Kona Unit X Review: Long Live the Adventure Bike

Stopped by your LBS lately? The other day I was perusing one of mine, a mountain bike-only establishment, and I couldn't help but notice the least expensive bike they had in the store was $4,700. Alloy frame too, not even carbon. The parts were nice, sure, but after tax that's $5k. This seems common now too. For a full suspension rig, $2k is decidedly entry-level. Plus, entry-level models can be hard to find.

But what if you bucked the trend for ever more complicated, downhill capable, and shreddier bikes? What if you thought a little differently about what a bike can do and should be? What if you could find an über capable, durable, fun-to-ride bike for, say, less than $2k? 

For months now, I've mostly ridden a rigid bike with a steel frame, and had an absolute blast. It's the Kona Unit X, the latest in a two-decade model line. For $1,599, you get a Reynolds 520 Butted Cromoly frame with a no-frills but durable Shimano Deore 1x12 drivetrain, Shimano MT410 hydraulic brakes, and excellent, beefy 29" x 2.6" tires, either Maxxis Recons or WTB Rangers. 

This is Kona's adventure bike, made with an eye toward bikepacking as you can tell by the rigid frame and mounting points galore. But here's the thing -- you don't have to use it as a bikepacker to have fun. Stable, with nimble steering, this is one of the most versatile bikes I've ever ridden. What does it weigh? A lot, for a bike without any suspension --  about 31 pounds. But so what? It's not a greyhound. Not every bike needs to be. 

See? Sprightly geo, not too upright, not too slack. A dropper post is the next mod I make, and pretty much a requirement without any squish other than the tires. Photo: Housman

I love to load mine with a framebag full of snacks, binos, a book, and maybe a blanket and just head up into the hills without much of a plan. That might mean bombing a winding singletrack, perhaps a slog through a muddy fire road, maybe a trail-less adventure through duff. Whatever happens, happens and I know this bike can handle it and will always put a smile on my face. With the compliant steel frame and big tires, I almost don't miss suspension. But if you really want to, you can swap a suspension fork onto the Unit X. 

It's also plenty comfortable for long road rides. Where I live, lots of fun trails require either driving to the trailhead (no thanks) or riding a few miles on the road to get there. The Unit X's balanced feel and comfy cockpit make for a pretty sweet highway cruiser too. Far more comfortable than a full suspension missile. This means it's also a fun ride around town. Popping off curbs, zooming down hilly streets, it's a competent grocery getter. 

You can also go even more simple and get the Kona Unit (no X), the single speed version of the same bike. You can also employ the X's modular dropouts and run this one as a single speed. I'm not nearly fit enough, nor enough of a glutton for punishment for that platform, I'll keep my gearing thank you very much. 

I'm not selling my full suspension bike anytime soon or anything, but honestly, if I could only keep one bike, I think it might be a rigid frame like the Unit X. It's just a more well-rounded option. 

It's sold out at the moment through the Kona site, but you can find them at third party sites like this one. Or this one

Words by Justin Housman

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