By Adam Newman; photos by Adam Newman and Mathias Marley
If I had a dollar for every time someone tells me they want a 29er that “handles like a twenty-six”, I could solve the Greek debt crisis. Kudos to Kona for thinking outside the box and building a bike that’s fun to ride, rather than being ridden for the podium. It’s best to think of the Honzo as a blunt instrument, designed for going straight ahead when the cleanest line zigs and zags. With a 68-degree head tube angle, 120mm fork, big 29×2.4 Maxxis Ardent tire up front and low bottom bracket, it’s more battering ram than trail scalpel.
The chainstays are the shortest in the Kona 29er lineup—so short, in fact, that the bike is designed to run single chainrings or singlespeed setups only. There is simply no way a front derailleur would fit between the rear tire and the frame.
The stock build I rode has a solid spec of durable parts that should hold up to years of gettin’ rad: A RockShox Revelation RL Dual Air with a tapered steerer, a 1×9 Shimano drivetrain, an E*13 chain guide mounted to the ISCG 05 tabs, and Avid Elixr 1 brakes. The frame sports a 44mm headtube and a 31.6mm seattube with dropper seatpost cable routing, because let’s face it, this bike is a lot more fun when pointed downhill.
I rode two laps of the 24 Hours at the Old Pueblo race in southern Arizona and some long down hills in the Coronado National Forest aboard a Honzo, and I was impressed with its versatility. It’s no race bike like the Hei Hei 29 I rode, but few bikes can tolerate my exhausted 4 a.m. riding style like this one. Obstacle up ahead? Engage ramming speed! I found myself intentionally choosing rougher lines, just as an excuse to run over stuff.
As you would need to ride like that, the frame and fork are more than stout enough to resist flex. In fact, once or twice I got myself in a bit over my head after riding down something like I was on a downhill bike. The sliding dropouts are only available in 135mm quick release for now, but a set of 142mm thru-axle dropouts will be available soon.
Since there is no provision to run a front derailleur, you’re not going to be attacking long alpine climbs with the single 32-tooth chainring, but with a 36-tooth cog on the cassette, it should be plenty for most terrain. It’s not a sit-and-spin bike at all, instead it begs to be ridden like a singlespeed, up out of the saddle and far over the bars. Despite the short stays and long front end, I didn’t have any problems with it wandering on steep spots. This thing would be a blast on some pump track, it’s almost like riding a giant BMX bike.
Concerns? The 4130 chromoly steel frame is not light, and the complete bike clocks in close to 30 pounds. Also, the lack of a front derailleur might turn a few people off. The complete Honzo retails for $1,799 and I hear it’s been selling quickly. You can also get the frame only and build it up as you see fit. MSRP is $539.
Here’s a closer look at the Honzo courtesy of photographer Sterling Lorence and Kona.