Why I love Tonkin', by staff rider Dan.

Words by Aaron Scott

on 29/08/2013 19:54:00

Ever fancied a steel-framed bike?  Our staff rider Dan introduces us to his trusty steel Kona Honky Tonk, and shows us how he's customised it so it's just perfect...well, until the next upgrade...

"I'm lucky enough to own two road bikes. The first, a Dura Ace-equipped Specialized Tarmac, and the other, a Steel Kona Honky Tonk. Which is my favourite? Well, it's not the one with all that that 'aerospace technology' and 'race developed geometry' designed by Scientists and Aerodynamisists and such - it's the one that's made from off cuts of the Humber Bridge (it's not fancy Reynolds 8 billion grade tubing, it's a cheaper alternative using steel that comes out of Mordor).

The only thing that I liked less than the Tarmac was the equipment on it, so over the last few months I've changed... Well.... Everything! I think only the seat post clamp remains original.

Upgrade #1: Ritchey Pro finishing kit

Ritchey kit is always light for the money, but why I was worried about that I'm not sure.  It has a glossy black finish with red graphics that matches the 'Tonk paint perfectly. The ergo bar (that's the one with the flat bit on the bend, not the traditional rounded finish) is much stiffer than the original and arrived as a special order from Ritchey in no time. With the matching 120mm stem it fits me much better than the 80mm one that came with the bike. I think Kona designed it for commuting, but they took the comfort thing a bit far! It's finished off with Lizard Skins DSP bar tape - it's nearly £30 but lasts forever thanks to its Ann Summers-esque glossy finish.

Upgrade #2: Shimano 105 Groupset

Ok, so anyone who thinks 10sp vs 9sp makes a difference I'd argue is wrong - the real difference is the quality of the components not the number of sprockets on the back - still, I decided that 10 sounds better than 9 and at the point of wearing out the 9sp Sora the 'Tonk came with I replaced it for 5700 Shimano 105. The nice black finish to compliments the finishing kit. It's so solid feeling, and I can't honestly tell the difference when shifting between it and the Dura Ace on the Tarmac.

I needed some 57mm drop calipers (so you can fit mud guards) for the 'Tonk so I had to pick 'non series' models. They came in black through, but the pads resembled those blackboard cleaner blocks you had at school so I changed them for some BBB after market models. It was the 'Triple Compound' that sold them to me - 3 is better than 1 obviously - They work really well even in wet weather and ill definitely replace them with the same when worn.

Upgrade #3: Fulcrum Racing 5 wheels with Continental GP4000 Tyres

Fulcrums are rock solid wheels - oh, and luckily they are black with red graphics! There's a theme here... If it's black with a red graphic I decided it was the best thing for the job! They are 1700grams so certainly not in the lightweight category but are reliable enough if I'm commuting, or decide to ride through pot holes. They have done about 1000 miles now and are still the same as when I bought them.

The bike came with 28c Continental Sport Tyres. They were fine, and never punctured but were noticibly slow, and under hard braking used to brake traction far too easily. I guess it's just the compound of rubber they use so I decided to change them for a better quality, and slightly narrower 25c GP4000 tyres. They are the ones with that Black Chilli compound made by the same grannies in the Shreddies adverts on TV (well, their German cousins - think more Gunta and Freda than Mildred and Dorothy - if you look on the packaging you will know what I'm on about!). The difference was night and day - much faster rolling, loads better in braking and still comfortable with the 25c profile. People say they puncture easily, but mine haven't yet. Good German engineering I'd say. I also have some Panaracer Closer tyres which are 23c if I feel the need for a slighter faster feel.

So that's it, I've now changed everything on it - Perhaps a Carbon Fork is needed next...

I love riding the Honky Tonk, so much so that as I write this I'm selling the Tarmac (to make way for another Carbon bike at some point!). Yes it's heavy, so the weight weenies will always turn their noses up, but it's so much fun to ride and once it's up to speed you can freewheel forever - I'm sure it's made me fitter too!

It gives you that pleasure from riding that we all have, but sometimes you can lose when worrying about how much more your bike weighs than Contador's, or if your cassette is the right ratio for your Friday spin round the lanes.

There are loads of steel bikes out there, geared or single speed, so instead of buying a new disc wheel for your TT bike, or a ceramic bearing kit for your fancy race rig, why not buy a 'cheap' steel bike and just try riding it for fun? Even if you end up replacing every part on it, and it doesn't turn out to be so cheap, I'm sure it will make you smile as much as it does for me.

"Steel is real."


More information

  • All the products Dan mentions are available from our shops or via our website.
  • If you'd like more advice on buying a steel-framed bike, or custom building your own bike, give our bike sales team a call, 7 days a week, on 01780 460 705 (option 3).