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It’s been a few years since Kona has had a true carbon road bike offering. The first Zone made its appearance in 2013 but carbon has been noticeably absent from its line in recent years. Kona has spent that time developing some tasty steel and titanium road offerings, along with focusing product development on its robust mountain and cyclocross lines. With internal collaboration from co-founder Jake Heilbron and head product manager Pat "Paddy" White, Kona re-enters the carbon road-race world with the Kona Zone LTD, contending for supremacy in the carbon-discelectronic-through-axle world with Kona style.
Jake and Paddy are both true bike people hailing from the Pacific Northwest, doing bikes the way they choose, enjoying life and not succumbing to the pressures of building the next Tour de France-winning bike. Not to take anything away from their products, but that’s just not what they are about. The goal for the new Zone was simple: lean on their decades of experience to produce true race performance while offering all-day comfort.
The original Zone took inspiration from criterium racers, ’cross racers and road racers. Each put their own desired characteristics into the bike, making it more than a pure race bike or a pure endurance bike, but one that capably straddled both those genres. The re-launched Kona Zone LTD features more of the same, but better. The Zone LTD starts with a multidimensional, uniquely shaped tube set from a partnership with Deda Elementi. Riders will be challenged to find a simple oval tube anywhere, but each shape plays a part in the bike’s performance. It’s robust and angular up front for a precise feel at the bars, while svelte and more traditional at the seat stays for a smoother ride. To be sure, plenty of the shapes are aesthetic, styled to visually imply their function, but they still deliver on that function.
Both front and rear through-axles stiffen up the ride considerably in the corners, and with the incorporation of disc brakes Kona was forced to beef up chain stays from the previous Zone, thus increasing power transfer as well. The chain stays are on the long side, even for disc road. At 420mm on a size 56 they are longer than most disc race bikes but fit right in with the endurance crowd. Yet the head tube is a bit lower than comparable endurance bikes, evidence of the bike’s desire to straddle categories.
As the name Kona Zone LTD might allude to, Kona didn’t waste time spec’ing a budget-build or offering multiple levels to choose from. It was very selective and thorough choosing what it feels are the right pieces to offer riders one simple choice with high-end tidbits from leaders in their categories. SRAM’s eTap Hydro was chosen as the Zone LTD’s primary drivetrain parts, offering the simplest of current shifting technology. Mavic Ksyrium Allroad Pro Disc wheels combined with Challenge Paris–Roubaix 300 tpi 27mm tires elaborate on the performance, ride-ability and durability theme.
The cockpit is a full Easton spec, with an Easton EA 70 stem, EC90 bars and seat post. The last touch point is an in-house Kona saddle with Ti-rails and center cutout, which we found to be quite comfortable on long days in the saddle.
Of course, no road bike with roots in the Pacific Northwest would be complete without fenders, or at least mounts for them. Most riders who use fenders are familiar with aftermarket, clip-on fenders but will confess they aren’t nearly as reliable or durable as a solid frame-mounting set. The mounts on the Zone LTD are removable for those that don’t need them, leaving only small, almost invisible, holes.
Lines blur and smiles emerge. We loved the Zone LTD from the moment we turned the pedals. It’s a well-balanced, comfortable and stable ride. We found ourselves often running 90 psi in the Challenge Paris–Roubaix tires, adding to the bike’s suppleness and handling ability. The claimed width was 27mm but our set measured 30mm, still leaving plenty of frame clearance if you wanted to go wider, adding to the bike’s ability to expand riding options.
We have to say that out of all the bikes we’ve tested we would be hard pressed to find one that was more stable going downhill than the Zone LTD; the confidence was outstanding. The long wheelbase, thanks to those long rear stays, combined with the through-axle’s stiffness, produces a confident line as the frame loads up with Gs during high speed descending.
The combo of disc brakes and eTap freedom provided heaps of control, leading to a wandering mind: new places to venture, pushing limits of a road bike, ask questions. How will it ride on a smooth dirt road? How will it ride on brake bumps? Can I ride single track? How will the Zone LTD stack up to my other rides?
Our favorite Zone LTD adventure started innocently enough in the town of Bend, Oregon, on paved roads that turned to dirt on the outskirts, and then enjoying hard-packed gravellogging roads. The adventure turned up a notch when terrain loosened and we opted to try some single track winding up toward Mount Bachelor. The Zone LTD is a carbon road bike with the soul of a Kona—and we’re fans.
PRICE: $7,000 (as tested)
WEIGHT: 17lb 6oz/7.9kg, 56cm (w/o pedals & cages)
BUILD: SRAM Red eTap HRD, Easton EC90 seat post, Easton EC90 SLX bars, Mavic Ksyrium Allroad Pro Disc, Challenge Paris–Roubaix Open Tubular.