Riding photos by Caleb Smith/Kona
Kona is the kind of brand that when it wants to f*ck around, it doesn’t f*ck around. It makes solid product backed by solid people who are genuinely more interested in having a great time—on and off the bike—than raking in the dough.
I was lucky enough to score an invite back to the annual Kona Ride event where the brand hosts dealers and media slime like me for a few days of showing off the new models and then getting them properly dirty. While the event had long been held at the Kona offices in Bellingham, Washington, this year they took the party north to Squamish, British Columbia, for some “BC XC.”
While there are a lot of new models to talk about, let’s start with the one I had a chance to spend an afternoon on, the Big Honzo DL ($2,400). Kona’s original Honzo was the first mass-produced version of what came to be known as the “trail hardtail.” It was simple; it was steel; it offered you no excuses. Afterward followed Ti and aluminum versions, and for 2017 a carbon version dropped, too. More on that in a sec. But this summer is all about the Plus bike, and Kona has delivered with a version designed specifically for the fatter tires.
While a lot of the bikes we’ve seen released in the last few months tout their ability to swap between 29 inch and 27plus, the truth is they are not the same size. Yes, that was the idea at first but, with refinement, Plus bikes became their own thing. Kona said it isn’t into gimmicks, so instead of adding a flip chip thingamajig or adjustable this or that gizmo, there are separate 29 inch Honzos and 27plus Honzos.
Yes, the wheels from one will technically fit in the other, but the 29er has a lower bottom bracket drop to compensate for the taller wheels. Want to ignore Kona’s advice and build up whatever you want? You can pick up either frame on its own for $499. Go nuts.
Back to the bike: Yes, it’s Boost. Yes, it has super short chainstays (16.3 inches/414 mm) and, yes, it has internal dropper routing. Here’s what it doesn’t have: a threaded bottom bracket (PF92 instead) and a means to run a front derailleur. But those things are becoming more rare than a Charizard Pokémon, aren’t they? The front center also gets a stretch to match the extended reach and stack of the new Process full suspension bikes.
While at first I was apprehensive about jumping on an XL, at 6-foot-2 I was pleasantly surprised that it didn’t feel extreme in any way. Without a direct comparison to the previous version, I didn’t even notice the extra 32 mm of front center distance. That’s more than an inch. I hopped on, turned a few circles in the parking lot and I was ready to go.
If you’d like to read about the Big Honzo back to back against the 29er Honzo, so would I, but I couldn’t ride both bikes at the same time, so you’re stuck with the former. While I unconditionally approve of 29 inch wheels, I’m still on the fence about this Plus thing, but I’m willing to play along. The first thing I noticed about this version of the Honzo is that it just feels so… normal. It’s not at ALL like a fat bike and, shockingly enough, somewhere between a 27.5 and a 29er. I know, that’s not helpful at all.
What I can say is that the Big Honzo rides a lot like you’d expect. With the tires pumped up firm, things are a bit bouncy. Throughout my ride I continually let more and more air out at each stop and things improved. One thing about these bigger tires is that tire pressure becomes a much bigger part of the equation. These bikes should come with small, low-pressure tire gagues.
One thing holding plus bikes back in my opinion is the tires. The Big Honzo DL comes with Schwalbe Nobby Nic 2.8s, and while they have plenty of tread, they are a bit more round than I would like. If you compare them to the stiff, broad shoulders and fairly flat profile of the Maxxis Minion DHF you find on the front of the 29er version, you’ll see a big difference. I like the squared-off tread for its sharp cornering knobs that can dig in. The plus tires have the advantage in traction when you’re straight up and down, but not when you’re leaning the bike.
The RockShox Yari fork is a beefed-up version of the Pike and a sibling to the heavy-hitting Lyric, but with a Motion Control damper inside it instead of the Charger damper in the Pike and Lyric. That didn’t dampen my ride experience though, as the super-stiff chassis keeps that big front wheel in check.
The rest of the build is pretty much classic Kona trail: WTB rims, RaceFace cranks, SRAM 1×11 drivetrain, Shimano non-series hydraulic brakes and a RockShox Reverb dropper. It all works great, just as it always had.
I have a feeling the Big Honzo is going to be a big seller, and if you’re having trouble deciding between it and at the 29er version, know you’re not alone. Maybe if we ask Kona real nicely they’ll let us sample both….
In other news
There were some other big changes to the lineup that had already been released, but we’ll go through them again together, shall we?
Hei Hei: Here’s where things get interesting. The Hei Hei Trail from last year is now just the Hei Hei. It’s available in aluminum or carbon. The Hei Hei Race, above, gets a full carbon frame and swingarm with a 100 mm fork instead of a 120 mm, plus a bunch of other go-fast bits.
The new Hei Hei Trail is duh, all new, with 140 mm of travel front and rear and 27.5 wheels. Hmm… sounds a lot like a Process 134, huh? Well, Kona is pitching these toward two very different types of riders. The Process is a very gravity-oriented bike, while the Hei Hei Trail has a much more “ride all day” personality thanks to the carbon frame and swingarm and the Fuse flex pivot rear suspension. It’s also available in an XS so smaller folks can rip, too. Both bikes are supremely capable, but you might want to ride them back to back. Choose wisely, my friend.
All the Hei Hei bikes come with a 1x drivetrain and the Hei Hei and Hei Hei Trail models have dropper posts.
Honzo: Like I mentioned before, there is also a carbon fiber Honzo, dedicated to 29 inch wheels only and dubbed the Honzo CR. It has the same geometry as the aluminum model, but sheds quite a few grams. With cross country racing becoming more badass again, Kona is betting that you might soon find a number plate on the front of one of these. Oh, and the steel and Ti versions are still available as a frame-only option.
Operator: Full World Cup level DH with 27.5 wheels and aluminum frames on all three models.
Process: New frame geometry across the board, with a longer front center. All models ditch the front derailleur. The XS size remains available in the 134 model.
- The Big Kahuna is a 27plus hardtail with 2×10 gears and a 100 mm RockShox fork.
- The Unit is now a 27plus singlespeed, with all the braze-ons and mounts your bikepacking heart could desire.
- The Wozo is a trail bike fat bike. It has a slacker front end, 1x only gearing and is dropper post compatible, so you don’t have to stop shredding when the snow begins to fly.
Kona’s tagline for its 2016 lineup is “Going Deeper” and it’s an apt description for its largest-ever product range. While some models carry over largely unchanged, nearly every mountain bike gets an update of some kind, and several get ground-up redesigns. We sampled some of the latest on the trails outside Bellingham, Washington.
When I rode the original Honzo for a long-term review last year I couldn’t help but feel that it was really only going to make a particular type of rider happy. In classic Kona style it was built tough, and didn’t worry much about the gram scale. It was a ripper, for sure, but wasn’t the bike I would choose for all-purpose mountain biking.
The new aluminum Honzo changes that entirely. It sheds nearly three pounds of the frame weight of the steel version (which is still available as a frame-only) and transforms the bike into a much more pedal-friendly all-arounder. You might be saying “Ok, so it’s a Taro,” an aluminum model that had a similar geometry to the steel Honzo, but it’s not. The aluminum Honzo is entirely new, with an all-new tubeset, different hub spacing (Boost 148) and a PF92 bottom bracket shell. The short 415 mm chainstays and 68 degree head tube angle stay put while the front center stretches out even more, now matching the front end geometry of the Process 111.
The AL/DL model comes with the new Foax 34 fork (with the much improved FIT4 damper) set at 120 mm and a 1×10 Shimano drivetrain at $2,199. The AL model swaps in a RockShox Recon fork at $1,599 and the frame itself can be had for $500. The steel frame remains largely the same but gets the same geometry as the aluminum model and retails for $525. Finally, there is now a titanium frame for the true connoisseur at $2,199.
Hei Hei Trail
The Hei Hei has long been Kona’s full-suspension cross-country platform, and the latest version adapts in accordance with the changes in cross-country riding. Races are getting more technical, riders are looking for more travel, and versatility is being favored over gram counting. The new Hei Hei Trail addresses these demands with new geometry and an all-new suspension platform.
The new Hei Hei Trail moves 100 mm of travel through a new flex pivot design Kona calls Fuse. By eliminating the pivot near the dropout and instead allowing the chainstay to flex 1.5 degrees, the rear triangle is lighter and simpler. The linkage is also much smaller and the shock is mounted lower, resulting in better standover and a lower center of gravity.
Up front the bike’s attitude is transformed with a 68 degree head tube angle and a longer reach (though not as long as the Honzo or Process bikes). Paired with a 120 mm Fox 34 fork it is more than capable of hanging with its Process cousins, especially when equipped with a dropper post through the available stealth routing. The Fuse suspension is poised and responsive, and while it doesn’t have a lot of travel it is more than capable. Of the three bikes I sampled, the Hei Hei Trail was the one that surprised and impressed me the most.
The Hei Hei Trail DL is equipped with a Fox 34 fork and 1×11 Shimano XT drivetrain for $3,299. The Hei Hei Trail rolls with a RockShox Recon Gold TK fork and 2×10 Shimano Deore drivetrain for $2,499. The frame only is $1,699. There is a Hei Hei Race version, with a 100 mm fork and a very race-oriented build kit, but it will only be available international markets.
While the Process line of bikes have been earning a lot of accolades, including in our pages, they are inherently more expensive to manufacture. The Precept line uses a more traditional single pivot suspension layout and more affordable build kits to hit a lower price point without sacrificing the attitude of Kona’s more expensive models.
The Precept 150 is an all-new model with 27.5 wheels and 150 mm of travel front and rear. The aluminum frame features a tried-and-true linkage-driven single pivot design paired with a RockShox Sektor fork and ships with a KS dropper post and 2×10 SRAM drivetrain. The geometry matches the Process 153 with a 66.5 head tube angle and 16.7 inch chainstays, keeping the Precept 150 feeling light on its feet and never cumbersome.
While it doesn’t have the bling factor of the fancy parts the Precept 150 is perfectly at home on steep, rocky trails and would be just fine doing light bike park duty or enduro racing. The single model will sell for $2,699.