If you remember it was only a few months ago that we tested another Kona, the carbon Libre, from the brand dominated by mountain bikes. Well, it seems that our friends at Kona might not offer a tarmac-specific, skinny-tire drop-bar bike, but they do have this dirt thing dialed.
When it comes to just having fun on a bike and removing the labels and restrictions that many follow, the result is endless miles of joy. This is where the Kona Rove truly shines as a bike that on paper is pretty good at everything. The last time we reviewed the Rove was way back in July 2014, and while a lot has changed since then, the Rove seems to have stayed traditional but still modern.
The frame is still constructed of butted chromoly, but now with a tapered head tube. This is matched to the new full-carbon Verso fork, and both use the modern flat-mount disc standard for brake calipers. The carbon fork and steel frame have a host of mounting points to carry gear, racks, fenders or whatever you deem necessary.
Cables and brake lines are run externally for easy maintenance and full housing front to back to keep the dirt out. The frame uses a threaded BSA 68mm bottom bracket, as well as the modern 12mm axle standard. The steel frame has no proprietary bits or trendy tube shapes; instead, it relies on the traditional triangle design that has years of proven performance.
Like the frame construction, the geometry doesn’t stand out as some revolutionary combination of numbers. No, it instead, like the material, sticks with tradition and offers confidence and reliability, thanks to its balance of design. Our size-54 bike has a wheelbase of 104.8 inches with a head tube angle of 71 degrees. The 15cm head tube is matched with a 58.8cm stack and 38.8cm reach. The short 43.5cm chainstays are meant to fit up to a 650 x 47mm tire, but we were able to squeeze a mountain bike 2.1 (53mm) tire on.
Kona offers the Rove with four different builds ranging from $899 to our Rove LTD at $2399. The LTD uses a Shimano GRX 2x drivetrain with mechanical shifting and hydraulic brakes. The Shimano GRX kit is a bit of a mix-and-match from the 400-series brake calipers to the 600-series hoods and 810-series derailleurs. For gears, the GRX 810 crank has 48/31 rings matched to an 11-34t ,11-speed cassette for great range.
For wheels, Kona laced a set of alloy 650b WTB KOM Light Team i23 TCS 2.0 rims to Shimano 105 hubs. These are matched with a set of tubeless-ready WTB Venture 650x47mm tires. WTB also supplies a custom Kona-branded SL8 saddle with chromoly rails. For the cockpit, Kona supplies their self-branded alloy stem and an alloy flare bar. The 27.2mm alloy seatpost is also Kona-branded.
When it comes to the ride, the Rove LTD is well-balanced. The build is budget-friendly but prioritizes the important bits (like shifting) that make the biggest difference. The Shimano GRX drivetrain works as we have come to expect—flawless. Sure, it’s not electric, but even with full housing, the shift action is light and precise. The brakes have good modulation, and by pairing them with the slightly heavier 400-series calipers, it helps maintain a sub-$2500 price point.
The WTB KOM Light wheel build is a bit misleading in its name, but since they come from the mountain side of things, they are robust. They are also tubeless, making this an out-of-the-box, do-it-all option. For us, the wheels had no issues, but if there was a place to invest in a performance upgrade, this would be it; otherwise, these will handle loads of gear and tons of miles.
Performance-wise, this bike is no featherweight, and nor is it trying to be at just over 24 pounds. The bike is designed to be a worry-free, have-fun build where breaking something and getting stranded in the backcountry are never a concern. The handling is pretty good for a bike with a 104.8cm wheelbase, and the short back and long front kept us behind the bike and confident on steep descents.
The 650b wheel design means more rubber and traction without sacrificing geometry, but a few test riders thought they “felt” slower when on the paved road. When you look at the numbers, the outside diameter of the tire compared to a 700x30mm tire is almost identical. The smaller rim and more rubber mean much lower tire pressures without the added weight that a 700x40mm tire would have.
Overall, this is a bike that out of the box is ready for adventure. If bikepacking is your thing, there are eyelets
everywhere, but best of all, it’s just a balanced bike. For us, it was a bit refreshing to hop on a bike with 30 psi in the tires, not worry about sprint finishes and just explore. Between the natural damper of steel and the high-volume tire, the roads less traveled became our new playground.
The last lines of our 2014 review still remain the final thoughts as we enjoy the ride in 2021: “Kona’s Rove
is simply a simple bike that is designed for the simple task of being a bicycle. No bother about weight
limits, aero efficiency or anything else. Just a solidly built gravel bike delivering added access at an
• Steel is still real
• 650b wheels are still up for debate
• A solid drivetrain for everything
Weight: 24.25 pounds
Sizes: 48, 50, 52, 54 (tested), 56, 58cm