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.
Ed’s Note: This bike is part of our annual, sub-$3,000 bike test where the Dirt Rag staff spends significant time aboard less-expensive but fully capable offerings that we’d seriously consider buying ourselves. The final review will be out early 2016 in issue #189. Subscribe today so you don’t miss it!
The Hei Hei has long been Kona’s premier cross country platform, and while past models have been no-compromise race bikes, the latest generation reflects the changing nature of cross-country riding and mountain biking in general.
While the aluminum frame moves a racy 100 mm of travel through an all-new suspension design Kona calls Fuse, the 120 mm fork and 68 degree head tube angle are more commonly found on bigger bikes. It’s no wonder that the new bike gets the “trail” designation right in the name. (There is a Hei Hei Race model with a 100 mm fork for the go-fast crowd).
The Fuse system is a classic single-pivot design that does away with the secondary pivot in favor of a flex design. This keeps both the cost and weight down and means one less part to maintain. The result is a classic single-pivot feel with a lively nature. If you run your rebound knob clocked at the “rabbit” end of the dial, you’re going to like this bike. The smaller packaging of the Fuse system also allows for 16.9-inch chainstays, which just barely qualify as worthy of the “short rear end” moniker.
It’s clear the parts spec has been chosen with a great balance of functionality and affordability. The RockShox Recon Gold TK Solo Air isn’t flashy but is a solid workhorse. The 2×10 Shimano Deore/XT running gear is tried and true including the Deore hubs (with Centerlock rotors, woot!) laced to WTB i25 tubeless rims. Even the Kona house-brand cockpit components fit great, with wide handlebars and a 35 mm stem clamp. Ok, I might change out the grips, but I can’t knock Kona for those. The Hei Hei Trail doesn’t ship with a dropper post, but one can be easily installed with either internal or external cable routing.
No, mountain bikes aren’t cheap, but it’s amazing how capable a bike in this price range can be. I predict some fun times ahead on the Hei Hei Trail.
Subscribe today so you don’t miss the full review in our next issue, plus long-term ride tests of all eight bikes in our annual, sub-$3,000 bike test.Tweet Print
Kona’s Precept line of entry-level trail/enduro bikes offers three full-suspension models each under $3,000 (the 120, 130 and 150). In September, Kona sent a crew to the Swiss Alps to ride these bikes.
Every year for the last few years, Dirt Rag has gathered up a half-dozen or so full-suspension trail bikes for complete testing that fall into the entry-level/affordable/budget category. Yes, three grand is still a lot of money, but good bikes aren’t cheap and this price point is much more reasonable for the average enthusiast rider willing to invest some coin in a great ride. So, there you go.
This year we are changing things up significantly by opening our test up to all types of mountain bikes, not just suspension bikes. The following caught our eye for one reason or another, but all of them are bikes we’d look very hard at in their respective categories. Or, rather, these are bikes I would look at since, really, these are all my choices. Direct your ire toward me about whatever it is that has you all wadded up. The rest of the DR crew is just here to ride the things and give us their honest opinions.
We’ll roll out first impressions of these bikes over the next few days and full reviews in Dirt Rag issue #189 (January). Subscribe today so you don’t miss it. In the meantime, here are the reasons each bike ended up on the list and who the testers are.
Scott Spark 950 — $2,700
I still have fond memories of the Spark 29 RC I raced in the Trans-Sylvania Epic a few years ago. The 950 is a much less expensive version of that bike, with an aluminum frame and a less expensive build kit. What is doesn’t lose is the Twin-Loc lockout and what is perhaps the most aggressive geometry for a cross-country race bike you can buy. Head angle is a slack 68.8 or 68.3 degrees; the bottom bracket height is around 13 inches; and the chain stays are right at 17 inches, which makes me think this bike would be well served by a dropper.
Dirt Rag Editor-in-Charge Mike Cushionbury is our resident former XC pro license holder, and assigning him the Spark is my continued attempt to get him on more modern bikes. Now if only I can pry those narrow bars and long stems out of his grasp, then we’ll be getting somewhere.
Devinci Hendrix — $2,999
I was surprised to see the Hendrix, to be honest. Devinci is a small company and a bike like this (120/110 front/rear travel, 27plus wheels) is taking a big chance with the limited resources smaller companies have to develop new products. Working in Devinci’s favor is in-house aluminum frame production, which saves a lot of time. With the American dollar strong against the Canadian dollar, those of us in the States have some serious buying power.
What really drew me to the Devinci is its aggressive geometry paired with shorter travel, a recipe that usually spells F-U-N. Dirt Rag’s new art director, Stephen Haynes, gets welcomed to the fold with this pretty righteous test bike.
Norco Torrent 7.1 — $2,425
Norco has a number of bikes under $3,000, but this is the newest to the lineup and is a return to the heavy-duty hardtail category for the Canadian brand. Maybe it is just me, but after years of riding all kinds of knobby-tired bikes, this thing looks almost perfectly proportional. And in case anyone was wondering about which 27plus tires are best for fall use on the East Coast, the Schwalbe Nobby Nics are perhaps the best thing to happen to leaf-covered trails.
I (Tech Editor Eric McKeegan) am riding this bike and am stoked on its slack, low and short geometry.
Marin Attack Trail — $2,750
I’ve been digging Marin’s evolving lineup over the last few years. The Attack Trail is a standout for a number of reasons. While the SR Suntour fork and shock might not be as well-regarded as the bigger names, both have more damping adjustments than many bikes at this price. The 1×10 drivetrain has a Sunrace 11-42-tooth cassette for most of the range of more expensive 11-speed systems. And out of every bike here, I think the Marin looks least like its price tag.
Our general manager and Dirt Rag photographer Justin Steiner is testing the limits of those Schwalbe Hans Dampf tires on the leaf-covered trails around Dirt Rag’s Pittsburgh HQ.
Kona Hei Hei Trail — $2,500
We’ve been fans of the many new bikes from Kona in the last few years. Kona has a bigger range of sub-$3k trail bikes than just about anyone, but another 29er seemed to be the best bet for this group so the new Hei Hei Trail got the nod. Taking the proven Hei Hei cross-country platform and swapping in some sturdier parts and a longer fork has resulted in something that I would almost describe as a Process 111 lite.
We might have lost Adam Newman as Dirt Rag’s web editor, but he moved only a few feet away to play editor-in-chief of our sister mag, Bicycle Times. He’ll be riding the Hei Hei in its Pacific Northwest homeland.
Surly Wednesday — $1,500
The Wednesday is a true sleeper. On the surface, it looks like just another fatty in an already-crowded field of Surly fat bike offerings, but looking more closely reveals a refined and thoughtful bike. A 177 mm symmetrical rear end, 100 mm threaded bottom bracket shell, horizontal drop outs that can fit either thru-axles or quick releases, full length cable housing, tapered head tube, internal dropper post routing and enough braze-ons to keep everyone happy. Mix that up with modern trail geometry and suspension fork compatablity and it looks like a winner to me. Its cheapest-of-the-bunch price tag and Addams Family-inspired name are the icing on the cake.
Our new web editor, Katherine Fuller, took the reigns on this one and is out in Colorado bouncing over rocky singletrack waiting for the snow to fall.
Charge Cooker — $2,400
A little confession: I really wanted this bike to be Cannondale’s Beast of the East, but it wasn’t ready in time and was replaced with this bike from Charge, another bike brand in the Dorel family. This video is what got the Cooker on my radar originally and, after seeing them in person at Interbike, I was pretty interested. The stock Trailblazer tires aren’t ideal around western Pennsylvania this time of year, but swapping the front tire to a much bigger and more aggressive WTB Trail Boss has helped tremendously.
Our circulation guy Jon Pratt is pedaling this one into fall and probably missing his dropper post.
Transition Patrol 4 — $2,999
Did you know you can get a complete Transition for under $3,000? Yes, even if only by one dollar. For a brand that is as well-regarded as Transition, this is good news for riders with smaller credit card limits. Considering that the frame itself retails for $1,999, there is a great deal of value in the parts kits. The Marzocchi fork up front was a bit of a worry, at first, but with the news that Fox purchased the mountain bike side of Marzocchi there is much less reason for worry about parts and warranty support.
Friend of Dirt Rag (official title) Bill Kirk is on this one. This Transition is a hell of a good looking bike for the money.
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.
By Justin Steiner and Emily Wally. Photos by Jeff Swigart, Michael Raney, Emily Walley and Justin Steiner.
Though we’re far from reaching gender equality in the mountain bike world, the percentage of female mountain bikers rises steadily every year. Despite this increase in participation, the industry’s adoption of the women’s market has occurred in fits and starts with a multitude of approaches—some successful and others not so much. For 2015, Kona introduced the 134 SE as a new model in its Process lineup with a laudable and refreshing approach.
Instead of pigeonholing the SE as a women’s bike, they’re marketing it as a bike for anyone of smaller stature. Small and medium frames are shared across the Process models, but Kona has added an extra-small SE to accommodate riders just under five feet tall. Standover height is a low 25.6 inches across the extra-small, small and medium SE sizes.
The SE model’s parts spec was specifically chosen to cater to smaller, lighter riders. Lighter wheels decrease rotational weight, and a handlebar with just 10 mm of rise keeps bar height low. Both the RockShox fork and rear shock utilize the Solo Air system with a self-balancing negative spring, allowing for perfectly balanced positive and negative springs for lighter riders.
It’s also worth noting the 134 SE is currently the high end of the 134 lineup, ringing in $400 more expensive than the DL. A base-model 134 is available for $2,799. Rumors of carbon Process models abound, but we’ve yet to hear any official word from Kona.
For those unfamiliar, Kona introduced the Process line in 2014 to cater to the burgeoning enduro market with the 29-inch-wheeled Process 111 DL and two 27.5-inch bikes: the Process 134 and Process 153. For 2015, Kona added the Process 167, with good ol’ 26-inch wheels, in addition to the 134 SE. Throughout the range, model names refer to the bike’s rear-suspension travel in millimeters. As the mountain bike market continues to evolve, geometry has marched steadily forward with longer front centers, slacker head-tube angles, lower bottom brackets and shorter chainstays. With the new Pro- cess line, Kona has pushed this approach even further by substantially lengthening top tubes and employing ultra-short 40 mm stems across all frame sizes. This lengthens the bike’s front center, which adds stability in steep terrain and at higher speeds. To balance the added front-center length, Kona kept chainstays as short as possible—just 16.7 inches on our test bikes.
By tucking the rear wheel under the rider and moving the front wheel farther forward, Kona purports to have added stability and confidence where desired while increasing the bike’s playfulness via the short rear end.
All of the Process bikes utilize Kona’s Rocker Independent Suspension system, which is fundamentally a linkage-driven single-pivot design. According to Kona, this design is tuned to balance climbing and descending by providing a stable pedaling platform and predictable ride quality through end of stroke.
On the trail
Kona set us up with a pair of Process 134s for our recent visit to Sedona, Arizona, for the Sedona MTB Fest For the most part, Sedona’s trails are tight and technical, requiring frequent lofting of the front wheel to navigate up rock ledges and down drops. In this terrain we both felt instantly comfortable on the Process and were thrilled to be on bikes with such short chainstays. Justin found the 134’s front end absolutely effortless to loft.
As you might expect, climbing on a bike with such short chainstays requires more effort to keep the front wheel down. But with a dedicated forward shift on the saddle and a boobs-on-bars approach, you can scramble up just about anything you have the power to conquer.
In steep terrain and at higher speeds, the long front center offers more stability than the 68-degree head-tube angle might suggest. Despite Justin’s pre-ride apprehension about the head tube being perhaps a little on the steeper side of the enduro spectrum, he found it to be stable at speed.
Both of our test bikes were spec’d with RockShox Revelation RL forks and Monarch RT rear shocks. Despite our weight difference, setting up proper sag and rebound damping was a piece of cake.
Our experiences with the fork were very parallel. We found the 140 mm Revelation to be a solid and predictable performer, but occasionally wished for more plushness in rough terrain; once you’ve ridden a Pike, it’s easy to nitpick other forks. On the plus side, the Revelation rides high in its travel and offers a well-supported mid-stroke. Ridden hard on slick-rock, the Revelation can exhibit some flex, but that’s to be expected of 32 mm chassis forks. Emily appreciated having the multi-setting compression damping and found that adding a few clicks of damping controlled fork motion on technical climbs, helping her maintain momentum.
Both bikes utilize the same rear kinematics and shock tuning, and we had slightly different experiences with rear-suspension performance. Being lighter, Emily found the Rocker suspension to pedal pretty well in the Open setting, where Justin was often tempted to flip the switch to the Pedal setting to stabilize the pedal-induced motion and some mid-stroke wallow. Fortunately the Pedal setting worked pretty well on the trail, providing more initial and mid-stroke control while maintaining climbing traction. Kona incorporated a healthy ramp-up to end of stroke in the Rocker design. Neither of us came close to utilizing full travel in most trail-riding situations, but Justin eventually used full travel on a pretty good-sized drop. Moral of the story: Though there’s “just” 134 mm of travel here, it’s tuned to be pushed aggressively, more so than most trail bikes in this travel range.
In the spirit of being pushed hard, Kona has constructed a very burly aluminum frame with oversized tubes and big bearings in the suspension pivots. As a result, the rear end of the bike is precise and confidence inspiring in high-load situations. The frame is certainly stiff enough to warrant aggressive riders upgrading to an oversize-chassis fork. Of course, there’s a weight penalty for this burly construction. With the DL model specifically, 31 pounds is pretty hefty for a trail bike. Due to smaller frame size and lighter parts selection, the SE comes in a full two pounds lighter, though it still isn’t light considering the price, travel and frame size. Fortunately, the 134’s manual-happy personality and low-slung weight distribution make it ride lighter than it is.
At their respective price points, we felt both the DL and SE offer solid parts spec, including nice touches like Shimano SLX hubs on the DL and Novatec hubs on the SE. Of course the star of the SE’s show is the SRAM X1 11-speed drivetrain. This was Emily’s first experience with 1×11 and she was hooked. With the 30-tooth chainring, she found the X1 setup to offer ample gearing range. She also appreciated the simplicity of having only one shifter, freeing her left hand to manage the dropper post.
Speaking of dropper posts, we both fell in love with the KS remote lever. It’s small, unobtrusive and very easy to use. Both KS posts, a Super Natural Remote on the DL and Lev DX on the SE, impressed us with their performance as well. In this case the nod goes to the Lev DX for its fixed-position cable attachment on the bottom of the seatpost.
The SLX/XT/X7 drivetrain on the DL also performed flawlessly. The performance of the SLX-level parts is so good these days it’s becoming in- creasingly difficult to justify the expense of going upmarket to XT-level bits.
Kona’s somewhat radical approach to the Process line has created a unique and noteworthy line of bikes because they haven’t attempted to cater to everyone. Kona has built a series of bikes that like to rally first and foremost, with weight and efficiency being slightly less of a priority. With the 134, you’ve got trail-bike suspension travel with all-mountain weight, meaning this wouldn’t be a good bike for chasing Spandex-clad, cross-country bike-riding friends around, even though you’d certainly have a ton of fun catching them on the downhills. In this regard, we have a lot of respect for Kona building bikes the company’s employees want to ride.
Do you prioritize lively handling, endless manuals and a “hit it harder, bro” attitude over weight and outright efficiency? If so, you can’t go wrong here, unless you’d like these same short chainstays packaged with more travel and more-aggressive geometry—in which case the Process 153 just might be your huckleberry. Justin found the DL to be an excellent candidate for an all-around trail bike for the gravity-minded.
For the SE, the buying decision is just as easy. Emily felt instantly at home on this bike, as it’s the only one she’s ridden without needing to swap parts for proper fit or suspension setup. If you’re a rider of smaller stature who likes to get your wheels off the ground, the SE is a stellar choice. If, however, you prefer a wheels-on-the-ground approach and prioritize a lightweight bike, there might be better options.
- Price: $3,999
- Sizes: XS, S (tested), M
- Wheelbase: 44.2″
- Top Tube: 22.9″
- Head Angle: 68º
- Seat-Tube Angle: 74º
- Bottom Bracket: 13.3″
- Rear Center: 16.7″
- Weight: 29 lbs.
- specs based on size tested
- Price: $3,599
- Sizes: S, M (tested), L, XL
- Wheelbase: 44.92″
- Top Tube: 23.6″
- Head Angle: 68º
- Seat-Tube Angle: 74º
- Bottom Bracket: 13.3″
- Rear Center: 16.7″
- Weight: 31 lbs.
- specs based on size tested
Kona Bikes has been a busy bunch. Its line of Process bikes have been a huge hit—see our double review in the current issue—but it isn’t exactly coasting.
The brand has recently opened a flagship bike shop in its home town of Bellingham, Washington. It will carry, naturally, Kona bikes, but it will also serve as the public face of a company that takes pride in being down to earth. Very few, if any of its dealerships carry all the brand’s dizzying array of models, so it wanted somewhere that it could show off everything from a $5,000 mountain bike to a $500 hybrid.
Though the brand based in the US, Kona has deep roots in Canada, especially in British Columbia. Known as the premiere backcountry ski and snowboard destination in the area, Retalack Lodge has been making big moves into the bike market in the last few years, and if you’re a fan of web series like Life Behind Bars you’ve seen it featured prominently. Kona has signed an exclusive deal with the resort with free demos for guests aboard carbon Supreme Operator downhill bikes.
About an hour north of Nelson, B.C., the resort features a growing network of gravity and enduro trails in a tenure that is spread over more than 2,278 square miles. With descents that drop 6,000 feet off of remote mountain peaks straight to the lodge, it’s an other-worldly riding experience. It amounts to the largest commercial backcountry mountain-bike destination in the world. It’s also one of the greenest, operating entirely on a hydroelectric generator powered by a nearby creek, which along with other initiatives, has earned it a 4 Green Key eco rating.Tweet Print
By Emily Walley and Justin Steiner
Kona launched its Process line of enduro bikes back in 2014 with the 111, 134 and 153, with each of the numeric model names referring to the bike’s rear wheel travel in millimeters. The 134 and 153 were initially available at two price points, with just one price point for the 111 (read our review of the 111 here). For 2015, Kona added the 167 model with 26-inch wheels and a special edition of the 134, dubbed the SE.
This new 134 SE model takes a very interesting approach to fulfilling the otherwise underserved market of bikes for smaller stature riders. By adding an extra small size to the existing small and medium frames, Kona is able to fit riders slightly under five feet tall, depending on body proportions, of course. Across the SE size range, standover height very low, just 25.6 inches. From our perspective, this seems like a refreshing approach to serving the women’s market while also providing a good option for smaller men as well as teens and kids.
Kona was kind enough to set us up with the 134 SE and 134 DL for our recent trip to the Sedona MTB Fest in Sedona, Arizona, which was a great opportunity for some early season bike testing.
Sedona’s challenging terrain is a great place to test bikes; if you are not intimately comfortable with the bike you’re riding, the combination of technical terrain and exposure will soon rattle your confidence. Fortunately, we both felt immediately as home on our respective 134s, Emily on the SE and Justin on the DL.
Initial suspension setup was a snap thanks to the RockShox SoloAir system in the Revelation RL fork and Monarch RT rear shocks. Being particularly light, Emily often has trouble achieving proper setup on forks using coil negative springs, such as Fox’s Float system on current model 32 and 34 forks. Fortunately, there were no such issues in this case.
From the first pedal stroke, Kona’s somewhat radical approach to the geometry of the Process line is very intuitive. The long front center provides good stability, while the short rear center makes lofting the front wheel a breeze. These bikes follow your every command.
Stay tuned for the full review of the Process 134 SE and 134 DL in issue #184 of Dirt Rag. Subscribe by April 10 to have this issue deliver to your door, or pick it up on your local newsstand beginning May 12.
The Process 111 is the shortest of travel and biggest of wheel in Kona’s lineup of enduro bikes. Focusing on a slight 111mm of rear suspension and 29-inch wheels, it’s easy to wonder how an XC bike ended up with the longer-travel 27.5 offerings, which includes the Process 134 and 153. But, taken as a whole, the 111 may be one of the most curious trail bikes on the market today.
Kona ships all Processes with stubby 40mm stems. While these short stems are the most noticeable feature, they’re just one facet of the overall geometry package, which includes short chainstays, a low bottom bracket, a long top tube, a slackish head angle, and a whole lot of standover clearance. One of the compromises that needed to be made for that low bottom bracket (13.1 inches) and the short stays (16.9 inches) was eliminating the front derailleur to make room for the suspension bits and the tire. This also makes space low on the frame for the suspension, dropping the bike’s center of gravity and allowing for 28 inches of standover height.
With a full SRAM XX1 kit, I didn’t miss the front derailleur, and the rest of the build was well suited to rough use. The wheelset is low key, with NoTubes ZTR Flow EX rims laced to Hope Pro 2 hubs, and there’s a KS LEV Integra dropper and 785mm Race Face Atlas bars. RockShox holds up both ends with a Revelation RCT3 120mm fork and Monarch RT3 rear shock, and brakes are a problem-free setup of SRAM X0 trail with 180/160mm rotors.
Looking at the stem and geometry, I expected this to be a bike that takes a good bit of time to get used to, but I was mistaken. Other than a swap to narrower 740mm bars, I felt at home from ride one.
The big wheels and short travel don’t feel too far away from a cross- country race setup, and with the bars set low, this machine can cover some serious ground and crush climbs. But drop the seat and that XC feeling goes away to reveal a precision trail assassin. The long top tube (25 inches on a large frame) and short stem place the rider farther back over the rear of the bike, and the short rear end keeps things playful even with a 46.2-inch wheelbase. The 68-degree head angle is not terribly slack, keeping steering responsive for such a stable bike.
Kona’s no-nonsense Rocker Independent Suspension is a variation of the linkage-driven single-pivot shock design that has graced its bikes for more than a decade. The leverage rate is designed to match up well with modern air shocks, creating consistent feel throughout the travel. This should help riders become used to how the suspension will react, with no odd spikes, ramps, or hammock-y feel anywhere in the travel.
To be honest, with such short travel it was hard to really feel much of that going on, but I was very satisfied with the performance. Hard to bottom out, not too much bob, easy-to-access platform lever—I could just set it to the least amount of platform and ride it all day. It was nice, but not necessary, to have the option to lock it out for road sections and open it up fully for long descents.
The aluminum frame looks big and burly, and looks do not deceive. This is a stiff frame—stiff enough to make the 32mm stanchioned fork feel a little overwhelmed at times—but in some ways that was part of the fun. I always felt obliged to take the big line, go harder and deeper into the next turn, and generally felt the bike had my back in finding the limits of aggressive riding.
That stiffness also pays off when climbing. The 29er wheels, efficient- feeling rear end, and somewhat aggressive seat-to-bar drop allowed me to tackle steep, tech climbs better than expected for a bike with such a short stem. Some adjustment to body positioning was needed to keep the rear tire biting and the front wheel down, but it was much more minor than I expected and better than many of the longer-travel 27.5 bikes I’ve been riding. The rear end stayed active enough to provide plenty of traction for climbing.
For such non-standard geometry, the Process had no issues just tooling around in the woods. I had to remind myself to keep some weight on the front end, but other than that, it was almost brainless to ride around at lower speeds. But crank up the pace on a rough descent and the Process comes alive.
The short travel and stiff frame provided great feedback, and the responsive geometry allowed me to steer my way to the best line or just pick the whole shebang up and drop it back down where needed. The short stays and short stem make the front end easy to get up, which is really never a bad thing. And in the lower-speed rock gardens that are common around Pennsylvania, the shorter travel is a huge plus, as the bike doesn’t wallow around in the travel and I was able to pick my way up, over, and through.
The only drawback I see here is the weight. Even with the high-end parts kit, the Process weighs almost as much as many longer-travel bikes. The weight didn’t really bother me, but it is going to take some money to make this thing any lighter.
All in all, the Process is a hell of an interesting bike for the right rider. When compared to the standard-issue modern trail and all-mountain bikes, the Process 111 might seem under gunned. But riders with an open mind will look past the travel and see that this is a bike capable of competing with bikes with longer travel while leaving them behind on less-technical sections of trail.
Editor’s note: This is one of six bikes we’ve gathered together that fall between $1,900 and $2,600. Read our introduction to see the other five and watch for our long-term reviews of each in Dirt Rag #182, due on newsstands and in mailboxes in February. Subscribe now and you’ll never miss a bike review.
Kona’s line of Process bikes has been a runaway success, racking up a number of positive reviews and happy customers. The Precept line offers many of the same qualities that riders love about the Process—slack angles, short chainstays, aggressive attitude—and hits a more wallet-friendly price point.
The Precept DL pictured here retails for $1,899, well below some of the other bikes in this group test. The least expensive Process 134 lands at $2,799, and there is a less expensive Precept model at just $1,599.
The Precept DL follows the flow of the Process 134 model fairly closely: It has 130mm of travel through a classic linkage-driven single pivot layout, an all-aluminum frame with threaded bottom bracket and dropper post routing, and 140mm RockShox Sektor fork out front. The build kit includes nearly all Shimano gear, including Altus shifters, 3×9 drivetrain and hydraulic brakes. One of the highlights is the Deore thru-axle hubs front and rear with Shimano Centerlock rotors.
The numbers are right on the money for a fun, responsive trail bike: 68-degree head tube angle and 16.7-inch chainstays. The 758mm front center on my size XL tester is long, but not nearly as long as the 776mm on the Process 134 bikes, a notable difference if you like your top tubes long and stems short.
After a few rides it’s clear the Precept DL is designed for maximum fun on a wide variety of trails, from relaxed to rowdy. Watch for my full, long-term review in Dirt Rag #182 next month.
Editor’s note: This bike review first appeared in Dirt Rag issue #102, published in August of 2003.
By Philip Keyes
Kona is one cool company. Case in point: these guys are offering the first-ever production, dual-suspension singlespeed. They had to know that they weren’t going to sell millions of these things, but they had the cojones to make one anyway. Helmets off to a company with some singlespeed soul.
Pronounced the “Ahhhhh,” the Kona A is the brainchild of Kona’s resident mad scientist, Dr. Dew El Grande, a hardcore North Shore rider, racer and founder of the legendary Cove Bike Shop. “Hey, no one else was doing it,” says Dewey, “so I thought it would be pretty cool.”
Making a double-boing SS is a challenge because the rear end has to move up and down while the chain-line stays exactly the same length. The $1,600 A does this by pivoting the rear triangle around the bottom bracket. Once Dr. Dew found that the bottom bracket configuration wasn’t controlled by a bunch of patent lawyers, he decided to make a go of it. The rear swingarm clamps around the bottom bracket shell using two oversized sealed bearings, and the whole operation looks nice and clean, and is good and stiff.
Although the A looks like their other dualies and offers 3.5 inches of travel, the pivot around the bottom bracket sets it apart. Kona’s website sums it up perfectly: “A achieves the Kona quest for the shortest name in the biz and a quirky need to build a bike that has more suspension than gears.”
Riding a dualie singlespeed takes a little getting used to. In contrast to hardtail singlespeeding where you’re frequently out of the saddle and hammering the pedals on the climbs, this bike ascends better seated and spinning smoothly, like other full suspension bikes. The rear Fox Vanilla RL shock has lock-out, but its lever placement is a bit of a reach and is tricky to get to while dicing it up. If there were ever a bike crying out for a remote lockout lever, this is it. However, with a decent amount of preload, I was pleased with how little the rear end bobbed. But the key is preload, and this doesn’t make for a super plush ride. It’s always a trade-off.
Kona spec’d the bike with a solid international parts pick: an 80mm travel Marzocchi MX Comp fork, RaceFace’s ISIS-compatible singlespeed crank and bash guard protecting a 34-tooth chainring, Avid Single Digit brakes and Speed Dial levers, and a Koski stem, bar and seatpost. The wheelset mates Shimano QR and KK singlespeed hubs with Mavic X221 rims wrapped with diminutive Tioga Red Phoenix 1.9 tires. While I had never heard of the hub manufacturer before, it worked well and created a strong, no-dish rear wheel.
In short, it’s a fine parts selection though I never got used to the skinny race rubber, which slipped out on honking climbs and cornered skittishly. I also wouldn’t have minded a lower gear ratio, and I’ve never understood riders’ predilection for a straight 2 to 1 ratio—I guess my legs are just weak and spindly. On this dualie, having a lower ratio would have made seated climbing a bit easier on my knees, but that’s a personal preference.
The frame itself is nicely welded out of butted 7005 aluminum and is built around 71/74-degree head tube/seat tube angles with 16.9-inch chainstays and variable top tube lengths depending upon which of the three sizes you pick: 16, 18 and 20. This presented a slight problem for me since at 6-foot-2 I would have fit better on a bigger frame than the 20.
The A feels like an XC race bike, and at 26.5 pounds, this dualie was raring to go fast. While not twitchy, the steering is quick and responsive. With the handlebar lying about 3 inches below my saddle height, I always felt like I was in an “attack” position. This took some getting used to since my other singlespeeds are set up in a more relaxed trail riding style. This is a matter of preference, and for me, I would have swapped out the stem for a more upright stance and put on some fattie tires for more stability and grab. On the other hand, if you’re into a racy setup, the bike is probably perfect as is.
My biggest grins on this bike were had while zipping rolling trails at a decent clip and keeping up a solid, high-speed spin. As long as there weren’t any long and steep climbs, the bike was a ton of fun to ride, but the grin-factor declined on technical climbs where brute leg strength is needed to muscle the bike up the minefields. The suspension worked admirably, and for the most part I didn’t even realize that it was a dualie, yet it did a good job taking the edge off choppy trails and let me pedal through sections of trail that I would normally stand in.
Dr. Dew tells me that next year’s A will be offered as a frameset only, which is probably a good idea since most people who’d consider getting into a dualie singlespeed are most likely hardcore riders with a good idea how they want their bikes set up.
While I wouldn’t recommend the A as someone’s only singlespeed, it’s a great bike to add to the quiver, have a bunch of fun with, and take pride in owning the first-ever production dualie SS. Part of the bike’s dilemma is its somewhat racy set up—did I mention the skinny tires?—which contrasts with the more trail riding appeal of dual suspension. True SS racers might shy away from a dualie rig and trail riders would probably go for a more laid back trail bike, but the latter can be easily attained by a few inexpensive modifications. But singlespeeding is all about fun, and this is definitely a fun bike to ride.Tweet Print
Gotta say, we didn’t see that coming.
Kona has been a strong supporter of 27.5 wheels for a few years now, and we thought we had seen the last of the new 26-inch bikes from major brands. But today we got a sneak peek at the 2015 lineup and there are two new bikes with the classic wheel size.Tweet Print
Join us on a ride through Kona’s 27-year long history making trail ripping mountain bikes. Together again, for the first time (crazy, right?), an original 1988 Kona Cinder Cone shares the trail with its 2014 off-spring. Hop on a true mountain bike original and Kona’s longest bike model and blast through a quarter century of fun.
Suspension designs are a complicated thing. As Kona says, it’s a game of millimeters. From its first full-suspension model in 1995 to its coming 2015 models, Kona has refined its single-pivot, linkage driven suspension designs for their ultimate application. There are three variations in the current lineup, and this cool video walks you through the design philosophy of each.Tweet Print
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.Tweet Print