If you’ve ever gone on a road ride with us you know it usually doesn’t involve a whole lot of “road”. We love the freedom of bikes so much we rarely stay within the lines. We’re always asking “hey, whattaya think is over there?” and then before we finish the thought we’re pedaling in that direction. Usually we’re having such a rad time we get a little carried away…

Typical Sellwood Cycle Road Ride

Typical Sellwood Cycle Road Ride

When you live in the Pacific Northwest it’s even easier to veer off the beaten path and do a little exploring. The desire to disappear into the woods on your own personal adventure is why a lot of us live here in the first place. We love camping, an old trail through the trees, and nothing but time on our hands. Throw a bike into the mix and that’s a sweet spot to be indeed.

It’s in that vein of exploring by bike that we developed the Kona “Bikepacking Unit”. It’s ride everywhere bike that doesn’t feel limited by long miles or rough terrain. An “adventuremobile” without the moldy paneling and sputtering motor.

Kona Unit bikepacking adventure cycle
There’s certainly no shortage of specialty bikes on the market, and it’s easy to get wrapped up spending money on all the latest and greatest niches in the industry. We get that, we’re cyclists after all, but what we’re doing is taking a guitar that already sounds great, and bending the strings a little while we play. It’s a whole new range of possibilities, and it doesn’t break the bank.

This bike began life as a Kona Unit: a 29″ rigid hardtail singlespeed mountain bike. A great ride that abides by the “less is more” philosophy, and delivers a whole lot of fun for not a lot of cash. We trust that Kona wont mind much we’ve decided to riff off their jam a bit and see what else it can play by making a couple small changes. First things first was a 1×10 speed conversion. We swapped out the singlespeed wheels with a set of Hifi B-sides and changed the dropouts to accept gears then threw on an 11-36 cassette. Next we added a Shimano Zee clutch rear derailleur to take up the chain slap when the road gets rough.

Kona Unit bikepacking adventure cycle
The cherry on the cake is the cockpit. We’ve really been digging on the “Dirt Dropper” style lately so we added a Gevenalle GX rear shifter and mountain pull drop bar levers mounted to a set of Salsa Cowbell bars. Our relationship with Gevenalle has been a solid one over the years through cyclocross. So the release of this gravel-specific shifter was a perfect fit for this bike. It’s clean, durable, wont easily get clogged up with gunk, and doesn’t cost a fortune when making the switch from flat bars to drops.

Kona Unit bikepacking adventure cycle blackburn outpost gevenalle gx

Kona Unit bikepacking adventure cycle blackburn outpost olympia beer natures cooler
There are so many amazing custom bags on the market it comes down to personal choice. A lot depends on how much of what kind of gear you want to travel with. The particular set of bags on the bike now are some optional upgrades that we found work really well with our set-up, and wont hurt the handling when fully loaded. We can point you in some solid directions when it comes to finding the right bags, but leave that final decision up to you. We’ve even seen some rad DIY setups, and heck, maybe all you want is a backpack? We don’t judge, we just wanted to create a really fun platform to start from.

The rest of the bike essentially stays the same as the stock Unit. Rigid steel frame, Avid BB7 calipers, 160mm rotors, and Maxxis Ardent tires. We didn’t look to change too much… Just enough.

Kona Unit bikepacking adventure cycle blackburn outpost gevenalle gx hifi wheels Kona Unit bikepacking adventure cycle blackburn outpost stumptown coffee

Kona Unit bikepacking adventure cycle blackburn outpost gevenalle gx hifi wheels
This build is priced at $1575 (without bags). A whole lot of adventure for the money and incredibly adaptable too.

It’s a roadless road bike. Don’t just ask “whattaya think is over there?”, go find out, and maybe get a little lost on the way. You’ll probably find Erik out there ahead of you when you do.

Kona Unit bikepacking adventure cycle blackburn outpost gevenalle gx

25 Responses to “The Bikepacking Unit”

  1. Joe Redinger on

    Great concept bike I like what you have setup. I am a 62 year old 225LB guy who is looking at this type of bike to go with backpacking here in the NW. Question is I am trying to get in shape would this bike hold up until I have lost 25LBs? Thanks Joe R

    • Jake Ryder on

      Hey Joe, Thanks for your interest. Yes we think this bike would hold up great for you. The steel frame and solid wheelset make for a steady base for all size riders. Just how much gear you decide to pack onto this rig will be the biggest determining factor in longevity (but that really applies to any rider). We’d be happy to talk to you about your options if you had a chance to swing by the store and take it for a test ride.

  2. Jake Hueber on

    I’ve been wanting to build one of these for awhile and just stumbled upon your site. How are guys liking these? I was worried the toptube might be a little long with the drop bars. I was gonna set mine up as a single speed monster-cross/gravel bike. I’m from IL so not close your shop but love the build.

  3. Caballo on

    So, that’s a really nice looking bike, and I had my eye on it for about 2 seconds, before realizing that it has pretty much no eyelets. That’s a pretty big omission for an “backpacking” unit. I ended up chosing VO’s new Piolet.

    • Jake Ryder on

      The idea of this bike was to generate a bikepacking bike for those without deep pockets and work with existing options. And with all the passionate debates over which gear is the “right” gear to pack it’s nice to know companies like Revelate and Blackburn have eyelet-free mounting options. We consider this unit a ride that gets people into the world of bikepacking without breaking the bank on a fully custom build, though we certainly applaud Velo Orange’s work. They make great rides. Enjoy!

  4. johan on

    Hi guys,

    i am looking at doing a similar conversion and I was wondering if you kept the orginal chainset that was on the Unit or did you change to a narrow wide chainring?

    • Jake Ryder on

      We did keep the original chainring and chainguide off the Unit, and found that this coupled with a clutch rear derailleur kept it pedaling nice and smooth with the 1x setup.

  5. Mark A. Carter on

    I am new to biking and started out last year with a 2013 Unit. I just got a Shimano 11s XT cassette, XT Derailleur, XT shifter, XTR chain and Kona Hanger today 10/22/15, First problem is I got the 142mm hanger. so I am have to work that out. I hope the 11s cassette fits on the stock hub. I just found this sight looking for info and this is exactly what I was looking to do. Very cool and not a common bike here in Santa Barbara Ca., I was trying to be different.

    • Justin on

      Hi Mark,

      I am in the midst of ordering essentially the same parts as you. How do you like it so far? Did the 11s cassette fit on the stock Joytech hubs?


      • Bryant on

        I did the same set up, had to buy a new rear wheel though, because the 11x wouldn’t fit on the stock being that it’s a SS wheel. I have mine set up as a trail bike right now, with a RS XC30 Gold on the front end, but I’m about to transition back to the original rigid fork and set mine up like this, with a bit more of a crossover tire that would be friendlier on pavement as well. Great looking set up though, gets me excited for what I’m doing to mine!

    • Jake Ryder on

      The handlebar roll is by Blackburn, the seatpost bag is by Revelate, and the frame bag is one of the “Salsa”-branded Revelate bags. We compared Unit frame dimensions with the dimensions of their bags intended for the Salsa Warbird and got an exact match. The Revelate “Ranger” bags will also work.

  6. Connor on

    I am looking at getting handlebar bags for my bike, recently purchased alpkits bags but without a mounting system they’re useless (same goes for their tapered seat bag)
    I love black urns gear, I have FSA handlebars on a charge plug, there’s about 18 inches between the bars, minus 2 or so when considering shifting. How well did your Blackburn fit in your drops? Was shifting an issue? I like that they are semi-modular; could be used on road or mountain bike ( hopefully!)

    • Jake Ryder on

      The beauty of this build was using the Gevenalle GX shifter. It eliminated any sort of rubbing on the handlebar bag from shifting. Plus we were able to run the shift cable around the front of the bag which solved cable-routing problems that you sometimes run into with handlebar bags. The Blackburn bag itself fit just fine in between the drops, just as long as you’re smart about how you pack it.

  7. David on

    Awesome build! I am thinking of doing up a 2016 Kona Unit in a similar way.

    What frame size did you use? And what height is the rider?

    • Jake Ryder on

      We’ve since made three different Kona Units similar to this one, each a different size frame for completely different size riders. Kona has a handy sizing chart at the bottom of each of it’s bike listings under the “specifications” tab: Check it out! and good luck with your build.

  8. Miles on

    Hi! I know not all mtb geometry will work with drop bars, but this is looking like it merged nicely. Any tips or does the frame just work?

    • Jake Ryder on

      It all comes down to personal taste. You can eyeball and bike that you think will be close to working and always do some experimenting with different stem angles and lengths, but there is no exact science. A lot of folks would probably say something “doesn’t work”, or “shouldn’t be done”, but if you find something you love and are comfortable riding then have fun!