Dirt Rag Magazine

Review: Kona Honzo

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It was certainly not the first, but no bike typifies this new genre of “trail” or “all-mountain” 29ers quite like the Honzo. The brainchild of some serious gravity-addicted minds at Kona, this ain’t no old-school big wheeler.

How so, you ask? Well, up front the 68-degree head tube angle is mated to a 120mm RockShox Revelation (though it can easily handle a 140mm fork) and out back the chainstays measure a teeny-for-a-29er 16.3 inches. The stays are so short, in fact, that Kona designed the bike around a single-chainring-only drivetrain. No front derailleurs need apply. The frame has a great low-slung, BMX look that I like a lot. Kona also deserves a shout-out for the tinted clear-coat finish and retro graphics. Everyone at Dirt Rag HQ agreed it was a handsome fellow.

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Mounted on that burly chromoly steel frame are an X7 shifter and rear derailleur, an FSA crank with 32-tooth chainring and an E*13 chainguide. The 760mm bars and stem are Kona-branded units of the wide-and-short variety, and I’m elated that it comes spec’d with tubeless-ready wheels with WTB rims. There is no piece that is really begging for an upgrade.

Some racy 29ers claim to be a “trail scalpel” that carve corners like a Ginsu knife. This is not one of those bikes. If you want to continue that analogy, the Honzo is more like a battle axe. Brute force, baby. Point it into the rough stuff and hold on, because the Honzo doesn’t flinch. Some riders might push it hard enough to justify a beefier fork, but I never felt it was necessary. From bow to stern, this is one of the stiffest ships I’ve ever captained. But the stiffness doesn’t beat you up the way bikes I’ve ridden do. The weight and inherent properties of steel keep the bouncing to a minimum and keep it more planted in high-speed chatter.

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I didn’t notice the short chainstays much at first, though it is much easier to lift the front end via pedal kick. While the Honzo doesn’t come with a dropper seatpost, I rode with one installed for most of the review period. I highly recommend adding a dropper; it makes it a much more versatile and fun bike.

With the long fork and slack front end, you might expect it to turn slowly or flop the front wheel around corners, but if you weight the front sufficiently and let that big 2.4 Maxxis Ardent bite, it will carry you through. The low bottom bracket certainly helps as well, especially as speeds increase, and the bike feels most at home at speed.

Because let’s face it, while the Honzo loves to get down, gettin’-on-up isn’t really its thing. The single chainring drivetrain all but eliminates a sit-and-spin style of climbing. Instead, you ride it like a singlespeed, out of the saddle and with your whole body. Because it is most rewarding when being ridden hard and fast, it demands a lot of energy, and when my energy was depleted, the fun-factor often was as well.

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So is the Honzo a niche product? Is it a trail bike? All-mountain? Kona’s Gravity Product Manager Chris Mandell described it as “a trail bike that can go into the all-mountain realm.” I think its best asset is its versatility. Shed a few pounds and you’d have a fun go-anywhere trail bike. Bolt on a bigger fork and some flat pedals and point it down the biggest hill you can find. Or purchase the frame alone and build it up however you’d like.

In all, I was amazed at how quickly I became comfortable and familiar with the Honzo. It’s built for the kind of riding I enjoy, and I think a lot of other non-racer-types enjoy as well. The short stays/slack fork might seem like a big departure from most 29er hardtails, but after spending time on the Honzo, it’s the old 29er geometry that seems extreme. You can keep your 72 degree headtube angles—I’m taking the fun line instead of the fast line.

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Vital stats

  • Top tube: 25 inches, 635mm
  • Wheelbase: 45.2 inches, 1,148mm
  • Head angle: 68 degrees
  • Seat tube angle: 74.5 degrees
  • Bottom bracket height: 12.2 inches, 310mm
  • Chainstay length: 16.3 inches, 414mm 
  • MSRP: $1,899
  • Sizes available: S, M, L (tested), XL (Specs based on size tested)

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