First Look | Kona Libre DL – understated, but not to be underestimated?

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There’s a formula to bike launches. It normally involves flying journalists to somewhere warm and sunny for their first ride on the bike. This makes sense really, as the company wants testers to get the best possible impression of a bike. It’s certainly easier to just enjoy cracking on with riding a bike when you aren’t dealing with sideways hail or hub-deep mud to distract you.

It’s hard not to have a good time in weather like that
As testers, we always try to step back when writing up those first ride reports. There’s inevitably caveats and then that nagging “how would the bike feel on my home trails?” This was the case when we fly out to Madeira last autumn to ride the Kona Libre DL. Out first impressions were good. Really good, actually. We won’t repeat everything that we said in our First Ride review, but we felt it could be up there as one of the best do-it-all gravel bikes available at the moment.
Not Yorkshire

Back on home soil

That was six months ago, now and we jumped at the chance when Kona UK asked if we’d like to spend a little longer getting to put our first impressions to the test. Before we go much further, let’s just have a little refresher on the Libre DL though.

Welcome to Yorkshire

Kona has set out its stall early with the Libre – it’s for everything from road to trail riding. It sees it as a true do-it-all. It slots somewhere in between the Rove and Sutra, taking the more relaxed geometry and luggage carrying ability of the Sutra with the Rove’s carbon frame and shorter chainstays.
Buffalo soldier?

The Libre is available in two models: the Libre and the Libre DL. The Libre is cheaper (£2899) and runs 2x Shimano 105 and 650b wheels. It also sports an amazing purple/green paint job.

The Libre shares its frameset with the DL.

The Libre DL is more expensive at £3699, but also has a very different build approach. It is fitted with a 1x SRAM Force groupset, but also swaps to 700c wheels, with 45c WTB Riddler tyres. It also comes in a rather fetching, and somewhat less bling-bling – but no less classy – matt green.

The DL is a case of “same but different” compared to the regular Libre

The Frame

The frameset features everything that has become standard on gravel bikes in the last few years: tapered headtube, bolt-through axles front and rear, flat-mount brakes and a Press-Fit bottom bracket. We’ve got no problems with any of that, with the possible exception of Press-Fit. We’d much rather threaded, if only for home servicing ease.

Designed to be happy putting in the long miles

It looks as though someone at Kona was let loose with a rivet gun and started firing bottle cage bolts in-discriminately at the Libre. It features two on the downtube, one on the seat tube, one on the underside of the downtube too. There’s then bolts on the top tube to secure a bento-box style frame bag. Oh, and the increasingly common triple bolts on each fork leg, which are spaced to either carry more bottle cages, or anything cage style racks.
Carry anything

We try not to spend too long looking at the geometry chart of a bike before riding it – preferring to get a feel for it first, rather than worrying about numbers. There’s a few interesting things to note about the Libre from the off, though. Firstly, Kona has taken some of its mountain biking background and applied it here. The reach of the frame is longer than most gravel bikes (to the extent that it recommended a 54cm frame for me. I usually ride a 56cm from virtually any other manufacturer). It comes fitted with a relatively stubby 80mm stem. It also has a relatively upright riding position, compared to many gravel bikes (although there are plenty out there with similar). We expect comfort for long hours in the saddle as a result.
Shortish stem and upright position

Other stuff

One of the things we liked during our first pedal of the Libre DL was that the spec was pretty much exactly as we would choose to fit out a gravel bike. You could argue that for £3699 you’d bloody well hope so, but it’s obviously not always that straight forward. We are long time fans of SRAM’s Rival and Force groupsets for gravel riding. 1x makes sense to us offroad, with an 11-42t cassette giving plenty of range for anything from fireroad smashing to winching up technical climbs. It also has all the benefits of a quiet drivetrain and no dropped chains.

1x, but still the option to run a double

The Easton EA 70AX wheels are lightweight, and 700c x 45 feels like our goldilocks size for gravel riding. The WTB Riddler is a good in-betweener tyre, with a fast rolling central strip, but a bit more bite on the edges.
Easton wheels, WTB rubber

Having said all that, one of the first things that we are doing is taking the opportunity to swap a couple of bits over while we have the Libre DL. My bum doesn’t get on brilliantly with WTB saddles (I seem to be the only person I know who finds this though) and we also felt like the RedShift ShockStop stem would be an interesting addition.
We like the Riddler

Full Specification

  • Frame // Kona Libre DL
  • Fork // Kona Verso Carbon Touring
  • Wheels // Easton EA 70AX 700c
  • Tyres // WTB Riddler TCS 700x45c
  • Chainset //SRAM Force 1
  • Bottom Bracket // SRAM GXP PF
  • Rear Mech // SRAM Rival 1 11-speed
  • Shifters // SRAM Force 1
  • Cassette // SRAM XG1150 10-42t 11spd
  • Brakes // SRAM Force 1 Flat Mount 160mm front / 160mm rear rotor
  • Bars // Kona Road Bar
  • Stem // Kona Road Stem
  • Seatpost // Kona Thumb w/Offset
  • Saddle //WTB SL8 Pro
  • Size Tested // 54
  • Sizes available // 46, 49, 51, 54, 55
  • Price // £3,699
Extra water bottle bosses

Welcome to the UK

As soon as we received the Libre DL, “fake spring” left as quickly as it arrived and we were plunged into repeated battering by storms. That’s not to say we’ve not been getting the miles in already though. The Libre DL has been almost as much fun in the winter slop as it has in the dust of Porto Santo. We’ll keep on pedalling and keep on testing and report back soon.

Libre DL

Comments (5)

    Definitely be my commuter if I had the money!

    Like the quote I read from a bicycle purveryor in my inbox just now… “We keep an eye on things. We cruise the internet bicycle news sites. The forums. We read reviews. And one hit us square in the face today.
    When you come across the review of a carbon gravel bike today, check the price, check the rear mech – you could buy two full SRAM Force1 XXXX for that. And have £500 left over.” All that needs to be said really 😉

    Agreed. Lovely paint, but they are on another Planet wanting £2899 for a 105 equipped hardtail.

    Also known as “70’s mountain bikes”

    LUNATIC prices. As in, actually insulting. Anyone paying that much for a bike needs their head examining.

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