With a reputation for no-nonsense ruggedness and a background in the always progressive and punishing riding of Canada, Kona has been building hardcore hardtails for longer than almost anyone else. The Shred might be more expensive than many of its peers, but it’s a proper trail tank.
Frame and equipment: reassuringly expensive?
Kona’s experience means you shouldn’t be fooled into thinking the initially simple looking frame isn’t up to the job. Not only do the top-tube and curved down-tube share a long double-barrel seam behind the head-tube, but there’s a big tongue-shaped reinforcing plate on the underside of the down-tube that acts like a neck brace for the frame. There’s an extra gusset between the top-tube and extended seat tube too, and the seat slot is forward facing to stop back wheel spray getting into the frame.
The down-tube is ovalised for a broad weld footprint across the bottom bracket shell, which gets three threaded ISCG tabs so you can fit a direct mount chain guide. Other fixtures include a triple cable and hose guide under the top-tube, and mudguard/rack holes on the simple dropouts. There are no matching four-point rack mounts on the seatstays though, and you get an old-school IS brake mount that needs an extra bracket to hold the rear calliper. The S-bend rear stays with A-frame bracing look pretty retro too, and the matt ‘garage floor red’ colour is a definite contrast to the neon livery sported by most of the Shred's younger competitors.
Given its price tag, the Kona has got a lot of explaining to do in terms of kit. According to the sticker on the back of the 120mm (4.7in) travel Spinner Cargo 340 fork, it’s only for 4X and dirt jumping, and shouldn’t be used for “all-mountain, freeride, downhill or extreme freeride”. The 34mm stanchions and thick-set legs and crown are extremely stiff though, steering with unerring accuracy when the tyres allow and ploughing a straight course through random rock heaps. We got 115mm of travel out of it once we’d shunted it past its initial stubbornness too.
The Geax Goma tyres look promisingly like Maxxis’s excellent Ardent but the extremely slippery character of the hard, plasticky tread in any remotely damp trail conditions proves just how important rubber compound is. The 32mm wide rims help fatten them up, but they never feel particularly supple and smooth and are ripe for immediate upgrading.
Kona really scores with the excellent contact points though. The usefully broad own-brand handlebar gives lazy leverage through corners, you get lock-on grips that stay put whatever the weather and proper metal Kona Jackshit flat pedals. The Gravity Step Up cranks get steel pedal thread inserts, a thick polycarbonate bashguard and ribbed ISIS bottom bracket. The Tektro hydraulic brakes work in a consistent if rather blunt and basic way, but keeping the cables clean is essential to get smooth, low-effort shifts from the SRAM X4 pods and Shimano Altus gears.
Ride and handling: confidence on tap
The first thing you notice out on the trail isn’t weight or gear spec – it’s the generous bar width and slack angles that create an instantly confident feeling. The fat-legged fork puts the front wheel exactly where you want it and actually soaks up some of the impacts on rocky trails without throwing them straight back in your face.
The smooth feel of the Kona’s relatively soft back end meant it behaved in a controlled manner and stayed on target well on the boulder run sections of our test trails – and we didn't feel too battered afterwards either. The brakes are consistent enough for authoritative anchoring and the cranks seem solid underfoot. Extending this same basic confidence and surefooted stability on to more natural trails depends on upgrading the tyres to something less slippery when wet though, which adds extra cost on to an already comparatively pricey package.
The hefty weight of the Shred and the less direct drive from the rear is noticeable when you’re trying to get things moving and when stoking it back up to speed after slow-speed corners or sudden steep climbs, meaning it’s definitely sturdy rather than sparky in feel. You’ll be less beaten up and knackered after long rides though, making the Kona a properly versatile all-rounder.