Kona Hei Hei Trail DL first ride review£5,999.00

Lightweight, do-it-all trail bike that's impressively capable

The Hei Hei name has been around almost as long as Kona and a look at how the bikes with the Hei Hei moniker have changed over time is extremely telling as to where our sport has been, and where it’s going.

Kona Hei Hei Trail DL highlights

  • New pivotless carbon fibre rear end
  • Full carbon fibre frame with 27.5” wheels
  • 140mm of travel from Fox Factory shocks
  • Single ring specific design

Despite the slightly overlong stem, the handling is a decent enough balance of stability and liveliness
Despite the slightly overlong stem, the handling is a decent enough balance of stability and liveliness

Kona Hei Hei Trail DL spec overview

  • Frame: Kona Race Light Carbon 140mm travel
  • Fork: Fox Factory 34 Float Air, 140mm tapered, 110mm spacing
  • Shock: Fox Factory Float DPS
  • Shifters: Shimano XT
  • Rear derailleur: Shimano XTR
  • Chainset: RaceFace Aeffect, 30T
  • Cassette: Shimano XT 11-42t 11spd
  • Rims: WTB Ci31 TCS
  • Hubs: Hope Pro 4, 15x110mm/12x148mm
  • Tyres: Maxxis Tomahawk EXO TR 27.5x2.3"
  • Brakes: Shimano XT, 180mm/160mm
  • Handlebar: Kona XC/BC 35
  • Stem: Kona XC/BC 35
  • Saddle: WTB Volt Comp
  • Seatpost: KS Lev Integra

Kona Hei Hei Trail DL frame and equipment

Originally a rigid forked, titanium framed hardtail, the intervening 25 years have seen it move into a range of lightweight, carbon fibre framed machines, none of which share the same wheel size as the original. This is the Trail version of the Hei Hei, which means you get smaller 27.5” hoops and 140mm of wheel travel rather than the big 29” hoops and shorter 100mm rear travel pairing of the non-Trail line of bikes. 

Gone is the traditional faux-bar design, with a new flex-stay design instead
Gone is the traditional faux-bar design, with a new flex-stay design instead

While all Kona bikes have traditionally used a linkage driven single pivot ‘faux bar’ design, all the new Hei Hei bikes now use the Fuse system, which deletes the seatstay pivot and instead relies on the inherent flex of the carbon fibre back-end as the bike cycles through the travel. Thanks to tweaked main pivot placement, there’s a bit more anti-squat designed into the bike rather than when compared to the longer travel Process 153, meaning the suspension will stiffen up slightly when you pedal. While there’s a 30T ring fitted to this model, the system is designed to run with up to a 34-36T ring. 

As befits a modern trail bike, the Hei Hei gets a metric sized shock with a trunnion mount and there’s Boost 148 hub spacing at the back too. There’s some rather clean internal cable routing, with the main cable port cover at the bottom bracket junction also hiding a spare derailleur hanger inside it.

Unlike many super-swoopy carbon frames, the outline of the Hei Hei is clean, with very straight top and down tubes connected together by a broad headtube junction. That does mean the top tube isn’t dipped for extra standover clearance, but even riding a Large frame and being about 5’8 tall, I didn’t find that too much of an issue.

At 455mm reach, it’s reasonably spacious too, with tight 425mm chainstays. At 68 degrees, the head angle isn’t particularly extreme and this, paired with the fairly long stem, hints at a bike with pretensions as a pedal-all-day all-rounder rather than a pedal-up, plummet-down machine.  

The 68-degree head angle is a pretty middle of the road set up, trying to be all things to all people
The 68-degree head angle is a pretty middle of the road set up, trying to be all things to all people

This DL model might be the middle bike in the Hei Hei Trail wheeled range, but as the price and spec suggests, it’s by no means budget build. Fox’s shiniest suspension is found at either end, with a Kashima coated Factory Series 34 fork up front and a similarly slippery Float DPS at the back.

It’s a sign of the times that it’s really rather surprising to see a mechanical 11spd Shimano XT/XTR drivetrain instead of the now ubiquitous SRAM 11spd found on most bikes at this price. The 11-42T cassette is marginally down on range compared to the latter, but it’s not that noticeable in practice. That’s paired to a RaceFace Aeffect crankset with a direct mount 30T ring.

Shimano’s XT range also provides the stopping power, with a 180mm front rotor and 160mm item at the back. They have a slightly unnerving habit of allowing the bite point to shift about, something especially noticeable if you like to run your levers very close to the bar — which I do. That said, they were impressively resistant to fade, despite being pushed pretty damn hard on some epic descents. 

The wheelset is a high point though; with beautifully machined Hope Pro4 hubs laced to wide, carbon fibre WTB Ci31 rims. Whatever you might feel about super-deep section carbon and the resulting ride feel, they certainly gave the bike an impressively peppy feel when pedalling. While the stock fitment is Maxxis Tomahawk 2.3” tyres in an EXO casing, my test bike was fitted with DH casing Minion DHFs in a nod to the rather burly test terrain.

With the price of entry being so steep, having a KS Lev Integra dropper rather than a RockShox Reverb does feel a bit tight, but the underbar remote is well shaped and it works smoothly enough as long as you don’t overtighten the collar. 

Kona Hei Hei Trail DL 2016 ride impression

My introduction to Hei Hei Trail DL didn’t start so much with me riding the bike as with it riding me. After a fairly severe carry up a large Canadian mountain, I managed to finally turn the pedals uphill myself. At 12.78kg / 28.2lbs, it’s a respectably lightweight if not mind blowingly lightweight machine, but there’s a nicely taut feeling to the pedalling action.

It’s certainly a perkier feeling than any of the Process range of bikes and the fat rims and chunky back-end give no idea of any flex under power. While the Shimano cassette doesn’t have quite the range of SRAM’s 10-42T item, it does offer buttery smooth shifting, even under the most hamfisted of fingers. 

For a bike that's made to excel both up and down, the Hei Hei Trail is impressively capable on the descents
For a bike that's made to excel both up and down, the Hei Hei Trail is impressively capable on the descents

Once pointed back down the hill, the rather long stem in conjunction with a relatively steep head angle can feel a little bit precarious until you learn to trust the bike. It helps that the bike itself is reasonably spacious, giving you plenty of room to shift weight around. Push harder and the back-end reveals itself to be a bit of a gem, with a progressive feel that gives confidence that belies the travel figures and little in the way of pedal kickback either.

The Fox DPS shock does give super smooth small bump traction too and having the even more squared off ‘Wide Trail’ rubber paired with the 31mm internal width rims helps with this. Think of it as 27Plus, Lite. When I set the bike some trails better suited to downhill bikes, the Hei Hei Trail maintained an impressive composure. 

It’s a proper little ripper that picks up speed instead of getting bogged down. Indeed, it encourages such confidence that trying moves well above a trail bike’s pay grade revealed a few limitations, namely that of the Fox Float 34 fork. While it is lightweight and smooth, once you start seriously hammering into rough sections, chassis flex quickly translates into what feels very much like bushing bind and resulting harshness. Keep it relatively sensible and it really isn’t an issue, but it does highlight that you can get away with an awful lot thanks to a competent chassis.  

The Hei Hei Trail is a bit of an odd bird truth being told. It half feels like the steepish head angle and long stem are there so that it doesn’t upset some of the bigger bikes in the Kona range. Push it hard and it certainly holds up, while the pedalling performance is in a different league. I’m certainly keen to get my hand on it for a longer term test on some more familiar trails as I’m sure I didn’t quite get to the bottom of the puzzle the Hei Hei Trail presents during my fairly limited trail time.

Jon Woodhouse

Technical Editor, France
Jon's been working with bikes for as long as he can remember, from spanner monkey to product tester. He's always looking out for new kit that'll give an edge when the going gets rough and is happiest experimenting with geometry, rubber and suspension.
  • Age: 31
  • Height: 173cm / 5'8"
  • Weight: 65kg / 143lb
  • Waist: 79cm / 31in
  • Chest: 92cm / 36in
  • Discipline: Mountain
  • Preferred Terrain: Big days out that pack in the steep and technical
  • Current Bikes: Mondraker Foxy Carbon, BTR Fabrications Custom hardtail, BMC Teamelite SE02 SLX
  • Dream Bike: Nicolai Ion 16 Longest
  • Beer of Choice: Franziskaner Weissbier
  • Location: Paris, France

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