Kona's tried-and-tested single pivot swingarm, linkage-activated shock suspension system has been around for several years. The Kikapu Deluxe serves it up with 100mm (4in) of travel front and rear, a frame that blends reasonable weight with sensible strength and componentry that's claimed to be XC race ready.
Square-to-round section main tubes were big news when they first appeared on bikes aimed at freeriders and dirt jumpers 10 years ago. The boxy front sections help stiffen and reinforce the head tube area, protecting it against crash damage. It's a sign of how much mountain biking has changed that the same design can now be found on a bike that Kona are pitching at the entry-level cross-country race market - albeit in a slimmed down format.
Kona's designers have even incorporated extra strengthening gussets at the head tube/down tube and seat tube/top tube junctions. The overall effect is functionally boxy next to the curvaceous lines of some of the hydroformed competition.
The basic concept of Kona's full suspension system has survived unchanged over the years, but the details have been tweaked over the generations. The Kikapu Deluxe's asymmetric swingarm pivots sit just behind the custom bottom bracket housing, roughly in line with the small chainring. Solid plate dropouts don't look as elegant as cutaway units would and hint at an element of costdriven decision making, but fit well with the no-nonsense design ethic of the rest of the chassis. The Fox Float RP2 air shock is driven by the cartridge bearingpivoted rocker, connected to subtly curved seatstays.
Of all the design tweaks made over the years, the one that's benefited Kona's full sus bikes the most has been the emergence of the new breed of compression damped air shocks like this one. They've transformed a plush but occasionally overactive suspension system into one that's far better controlled, even under enthusiastic pedal input. Matching the Fox's smooth performance is a Marzocchi MZ Race fork, which patters fuss-free over everything from minor trail undulations to big, square-edged hits.
The Kikapu Deluxe's componentry matches the frame's functionality. There's nothing here to get excited about and spec fretters might even spot a few areas - like rear mech and crankset - which look a tad miserly, but it all works well. There's surprisingly little emphasis on low weight for a bike that's labelled as a race machine (it tips the scales at 13.1kg), and the curiously upswept riser bars look particularly out of place on a supposedly speed-focused bike.
Kona's design process usually manages to turn out bikes that handle well, and the Kikapu Deluxe is no exception. Leave aside those cross-country race aspirations, take the bike on its own merits, and everything starts to fall into place.
The ride position is relaxed rather than racy, positioning the rider's weight squarely between the front and rear wheels for perfect feeling weight distribution. There's enough length on the saddle rails to set the bike up with a weight-rearward, stretched back position for big-gear pedal mashing, but we found ourselves settling for a slightly shorter reach to the bars. The pronounced rise of the handlebars causes a little front end wag and wander on the steeper rises, but it's easily compensated with a slight shuffle forward on the saddle.
As the speed picks up, the Kikapu Deluxe rises to the challenge, rewarding confident riding with a reassuringly solid feel and snappy front end response. It's gratifyingly easy to place the front wheel exactly where you want it, aided by the competent tracking and plush responses of the fork. The rear wheel follows through all but the choppiest of trail sections with a fluidity that's nicely offset by the Fox shock's well-tuned compression damping. It all feels very together and very balanced.
Is there a 'but'? Not really, except that, spec-wise, there's very tough competition at this price. The race tag is puzzling too, if only because it might put off riders looking for a solid, reliable and fun all-day trail bike. But the proof is in the riding, and it's here that the Deluxe delivers. If you like your bikes simple and no-nonsense, it's well worth a second look.