First Ride: Kona Big Honzo DL

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.”

Poor us.

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.

Other notables:

  • 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.