way and seem to have kept their business feet firmly on solid ground.
I get the feeling that by their choices of tried and tested frame materials and component selection, remain steering their cyclocross bikes towards the clubman and the privateer competitor. Although this style of brand ethos, certainly hasn't kept Kona Team rider, Helen Wyman of the podium in recent years.
I don’t use the word competition lightly, either. The Private Jake is close to being that perfect CX platform on which to learn your trade, progress up the ranks, and possibly earn some podium points in the bag. Helen Wyman, case in point!
Putting together a cyclocross bike, or any other bike come to that, must be like picking the England football team: what might looks great on paper, might not work in harmony when thrown together. 'Euro 2016' anyone?
What I'm getting at is that, unlike today's precocious footballers, the vast majority of bicycles are made to a price-point with manufacturers endeavouring to provide you with the best tools at the best price.
So, unless you are building your own dream bike this autumn, and you really know your stuff, there is always going to be a compromise when purchasing an off-the-shelf bike.
Thankfully, there aren’t too many compromises on the Private Jake. More of that later, because the virtues of this fun-loving bike are many:
Using the ever increasing popularity of 1 x 11, or whatever the number of the beast, a single chainring up front clearly has its advantages over a conventional front mech in muddy conditions.
The spread of gears is wide on the SRAM Rival system fitted here. The 11 – 32 cassette only has one noticeable gap where another cog would smooth out the transition, but you can’t have everything, can you?
We are converts to the one chainring system, it’s worth its weight in gold as soon as the track cuts up and Mother Nature clogs up your gears.
Lovely, neutral handling that delivers a forgiving and confidence-inspiring ride. Wide bars for greater off-road control, and a top tube length that keeps the handle bars close enough to get your body weight forwards onto the front-end to help the WTB Cross Boss tyres fight for purchase when chucking the Private Jake into a tight corner.
While we're down there, we may as well have a closer look at the tyre selection on the 2016 model. As good as they are over intermediate terrain, or rather - nothing too muddy! the WTB Cross Boss come up trumps if you want long-ride comfort, and dare I say it? Gravel riding?
As a potential racing rig, I feel the Private Jake would benefit from a quick upgrade in the knobbly department. The folding WTB's are certainly light enough, but for cyclocross racing, we'll be fitting something a little more race-orientated. Personal preference, but one we feel will put us in good stead.
The cushioning effect of the 35mm width is perfect for the above mentioned, but the slight ballooning of the WTB’s slows’ the steering a little too much for my liking. So if you want to up your chances of getting near the front of the pack this weekend, maybe invest in something a little narrower...
… And as if by magic, Kona are fitting Clement MPX 700 x 33mm Tubeless tyres on the 2017 Private Jake which we will be fitting and reviewing soon - hopefully!
The Novatec, disc specific rims, fitted to the Private Jake are tubeless compatible and ready to accept your choice of suitable tyre. Going tubeless makes perfect sense. Maybe not as fast-rolling as tubular wheels and tyres, but as a clubman, or privateer looking for marginal gains, we'd recommend upgrading to tubeless for cyclocross at the nearest opportunity.
Our Kona came fitted with TRP Spyre-C mechanical disc brakes sporting a160mm rotor up front and a 140mm bring up the rear. Sadly we don’t hold much hope for the standard pads as fitted, they are slow to bed-in, and wear out very quickly.
This is no reflection on the ride quality of the Private Jake, it’s just that it’s unfair to compare cable operated brakes to hydraulic ones, but! From recent experience of Spyre-C disc brakes, we’d recommend using them once in the wet, then fitting some quality sintered pads to get the best from these stoppers.
Back on a positive note, aside from its easy to live with bike-handling characteristics, the Private Jake frame and forks leave acres of space for shedding mud and the fitting wide tyres, as we've already seen. Both frame and forks are drilled for the fitting of bike carriers fore and aft should the need arise to travel the world, or do the shopping.
Versatility now creeps into Private Jake’s vocabulary: gravel, adventure, cyclocross, commute, and winter training, ensures a Smorgasbord of capabilities with just the need of an open-road to prove its worth.
But back at home-grown cyclocross events is where anyone can put Kona’s Private Jake on parade, and that’s exactly what we are doing this weekend at round 1 of this year’s Wessex Cyclocross League.
In sumarry: Kona's Private Jake has behaved faultlessly while out on parade. The handling is positive while remaining stable, especially through tight sections of singletrack, and there's enough sharpness to the handling to react quickly when heading into tight terrain.
We love the single chainring set-up and the adaptability of the Private Jake frame adds plenty of scope for making this bike become a weapon of many choices.