By Eric McKeegan
Years ago, I lusted after a Kona Hei Hei titanium hardtail. This was towards the end of the long reign of the hardtail as king of the NORBA series. I never got that Hei Hei, and years later, even after almost six years of reviewing bikes for Dirt Rag, I haven’t spent any real time on a Ti bike.
That was recently remedied at the 2013 Trans-Sylvania Epic stage race. After some bad luck befell the custom builder I was working with to create a race bike, I scrambled at the last minute to find a single speed frame that suited my riding style and the rocky terrain of the central Pennsylvania.
Now that fatbikes seem to be the next “second bike” singlespeeds are sliding back into being a niche again. Some quick internet searches revealed a lot of very cross-country-oriented singlespeeds. I’ve spent too much time on slack bikes of the trail or downhill variety lately to really get down with head angles north of 70 degrees.
I also admit to still wanting a “race” bike, not a heavy-duty hardtail. That cut out bikes like the Canfield Brothers Nimble 9 or a Transition TransAm 29. Great bikes, but a six-pound hartail frame wasn’t what I was after.
A bit more poking around got me to the Raijin, Kona’s first titanium 29er hardtail. The geometry looked promising, with a 69.5-degree head tube angle and chainstays between 16.7-17.3 inches. I had a 120mm Magura fork waiting for a bike, and a quick call to Kona confirmed the frame could handle it. Since those geometry numbers are based on a 100mm fork, the extra length of the 120mm fork gets the head angle into trail bike territory at sub 69-degrees. Built up with a mix of fancy and sturdy, the Raijin is less than 24 pounds.
Since surviving the race I’ve been stoked on the ride. The oversize Ti isn’t noticeably flexy, but there is give to the rear end to take the edge of the never-ending rocks. The big Michelin Wild Race’r 2.25s are a big help too. I’ve thrown the Raijin pretty recklessly down some rocky descents and it comes back wanting more.
Even racing towards the back of our seven-man singlespeed pack, I’m stoked to be back on a singlespeed. There is something pretty basic and cleansing about singlespeeds in general, and stage racing on one in particular.
Now that TSE is over, I’m excited to get this out on some local trails. I’m even tempted to slap some gears on it for the Hilly Billy Roubaix, a 75-mile dirt road race in West Virginia later in June.
The full review will run in a future issue of Dirt Rag. Subscribe now so you don’t miss it. A $20 subscription may be the best money you spend all year!