If you’ve been around the mountain biking scene for a decade or three, you might associate the Pacific Northwest’s Kona Bicycle Co. with brawny big-hit rigs like the Stab, the Stinky, and the Stinky Dee-Lux. And with barrier-breaking shredders hucking them from unthinkable heights during the nascent freeride era of the late ‘90s and early aughts.
Fast-forward to today and Kona shredders are still busting down doors to what’s possible on a mountain bike. Just take a look at Caleb Holonko’s unreal gapper at the start of this clip. But Kona is also a much more diversified brand these days, with a lineup that includes gravel bikes, commuters, leisure models, and electrified versions of all three.
Until last year, all of those e-bikes were powered by Shimano mid-drive motors and priced at $3,000 and up. Then Kona dropped its new HD line of value-priced e-bikes. “HD” stands for hub drive, specifically SR Suntour’s R250 HP unit.
The sportiest of the three-model Kona HD line is the Rove HD. It’s based on the brand’s longtime all-road/adventure drop-bar Rove model. I got to bang around on the Rove HD for several weeks, riding a mix of pavement, crushed-gravel paths, fire roads, horse trails, and singletrack.
In short: The Kona Rove HD offers terrific value and an exhilarating ride experience for cyclists, ranging from daily commuters to adventure riders who want to cover more ground more quickly — no matter the surface.
Kona Rove HD E-Bike Review
The Drive System
Kona pairs the 250W nominal/500W peak SR Suntour R250 HP hub drive, boasting 60Nm of torque, with a 418Wh battery housed inside the large downtube of the Rove HD’s butted 6061 aluminum frame. The power pack locks into the frame with a key and can be charged either on or off the bike. Charging from 0% to 100% is between 6 and 7 hours.
Rather than relying merely on cadence sensing to determine motor output, as many hub-drive e-bikes do, all the Kona HD bikes use a torque sensor housed in the bottom bracket. This delivered a more measured and natural-feeling pedal assist akin to pricier mid-motor electrics but at a lower cost.
In launching the HD line last October, Kona stated that its intention was to “help lower the barrier to entry to riding an electric bike.” The company has certainly done that within its own electric line.
For comparison’s sake, Kona prices its Shimano STEPS mid-motor-equipped Libre El gravel e-bike at $4,499, while the new Rove HD comes in at less than half that with an MSRP of $2,199. However, it has a lower-level drivetrain, brakes, and other components than the LIbre EL’s Shimano GRX build.
One tradeoff, however, is that the motor’s weight moves from the center of the bike, where mid-drive motors sit, to the rear wheel. This affects the bike’s handling by making it more difficult to get the wheel off the ground and maneuver the back of the bike.
The drive system offers Class 1 pedal assist (no throttle) up to 20 mph. Riders can select from four assist modes — Eco, Tour, Sport, and Turbo — plus a Walk mode. A discreet handlebar-mounted combo controller/display unit controls the system and has readouts for data, including assist mode, current speed, trip distance, percentage of remaining battery life, and more.
Kona Rove HD Build
Kona’s goal is to make the HD line’s pricing accessible to more consumers, and the component spec reflects that. I’d describe the Rove HD’s build as “modest but capable.”
A Shimano Claris 1-by-8 with an 11-32T Claris cassette and Suntour SR crankset (38T) takes care of the drivetrain with the torque-sensing bottom bracket.
Those Claris levers squeeze a set of Tektro Spyre-C mechanical disc brakes with 180mm rotors. Kona-branded bits round out the cockpit.
The bike rolls on 650b road-plus wheels, with WTB rims that have a 19mm internal width wrapped in a nice set of high-volume WTB Horizon Comp 650 x 47c tires with tan sidewalls. One of the original “all-road” tires, and one I’ve spent quite a bit of time on over the years, the Horizons were a welcome sight.
The Rove HD frame has mounting points for a rear rack and a bottle cage inside the front triangle on top of the downtube. The fork also has provisions for racks and accessories. Commuters and bikepackers alike can celebrate that. The frame and fork can also accommodate fenders with plenty of clearance for 47c tires, which is the widest rubber Kona approves.
Power and Range
The Suntour hub drive’s 60Nm of maximum torque might not sound like much in a market where popular mid-drive systems max out at 85Nm or more. But it was more than enough to absolutely fly off the line from a dead stop in all but the lowest pedal-assist mode, Eco. The bike is relatively lightweight, 44.5 pounds, and those fast-rolling WTB Horizons certainly helped the cause.
But the motor put out quite a bit of muscle with quick engagement, thanks to the system’s torque sensing rather than lag-prone cadence sensing. The engagement isn’t quite as immediate as a mid-motor like a Shimano STEPS or Bosch drive, but it was pretty damn close. And for a lot less money.
That said, I didn’t care for the system’s Eco mode, which provided a negligible level of assist before the next pedal-assist level, Tour mode really kicked up the power. On flat ground to moderate uphill grades, Tour mode took me up to the 20 mph limit so rapidly that I never felt a need to shift into Sport or Turbo. Even fairly steep ascents were manageable without standing up and mashing the pedals.
So, staying largely in Tour mode, I was able to get 37 miles of range over 1,600 feet of total elevation gain on a single charge of the 418Wh battery. This is very respectable for the battery’s size.
I also pedaled the Rove HD well over 20 mph frequently because the hub drive had barely any noticeable drag when breaching the assist limit. Same for pedaling with the motor turned off. Range anxiety? Don’t even worry about it. Sure, you’ll be pedaling a 40-plus-pound bike, but not one that feels like it’s stuck in the mud.
You’ll know when your charge is winding down since the system defaults into Eco mode once the battery dips to 10%. As a Kona rep told me, the bike maintains a “reserve tank” of power to help get you home.
Kona Rove HD Ride Impressions
The e-bike’s hub drive/torque sensor combo impressed me from my first outing on the Rove HD. It felt like a mid-drive motor. I could feel a touch of carry-over power once I stopped pedaling, but it was just a blip in time compared with any other hub-motor bike I’ve ever ridden.
More importantly, motor engagement when pedaling from a dead stop was near-instantaneous. That translated to quick starts in city traffic and welcome responsiveness when running into steep hills unexpectedly, especially demanding off-road pitches. And no hill was too steep for this drive system. As I said before, Tour mode got me over whatever grade I desired. But the Rove HD absolutely flew uphill in Sport and Turbo modes.
Taking the bike off-road, those WTB Horizon tires provided plenty of traction in my local Southern California loose-over-hardpack terrain. They also absorbed vibration and shock from ruts and embedded rocks thanks to their generous volume and rounded profile. It was a great all-around tire that also rolled fast on smooth pavement thanks to its smooth center line, which is bookended by a chevron-patterned outer tread for assured cornering in the dirt.
However, this was by no means a nimble gravel bike. That rear-hub motor was drawn to terra firma like a magnet, and it took a helluva lot of rider persuasion to lift the rear wheel into the air or make it dance over technical terrain. I most enjoyed the Rove HD on fast fire roads and horse trails, where the combined weight of the motor and battery kept the bike securely planted to the ground and made for a supremely confident ride as I charged past the motor’s assist limit.
The Shimano Claris drivetrain’s shifting wasn’t particularly smooth, even after fiddling with cable tension. It is probably the first thing I’d upgrade on the Rove HD. On the other hand, the Tektro mechanical disc brakes delivered impressive stopping power without being grabby. Kona also specs a wide house-branded drop bar for broadly spaced hand positions and wraps it in a cushy, slip-resistant bar tape that helped mute road and trail feedback.
I like a modest, low-profile display unit on an e-bike over a massively intrusive one. But I had a difficult time making out the minuscule readout on the Suntour unit while riding. And direct sunlight hitting the screen meant all bets were off.
Because I was happy just staying in Tour mode the majority of the time on the Rove HD, I wasn’t worried about exceeding the assist limit thanks to the drive system’s minimal drag. So, I didn’t need to consult the display much anyway.
Kona Rove HD E-Bike: Conclusion
The Kona Rove HD is a great choice for enthusiast adventure cyclists who want to go all out on fire roads for a couple of hours, as well as commuters wanting to make quick-and-easy work of their spin to and from the office. If your daily trip includes a bit of time off road, even better! The Rove HD can handle almost any terrain you throw at it with its stout build and highly capable WTB tires.
You also get power to spare, remarkably natural-feeling pedal assist, respectable range, and fairly light weight — all the makings for a fun and worry-free ride. And at an MSRP of $2,199, it’s an absolute bargain too.