2020 Kona Unit X

The New 2020 Kona Unit X Bikepacking Bike

The Kona Unit X is a steel bikepacking bike that will take you to places few bikes can. It’s available with and without gears, but don’t write off that pesky singlespeed just yet – I’ll share why in a few paragraphs. The 2020 Kona Unit X has received many updates for this year, but the biggest change is the wheel and tyre specification, which I think is a superb move.

Let’s dive into the big changes for this year!

The New 2020 Kona Unit X Bikepacking Bikes

2020 Kona Unit X
The 2020 Kona Unit X bikepacking bike.

Let’s start with the frame geometry.

The 2020 Kona Unit X is a mountain bike through and through. The head angle has been slackened to 68 degrees, which slows the steering responsiveness a tad, allowing the bike to ride more capably at higher speeds. The downside is a bit less stability at low speeds, especially when you factor in some luggage weight on the bars or fork. The frames are 20mm longer across the board, however, this extra length is offset by the steeper seat tube angle which will help maintain a similar reach to the bars.

The headtubes are all longer for 2020, providing about 15mm more stack than previously. This will be more ideal for the bikepacking crowd where a higher front end adds comfort for long days in the saddle.

The chainstays have been shortened to 430mm thanks to the new boost axle spacing and chainstay yoke. Without luggage, this will allow you to easily lift the front wheel over obstacles, but on this other hand, this brings your (potential) rear panniers a bit closer to your heels when you pedal. No stress though, HERE is a list of racks that will set your panniers further back.

The bottom bracket drop is now 5mm lower, but the overall BB height on the Unit is actually 10mm higher than previously. Huh?

2020 Kona Unit X

The bottom bracket is higher because the Unit is fitted with larger diameter wheels; the bike has gone from 27.5+ in 2019, back to 29″ wheels for 2020. I think this is a great move as it gives the bike a bit more flexibility.

The stock tyres are 29×2.6″ WTB Rangers which actually have a similar footprint size to the 27.5×2.8″ tyres from last year thanks to the increase in rim diameter. As a result, the bigger wheels roll over rougher terrain better, yet with the equal tyre footprint, they’ll still float over softer surfaces very well. If the 2.6″ tyres are too much for the terrain you ride, you can still swap in some 29×2.25s and maintain the same BB height as last year.

You might think the 29×2.6″ specification is used to save weight, but the WTB Ranger TCS 29er tyres actually hit the scales at 600 grams more for the set than the 27.5×2.8″. This is offset marginally by the narrower 30mm rims which save about 100 grams compared to last year, however, the net result is an extra half a kilogram to the bike. But don’t despair. You can easily get the weight back down by switching to the highly-recommended Maxxis Ikon or Vittoria Mezcal 2.6″ bikepacking tires.

If you want, the frame will still likely fit a 3.0″ tyre in the 27.5+ specification. This will, of course, mean building up a new wheelset but it will also offer a larger footprint and less tyre deformation under a heavy bikepacking load.

2020 Kona Unit X

The 2020 Kona Unit X now comes with a SRAM Eagle drivetrain. The recently released SX Eagle 1×12 groupset offers a wider gear range than previously, setting the bike up for a 19″ low gear (same as last year) and an 86″ high gear (up from 73″). This means you can now pedal at 41kmh/26mph in the top gear, which is up from 35kmh/22mph – a welcome feature for both descents and tailwind days!

2020 Kona Unit X

The Kona Unit has also been updated to boost 12mm thru-axles which help to provide a shorter chainstay length in particular. In addition, the thru-axles will stiffen the fork and allow for easier wheel alignment in the dropouts. The brakes are the same SRAM Level T hydro disc brakes as previously, a 180mm rotor on the front and 160mm on the rear.

2020 Kona Unit X

You can find all the braze-ons you need for bikepacking on the Unit X, including three bidon mounts on the frame, two cargo cage mounts on the fork, plus eyelets for front/rear racks and full fenders. The fork is 470mm long which is on the short side for anything but an 80mm suspension fork, but a really nice swap-in for bikepacking would be the Lauf Boost TR carbon fork that uses zero moving parts (no maintenance required) while still providing 60mm of travel.

2020 Kona Unit X

The handlebars are super wide to optimise the bike’s steering leverage. This provides great stability at both high and low speeds, especially with a heavy front load. It also offers big real estate for a handlebar pack that exceeds 15 litres in volume. You will be able to get the 2020 Kona Unit X for US $1399.

The 2020 Kona Unit Singlespeed

2020 Kona Unit
The 2020 Kona Unit singlespeed.

Right, I’ve kept you hanging on that singlespeed version of the Unit. So why is this even an option for bikepacking? It will make for an awesome starter kit for a Rohloff 14-speed internal gearbox build! For a touch over $1000 you’ve got your bike, then add $1731 for the Rohloff A12 hub and parts, plus new spokes and a custom wheel build and you’re looking at well under US $3000 for a very capable Rohloff bikepacking bike. Not bad, not bad at all.

Want To Compare The Kona Unit X With Dozens of Others?

Check out The Touring Bicycle Buyer’s Guide which compares touring bike steering, sizing, gear ratios, specification, pricing and more. The Bikepacking Bike Buyer’s Guide does the same thing, however, with a focus on lighter bikes and models with more off-road capability. Both of these guides are updated annually with the latest models at no extra cost!

Helpful Resources

All About Touring Bike Brakes
Frame Materials for Bicycle Touring
How to Select Touring Bike Gearing
Understand Bicycle Frame Geometry
What’s the Difference between Cyclocross and Touring Bikes?

Touring & Bikepacking Bike Overview

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