1 year with a Kona Dew FS

I’ve been meaning to write a mini review of my 2008 Kona Dew FS, and figured after riding it for a year I’d have some thoughts on how the bike works as a daily commuter. I picked the bike up exactly 1 year ago today, and have ridden it to and from work in pretty much all kinds of weather (+30˚C heat waves, monsoon thunder/hailstorms, blizzards, and -30˚C cold snaps). In that year, I’ve put 4,800km on the bike.

Here’s the bike on the day after I bought it:

2000km

One thing I learned is that the bike shop makes a HUGE difference. I went into Bow Cycle thinking I wanted a particular bike – I’d done some research on teh intarwebs and all – and wound up talking to a tech/sales guy there. Doug asked me what I wanted to do with the bike, what my ride was like, etc… and wound up showing me a bike that was several hundred dollars cheaper than what I came in looking for. He walked me over to the 2008 Kona Dew FS, which had apparently just come in, and we checked it out together. I took it for a quick spin, and bought it right there. I had the shop put on a rack so I could use my paniers, and fenders so I could ride in wet weather. I also had them switch out the seat for the one on my old bike – it’s a cheap seat, but I’ve gotten used to it. All in, I think the whole thing cost me $850 – and they gave me almost $50 for my crappy old bike as a trade-in.

What impressed me in the shop was the big-ass 700c tires. My previous bike (a 1994? Scott Head) was heavy, creaky, and the wheels were set up for mountain biking – big knobby tires on normal-sized wheels. The Kona has the giant 700c wheels, and comes with tires more suited to commuting (some grip, but much closer to street slicks than knobby mountain shredders). What does that mean for a commuter? Much less roll resistance. You can pedal, and the giant wheels will coast. And coast. And coast. Whereas the knobby mountain bike tires would bump-bump-bump and stop.

The tires are also rather thin – meaning there isn’t as much contacting the road surface, so there’s less friction to slow you down on an even surface. This turns out to be exactly what you want on a commuter bike for most of the year, but can be a pain when riding on snow and ice because you don’t have as much traction as you’d have with the fat knobby tires.

Another thing that impressed me right away was the range of gears. 3 gears in front, and 9 in back. For my ride, that’s exactly what I needed. I have to climb (and descend) a whole bunch of hills, so being able to drop down to a very low gear meant I was able to do the ride. And also being able to shift into a very high gear meant the downhill stretches were more fun :-)

And the index shifters are great, and make it easy to pop up or down a gear very quickly and efficiently. The only trouble I had with the shifters was a result of needing to tweak the adjustment – when I first got the bike, they were fine, but slowly I needed to really jam the left shifter to upshift. I wound up damaging my left thumb from pushing it too hard, too often. Stupid me, though, because it took a tech maybe a few seconds to adjust the shifter in the shop, and that problem went away. Lesson learned: regular maintenance is a good idea. Once adjusted, though, they’re rock solid. I can now shift and know the bike will respond. This makes crossing busy roads a bit less stressful, and also makes the long climb up the long hill on the way home just that much easier.

kona on the rack

The other thing that attracted me to the bike at first was the disk brakes. Again, my previous experience was with a crappy Sport Check Special bike, and its brakes weren’t very good. When wet, I’d blast through intersections because they didn’t have any stopping power. Not with the Kona. The disk brakes are fracking awesome. They can stop me when riding about 40km/h, in maybe 20 feet. I could probably stop faster if I tried. And they work great when wet. I don’t have to worry about losing stopping power. My bike will stop, assuming it’s got traction. One thing I found is that the disk brakes become slightly less effective in very cold temperatures. They still work – and much better than my previous pinch-brakes – but less effectively than when warm.

The “FS” in the bike’s model name stands for “Full Suspension” – it’s got a suspension front fork, and a suspension seat post. I love the front fork, because it’s also lockable. If you want a soft ride, or are going through some rough terrain (like construction zones, dirt paths, etc…) you open the fork so you have suspension on the front of the bike. But when you are on flat ground, and really want to give’r, you can lock it so it doesn’t suck energy out of you by bouncing up and down as you pedal. It really does make a huge difference, so when I’m riding up a hill I just reach down and flip the switch to Lock. Before I get to the construction zone near my house, I just flip it to Open, and I get all of the suspension goodness. Best of both worlds (except the weight of the suspension fork doesn’t go away when it’s in Lock…)

open fork
Open
locked fork
Lock

The suspension seat post is a love/hate thing with me. I do like that it softens the ride. But, I’m really not a fan of the wobble it adds to the seat – it actually causes the seat to rotate slightly around the vertical axis as you move. It’s not the end of the world, but it can get annoying.

basketless pedal
no baskets here

What else… Oh! The bike comes with toe baskets on the pedals, so your feet are nice and stable while pedaling. I used these for the first few months, and was getting used to them. Starting and stopping at traffic lights was a bit interesting, as you have to slide your foot into the basket to get it into place, and you can’t always do that easily. When riding on slippery surfaces, I’d leave my feet out of the baskets, so the pedals were “upside down” when riding. That way, if I lost traction and started to go down, I could put my foot down more quickly, or swing it out for balance. That saved me from wiping out many times. But one afternoon, while riding through some deep snow, one of the baskets was ripped right off the pedal. I decided to remove the other one rather than replacing the broken basket, and found I liked riding the bike much better without the baskets at all. The pedals can be a little slippery, but the grips on my shoes (and in winter, boots) grips them well enough to keep my foot in place.

The only real “upgrade” I’ve done to the bike was to replace the rear tire. It wore out after about 2000km (because the rear of the bike carries most of the weight) and I replaced it with an Armadillo. Much better traction, and the tire seems to be relatively impervious to punctures – I’ve only had one flat with it since replacing the tire, and that was a torn valve stem not a puncture.

What I do know is that after 1 year, 4800km, 1 “dooring”, several wipe-outs, a few flats, a couple of blizzards, and daily rides of 14km each way, I still love the bike. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a good commuter bike. It’s not an offroad bike. But it’s one hell of a great commuter bike.

Here’s the bike after a year of wear and tear (and it needs some love – I’ll give it a good scrub this weekend. promise!)

on the path

43 thoughts on “1 year with a Kona Dew FS”

  1. D’Arcy, have you ever ridden with clipless pedals / shoes? The ones with the little cleats embedded in the shoe. You can walk w/o looking like a duck, and you’ll get WAY more efficiency out of your pedaling stroke. Super simple to clip in and out at lights and in emergencies – just a slight foot twist is all it takes…

  2. Haven’t tried the “real” bike shoes/pedals. I’m just a casual commuter :-) I think I’m just chicken of having my feet locked in. The times I’ve wiped out, there’s no way I’d have gotten my foot unclipped in time to prevent faceplanting…

  3. thanks for the review (i’ve been patiently waiting!). Went into bow cycle the other day and they’d sold out of the fs in my size, but there’s always next year (though it means i’m commuting on the mtb i bought in grade nine more than 15 years ago!). My commute isn’t overly long, but it’ll be made much more bearable (and fun) with the addition of a stellar bike.

    all the best, mike

  4. Darcy, which model of Armadillo (that’s a family of puncture-resistant tires) did you get?

    I bought my bike over a year ago and am still on the original tires, since my daily commute is only about 3 km ! :-(

    I too really enjoy my Fs, and it’s in fact my fave bike for riding in traffic. I also have a cross bike which I use for longer rides – like downtown to Bow Cycle and back in a lunch-time – but the superior stopping power of the disk brakes and the upright, see-all-around-you riding position make the Fs a better in-town bike.

    I find the 700x35C original tires (they’re actually labelled 28×1-3/8″ but it’s the same thing) with the little diamond knobs to be surprisingly good in the winter, and I hardly used my studded winter beater last season).

  5. @midtoad – I’m really not sure which Armadillo variant I got. The tech at the shop just said it was an Armadillo. I took a look at the tire to find more details last night, but it’s a bit too grimey to read the lettering. I’ll check after I’ve washed it off this weekend :-)

  6. Hi D’Arcy. Your post is really thorough; thanks for all the information. I just tried out a Dew FS today that’s been in the family, brand new, but barely ridden. I really like it so far. It’s a great middle ground between the road bikes I’ve tried out, and the men’s mountain bike I’ve been riding. It handles well and tackles hills with ease. My only problem is that while the brakes are smooth, they squeal and sing extremely loud! It sounds like a car horn when I’m braking downhill. Gentle, momentary braking on flat stretches is fine (silent), but any more than that and it’s like leaning on a horn. Did yours have this problem when it was new? My father (the family biker) suspects it may just need to be “broken in,” but we’re not sure. Thanks in advance for any advice you can give us.

  7. @midtoad – I scrubbed off the mud and grime enough to read the markings on the side of the tire. It’s an Armadillo Crossroads. Showing no signs of wear after a couple thousand km, where the stock tire was bald by then.

    @erika – if the bike is new, the brakes may need to wear in a bit. But if it’s REALLY loud, there may be a rock or debris in there. Maybe take it to the shop to have them check it out. My brakes squeal quite a bit now, but that’s just because the pads are nearly worn out ;-)

  8. Thanks for the quick reply! I’ll take a look :) I’m actually kind of hoping it’s rocks because the “sings in the key of E” joke is going to wear out faster than the brakes will wear in! Enjoy your ride.

  9. @Darcy, I’ll keep those Crossroads in mind when it comes time to replacing my original tires.

    @erika, my brakes squeal a bit after a rain, until the surface oxidation gets rubbed off. If your brakes have been sitting unused for a long time, there could be a lot of oxidation to wear off, so get out and ride down some long hills! :-) If not, the brake pads take only a few min. at the bike shop to replace.

  10. Thanks for such a comprehensive review. I’m looking at buying a bike from eBay, one of which is a Kona Dew, but I wasn’t sure if it was a good bike. This has made my decision much easier.

  11. just wanted you to know that finally your review pushed me over the edge and i purchased (midtoad’s) dew fs today. super excited to start riding it, and will definitely look into the tires you’re suggesting. all the best,

    mike

  12. Glad you found the mini review useful. I just picked up a second Armadillo Crossroads, so I’m riding with a full set. What a great tire for commuting – looking forward to testing them out on the sharp ice this winter :-)

  13. 700x37c – Bow had one in stock this summer when I got the first one, but I had to special order the second because they were sold out. Popular tires.

  14. Great review! It’s so great when a bike finds a good home. I had to add my 2c of course, so I’ll make a little note about pedals: Clipless is really great in some circumstances, but if you like flat pedals, it might be worth considering some big mountain-bike flat pedals with steel pins. I just got mine for the winter so I can wear my Sorels, rubber boots, or whatever. Great grip, cheap to buy, no special shoes needed.

    1. good point, ben! I do need to swap out the tiny pedals for something a bit beefier. shoes are a bit slippy on these, so some burly mountain bike pedals would work better…

  15. Thanks for the review. I’ve been looking at the Dew family of bikes and might pick one up this spring.

    I’m currently riding a Kona Smoke, which is a great commuter bike but not as good for long rides as it’s a bit heavier and has smaller wheels. I’d also like to get something with disc brakes.

    Two points to add:

    I second your recommendation on the armadillos. I have a set on my smoke and they are bomber. I’ve ridden over all sorts of glass and crap and never had a problem. Perfect for commuting in the city.

    Re: pedals, I have two that I would recommend anyone. The Kona Jackshit came standard on the smoke, and they are great platform pedals if you don’t want to go clipless. They have surprisingly good grip because of these little studs that fit in between the treads on your shoes. But if you want the best of both worlds, pick up a set of Wellgo 50/50’s (WAM D-10) – they have a platform (very similar to the Jackshit) on one side, and an SPD compatible clipless side if you want to wear cycling shoes.

  16. D’Arcy, great review. Continue with your pedals, you have aluminium pedals and they have enough grip to commute. I also commute with normal pedals, I let clipless pedals for my mtb bicycle; early in the morning we react slow and we can fall clipped. The big mountain-bike flat pedals with steel pins let great scars in your leg…

  17. D’Arcy, pretty shoes. To commute I wear hiking shoes, It´s easier to walk with then, going to work I must cross a fence, a stream, a railroad… I live in Bilbao (Spain).

    I like very much your bike, I commute in a Specialized Rockhopper 1991, singlespeed with NC-17 trekking bar.

  18. @Jorge I sprung for a pair of Wellgo hybrid SPD pedals, and a pair of Shimano shoes. Holy. Crap. Does that ever make a difference. I can’t believe I waited this long to switch to using clipless pedals.

    @Erica My brakes are a bit squeeky – between road grime and some WD-40 accidentally sprayed on the rotor, they were quite loud and not very effective. I replaced the pads, and it’s much better, but they still squeek when wet. I’m going to pick up some Brake Kleen solvent to clean the rotors so there’s no residue. Hopefully that will help.

  19. I’ve been using an XC Rocky Mountain Fusion to go to work for about a year now. It’s heavy and leaves me drained despite the slick tires I’ve put on. I’ve been on the hunt for a commuter bike for the past two weeks now when I stumbled onto your page. I went to my local bike shop after reading your review to look at a few commuters. Took the Dew FS for a spin and loved it! I’m getting mine in about a week because they didn’t have my size. Thanks for a great review….I cannot wait to get mine!

  20. Hi D’Arcy. I was wondering what brand of fenders do you have on? Are those planet bike fenders? If so, what size did ya get?

  21. @Ray – you’re welcome! glad you like the bike – I love mine. It’s still going strong, like new, after putting over 7000km on it :-)

  22. I’m really comfused about ====== WHAT FRAME SIZE TO BUY ======= ?!?!??!

    As I read Kona Dew’s are smaller than other bikes. I’m 185 cm high, and inseam height of 84 cm. Should I buy a 56, 58 or a 60cm Dew FS ???

    I’m not able to try the bike prior to the purchase

  23. it’s not that the Kona frame is smaller, but rather that the top tube is sloping. I’m 178 cm and used to ride a 56cm which fit me well. My inseam is 32″. Based on your measurements, I’d think about the 58 cm at least. The 60cm might work as well, but perhaps on the large side. Also, it might be harder to sell later, should the desire arise.

    For more discussion, go to bikecalgary.org

  24. just trying to keep this comment section going :) i just got some fenders and a rack very similar to yours. i’m annoyed, though, because the front stay by the disc brake isn’t there! then i look at your pic and yours are bent on some crazy angle. did bow do that for you? i like the sks fender look, but they’re really bugging me right now trying to install, particularly because the guy who translated the german instructions to english needed some serious help :)

    1. I just assumed the front rods were bent like that when they arrived at Bow. They let me adjust the position of the fender by rotating the elbow on the rod up and down – handy in deeper snow because I can add a few mm of clearance. Not sure if that’s by design, or just a happy accident though :-) All I did was have them install the fenders in the shop – and I’m glad I did, because I’m pretty useless at that kind of thing…

  25. Hi D’arcy,

    I just bought at Kona Dew FS (Bow calls it a BBC Marco Polo this year) which is basically identical to yours. I’m getting set up to commute as well, and also want to install a pannier rack like yours. Which one did you get? Do you have a picture of how the rack attaches to the bike and clears the disc brake? I’ll be buying and installing the rack myself, and as I understand it, one needs a special rack to accomodate the disc brakes on bikes like ours. Thanks…

  26. Hi D’arcy, I’m helping my sister buy a new bike in Victoria and so far the FS is the best she’s tried. A search for reviews and yours came up first. I read your great review and then I recognized your name … we met briefly at WordCampEd in Van this Spring (and maybe at Emily Carr for a workshop awhile back). Anyway, small world and keep up those commuting videos coming! Cheers, Byron

    1. Byron – definitely a small world :-) I am still extremely happy with my FS. It’s still in great shape, after abusing it for almost 2 years.

  27. Hi, I’m doing the Lands end to John O’Groats ride next year and was going to do it on a mountain bike with slicks but I think you review has just talked me into buying a Dew. Going to go for the basic model, train on it over winter and upgrade the bits as I wear them out. 1000 miles in ten days is the target so better get training! Thanks for a helpful review!

    1. wow, dave! that’s a LONG ride. I bet it’ll be a blast! I rode my Kona in the 2009 Alberta Ride to Conquer Cancer – it was only 200km over 2 days, but the bike performed like a champ on some pretty big hills. I was able to keep up to (and pass!) many people who were riding fancy schmancy road bikes. They were not amused :-)

      The bike now has almost 10,000km on it (9,900km as of yesterday), and is still pretty much as good as new (except for some dings in the paint – nothing some hockey tape wouldn’t cure…)

      1. Well I bought one last September and have been commuting on it since some scumbag nicked my motorbike! Really liking the Dew but it looks like the Lands End will be postponed due to the guy I was riding with being ill. It will give me longer to train for it I suppose! And you’re right about the speed, I’ve been passing guys in Lycra on £3000 bikes. Thanks for the review!

        1. I bought a Dew FS in 2007 and ride it to and from work. My guess is I have close to 10,000 kms on it by now As with you, I hated the seat rotation. I replaced it with a Thomson Elite and a split Spyderflex seat because of my tailbone problem………….. really comfortable I replaced the Town and Country tires with Conti kevlars ..I think they’re called Travel City. Half of my ride is trails I got rid of the pedals after rebuilding the bearings ( clicking sound was not the bottom bracket ….the pedal bearings) and got ones with sealed bearings. Do alot of night riding in winter so I use double fennix lights velcroed to my helmet. Only fall on the ice occasionally My latest is building a new rear wheel (DT Swiss 530) with shimano Alfine 8 speed. Just tired of cleaning all the time and since the ride is relatively flat can get away with it. Don’t want to give up the 27 speeds permanantly and would like to buy another frame if I could find it. Kona came out with the alfine this year on one of their models

          I guess I like to keep things awhile as I have a 1996 Honda Accord wagon which I bought new but doesn’t have that many miles because of the biking.

          1. I’m thinking an internally geared hub would be nice. I get really tired of having to scrub the cassette clean, and having to replace the entire drivetrain after every winter. I wonder how a belt drive would hold up to -30˚C and snow/roadgrime winters…

  28. Thanks for the review. I bought the 09 Dew FS and ride it as near to 12 mo a year and 5 days a week as I can. Personally I have a bit of a love/hate thing going on with the bike. I use an old fully rigid ATB that I built out a blend of parts as my winter back up because I like being on 26 inch wheels with knobbies in the snow – don’t know why – just feel more confident. I’ve also found that I can move pretty fast on that ATB in the summer when I swap the knobbies for slicks and its a lot more fun to ride.

    While the Dew FS generally does what it needs to do I’ve kept the fork locked pretty much 97% of the time. I don’t feel its provides that much benefit and I’m seriously considering swapping it for a rigid steel fork or just replacing the whole bike. I definitely agree on the seatpost. I can’t tell if its doing anything except pivoting my seat left and right as I peddal. Another thing I need to replace if I keep the bike. So in hindsight I probably would have been better off saving the 150 bucks and buying the model down. The gearing is good. The original wheels were so-s and I’ve upgraded to better quality rims/spokes. The hydraulic disc brakes are great – can’t complain unless I accidently get air in the system. Aside from the suspension my only other beef is that the location of the rear brake required one of those special disc specific rear racks. I’m on my second one and I don’t really like them. I think Kona has resolved this by mounting the caliper on the chain stay on modern models.

    1. I’ve since replaced the fork with a rigid one – the original fork finally failed due to the evilness of calgary winter road grime eating away at it. If you do switch forks, just be sure the replacement has enough clearance for a fender if you use one – mine is a little tight, so I had to carve the fender to fit properly…

      I’m still using the suspension seat post, but have it fully locked. I’ve gotten used to the slight lateral rotation.

      The bike is still going strong – I love it – but it’s been relegated to being my “winter bike” – I picked up a Cannondale CAADX5 cyclocross bike as my main and “summer bike” – I mostly notice the rotation of the Kona seat post after riding the Cannondale and switching back…

      Funny that you mention the failure of the disk-friendly rear rack – I’m on my second one as well. Stupid thing just snapped at a weld point. Oops.

      Still, I love the Kona. Great bike. The gearing is set up well, it’s solid and fast (I’ve done a couple of 200km cancer fundraising rides with it), and still going strong 6 years later.

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