Three Steeds in the Stable: 2011 Felt Z85, 2014 Kona Sutra, and 2014 Surly Krampus Review

Some people fill their garages with boats or jet skis, others dirt bikes or motorcycles (as I did in my earlier, more reckless years), others old muscle cars or niche-filling work-in-progress vehicles, and still others empty their bank accounts on multifarious other hobbies, i.e. guns, wine collections, antiques, scrap-booking… I’m not very good at freewheeling random hobbies, but you get the point.  This rambling preamble serves as justification for Trish and my own account-emptying hobby: bikes.  Of course each bike serves a purpose, and Trish and I could easily go through our garage and share how every specific bike serves a specific but vital role in our biking needs.  When I think about all our bikes (7 total, but who’s counting?), I can say with confidence that they all get used, and we have yet to invest in a bike that sits in the garage gathering dust.

Again, there is a point to this entry, it just took me a while to get there.  The point is that bikes serve different needs and my three main bikes, a 2011 Felt Z85, a 2014 Kona Sutra, and a 2014 Surly Krampus, serve most all of mine.  This entry’s goal is to catalog the slight modifications I’ve made to each, how they ride, and my overall opinion of them; so that’s the point.  Enjoy.

Garage

2011 Felt Z85

Purpose: Road Bike

 Modifications:

Wheelset – Mavic CXP 22N to Vuelta Team V.  I made this switch when I was in a phase of biking where I thought that everything on my bike needed to be as lightweight as possible.    Fortunately, that was as far as I got before delving deeper into the pricy and somewhat debatable theory behind lightweight bikes and performance at the recreational level.  While I’m obsessed with being a top hill-climber via Strava, I’m never going to be a Cat. 1 racer, so what’s the point, right?

Tires – I am currently riding on Continental Grand Prix 4000s, and love them.  They are quick rolling and I’ve gotten 0 flats in over 1,000 miles of riding.  How many people can say that about their road tires?  At least one – me.

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 Ride:

The Felt Z85 is a very comfortable and responsive bike and fits my needs as a recreational road-rider who occasionally desires to show off his hill-skills as a member of the 140 lbs. club – definitely an unfair advantage as a rider.

While I don’t pretend to be a racer, neither does this bike.  It isn’t one of Felt’s ultra-stiff racing frames.  I think they’d ambivalently label it an endurance road bike, light and stiff enough to ride hard, but flexible enough for longer rides where making it to the finish line before nightfall is more important than shaving a tenth of a second off your 15-mile time trial.

Complaints:

If stopping quickly is important for you, then the stock brakes on the Z85 might need to be replaced.  I personally like to live dangerously.

Other than that, hmm… the stock tires and seat stem are heavy.  But who cares.

Summary:

Overall, I think the Z85 is a great mixture of fast and comfortable, and as a bike in the $1,000 club, having a mostly 105 drivetrain is a great perk for the price. Worth every penny if you’re a road cyclist committed to getting into the sport.

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2014 Kona Sutra

Purpose: Commuting and touring

Modifications:

Tires: Replaced the Continental Contacts with Schwalbe Marathon Supremes.  Although I got one flat with these questionably overpriced tires, they roll pretty fast for being fatter tires and other than one flat, they were a good switch.

Mudguards: Replaced generic crappy (to put it lightly) bike planet fenders with Rainrunner Trekk Reflex + Disc fenders. Necessary investment if you plan on running a bit beefier tires on the Sutra.

Ride:

I really enjoy riding this bike.  Although it feels like mounting a rhinoceros when compared to my road bike (get your mind out of the gutter you sicko), it can maintain a pretty zippy speed once the legs of its slothful owner get it up to speed.

I use this bike to commute to work 5 days a week, and it gives me a reason to wake up in the morning.  OK, I have a lot of reasons to get up in the morning, but it is one of them.  The bike is a tank.  I can load it with tons of gear, be it school supplies for my students each day, or over 60 lbs. of gear for a bike tour in the Canadian Rockies (there’s a blog entry for that.  Check it out).  The bike feels great with or without gear, but I almost prefer riding it with weight; the bike feels like it’s in its element, dare I say ‘sporty,’ despite its rhinoceros-like girth.  Speaking of sporty, having reviewed other people’s thoughts on the new Sutra, some people say that because the Sutra shares the geometry of Kona’s gravel-grinding Rove frame, it has a noticeably more responsive and ‘sporty’ feel, so it has that going for it.  As for whether or not that’s true, how should I know?  It’s the only touring bike I’ve owned and ridden for a substantial amount of time, and will hopefully be the only touring bike I own and ride.  So I guess my answer to the Sutra’s new sportier feel is YES.  It is the sportiest and fastest and most responsive touring bike I’ve ever substantially ridden and owned.

But seriously, having put over 3,000 miles on this bike, I can say with confidence that it checks the right boxes when it comes to commuting and touring in the states.

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Complaints:

I hate to be a negative Nancy, but there are a few changes I’d make to the bike if I was Kona’s CEO and had clairvoyant powers to see every little issue that might arise when a bike is completely remodeled in the span of one year.

One problem I have with the bike is its inability to sport tires larger than 42c.  Furthermore, Kona is under the delusion that the Sutra can sport 40c tires with its stock fenders… but everyone is delusional about something, right?  I have 35c Schwalbe Supremes on my bike and ended up getting new fenders altogether because I had to make minor adjustments to the fenders every week.

It also has a bulky front derailleur that presses against the fenders even with the original Continental Contact tires, which are skinny. I don’t know why Kona didn’t just use a clamp front derailleur to avoid this, but again, who am I to judge? I’m sure there is a perfectly logical explanation.

Speaking of fenders, the stock fenders are kind of the worst. They only have one set of metal adjustment dowels, which makes tire rub a ubiquitous issue, one worth avoiding altogether by purchasing better fenders.

OK, last issue, I promise. Having done over 1,500 miles of touring this summer, my bike’s racks have had a big load to carry. This being said, they’re made to carry big loads – they’re racks – and my back rack, the Blackburn TRX-1, has two cracks near some weld points, a disconcerting prospect if riding in the middle of the Sahara. Luckily, I was in the heart of Idaho when I noticed the cracks and figured I could use God’s gift to humanity, Gorilla tape, if something snapped in the last 100 miles of my tour. Still, racks shouldn’t break, especially if they don’t exceed their load limit. Tisk, tisk, Blackburn. I’m going to bring my bike in to my LBS and hopefully we can both twist Blackburn’s arm enough to give me a shiny new rear rack that doesn’t break.

***Update on the Blackburn Rack: I called Blackburn’s customer service line expecting the worst, but within about 2 minutes they had gotten my address and sent me their newer, more reliable TRX-2 back rack.  It was almost too easy.  I gave them my name and address, and told them I had a bike that the rack had come with stock, and that’s all it took.  They said it should be at my house within 5-7 business days.  Bravo Blackburn customer service!

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Summary:

Nobody can build a perfect bike, especially one with as many stock features as the Kona Sutra. So while there appears to be a whole host of complaints, overall this is the bike that I use for everything, from grocery shopping, to bar hopping, to commuting, to touring – I probably know it better than I know my closest friends (sorry closest friends) – so finding small issues is pretty much unavoidable. This is an excellent bike, and I think the new 2015 model solves many of the issues I mention here, so check it out and see if it’s the right all-around bike to add to your stable.

2014 Surly Krampus

Purpose: Mountain Biking, Off-Road Touring

*Modifications:

*Update: More modifications have been made to the Krampus since this entry was created.  See my “1,000+km Review of the Krampus” for a detailed modifications list.

Handlebar: Replaced the stock Salsa Salt Flat handlebar for a Jones Loop H Bar. The H Bar allows for a lot more hand holds if off-road touring and I think it’s more comfortable than having your arms hanging out wide like ape-hangers. But I guess that I’m basing all this on my research nerdery, so only time will tell if this is actually true.

Front Fork: Not exactly happy about this change. A Surly Krampus comes stock with a front fork that has zero eyelets for mounting a front rack or water bottle cages. They make a Krampus fork that has all these eyelets, but don’t allow an exchange to occur before purchase. The ‘touring’ fork is an after-market purchase. SOOO… I have a front fork with no eyelets and absolutely no purpose whatsoever while an identical fork with the necessary eyelets is coming in the mail, after an $80 down payment of course. All I can say is Surly better not change their policy in the future so everyone gets as pissed about this as I am.

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*Preview (since I’ve only owned this bike for a total of 1 day):

*Update: See my “1,000+km Review of the Surly Krampus” entry if you’re looking for a more thorough and knowledgeable understanding of the bike’s capabilities.

Introducing the newest steed in the stable, the 2014 Surly Krampus. While I have taken this bike on a total of one ride so far (it just came in the mail, as if Krampus himself delivered it to me amidst fire and gnashing of teeth), I’d say the Krampus could be best described as part trampoline, part McDonald’s play place.  Let me explain.

On its maiden voyage, I found that the Krampus likes to bounce over obstacles as if mini-trampolines were built into the tires. This could be due to the fact that the tires are three inches wide, or that the Surly Rabbit-Hole Rims are 50 mm wide as if it has delusions of being a dirt-bike instead of a mountain bike. This steed has other delusions as well. Delusions of sugar-plums dancing in its head for instance… until Krampus devours these delusions and carries the screaming bike manufacturer off to its lair for dessert.

Anyway, the bike is part McDonald’s play place because you can’t help but wear a goofy smile while riding it. I used to find myself enviously watching little kids tearing around in a McDonald’s play place wishing it weren’t taboo for me to join them in the little tubes running and screaming and laughing. But I no longer need a labyrinth of plastic tubes to claim as my imaginary lair because me and Krampus now share a labyrinth of trails, single-tracks, and gravel roads far out in the woods beyond all human contact. It may not be much, but it’s home. Sure, other ravenous demonic monsters may roam the labyrinth faster than us, but we plod along with a smile on our face, bouncing over obstacles as if the world is one giant play place made just for our perfectly symbiotic relationship.

In case you lost interest in my metaphor, the Krampus is bouncy and fun, but a bit slower than other mountain bikes due to its mammoth tires. This being said, what makes it so special is its versatility. Use the big wheels and rigid fork if you’re ok with being a bit slow or don’t want the unreliability of front suspension when off-road touring. Or, since Surly claims the bike functions just fine with normal 29er tires, the bike could be outfitted with front suspension and ride as a steel framed hard-tail. The Krampus is a jack of all trades in the mountain bike world.

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The Surly Krampus seems to be a versatile off-road touring bike that can be used for all sorts of off-road experiences. Although a bit slower than other mountain bikes, the Krampus can be outfitted with all sorts of modifications, they just may cost a pretty penny.

And remember, if you don’t like being passed by other mountain bikers, just carry your trusty birch branches and swat away all the nasty carbon and lighter aluminum frames. They won’t mess with you, you’re Krampus. What’s that? You still haven’t looked Krampus up on Wikipedia yet? Don’t bother. I think I’ve exhausted all of his most interesting features.

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