Kona's cyclocross line features the Jake model in three editions. The plain ol' Jake ($899) is the entry level; Jake the Snake ($1399) is the mid-range bike, and the Kona Major Jake ($2199) is the top of the line. We had a chance to run the Major Jake around for some time and wanted to tell you what we found.
All in all, it's a terrific bike and one you'll be happy with for true cyclocross, with great components and geometry and a true racing pedigree. But read on to find out more, including what we thought of for its potential for other uses, such as a commuter bike.
Nice Components, Nice Geometry
It's hard to argue with the top of the line components in this bike. Kona's Major Jake features a nice race set-up with a Shimano Ultegra/105 drivetrain featuring twin front chainrings coupled with a ten-sprocket cassette on the back. This combination works nicely in most every setting, though the 36/46 gearing is perhaps an overly safe choice, resting maybe a bit too comfortably in the middle.
Swinging a couple of teeth in either direction would lead itself to either easier climbing when stuff really gets wenchy or maybe taller and faster potential in the big ring to really open it up on the flats and downhills.
Kona has put together a nice, compact frame with the Major Jake. It's extraordinarily light, in large part due to its construction from scandium, a relatively rare element that historically has seen its main use in high-tech applications, like components of the Russian MiG fighter. In the Major Jake, the all-scandium frame offers first-class strength and flex, giving a truly responsive ride, light like aluminum but with a steel-like feel. Plus, a real advantage to scandium is how it performs at the welds and the joints.
The fork on the Major Jake matches its frame in level of performance. Weighing in at barely a pound, the Alpha Q CX-20 carbon fork offers terrific clearance to help shake the mud and gunk that can clog up in the forks, and a degree of stiffness that brings an ideal balance of responsiveness and durability. The CX-20 has larger dropouts that help minimize torsion flexing, another feature to improve and increase the handling the Major Jake offers.
Performance and Handling
All in all, the Major Jake performs like a dream. Keep in mind that this is a cyclocross bike, designed mostly like a road bike, but with the extra bit of stoutness and durability to allow it to handle the beating that a bike can take when you're trucking it through the woods, plus with additional design features that allow you to slog through nasty conditions like mud and wet leaves without getting clogged up.
Your cyclocross type bike is typically going to be sized a bit smaller than you'd ride on a comparable road bike. And that is played out in the fit and feel of the Major Jake. It's not necessarily long and lean like a greyhound, but more compact with coiled power akin to sprinter crouched at the starting line, ready to explode at the sound of the starter's pistol.
What that means is that the Major Jake brings quick acceleration, whether that comes in moving from a standstill, or else picking it up when you're already moving pretty good. And the handling is tight, allowing you to feel the track through the bike. This lets you maneuver with confidence regardless of how treacherous the surface is that you're negotiating, and yet without getting pounded to death in the process.
Additionally, the gearing set up of the Major Jake, coupled with FSA Gossamer Compact crankarms and overall lightness and excellent response/reaction allows it to climb very well, kicking with the same acceleration on the climbs as it puts out on the flats, limited only by what your legs will deliver.
Maybe Too High End for Commuting
Previously, cyclocross bikes were somewhat of a niche item, focused toward guys who liked to ride road bikes and wanted to keep going in the mud and in cold weather when everyone else had theirs hung up in the garage for the winter. There wasn't a whole lot of opportunity to sell cross bikes beyond that. However, bike manufacturers, seeing a whole new market for cyclocross bikes in the growing numbers of bike commuters and the whole push toward "green" everything, have been touting cyclocross bikes as an ideal way to get to work or school. Rugged! Fast! - the best of all worlds.
In general, that's a good concept but probably not the ideal use of the Major Jake. What we're talking about here is a high end race bike, one touted by Kona as having won more cyclocross titles than any other bike. Unless you've got more money than you know what to do with, keep your Major Jake for racing. If you want to ride a cyclocross bike for commuting, Kona will do you just fine if you maybe get in on the lower end with a plain old Jake. You'll worry less about the $900 bike getting damaged or rained on than you would the $2200 one, and you'll get the same performance if you're talking about just riding back and forth to work vs. trying to win a world championship. Besides, if you're like me, I'd have to keep the Major Jake locked to my desk in my cubicle or else I'd get nothing done worrying about it. And of course, if you're staring at a bike all day, you'll be thinking about riding and there's still no work getting done.
All in All - This is a Great Bike
Whether you race cyclocross or just want to take to the woods without having to lug a heavy old clunker mountain bike, Kona's Major Jake is a good choice. In fact, any of the Jake bikes are top notch, just depends on what you want to spend. And the adage that you get what you pay for holds here too: The Jake is good; Jake the Snake is better; Major Jake is great.