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Kona Ute Bike

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Extend the frame of a fast commuter bike, add on an engraved acacia wood platform rack, tweak it with fenders and a kickstand, and you have the Kona Ute, a load-friendly “utility” bike upgraded for 2009.

The Ute costs $899 and weighs a hefty 37 pounds. But it is fast enough for most commuters, as it rolls smoothly on slick 700×47C tires. The bike stops quick with a disc brake in front, and the ride is comfortable, as Kona includes a nice faux-leather saddle and cork handlebar grips.

Kona Ute, loaded up

But the real attraction with this bicycle is its hauling capability. Like other bikes in the utility category, the Kona can be loaded up with groceries, gear, or items from the hardware store.

Indeed, the Ute begs comparison to a family van. It is capable of hauling more weight than most bikes on the market. (Kona does not spec a weight limit.) The company includes a large pannier pack with the bike for stowing smaller items. With cord or bungee straps, you can attach big things on the back of this bike that may otherwise necessitate a car.

Kona (www.konaworld.com) unveiled the Ute last year. The 2009 model includes modifications and upgrades like the front disc brake, the cork grips, a bigger pannier bag, and the sturdier wooden rack platform.

Kona Ute, catalog shot

I rode the 2009 Ute for a month this spring loaded up as well as free of weight. Without anything on back, the bike rides easy and smooth. The extended frame — 58 inches long and made of aluminum — did not feel awkward when pedaling on streets in the city. Indeed, the extension is barely noticeable, and the Ute was an admirable commuter, pedaling quickly up past 20mph on flat ground.

That said, this is no speed racer. You sit quite upright in the saddle, and the bike’s wavy handlebars eschew anything close to a racer’s tuck in favor of a casual cruiser grip.

Loaded up, the bike pedals almost as equally smooth as with no weight. I put about 15 pounds of groceries in the pannier bag one night and rode mostly unencumbered. Too much weight sways the bike to one side when you employ a single pannier. For a lot of weight on back, riders will want a pannier on each side to balance the load.

To test maximum weight, I rode around a campground on a family trip with my nine-year-old nephew on back. (Kona does not recommend carrying people on the back.) The bike hauled him fine on the flats and downhills, easily ferrying the extra 70 pounds on back.

The Ute’s pannier pack

But at hills the weight was noticeable and difficult to move. Without inertia, on the steepest hills we had to get off and walk.

Overall, Kona has a neat new bike with the Ute. It serves well as a weight-free commuter or a tootle-around-town ride. And when you need to tote a load — equipment for work, dirty clothes to the laundromat — a bike like the Ute can replace your dependency on having to jump in a car to make the haul.

—Stephen Regenold writes about outdoors gear at www.gearjunkie.com.

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