If you chase two rabbits, you’ll catch neither of them,
according to the old adage. But what if you try to catch three or four or five rabbits? It seems that’s what Kona has tried to do with the new Rove, and at first I couldn’t figure out whether it’s a stroke of genius or if it’s a bike that simply doesn’t do anything well because it’s compromised in too many areas. The Rove recently hit the shop floor at Velo, so with great curiosity, I threw a leg over the Rove and gave it a spin to find out.
The first thing I noticed was how light and nimble it was. For a pretty sturdy steel-framed bike it’s incredibly quick off the mark. It also handles and corners beautifully, which inspired confidence and induced much grinning. The frame, while not branded (ie, Reynolds, Columbus, etc) had a lovely ride feel, and broke down some of my preconceptions about in-house tubing.
The second thing I noticed was how wide the handlebars are. Kona seems to have a hopeless addiction for putting short stems and wide bars on their drop-bar bikes, which I find a little curious, but will probably suit most people buying this bike. It lends more of a mountain rather than a road bike feel to it, perhaps an influence of their MTB heritage. Of course handlebars and stems can be changed according to taste and fit, but the riding position in general was pretty relaxed, prioritising comfort over speed.
The components worked superbly. The Hayes mechanical disc brakes had excellent power and control, and the shifting-courtesy of a SRAM Rival One groupset-was spectacular, and crisp as early morning.
It’s this drivetrain which is probably the defining feature of this bike, and best embodies the spirit of compromise. It’s a 1X11 setup, meaning there is a single chainring up front and 11 cogs at the back. It’s an increasingly common system in mountain biking, and one which trades total gear range for mechanical simplicity and reduced weight compared to a multi chainring setup.
With a 38 tooth chainring and an 11-36 cassette it’s a perfect range for commuting, but a little steep for more technical mountain biking or loaded touring, and a little too low for out-and-out road cycling. Basically what the designers have said is: we’ll save you the expense, weight and maintenance of a front derailleur, and in return you’ll have to make do for certain types of riding.
The same can be said of the wheels. They are reasonably sturdy and have a spoke count of 24, which will work fine for most things, but is a bit light for heavy duty applications like loaded touring, and a little on the heavy side for road cycling. The tyres too – Clement XplorUSH – are a compromise, designed for a mix of sealed and unsealed surfaces.
Of course you can always make component changes to suit your uses: you could fit different tyres, heavier or lighter wheels, or swap the cassette for a 10-42 (available from SRAM), which would also require a longer cage derailleur but will give you greater range of gears. You could even whack on an extra chainring and a front derailleur, though I feel that would be to miss the point of the bike. In any case, the frame has mounts for mudguards, front and rear racks and three bottle cages, as well as decent tyre clearance, so it is a flexible platform to work with.
So is the Rove a bold stroke of genius or does it chase too many rabbits? Well what you have here is a bike that is a jack of all trades and a master of none. Something that is perfect for most of what you’ll do on a day to day basis, and is good enough for the rest of it. If you want heavy-duty touring bike, you’d go for a Surly LHT. If you want a fast steel road machine, you might go for a Kona Honky Tonk or a Brown Jersey Islington. If you want one bike to rule them all, the Rove may just be it.
Would I buy it? No, it’s not quite the bike for me. Do I like it? Yes, quite a lot. It’s really very nimble, very pleasing to ride, and it looks sharp. I love the way it takes a number of contemporary ideas about bike design and wrangles them into a confusing but highly endearing, and effective, package. And a lot of people will love its simplicity, its versatility;a certain, and growing, segment of the market that the Rove will appeal very strongly to. In that sense it’s a bike of, and for, the times. It’s original, and kooky, and very…well, Kona.