This is our third annual roundup of trail bikes that aren’t priced to the stratosphere. We could call them affordable, budget, real-world, blue-collar or college-fund-friendly, but someone would take offense at our assumption of disposable income level. It doesn’t really matter though. These are great bikes for the price, and we’ll leave it up to you about what to spend. Each bike was hand picked, not just for its price, but its components, geometry and modern features. From Issue #189.
Get an overview of all of the bikes in this test, here, and keep an eye out for full reviews of each.
Tester: Adam Newman
Age: 35, Height: 6’2”, Weight: 175 lbs., Inseam: 34”
Sizes: S, M, L, XL (tested)
They say you buy the bike for the kind of riding you wish you did, rather than for the kind of riding you actually do. While many of the other bikes in this year’s sub-$3,000 group test have more travel, fatter tires or fancier parts, I’d trade many of those superlatives for performance any day.
The Hei Hei has long been Kona’s premier, 29 inch, full-suspension cross-country platform, and for 2016 it has seen a complete redesign and a splintering of the family tree. There is a Race version that you can buy in some markets outside the U.S., but here in ‘Merica we get the more all-purpose Kona Hei Hei Trail.
The aluminum frame moves 100 mm of travel through Kona’s new Fuse Independent Suspension design. While it retains a classic single-pivot layout, it drops the pivot normally found right above the rear axle in favor of allowing a small amount of seatstay flex to accommodate its movement. The idea is simple: less weight and fewer moving parts to wear out or require attention. Because of these savings Kona says the complete frame is 240 grams lighter than its predecessor.
The simplified packaging, including a rather tiny rocker link, allows the rear wheel to tuck in with a thoroughly modern 16.9 inch chainstay length. The move is reflected out front with a longer front center than many cross country bikes, though not quite as long as Kona’s popular, gravity-favoring Process models. Still, a 68 degree head tube angle matches that of the Honzo and Process 111, and the internal dropper post routing means the Hei Hei Trail can be called upon to handle much more difficult terrain than more thoroughbred cross-country bikes.
The bike ships with a Shimano Deore 2×10 drivetrain, 120 mm RockShox Recon Gold Solo Air fork and a RockShox Monarch RL shock. The Shimano brakes are non-series but share the same basic layout and design as their more expensive counterparts. The Maxxis Ardent front and Icon rear tire combination is well-suited to the all-purpose nature of the platform too. If you want to really push it hard you’re going to want more aggressive tires, and the bike is certainly capable of using them, but this is a good starting point.
While none of the stock parts have a huge bling factor that is going to impress in the parking lot, all the components are more than capable of putting a huge smile on your face once you’re on the trail. Case in point: The shorter stem and wide handlebars are conjoined with a 35 mm clamp. The extra beefiness may not be 100 percent necessary, but it goes to show you the attitude Kona has put into this bike—that is, it’s willing to trade some grams for some gravitas.
If you have ridden previous Hei Hei models, the lively and snappy feel of the Fuse suspension will feel right at home. It may not have the ground-hugging performance of more complex linkage designs, but it has a linear and responsive attitude. It doesn’t mute the trail, it cranks it up and sings along. If you like to run the rebound damping on your rear shock closer to the “jackalope” end of the dial, you will love how the Fuse design encourages you to keep things moving.
While the Process line is designed for the trail or all-mountain market, the Hei Hei Trail is really indicative of where modern cross-country riding is headed: more technical trails, longer days in the saddle and a more gravity-embracing posture.
While many mountain bikers dream of slaying trails high on Whistler Mountain, the vast majority of our miles are spent on local trails here in the real world. If you’re thinking of buying a mountain bike for the mountain biking you actually do, the Hei Hei Trail should be near the top of your list.
- Trail bike attitude in cross-country packaging
- 2×10 drivetrain gets you a slightly wider gear range
- WTB tubeless compatible rims make tubeless setup easy
- Chain broke on first ride and had to be replaced
- Non-series Shimano brakes made a ton of noise
- Stock tires could be more aggressive
- Wheelbase: 46.9”
- Top Tube: 25.8”
- Head Angle: 68º
- Seat-Tube Angle: 74º
- Bottom Bracket: 13.1”
- Rear Center: 16.9”
- Weight: 29.2 lbs. w/o pedals (specs based on size tested)