Kona gets single-minded with the scandium Major One.
Tester and Photos: Sean Horita
Originally published in Issue 8, available in digital form

Kona Major One singlespeed cyclocross bike. © Cyclocross Magazine

Kona Major One singlespeed cyclocross bike. © Cyclocross Magazine

The Major One singlespeed is the fourth and newest cyclocross bike from the Pacific Northwest mountain bike powerhouse company, Kona. Over the years, they have expanded and evolved their lineup from steel and titanium hardtails, to a wide range of all-mountain and downhill bikes and finally bikes for their factory cyclocross riders.

I owned a Kona mountain bike back in the mid- 90’s, so I was excited to ride this bike. Plus, the StarCrossed cyclocross race in Redmond, WA was coming up, and I had neglected to sign up early enough for my usual race. Seeing that the singlespeed category still had room, I jumped at the chance to try a Major One and then race it at Star Crossed, while gathering valuable data points for this review.

The Frame

The Major One is built from the same Kona Race Light Scandium butted tubing that Kona uses to build their Major Jake ‘cross frames for U.S. National Champion Ryan Trebon and Barry Wicks. My test bike was a 49cm, with a 53cm top tube. The down tube is massively oversized, measuring almost three inches in diameter, and my hands couldn’t reach all the way around. An ovalized top tube, slightly flattened near the seat tube junction, makes for comfortable shouldering. The head tube features a machined center section, which reduces weight, while leaving extra tubing material around the headset cups. The drive side chainstay is built from a shaped tube welded to a machined plate. This setup provides a good amount of clearance for the chainring and looks better than crimping the tube in that area.

The Kona Major One has generous rear wheel clearance. © Cyclocross Magazine

The Kona Major One has generous rear wheel clearance. © Cyclocross Magazine

Tire clearance in the rear is very good. On closer inspection, the chainstay bridge reveals a threaded boss for attaching the lower edge of a full-wrap fender. A-ha! Having heaps of clearance for fenders as well as mud enables the Major One to do double-duty as an entry-level singlespeed race bike, and a basic fendershod commuter in the wet winter months.

The carbon-bladed Kona fork also has tiny, stealthy fender mounts at the dropouts and a drilled-out crown to accept fender or rack mounts. I would describe the frame color as root beer, sort of an iridescent cocoa, like something from Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, with yellow and white graphics finishing off a very unique-looking bike

The Kona Major One cyclocross singlespeed uses a Kona brand carbon cyclocross fork. © Cyclocross Magazine

The Kona Major One cyclocross singlespeed uses a Kona brand carbon cyclocross fork. © Cyclocross Magazine

With a Kona ’cross bike at my disposal, I had hopes of mimicking Kona/FSA pro Barry Wicks, both on and off the bike. I once saw the tall rider hook the nose of his Kona’s saddle around the back of his neck and, bending at the waist, he was able to turn the cranks while adjusting his rear derailleur cable tension. I had to try this trick with the test bike, but found that it works better with bigger bikes and taller riders, and—oh yeah—bikes with derailleurs. In case the name didn’t give it away, the Major One has just one speed. Kona gives this bike steeper geometry than their top-of-the-line Major Jake, with a 72.5/75.5 degree head and seat tube angle compared to 71.7/74.7 degrees on a similarsized Major Jake frame.

The Build

The Kona Major One has a heavy but sturdy rear singlespeed wheel. © Cyclocross Magazine

The Kona Major One has a heavy but sturdy rear singlespeed wheel. © Cyclocross Magazine

The bike is built up using mostly Kona housebrand parts including stem, oversized aluminum bars and aluminum seat post. The Kore cantilever brakes are fitted with gray no-brand pads and come with a proper straddle cable hanger. The wheels are…well, I couldn’t find a brand name anywhere on the wheels, but Kona says the rims are Alex 390, with Formula hubs and Sandvik stainless 14g spokes. The drive train starts with size-specific, 165mm FSA Gossamer cranks pushing a 42t chainring with a bash guard, which then connects to an 18t cog on the flip-flop hub. Tektro brake levers provide a wide, flat-ish surface on the hoods, and with the Kore cantilevers had a good, solid feeling.

The Ride

Over two weeks, I rode the bike on pavement, gravel trails next to the bike path, and finally at the big Star Crossed race, which takes racers over grass, pavement, dirt and banked velodrome walls. On the bike path and mellow gravel trails, the bike felt extremely solid and “planted,” without any perceptible flexing or dampening in any areas. I really enjoyed getting up and mashing hard, with the shorter cranks and steeper angles seemingly enhancing the sprinting capabilities. The words that kept popping to mind on the first few rides were manly, macho words like “truck,” “ox” and “axe.” The brown color began to remind me of Luke Skywalker’s landspeeder in Star Wars, a durable desert-bashing machine that he only abandoned in favor of flying X-Wings. If you like the brown, hurry to grab a 2009 model, because the 2010 model switches to black.

At Star Crossed, 45 minutes of sprinting and pounding on the bumpy grass surface were telegraphed through the massive bottom bracket area, big down tube and thin bar tape to my back, arms and hands, leaving my fingers tingly and numb by the end of the race. Not wanting to pinch-flat, I ran a conservative 33-35 psi in the SpeedKing tires, which were decent for traction and faster on the pavement sections, but not cushy enough for vibration dampening. The 165mm cranks made it a little easier to turn a high cadence. 42×18 is a pretty common gear for singlespeeders, but I didn’t see anyone running a taller gear at that race, which made me think that an entry-level 1×1 ’cross bike should be supplied with slightly lower gearing. However, this would detract from the bike’s versatility and positive qualities on the road and paths, so maybe Kona’s choice was a safe compromise. Pre-race, I lowered the straddle cable to get more power to the Kore stoppers, but the gray brake pads seemed pretty feeble in their attempt to slow me down.

The total bike weight for my tested 49cm bike was 19.5 lbs without pedals, and 12.5 lbs without both pedals and wheels. That means those 32- hole, 3-crossed, 14g-spoked mud-busters with Speed King tires weighed around seven pounds a pair. For a scandium frame without derailleurs and shifters, it’s not breathtakingly light by any means. But riding one gear will do a good job of leaving you short of breath. If you’ve got weight weenie tendencies, a few small upgrades (like wheels) can easily bring the bike below average geared bike weights.

The Verdict

The Major One, at $1099 retail, is a capable allaround workhorse of a bike and a great way to try the fun of singlespeeding. I was immediately comfortable riding it on the road and light trails, and would like to have it around the house, like a dependable dog or comfortable pair of jeans. An entry-level racer would probably want to try lower drive train inches before heading out to all but the flattest courses, and Golden Speedo-coveting one-gear fanatics will want to upgrade the wheels to something lighter. The combination of the Kona scandium frame with rear horizontal fork ends is the main selling point of this bike, so for the price, some lower level parts are to be expected. The assertive qualities of the big-tubed frame could be complemented with lighter wheels, carbon bits and thicker bar tape. “And maybe I could pour you a nice cup of herbal tea?” I hear the bike mocking me. It’s a workhorse, it’s brown, it’s a great rain bike and it could be a great singlespeed race bike, as soon as you get stronger.

Psyched:

  • The singlespeed-curious and rain commuters
  • Kona owners shopping for a second bike
  • People down with the brown
  • Riders tall enough to get some flex in a longer scandium tube

Bummed:

  • Weight weenies
  • Spinners and the weak
  • People who like to stop or slow down

The Specs:

Bike: Kona Major One
Sizes: 49 (tested), 52, 54, 56, 58, 60, 62cm
Frame: Kona Race Light Scandium Butted, CNC-machined chainstay
Fork: Kona Carbon Cross
Headset: TH, 1-1/8”
Wheelset: Alex R390 rims, Formula hubs, Sandvik stainless 14g spokes
Tires: Continental Speedking Cross 700x35c folding clinchers
Brake Levers: Tektro R200a
Crankset: FSA Gossamer , 42T chainring, Fsa MegaExo bottom bracket
Freewheel: Shimano 18T
Brakes: Kore Sport
Handlebar: Kona Road
Stem: Kona Road (6°±)
Seatpost: Kona Road
Saddle: WTB Rocket V Comp OE
Pedals: None
Weight: 19.5lbs (without pedals), 12.5lbs without wheels
MSRP: $1099
Country of Origin: China
More info: Konaworld.com