Kona has bikes that are not exactly trend-following. We recently wrote a favorable review of the Kona Major Jake as an innovative cyclocross racing design with a slack head angle and increased trail measurement yielding a capable bike for fast technical terrain.
Hot on the redesigned Jake’s heels, introduced in 2018, is the Kona Libre DL that initially looks like a taller, longer Jake with more attachment points for accessories. First impressions, however, can sometimes be deceiving. It is not, even if some similarities exist.
We would describe the Libre DL as a gravel road and trail adventure bike. Perhaps even closer to a drop bar mountain bike.
We have taken the Libre DL to its preferred environment, putting in miles on gravel roads and mixed-terrain for this review.
The great thing about the Libre DL is the Kona Race Light carbon frame at its heart. A Large Libre DL frameset (54cm seat tube) with a SRAM Force 1 build with a huge 10-42t cassette tips the scale at a scant 19 pounds.
The carbon frame has similarity with the Major Jake with relatively thin walls on the huge downtube evidenced by the fact that squeezing the tube flexes the walls a bit, like a metal can. Control lines run internally in the same pattern as the Major Jake. There is a hatch beneath the press-fit BB86 to access the control lines.
Although our bike has a single front chain ring, there is provision for a front derailleur.
Our review sample is a 54cm based on the seat tube length, though the effective top tube length is a roomy 58.8cm. The headtube is 196mm tall and set at 71 degrees in combination with the 72.5-degree seat tube angle, making the Libre DL’s geometry similar to old steel touring bikes from 40 years ago.
To complete that description, the chainstays are 44cm with a 7.2cm bottom bracket drop. With a rangy 638mm front center, the wheelbase is a stretched out to 106.8cm. The reach is 389mm and the stack 630mm, relatively normal for a size Large bike, though I would consider the stack high, which puts the bars up quite high.
The Libre DL has a number of mounting points for bottles and other adventure mount accessories—so many that it's an adventure figuring out all things you can mount. There are four screws on the outside of each fork blade and one on the inside. The latter is for fender stays, the former is for front rack(s), cargo cages or extra bottle cages.
There are four sets of bottle mounts, two sets on the downtube, one set under the down tube and one set on the seat tube. There are two screws on the top tube for a "bento box" type bag. The rear end has both rack and fender mounts.
The Libre DL has 12mm thru-axles and flat mount brakes with a minimum rotor size of 140mm. The included thru-axles require a 5mm hex wrench.
The Libre frameset comes in two different builds. The Libre DL we reviewed comes with 700c wheels with 45mm tires and a SRAM Force 1 drivetrain. The Libre, with the same frame, has 650b wheels with 47mm road-plus tires and a Shimano 105 group.
The SRAM Force 1 HRD group on the Libre DL has a 40-tooth front ring on the carbon arm SRAM Force crank paired with an XD 10-42t 11-speed cassette. The calipers are flat mount with 160mm SRAM Centerline rotors with polished edges.
Thanks to the long reach of the frame, the stem is a short 80mm, a bit like a modern mountain bike and a style that has its origins with the Gary Fisher Genesis geometry.
Most remarkable amongst the accessory components is the Kona branded aluminum handlebar that is 48cm wide (measured c-c) at the brake hoods and flares to a whopping 56cm at the drops. The bars might not quite meet the definition of dirt drops, but they're more flared than your average gravel bar.
The aluminum seatpost holds on to the WTB saddle with a two bolt clamp, the same setup as we had on the Major Jake we reviewed.
The Libre DL has the new Easton EA70 AX wheelset, a 1,600+ (claimed) gram aluminum rim set with a 24mm internal width. The wheelset is part of Easton's adventure line and is thus designed with a wide 24mm internal width. The wheels are stout, with 28 straight-pull straight-gauge spokes, brass nipples and 3x lacing. The wheelset weight is competitive with the majority of carbon wheelsets with 24mm internal width.
The 700c x 45mm WTB Riddlers reach their full width when inflated and the combination is an easy and reliable tubeless setup.
My initial impression from riding the Libre DL is it is an all-rigid 29er mountain bike, reimagined.
In 2006, my 26er Giant Anthem XC race machine had a 71-degree head angle, and 1.9-inch wide tires were not unusual. The bars were lower than the saddle, and the Gary Fisher Genesis-inspired geometry stretched out the top tube and added a shorter stem, changing the steering and handling.
The Libre combines these elements. I have no hesitation stating the Libre is fun to ride in the 700c configuration. Some gravel bikes lean towards road roots, others have a more mountain bike character. The Libre is the latter and from a cyclocross perspective, we might call this monstercross.
I’ve come to like this style as I venture further off the traveled roads. With the tall stack, I set up the handlebar tops to be level with the saddle height, a classic touring position. This put my weight a bit more on the saddle, but I found myself using the drop sections of the bars more.
I could flip the stem to be flat and remove the spacers to "slam the stem." That would gain up to 4cm of saddle to handlebar drop, but I rather enjoyed the upright position, especially when on long descents off road.
I’m not the biggest fan of super wide bars, but they seemed to match the upright position and the theme of the bike. I appreciate their inclusion since with a heavy load up front from whatever cargo situation you choose, the wide bar will be necessary for steering torque. The position is conducive to enjoying the sights on climbs and flat terrain, and bombing the descents.
In spite of the high and wide rider position, the bike is no slouch on pavement—the efficient frame transmits your crank effort to the rear wheel without hesitation. In a sprint, the bike does not hold you back; it's super responsive to your pedal input. Leaning into a sweeping road turn does not require much effort, the bike follows the line you set. The Riddler tires have a shallow tread with small knobs and 35 psi on the road gives a smooth buzz.
The Libre's mounting points and versatility set you free to explore the backroads or world, but you'll have to decide for yourself whether you want hydraulic brakes and a carbon frame if you're weeks from the nearest shop. The Libre’s playfulness is at home on the longest day trips in any conditions, and I imagine through domestic bike packing and touring. On that latter point, I only rode the Libre unburdened.
I mostly rode the 45mm Riddler tires at 20 psi and even then, road miles were not sluggish. That pressure seemed the magic amount for my forays through the forest and onto mountains, over dirt roads and through sinewy single track studded with rocks, roots and eroded ruts. The side walls did not fold nor bottom out for the majority of obstacles, yet the tires absorbed the small bumps.
The frame is stiff, which gives it good road manners, but that design transfers a lot of surface bumps up to the rider. The ride down a long bumpy hard-packed trail was not harsh or jarring, but I wouldn't call it plush. I would call it "controlled stiffness." Handling remained sharp under steering input. The fork did not yield any odd handling quirks from lateral bending in the narrow slow tight sections of trail.
The Easton A70 AX gravel wheelset mated with the Riddlers perfectly and the wide rims supported the side walls better than a narrower rim would. With the big tires, I did not bottom out onto the rim, so I never tested the dent resistance of the aluminum alloy. The 28 3x spokes certainly make for a well-tensioned and supported rim to keep things running round and true. Rolling out of the shop with such a nice set of trouble-free wheels as OEM equipment is a bonus.
I’m undecided on the single-ring setup for the gravel adventure bike. The included gear spread is good with a 98-inch top gear with a 26-inch low gear, but the jumps are large for long days in the saddle. If you want a double, it comes as standard setup with the Libre that uses the same frame with 650b x 47mm tires on road-plus wheels.
If you are looking for a gravel bike that has a slant toward the off-road adventure, the Libre DL has plenty of flare and deserves a look.
The Libre DL with 700x wheels is light and nimble, with great geometry to keep the bike stable should you strap a load to all the lashing points on the bike.
The bike is well thought out and is a complete package as equipped.
For more on the Kona Libre DL, see the specs and photo gallery below.
Kona Libre DL Gravel/Adventure Bike Specs
Frame: Kona Race Light Carbon Fiber monocoque
Fork: Kona Verso Touring Carbon Fiber with carbon steerer: 1 ⅛” -1 ½”
Weight: 19.0 pounds, no pedals; 10.8lbs without wheels or pedals
Shifters: SRAM Force 1 HRD 11-speed
Crankset: SRAM Force 1, 40t X-Sync chain ring
Rear Derailleur: SRAM Force 1
Calipers: SRAM Force HRD
Rotors: SRAM Centerline, 160mm front, 160mm rear
Wheels: Easton A70 AX tubeless aluminum rim, Centerlock disc hubs 14ga rear/15ga front
Tires: WTB Riddler, 700c x 45mm, tubeless
Cockpit: Kona Aluminum, 8cm stem, 48cm flared bar
Seatpost: Kona Aluminum 31.6mm, two bolt clamp
Saddle: WTB SL8 Pro
Warranty: 3 years, frame and fork (original owner)
Country of origin: Taiwan
More Info: konaworld.com