On February 16th 2012, bicycle media world-wide descended upon Tucson, AZ for Kona’s “House of the Big Wheel” media launch event. We were afforded the opportunity to test the new “Big Wheel” mountain bikes Kona has to offer and if the bikes lived up to their hype on fun rides and the blistering fast 24hrs of Old Pueblo race. Suffice to say, they handled themselves quite well!
Read on for ride and race reviews of the new 2012 Kona Hei Hei Supreme, Satori and King Kahuna Carbon 29er mountain bikes…
On the 17th the crew rolled out for an Arizona Trail jaunt through the Sauguro, Cholla and Prickly Pear cactus riddled terrain as famed photographer Sterling Laurence of Sterling Laurence Photography and videographer Leo Hoorn of Sherpa Cinema documented theride. I chose to ride the Hei Hei 29 Supreme as I would be racing it and decided we should get to know each other. I rode this bike during the 2012 Kona Product Launch and enjoyed the experience but had never ridden it in a race situation. As I remembered, the Hei Hei 29 Supreme responded well to cornering, accelerations and descents minus one mishap where I firmly planted my face into the trail… as long as I did not hit a cactus I would be just fine! 4hrs of riding the steeds of our choosing we were back on the buses and readied for battle the next day.
24hrs of Old Pueblo is an event that Kona has sponsored for the past 6 years with 2012 being the last year of that relationship as they are moving on to other opportunities. Todd Sadow, President and Race Director of Epic Rides, puts on a fantastic event with a huge following. 1800+ athletes compete on the 16.5mile/loop that’s a time trialist’s (that would be me) dream of a mtn bike course! Rolling hills aptly called the “7 Bitches” greet you after a 600 meter LeMans start. Once through the hills a steady, hard time trial effort with several tight corners meander you through the cactus fields. The back half of the course becomes a bit more technical with a few tight corners followed by a steady grade back to the hand off area. It finishes with a few rock gardens and a nice little 30 meter rock face descent were you just pray not to become part of the desert’s carnage.
The Hei Hei 29 Supreme performed flawlessly and without question was THE bike of choice for me. Knowing that I had to ride between 4 and 6 laps of this course on our 4 man team, I chose comfort over an extremely rigid and a bit more responsive rig such as the King Kahuna Carbon HT, Honzo or the Titanium Raijin. Interesting enough, when climbing the 7 Bitches very little “bobbing” was noticed and from previous experiences riding full suspension mountain bikes this is not the norm. It seems that suspension of the Hei Hei 29 Supreme has allowed for solid power distribution into the drivetrain rather than morphing into vertical oscillation.
I personally own a 2008 Hei Hei 29, the original big wheel version, and the upgrades made to the newer models are without a doubt vast improvements on the original. Lap after lap I remained comfortable on the Hei Hei and while testing another rig that race may have been a good idea from an experimental standpoint, I wanted to see how I would perform on the same rig lap after lap. As it turns out I was able to turn in one of the faster laps of the amateur riders (on lap #1) which, to me, is a testament that a FS rig not only affords improved comfort but leads to decreased fatigue and that familiar “beaten up” feeling that can accompany endurance riding and racing.
On Monday we were off on a downhill assault on some “gnar-gnar,” as Kevin Noble of Kona aptly described it, shuttling up to 6500 feet on Mt. Lemon and winding our way back down slippery washouts and rather technical single track. For this, I chose the Satori 29 with 130mm travel. As you all know, being on a different bike takes time for acclimation and this was no exception. The Satori weighs in several pounds heavier than the Hei Hei, has 2″ more travel, a slacker head angle and shorter stays. Coming off the XC race rig, I felt a bit ungainly, like sitting on a chopper. Add to that, being a bit fatigued from pegging it the day before in the race and a general lack of sleep, well, fatigue did its part in creating a scared kid trying to be confident descending unfamiliar trails!
Despite that, I felt confident on the Satori when dropping in over a large rock or when the “line” of choice was either through an obstacle or go over the handle bars… the Satori makes short work of difficult line choice. It’s a great “fun” bike and I foresee park riders gravitating to something like this as they move beyond lift-assisted-only riding.
Kona, without a doubt, has some solid performers in the Big Wheel department. I look forward to what they come up with in product development leading into the future of mountain biking.
A big “thank you” goes out to Mitchell, Kevin, Cory, The Chris’s, Willie, “Demo Dave” for being an absolutely awesome mechanic and to the Kona Pro Team who were a pleasure to ride with. All of the pictures above were shot by Sterling Laurence Photography of Vancouver, BC.
KING KAHUNA CARBON
During the Kona Bicycle 2012 Product Launch many, me included, salivated at the prospect of riding the new addition to Kona’s big wheel arsenal. Unfortunately, none of the King Kahuna frames were ready for us to test then, but I got on the list early and have been flogging one for the past few months on my (and Kona’s) home trails around Bellingham, WA.
I was set up with a 19” King Kahuna that was completed decked out… Apparently my comments regarding the spec’d bike at the launch were taken to heart (sorry for hurting anyone’s feeling there ladies and gents) as Kona held back no punches when making this rig race-ready. Weighing in at 21.93lbs (measured weight with Crank Brothers EggBeater C Pedals), for a 19″ frame, this is the lightest Mtn Bike I have ever had the pleasure to ride.
The bike was designed to attack any climb with vengeance and it didn’t disappoint. A sloping top tube and compact rear triangle create a “compact” frame design with great stand over room, maneuverability and massive lateral stiffness. When stomp on the pedals, it responds. On my inaugural ride I broke the “KOM” record on a local climb, per STRAVA anyway, by over a full minute… not bad!
I felt that the frame absorbs ‘chatter’ rather well when riding rock filled logging roads. When on smooth singletrack the King Kahuna was hard to beat for its agility and “giddie up” acceleration. This was also my first time on SRAM’s XX 2×10 group… The combination of this frame with that gear ratio performed exceptionally well, as it should. I’m a powerful guy, and while weight savings are important, performance matters more. Fortunately, this bike as tested delivered on both.
Where this bike excelled on the power sections and climbing, it lacked a bit in the technical descents. On local trails trying to push the envelope, the King Kahuna did not respond as well as I had hoped. The lack of rear shock to absorb my usual mistakes played some part, but after many conversations with others who have ridden this rig I don’t think my sentiments are off base. The shorter stays and compact geometry that lends such climbing prowess and stiffness laterally and vertically did not help much with bumpier descents. Long haul comfort is not this bike’s forte. It ‘s a racing rig that’s designed to climb like a goat and accelerate out of the starting gate like a rocket, which it did flawlessly.
Many still question the agility and acceleration of a 29″ wheel. Bikes like this go a long way to remove such skepticism, as do the increasing number of W’s being chalked up by 29ers around the world. If I lived in an area where the single track descents were smooth(er) and if I were to race mountain bikes exclusively, without the need for running legs (I’m a multi-sport athlete) the King Kahuna would be right on the top of my list.
- Wheels/Tires: 2011 Havens w/ the 142×12 rear end. Fitted with Maxxis Ikon tires
- Seatpost/Handlebar: Easton Haven Carbon
- Stem: Easton Haven
- Drivetrain: Sram XX 26-39t crank / 11-36t cassette
- Brakes: Sram XX 180mm front / 160mm rear
- Saddle: WTB Valcon w/ carbon rails
- Fork: Rockshox Reba XX w/ poploc
- Other: Kona Grips, FSA headset
- Warranty: 5-year warranty *all Kona carbon fiber frames
- MSRP: approximately $5500 as tested ($3999 with SRAM X7 drivetrain)
Bike geeks rejoice, it gets a rear thru-axle…likely part of what keeps this bike so darn stiff.
The oversized tapered headtube carries its size into the top- and downtubes. The sloping top tube gives it plenty of standover clearance, making it really easy to throw around underneath me.