The Kona One20 Primo is built around an impressively light and stiff scandium/magnesium frame with some decent kit including Fox rear shock and Mavic wheels. However, its Recon fork is completely outclassed and often out of control, which massively undermines confidence and the basic Shimano brakes are poor.
Kona’s One20 bikes are designed to hit the current 120mm (4.7in) trail travel sweet spot smack on. The emphasis is on aggressive light weight race agility, rather than Kona’s previous ‘lay back and let it happen’ style.
Ride & handling: loads of potential, waiting to be unlocked
The Kona One20 Primo’s whole ride delivers a ‘potential’ rather than ‘complete package’ experience because of its brake and suspension compromises. It’s as light as it should be for the price, with the potential to go lighter than most in its class as you upgrade the Scandium frameset.
The relatively steep head (69.8 degrees) and seat (74.3 degrees) angles and longer stem keep the front end connected and quick-witted on climbs. Frame stiffness is good, cutting a sharp, feedback-rich line that lets you push right to the edge of tyre performance. The result is a keen, racey feel on flatter, less technical trails and speedy singletrack.
But while it’s not intrusive when spinning in the big/middle ring, there’s definite bounce and bob from the shock when you’re grinding the granny ring or churning at slow revs.
Cutting that with the ProPedal damping lever is easy, but you then lose the otherwise supple small bump response and succulent traction, leaving you with a ‘sag or spin’ decision at the foot of every hill.
And while the back end feels fluid and capable on descents, we’d have liked a degree off the head angle for more confidence when things got fast and loose.
The way it pushes your weight forward doesn’t do the limited Recon fork or slightly twitchy front end any favours. In fact, the front end felt out of its depth way before the plush back end got into its stride.
On a brighter note, upgrading to a better quality 130mm fork would sort out both damping and steering control issues in one hit. But that’s an expensive upgrade that other similar bikes aren’t asking for.
Frame: impressive lightweight frame in big range of sizes
The Primo is the cheapest One20 bike to get Kona’s all-new lightweight scandium alloy frame. The ‘wonder metal’ of a decade ago has been ditched by most companies because of production difficulties, but Kona have stuck with it and obtained impressive results. The curved, hydroformed top and down tube also keep weight distribution and standover height low – despite a tall head tube – making it safe and stable.
The big one-piece cast magnesium rocker is lighter and stiffer than Kona’s old multi-part bolted brace designs. Chunky rear stays tie down tracking stiffness right to the rear wheel too, with Kona’s typical seatstay pivots rendering a simple suspension arc for predictable plushness.
The mud room is good, and there’s space for a water bottle and additional hose/cable loops guide the cable routing round the low kinked top tube. The bearing caps now have laser etched detailing and the seat collar gets a cut-out logo for a bit more sass too.
Kona also win points for their comprehensive sizing range, with inch-by-inch steps, which helps you find the perfect size.
Equipment: great wheels, tyres & gears, marked down by poor fork & brakes
The improved frame quality and the Fox RP2 rear shock are very noticeable upgrades over the cheaper One20 bikes, but there’s other decent kit here too. Mavic’s Crosslink wheels are tight, good-lookers, the Ignitor tyres are decent all-rounders and the ‘non-groupset’ Shimano chainset, XT/Deore mix and Kona’s new XC/BC finishing kit all felt good.
The RockShox Recon 335 fork is a definite stumbling block that limits the overall performance. It’s okay in more leisurely situations but the basic damping (compared to the 351 fork on some of its competitors) soon runs out of control on long, rocky descents or even short steppy sections.
Shimano’s new M575 budget brakes didn’t impress either. The front unit needed bleeding straight away, felt really wooden even when they were working and then burnt out its pads within the first wet hour. This left the rear brake to boil up on every decent descent and it needed new pads itself after the first five-hour ride. We missed bolt-on grips after the rain loosened the stick-on ones too.