The Honzo bridges gaps, literally and metaphorically. Kona describe it as a “balls-out, aggressive all-mountain 29er chromoly hardtail”. We won't beg to differ, although you'll need to be fit to haul its 30.5lb 'built for knocks' heft up the steepest climbs with just a single 32-tooth chainring up front; even the 36t sprocket out back isn't always enough.
Ride & handling: Steel framed, hard hitting big-wheeler that breaks new ground
We know what sort of rider the Honzo will appeal to, because several of them stopped us to admire it on one of the much-'sessioned' downhill sections in our local woods. Interestingly, none of them noticed it had big wheels – perhaps because bikes designed like this usually have 26in or 24in wheels.
The Kona stands proud from every other 29er we've tested because it'll attract riders who wouldn't normally look at a big-wheeler. Its ride potential is hinted at by the slack (68-degree) head angle, the bolt-through-axle, tapered-steerer fork, 2.4in front tyre, chain guide tabs and cable routing for a dropper seatpost.
Whether you realise that potential might be another matter. It only releases its full promise if you subject it to the sort of highly animated body language that you usually associate with dirt jump bikes. But it carries speed better than any dirt jump bike we've ridden.
A curved-forward seat tube keeps the rear wheel neatly tucked in, the small tight frame triangles keep things stiffer and stabler than we're used to with steel--framed 29ers and the low bottom bracket adds stability, but also occasionally causes pedal strikes when powering through bumpy corners.
The constant slight rub of the chain guide will annoy some riders but the Honzo is a barrel of fun when the terrain challenges, and especially so when it points even slightly downhill. It's a great little bike that's thoroughly adaptable and lots of fun to ride. There are better specced options at this price, but few that will appeal to the riders who feel drawn to the Honzo.
Frame & equipment: Well designed and generally well specced, but heavy
There's lots to like with the Kona Honzo. We like the way the slim but suitably reinforced steel frame has been designed to accommodate 29in wheels without taking on the barge-like proportions of some big-wheelers.
We also like the short, beefy tapered head tube, the adjustable rear dropouts, the dropper seatpost cable routing and the chain device tabs. The 120mm-travel RockShox Revelation fork is a good choice up front, as are the beefy Maxxis Ardent tyres – 2.4in up front, 2.25in out back.
Our one dislike was the way the chain device rubbed in most gears. Oh, and a couple of riders griped about weight. A bike that weighs 30.5lb is a bit of a drag up climbs and would be better served by a granny ring in reserve up front rather than the single ring fitted here – a single blemish on the Honzo's stated all-mountain credentials.
Steve Worland: "It was bound to happen. As big-wheelers have become more accepted, riders who previously scorned them have started wondering why their mates are all riding them. And the riders who've taken the piss out of 29ers more than any are those who identify with the sort of tough and tight bikes that look and feel at ease in the air as well as on the dare, duck and dive terrain that typical big-wheeled cross-country riders steer clear of. The Honzo is one of those bikes."
You can check out the Honzo in action in the video below, from Kona: