Kona bikes: Jake the Snake, Unit

Kona Bicycle Company designs and manufactures bikes made for such esoteric cycling categories as dirt jumping, urban cruising, single speed and cyclocross. The company’s philosophy eschews all-around bike models, instead focusing on specific niche designs made to perfectly match a rider’s given style or terrain.

For example, the company’s Unit model, a single-speed bike I recently tested, has a unique rear drop-out that allows you to adjust chain tension without removing the wheel. (Most single-speed bikes require time-consuming adjustment as the chain stretches out.)

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The Unit also excels at being simple, strong and functional, just as single-speed riders prefer. It has no gears, no derailleurs, no shifters and no suspension. This means there will be very little maintenance with the bike, and the rider will have minimal preoccupation with moving parts while on the go. The frame is made of a lightweight but high-end steel, which makes for a smooth, solid ride and results in a bike that weighs just 23 pounds.

Another Kona bike I test rode last month — the Jake the Snake — is a tough and speedy model made for the sport of cyclocross. A little-known sport that involves short, treacherous courses laden with obstacles, cyclocross bikes must be fast, lightweight and exceedingly durable.

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The Jake the Snake lets you pedal hard and tuck for amazing speed on the asphalt. On the trail and cutting through deep mud puddles, I found the bike to be nimble and easy to control.

Like most cyclocross bikes, it has knobby tires but no suspension, so every bump is felt. It also takes some time getting used to riding a road-bike-type model on singletrack, as the brakes are not readily accessible unless you remain with hands low in the crouch position.

Components on the bike tend to be high-end, including a triple-butted straight blade fork, a Shimano 105 nine-speed drivetrain, Mavic MA3 Rims, Shimano M505 clipless pedals and an Easton stem, bar and seatpost. The overall weight, like the Unit model, is around a feathery 23 pounds.

Pricing: Unit, $800; Jake the Snake, $1,099.

Contact: Kona Bicycle Company, 800.566.2872, http://www.konaworld.com.

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