First Rides: Kona’s Hei Hei 2-9 and Kula Deluxe 2-9

Prickly

I’m sure most of you saw my World Tour report from the 24 Hours of the Old Pueblo (OP), but if not check it out here. As I mentioned in the report, Kona hooked both Shannon and myself up with bikes for the race. Shannon rode Kona’s newest addition to their Kula 2-9 lineup––the Kula Deluxe 2-9. Meanwhile, I had the opportunity to sample Kona’s new-for-2008 Hei Hei 2-9.

Kula Deluxe 2-9

Hei Hei 2-9

The rainy/snowy conditions on the Friday before the race had us behind schedule (shocking, I know) so Shannon and I picked up our bikes from Kona’s Kevin Hall only a few hours before the noon race start time. Fortunately, Kevin had our bikes ready to rock. After a quick scramble to get saddle position set, controls dialed, and suspension setup we were ready to “race.” I say “race” simply because we were there to “work” after-all. We can’t spend all of our time focusing on our personal race, eh Maurice?

I asked Shannon to weigh in on his experience aboard the Kula Deluxe 2-9:

Shannon on the Kula

CJ Vincent Photo.

The Scandium frame seemed remarkably solid, stiffer than my personal bike. I noticed the stiffness most when locking out the Reba SL to stand and hammer up the Seven Bitches. It felt like all the energy I expended was put to use and not wasted in flex while climbing the rolling hill with seven distinct steeper sections. Handling was super smooth, I pretended like I was going Jedi Knight style on an Imperial Speeder Bike as I weaved through cactuses that popped into my headlight during a night lap. I could really lean into the turns and whip the bike straight up again to make passes in areas that left little room for mistakes. The 17.3” chainstays precision tracked the front wheel in sections where I could pump, flow through turns, and climb all without turning the pedals.

There was only one notable downhill section on the course, a rock face descent with a small drop back to the trail, but the bike handled this fine at speed. Pulling up the front wheel and popping over pieces of cacti that became scattered along the trail was done with a quick action and usually followed by a turn in the trail. The bike responded fast enough to stay on the trail and not over shoot me into the waiting thorns or the three black cows standing trail side.

The parts package gave me no trouble, minus some shifting issues and a few loose spokes. But hey, the bike was taken out of the box and raced with very little setup. The Slime filled tires rolled a little heavy, but were worth not getting more flats than I had. The color scheme’s cool, although some Brit’s said I was cheeky, because my Dirt Rag Elements jersey matched it. I would have liked to spend more time aboard the Kula Deluxe, this bike was race worthy and was asking for a beating. –Shannon Mominee

Kula Sliding Dropouts

Singlespeeders take note; the Kula Deluxe 2-9 and Kula 2-9 both feature sliding dropouts for one-gear use. Retail price for a Kula Deluxe 2-9 is $2,199.

2008 Hei Hei 2-9:

CJ Vincent Photo
CJ Vincent Photo.

Have to say, I was more than a little nervous about “racing” for 24 hours on a bike that I’ve never ridden as I’m notoriously anal about my bike setup. For me to be happy on a bike everything has to be dialed exactly to my liking. Fortunately for me, the Hei Hei worked right out of the box.

Out of the gate on my first lap I was amazed at how well the Hei Hei rode. The faster I went, the better things felt, so I had to consciously pace myself. Having ridden loads of bikes over the years, I can develop a feel for a bike pretty quickly, but was truly impressed with how quickly and easily I was able to connect with the Hei Hei. The OP course is best described as mostly smooth, fast, and swoopy; not necessarily a course that caters to a 29” dually. Having said that, I was impressed with the efficiency of the Hei Hei. As for suspension setup, I have an 80mm Reba in my personal stable so setting it up was cake. As for the Fox RP2 out back, I set it up with roughly 15% sag initially, and later experimented with 20% sag. I ran the RP2 on the open (non-Pro Pedal) setting for the entire race, never feeling the need to stiffen things up by flipping over to Pro Pedal mode. Lateral stiffness of the rear suspension felt great throughout the many g-out washes on the course. On the other hand, the Reba is feeling a little less stiff than some of the other 29” forks on the market today, though certainly acceptable. Cornering was awesome on the tacky desert soil. The Maxxis Ignitors hooked up beautifully and the bike did a great job of communicating just what was happening where rubber met ground.

Fox RP2 Shock

Climbing on the Hei Hei was a pleasant experience, though the slime tubes––installed to combat the prickly Cacti pieces that had been knocked onto the trail––added a noticeable bit of rotational mass. Though the OP course doesn’t gain or loose a great deal of elevation, there was a nice fast––if a bit short––downhill back to the start tent where one could really let things roll. Line selection didn’t really matter through the roughest sections of this downhill, just ease back and let those big wheels and suspension do their job. Overall, the Hei Hei seems to be all about momentum conservation. Asking one not to bother with the brakes, just keep your speed up and let the bike roll. Though when it was time to scrub some speed the Hayes Stroker Carbon brakes put their 160mm rotors to good use, biting hard and consistently. This was my first ride on Shimano’s new generation XT components, and I was dually impressed with the group. Shimano’s dual release trigger shifters are a vast improvement over single release versions of the past. I like being able to keep my index finger on the brakes and shift simultaneously.

All things considered, this first ride was better than I could have hoped. As I write this the Hei Hei I rode in the OP is being shipped to me for a more deserving review. I’m certainly looking forward to a long-term test of this bike. Keep your eyes peeled for the full review in print later this year. MSRP for the Hei Hei 2-9 is $2,499. – Justin Steiner

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