Kona Bicycle Company is local for me – Ferndale/ Bellingham, WA – and I have always wondered about their “tribe”. Their recent product launch was my chance to see what they’re all about, what products they had on tap and what technology they are expecting for the future.
Kona is a grass-roots, hard-core rider driven company with an emphasis on pleasing a rider who wants a long lasting, durable yet sleekly designed steed. The company’s new ‘non-slogan’-slogan is “The year of the long sweet ride” and from the look and feel of things they are on the right track.
Kona is making a big push to utilize carbon fiber but doing so with caution. They want to take things slowly to ensure high quality and fewer problems due to rushing to jump onto a band-wagon and then dealing with consequential returns and warranty issues… Not a bad idea!
One 29” frame in particular has made a big entrance into the carbon fiber world; the King Kahuna Hard Tail 29’er, that Kona insider Steven Noble calls “the fastest mountain bike we have ever made,” more on it in a moment. Another carbon fiber frame that we will all see in the cyclocross scene this year is the Major Jake (pictured above), but we’ve posted on that quite a bit already.
Design additions for 2012 include Scandium 6069 in ten bicycle models and Race Light Aluminum 7005 in others. 142×12 rear axles also made a broad appearance and zero stack tapered steer tubes are en vogue, both showing up on most bikes.
With the number of 2012 big wheel bikes (12 for 2012) rolling out it, Kona is showing where its all mountain riding future is headed. I’ll focus on a few of the products that seemed to gather the most attention. As an aside, I am not a “bike geek” in that I am not all about the weight and the specific dimensions and specs of any bike (We’ve posted weights and specs on most of these here and here). I am however someone that tests the products abilities in real world application. In other words, I ride the hell out of a bike and tell you what I think of it! All of the measuring and discussion is great to a point but at some point you just gotta get out there and rip it. Practical application, in my humble opinion, is the name of the game.
The first application would be the 2012 Satori…
Brand new to the Kona lineup, the Sartori has developed a bit of hype after being called the “funnest bike I have ever ridden” by Production Manager Pat White. The Satori has a shorter wheel base than the Hei Hei 29, has the Swing Link/4-bar suspension design that allows for 130mm travel for the 29” wheel. Shorter chainstays allow for “better handling and quick acceleration.” While I chose to ride the Hei Hei 29 Supreme, more on that later, a few of the riders I was with chose the Satori. I kept an eye out for differences in handling and asked them what they thought. Everyone I asked loved the way the Satori handled on steep descents, fast rolling terrain and landing after catching air. I watched one rider on the Satori pull away from a group of us on a trail he did not know and hit jump after jump without any fear. He remarked after the ride that it felt effortless and was just flat out “fun as hell!” What the Satori is not is a climber’s bike. Its success on the downhill is its downfall on the climbs based on what other rider comments.
Another bike that many in the industry are excited to see and to ride is the carbon fiber King Kahuna as mentioned earlier. This is Kona’s first carbon fiber 29’er and from the looks of it, they hit a home run. This was the one bike I was eager to test but after speaking with production manager Paddy White, it would seem that a few will have that chance in the near future (weeks to months). With only five having been produced thus far and still in the “tweaking” stages it may be a few months before major production begins. The King Kahuna has a 12-12.2” bottom bracket (depending on size), which is one inch lower than its Dual-Suspension brethren, shorter chain stays and a pressfit BB.
It’s spec’d with a SRAM X7 drivetrain. The thought behind the lower BB is that it would give a rider the feel of riding “in” the bike rather than riding “on” the bike. When I inquired about why the lower spec’d drive-train the response was reasonable and made a lot of sense; “When someone buys a bike like this they will inevitably spec it out the way that they wish.”
The 2012 Honzo is another rig that seemingly is a plain-Jane chromoly frame… however, if one looks closer; sliding rear drop outs allowing for single speed adaptability and a shaped seat tube allowing for shorter stays (stiffer rear end) as well as a 68degree slack seat tube angle. What looks “Plain Jane” may actually ride like the prom queen… Wait, did I just say that?
HEI HEI 29er
Seeing that I personally own a 2008 Hei Hei 29 I found it fitting that I test-ride the 2012 Hei Hei 29 Supreme. Some background on the bike: “IT” has won the Trans Rockies Mtn Bike race and saddled to it was MTB stud Barry Wicks. He also won the BC Bike Race, so its racing pedigree is there.
The Hei Hei Supreme has a Fox Float RLC 100mm variable on the fly adjustable front shock, shorter chain stays, tapered HT in the Supreme and Deluxe (standard Hei Hei is tapered HT compatible), is made from Scandium 6069 butted tubing and is spec’d with SRAM X9 SGS drive-train.
How does she ride? I wish I hadn’t ridden it… I want an upgrade! The ride is crisper, rear end is much stiffer, the front shock (in comparison to the 80mm Rockshox Reba on my steed) is just flat out more responsive and is better technology – the front of the bike feels much lighter and more maneuverable, ‘twitchy’ at times, and the entire rig climbs and descends better than my own. With a few minor adjustments to the shocks and to the fit I can see how this bike has been coined as “one of the sweetest, fastest, most glorious mountain bikes we’ve ever made.” I concur!
However, what it may lack is steep drop-in capabilities. This bike is obviously not made for the rider who wants a free-ride rig or plans on racing downhill. This is cross-country mtn biker’s dream with great ascending capabilities (with a good motor that is!), and a comfortable, yet not too ‘cush’ of a descent. With just 100mm of travel, head to the Satori if you want more of an all-around bike for more descending and free-ride capabilities.
A few other notables include the 26” Entourage DL and Supreme Operator Gravity bikes, the 26” Tanuki (a big nutted Japanese raccoon dog… see pic) and the Abracadabra which is designed for Enduro riders.