The underrated Kona MinUte

The same bike, but different

The same bike, but different

Although I have some issues with our original cargo bike, the Kona MinUte, they are mostly along the lines of “this is a good bike that with a little bit more effort could have been a GREAT bike.” If I were a betting person, I would bet that the MinUte is a product that is only really loved by one person at Kona, which as a company seems to focus more on what another family biker once referred to as “the weed market.” I wish this were not the case, but in the meantime, Kona pioneered the first American midtail, and what a great idea that turned out to be.

So I was very disappointed to learn that Kona is discontinuing the MinUte at the end of 2013. I recommend the Yuba Boda Boda to parents looking for an assisted midtail in San Francisco (that’s mostly moms), with the usual caveat about Yuba’s lower-end parts. I recommend the MinUte to parents looking for an UNassisted midtail in San Francisco (that’s mostly dads), with the usual caveats about the MinUte’s historically horrible brakes. There a couple more midtails out there, but to date I have not yet ridden a Kinn Cascade Flyer, so I can’t comment on anything but its smokin’ good looks one way or the other. And the very sturdy Workcycles Fr8 is not appropriate for our hilly neighborhood, plus it is too heavy for bus bike racks on local transit, so it loses one of the key advantages of owning a midtail. On the other hand, if you live somewhere flat, the Fr8 is the only midtail specifically designed to haul three kids, one of whom can be in front, which is delightful.

Although it is not a company that is focused on the kid market, Kona does some things really, really well, and one of them is gearing. The MinUte is geared like a mountain bike, so yes indeed you can haul your 50+ pound kid up really steep grades on this bike. And with an aluminum frame, the weight of the bike isn’t fighting you all the way up those hills. To the best of my knowledge, there is no other cargo bike with the same weight+gearing advantage currently on the market. RIP, MinUte. If you’ve been thinking about getting one, you’d better hustle.

Rosa Parks family with a very stylish 2013 MinUte tricked out for kid-hauling

This very stylish 2013 MinUte belongs to a Rosa Parks family and is completely tricked out for kid-hauling

The things that irritate me about the MinUte would probably be irrelevant if the family cargo biking market hadn’t taken such great leaps in the last few years. Now you can buy a bike that comes with kid-carrying parts designed for the bike. Workcycles, Xtracycle, and Yuba will not let you down on this front, and that makes their bikes inherently more appealing for a parent picking up cargo biking. Getting a MinUte involves some kludging that feels a little old-school now. If you live near our bike shop, Everybody Bikes, or one like it, they’ll do that for you, because they’ve set up so many of these bikes already, but otherwise you’re on your own. Kona does not have a standard set of stoker bars for kids to hang on to, wheel skirts to keep feet from being trapped in the spokes, or pegs for foot rests. If you buy a MinUte from Everybody Bikes they’ll set up you up with all of these things on request, and it will look really good too, but that’s their initiative and not Kona’s.

But we live in a hilly neighborhood near this particular bike shop, so it’s not just us on a MinUte: we have neighbors with MinUtes as well, and one family joins us at Rosa Parks every morning—how cool is that? For parents with one kid or two widely spaced kids, a midtail is probably the best kind of cargo bike. Granted, you don’t really need a cargo bike with only one kid, but it can be handy—I find a midtail less unwieldy than a bike seat with an older child, plus you can carry more non-kid cargo. Matt likes the MinUte’s carrying capacity so much that he plans to keep riding it after our kids are on their own bikes. Assuming, that is, it is not stolen again after Kona stops making them, which would break our hearts.

And as mentioned, most midtails can go on a bus bike rack, or on Amtrak using their standard bike racks. Score! Lifting them up to a bus bike rack is not without its challenges—the MinUte, which is the lightest one I’ve tried to put on a bus, is definitely a lot of work to position, but eh, there are lots of heavy bikes in the world, and in my own personal case, my arms are not the weak link.

This neighbor DIYed a nice kid seat with a wooden back, which is drilled directly into the wooden deck.

This neighbor DIYed a nice kid seat with a wooden back, which is drilled directly into the wooden deck.

When we got the replacement MinUte, we learned that Kona had not ignored all of the issues that came up with the first year’s model. The MinUte now has a much nicer centerstand than before, only a fraction narrower than the best-in-class Ursus Jumbo at half the price. Kona now allows you to swap out the standard wooden deck for a plastic deck with holes predrilled to hold a Yepp seat. I’ve been told that the standard brakes are better. The bags are still not so great, but hey, they are included in the price of the bike, so it’s hard to complain too loudly about that. Again, it’s really more a good thing that could have been great.

We will miss being able to tell people where they can buy a MinUte like ours—although the Bullitt gets the most attention, all our bikes are kid-haulers, and as a result they all get noticed. I wish Kona were willing to jump into the family market wholeheartedly. The MinUte fills a niche for families in hilly cities and I’m not sure there’s another bike out there yet that can do the same thing. But Kona is discontinuing the MinUte, so I will have to hope there is something new in the works.

16 Comments

Filed under commuting, family biking, Kona, Xtracycle, Yuba, Yuba Boda Boda

16 responses to “The underrated Kona MinUte

  1. I totally agree with you about gearing. Seattle is similar to the Bay Area, in that you have serious hill climbing required to go anywhere. If you don’t live in hilly country, it is hard to understand how someone can quickly run out of gears – especially laden down with cargo, children or too many desserts. Luckily Kona, with its roots deep in mountain biking understands gearing. Glad you were able to get your hands on one.

  2. I’m really sorry to hear that the Minute will be discontinued. After buying one last spring, it has rapidly become my everyday bike. In general, a midtail is a great space for me, as I frequently carry cargo & groceries, carry my kid a few times a week and commute daily. I’m happy to give up some speed for the extra versatility and comfort…but not too much. A long-tail or bucket bike would feel too limiting, but a regular bike with panniers isn’t quite enough capacity. The other factor is that my son is rapidly outgrowing my ability to carry him, so the kid-carrying abilities of other bikes will soon be wasted on us. The Minute has a great combination of features for comfort (some step-through and swept back handlebars) and performance (wide gearing and relatively light weight). Even without the cargo aspect, this seems to be a rare combination.

  3. Oh boo! When I first read there was no 2014 MinUte I assumed that meant they hadn’t made any changes and would keep producing the old version. This is really a shame.

  4. Joe Laubach

    I am frantically calling every dealer in Seattle trying to find a leftover MinUte because it seems perfect for my needs. The Kinn is out of my price range. The Boda Boda seems sorta cool but I’m not crazy about it for some reason. Is there any other mid-size that I can compare it to?

    • You’ve pretty much got the list there: MinUte, Boda Boda, Kinn. Plus the Workcycles Fr8, but that bike’s not appropriate for Seattle hills. Our local bike shop, Everybody Bikes in SF, has a MinUte on the floor if you’re willing to have one shipped.

      • We picked up a Workcycles Secret Service at Seattle Dutch Bikes. It has a heavy duty rear rack and an optional super-duty front rack. It is lighter and sportier than the FR8 and came with a Nuvinci 360 IGH. Gearing is marginal for hilly Seattle, but not too bad. We now use the bike at our second home in Tucson, which is much flatter than Seattle. Construction of the Secret Service is bulletproof compared to the Kona MinUte, but it is heavier.

      • Joe Laubach

        Please shoot me an email if you or anyone you know decides to sell their Kona MinUte. I want one but can’t find one used since they only made them two years. The Kinn is out of my price range. The Boda Boda doesn’t appeal to me. The MinUte is the only one I really want. I live in Seattle but could come to the Bay Area to pick it up no problem. I have family in Oakland I visit pretty regularly. Love your blog and hope to meet you – I heard from some biking families you will be visiting Seattle.

      • I’ll be in Seattle in February for a conference, it’s true! Always excited to meet other family riders.

  5. I got to test-ride a Kinn a few months back. I liked it a lot, but I have zero experience hauling kids around SF. I can also confirm that it is a very attractive bike.
    The builder brought one down to Huckleberry Bikes. I’m not sure if the shop ordered any, but you should definitely let them know that you’re interested AND that there’s a hole in the market for this kind of bike.

  6. Sorry this is a bit off topic, but I just wanted to say thanks for a great blog. We have just bought a second hand Kona Ute as a “school run” bike for our two kids and I am in the process of setting it up for kid-hauling. You very rarely see any cargo bikes or more than one child on a bike around here (Ipswich, UK) so it has been a real inspiration to see what is achievable! The Minute would actually have been a great option, but given the limited supply it was more a case of what was available second hand so hopefully the Ute will do the job as it isn’t too hilly around here!

  7. Great blog – thanks for the Minute insights. Your readers may be happy to know Kona is bringing the Minute back for 2015. Now it comes with hydraulic disc brakes, center-stand and waterproof panniers. The Ute is being retired (stock up on 2014’s if you like the Ute!). No word yet on the continued availability of the aftermarket decks for Yepp seat use. If anyone has seen a dealer stocking these Minute decks, I’d be keep to hear. Many thanks to @JonBloor for the “Ute Deck 2″ post!

  8. Melissa

    In your cargo bike pocket reviews, you mentioned that the Kinn Flyer is the only midtail that can use the Follow-Me. Can you explain why it won’t work with the MinUte? Since the wheel size is the same as on non-cargo bikes, my only thought was that maybe it’s an issue with spacing of the drop-outs?

    • As it was explained to me, the struts that support the rear deck block the area that the FollowMe needs for mounting. You’ll note if you look at both the Boda Boda and the MinUte that they have extra frame tubing around the rear wheel–in particular behind the rear wheel axle. This is the same area where the FollowMe’s designers placed their attachment hardware.

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