If you read my picks for Editor’s Choice, then you already know I like the Kona Libre DL. A lot. Arguably one of the hottest categories for 2018, the world of gravel riding is quickly expanding and a number of companies are following in step with new bikes. Kona is no stranger to off-road drop bar bikes, but to me, the Libre DL is their best bike yet when it comes to a bike that is equally at home on pavement, or off.

Review: Kona Libre DL gravel bike has some interesting geometry - and it works

What’s up with that front end?

When Kona first launched the Libre series, it raised a few eyebrows thanks to some interesting geometry numbers. Compared to other gravel bikes that I’ve ridden and loved, there are indeed some noticeable differences. One that immediately stands out is the difference in stack height which is the vertical distance between two horizontal lines drawn through the top of the head tube and the center of the bottom bracket. Compared to bikes like the OPEN U.P.P.E.R. and the Lauf True Grit, the Kona has a massive stack at 590mm for the size 49cm that I have been riding. Comparatively, that’s the same stack as the largest frame size from Lauf. The Kona also has a fairly long reach at 383mm, though this is exactly the same as my Small Long True Grit.

Coupled with that high and long front end, the Libre DL has comparatively slack angles with a 73.5° seat tube angle and 70.5° head tube angle. The differences continue with much longer chainstays and wheelbase, plus a lower bottom bracket.

Review: Kona Libre DL gravel bike has some interesting geometry - and it works
This bike is so fast, baggies and bags won’t slow you down. Fashion by Handup. Photo c. Katie Curtis Bolton / Pro Cycle

On paper, it may seem like the Libre DL will be too tall, too upright to be fast, but that seems to be the exact opposite of how the bike actually rides. While you certainly sit more upright than a bike like the Lauf or OPEN, the combination of angles and body positioning seem to make it easier to put down more power – at least for me. Every time I ride the Libre DL, I’m constantly amazed at how good it makes me feel and that feeling is further rewarded with some of the fastest speeds that I’ve been able to maintain on a gravel rig. I also noticed that I don’t get numb hands like I do on many other gravel bikes when riding for longer distances. I should point out that I have no problem riding much more aggressive positions with a lower front end, but this has me rethinking whether that’s actually beneficial. Sure, a lower front end might be more aerodynamic, but this position makes me feel like I can put out more power for longer periods of time which may be more important in the long run.

What really surprised me wasn’t just how fast the bike was on pavement or flat ground, but also how capable it was as soon as you dropped into some technical terrain. Certainly the massive 700 x 45mm WTB Riddler tires help out a lot in this regard, but the geometry deserves just as much credit providing a stable, confidence inspiring ride. Along those same lines, I’ve never felt so comfortable pulling wheelies on a gravel bike before. Not that that’s an important feature for your next gravel race, but it speaks to the maneuverability of the Libre DL as a whole.

Some of that comfort is also likely a result of the carbon frame and fork. The Libre DL has a fantastic ride quality, yet it seems like a Kona in the fact that it’s probably overbuilt for most riders. Between myself, and a friend of mine who helps test product, we’ve had some pretty hard crashes on the Libre DL so far – the result of pushing the limits of a gravel bike on MTB trails. And yet the frame seems no worse for wear.

Review: Kona Libre DL gravel bike has some interesting geometry - and it works

Wide bars save lives

Even though it initially felt way too wide, I’ve also come to love the huge 45cm (center to center) handlebar that comes stock on the 49cm frame. I’ve always been taught that for proper fit, the bars should be about the same width as your shoulders. However, thanks to changes in handlebar profiles, that may have changed a bit.

One of the important things to remember is that on a flared bar like this, the shifter hoods actually angle inwards. That puts the distance between the two hoods at 42cm center to center, rather than the 45cm center to center at the top of the bar. That means that you’re comfortable on hoods for long periods of time, yet when you’re on the drops you have even more leverage at 54cm center to center. With a bar this wide, there’s also extra room for handlebar bags which could come in handy for a bike like the Libre DL.

Review: Kona Libre DL gravel bike has some interesting geometry - and it works Review: Kona Libre DL gravel bike has some interesting geometry - and it works

Get a grip

Another one from my EC list, the WTB Riddler 700c x 45mm tires have proven to be one of my favorites. The center tread section is so fast on the road and on hard packed surfaces like the sandy roads of Gainesville, FL, but when you start to lean the bike and you really need traction, the cornering knobs have an aggressive bite. They’re so aggressive that when you’re cornering on pavement, you can tell exactly when the side knobs start to make contact because it feels like someone grabbed your brake for you. Obviously, this isn’t the best tire for fast cornering on pavement then, but the trade-off is impressive cornering traction when you need it most – riding sketchy trails off-road. My only criticism would be that these seem to wear pretty quickly, but I have put a lot of miles on this bike this season on just about every surface possible including a lot of road miles.

While I’m still on the fence about 700c vs 650b for gravel bike use, there was nothing about the Libre DL that left me wishing I had smaller wheels and bigger tires. Perhaps if I was planning to ride more trails with it and less road, that would change my mind. But overall, I’m very happy with how the 700c x 45mm tires handled just about everything I could throw at it.

Review: Kona Libre DL gravel bike has some interesting geometry - and it works Review: Kona Libre DL gravel bike has some interesting geometry - and it works

WTB’s SL8 Pro saddle gets pretty high marks for comfort as well.

Review: Kona Libre DL gravel bike has some interesting geometry - and it works

Review: Kona Libre DL gravel bike has some interesting geometry - and it works

Review: Kona Libre DL gravel bike has some interesting geometry - and it works

1x, or…

There are plenty of opinions when it comes to 1x drivetrains on gravel bikes. Personally, I’m fine with it. Would it be better to have slightly smaller jumps between certain gears? Probably. Is it worth losing chain retention security and adding more complexity, weight, and noise to the drivetrain? For me, no. This is definitely a personal preference thing though (right Jayson?). If you must have a 2x drivetrain, the Kona Libre is speced as such, though it has 650b wheels and tires.

I still think SRAM’s hoods could use a bit more shaping to the plastic underneath to remove some of the hard edges, but other than that the Force 1 group has performed flawlessly.

Review: Kona Libre DL gravel bike has some interesting geometry - and it works Review: Kona Libre DL gravel bike has some interesting geometry - and it works

As have the flat mount Force hydraulic disc brakes with Centerlock rotors.

Review: Kona Libre DL gravel bike has some interesting geometry - and it works Review: Kona Libre DL gravel bike has some interesting geometry - and it works

Easton’s EA70 AX wheels have also held up quite well over the course of testing. Setting up the WTB tires as tubeless was a breeze, and for the most part they’ve been trouble-free. There was a few rides where it felt like one of the pawls was maybe hanging up and not properly engaging, but after taking off the freehub and regreasing the pawls, it seems to have fixed the issue.

Review: Kona Libre DL gravel bike has some interesting geometry - and it works

The Libre DL may have a GXP Press Fit bottom bracket to contend with, but after months of riding the bike in serious mud, sand, rain, and everything else, it’s still completely smooth and creak-free.

Review: Kona Libre DL gravel bike has some interesting geometry - and it works

Review: Kona Libre DL gravel bike has some interesting geometry - and it works Review: Kona Libre DL gravel bike has some interesting geometry - and it works

Packing on the pounds

The Libre DL also does a great job of providing numerous braze-ons for multiple accessories including bolt on top tube bags, racks, fenders, and three pack fork mounts. One of the only things not provided is internal routing for the wiring on a dynamo front hub – however this is routing for a dropper post, so there’s that.

Review: Kona Libre DL gravel bike has some interesting geometry - and it works
The Kona Libre DL was my choice of ride for the 2018 Rocks, Roads, and Reggae gravel event in Gainesville, FL. I would have had a blast on any bike, but the Kona was a perfect choice for the sandy, undulating roads of northern Florida.

Review: Kona Libre DL gravel bike has some interesting geometry - and it works Review: Kona Libre DL gravel bike has some interesting geometry - and it works

Way too much fun

Overall, there’s no mistaking that this is a Kona, which is one of the reasons I think I fell in love with it. Kona has a habit of making bikes that are heavily focused on fun with a healthy dose of durability and performance. The Libre DL checks all of those boxes for me. If you’re a proud member of the ‘slam that stem’ club and you prefer your bars much lower than your saddle, this might not be the bike for you. But if you’re willing to ride a progressive geometry that results in a fast, stable, and confident ride, then the Libre DL should be a the top of your list.

For the actual weight, and more frame details, make sure to check out my first post here.

konaworld.com

 

 

22 COMMENTS

  1. Cool bike and good write up. I just can’t imagine adding 55 mm of stack to my current bike with the exact same reach. It’s technically 75 mm, but I have 20 mm of spacers on a low stack headset cover. That’s so, so tall.

  2. This is my kind of geometry and for my fit there are too many gravel bikes with aggressively low front ends. I had a bike fit and my fitter raised my position because I put out more power that way, and I was not in an aggressive position to start with. Plus it’s got long chain stays, which makes it easy to allow large tires without fancy designs. If you can fit the width of tires you want on 700c there appears to be no need to go to 650b. Fork length is also 10mm longer than most, Lauf fork ready perhaps?

    • Larger tires increase rollout, so, at some point with large 700c tires, you might feel like you are losing too much of the low gears. Also, they’ll raise the bottom bracket. That is when 650 wheels make sense.

      • Well, it’s the opposite direction from Mountain bikes going to 29rs for better rolling over rough stuff. 1x makes it really easy to change to a smaller chain ring to fix the gearing issue.

    • Big 700s on the smaller frame sizes may result in an undesirable amount of toe overlap, too, which also might be mitigated with 650 wheels.

  3. A thought on your comment regarding tire-wear… Are these tires the ones that came stock on the bike? I ask only because I had similar results with these WTBs when they came as OEM with the bike (literally got only about 400 miles out of them). When I replaced them with new, retail-purchased versions the tread held up much longer even when used on the same routes and terrain.

  4. I have the 2X Libre with the 650B wheels and find it to be really competent on gravel or road. I replaced the stock 50/34 front rings with Absolute Black oval 48/32 rings which I really like. I have never done a lot of climbing wishing I had fewer gears.

  5. What is with that hose coming out of the frame bag and into the TT bag? Hydration? Does the hose just fall out when you get a snack?

    • Yeah, that’s the hose from a hydration bladder in the bottom of the frame bag. I didn’t have a good option for a hose mount before I left for the trip, so simply put it inside the top tube bag, which worked pretty well since the Mag-Tank has a flap instead of zipper closure. I was still able to get food in and out without the hose flopping out, but probably not ideal. One of the main issues is that this was the stock hose on a Hydrapak bladder I had lying around, but it was too short to mount somewhere on the bars, and almost too short to drink out of. Still gotta figure some stuff out for that set up.

  6. It might even not be that “unaerodynamix”. I bought a used cyclocross and modified it exactly that way. I took it 1 size too large then I fitted very short stem and wide bar (but not flared, the hoods have to be spaced for a good handling). It looks like have a lot of stack but I’m a flexible guy and like aero. The fact the handlebar is high just mean I use the drop a lot more. Also many rider have straight arms to compensate for too low bar. It make the non-aero and gives bad handling (no room for manoeuvre). So go big for your gravel/cx/endurance frame. Fit a super short stem and wide but low reach bar. Works wonder. For road riding wide bar is not necessary tho.

  7. Hey Zach, I love the Libre! Also love your shirt! Is that cycling specific? I seem to remember coming across a brand making button up style shirts for having fun on a bike but cant remember what they are called.

    thanks,
    -Dylan

    • I ride a 49 libre and 56 normal road bike. It’s measured by actual seat tube, so you can’t just go “I ride a 56 so I’ll get a 56, even though everything says the geometry of this bike is different than normal”. Like you did, you have to look at the reach and stack and go ride one.

  8. Zach thanks for the great write up! I’m from Orlando so I’m sure I’ve seen you at some gravel events. I’m giving this bike a serious look. I am a slam your stem kind of roadie and also practical when it comes to gravel and off road bike setup. This geo has me a little flustered. How tall are you? I’m 5’11 short torso. I’m thinking the 49. Though 51 is where I’m sized. I’m concerned about those longer chain stays. How does it feel on a climb? I know in Gville you have a few decent ones there. Thanks!

    • Good question. I’m 5’8″ with a 30″ inseam, and a 690mm measurement from the top of the saddle to the center of the BB. I usually gravitate towards bikes with longer reach for someone my height. If you’re sized as a 51cm on other bikes, then the 49cm would probably be a solid choice. I’m usually riding 51cm to 52cm frames, though occasionally 49 or 53cm depending on the bike. Going with the 49 would allow you to more of a low front end comparatively, and since the head tube is so long on this bike, that may be needed for your fit. Honestly, the bike seems to climb quite well. We have steeper and longer climbs on my home roads (up north, I travel to FL just for the RRR!) and I’ve never felt that the chain stays were hindering climbing performance. It has a steeper seat tube angle than most road or gravel bikes that I’ve ridden which at least for me seems to result in better climbing performance.

  9. Interesting what you say about being to ride more effectively with the taller position. This is an aspect I put numerous cyclists in (as a clinical bikefitter – depending on their biomechanical assessment) as it alters pelvic/lower back posture increasing the ability to produce power.

COMMENT HERE: (For best results, log in through Wordpress or your social media account. Anonymous/fake email comments may be unapproved or deleted. ALL first-time commenter's posts are held for moderation. Check our Comment Policy for full details.)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.