The Kona Unit has been one of the UK’s most successful singlespeeds, so we were surprised to see that the original 26in-wheeled version has vanished in favour of two 29er options for 2009.
Ride & handling: Stiff and capable, but doesn't exploit its best 29er attributes
With an 80mm fork and superlight scandium frame, the Big Unit is designed for those with a competitive streak. Weight is reasonable for an off-the-peg 29er and while it takes a while to wind up, every pedal turn gives a direct link between you and the trail.
It charges along well, with impressive tracking accuracy from the stiff frame and taut rims. On even the trickiest lines the Unit never wavered, however hard we pushed it.
That said, it had a tendency to trip over its front wheel at slow speeds and made us more aware of the handling downsides of big wheels than other 29ers we've tested.
The overall stiffness is obvious in general ride comfort. There’s a lot of shake and stutter coming through which undermines the enhanced traction and smoothness that 29ers are meant to be all about.
Frame: Scandium gives good blend of light weight and high performance
Kona is now into scandium big time across all its bikes where light weight and high performance make sense. Square section hydroformed tubes add torsional stiffness between the externally butted head tube and extended seat tube.
A big machined yoke with tubular brace keeps tyre clearance reasonable while slightly curved stays stop ankle knock. Big Allen-bolted sliding dropouts with screw adjusters and integrated brake mount take up chain slack. Full cable routing is kept for running gears, which is either useful or ugly depending on your singlemindedness.
Equipment: Good crankset and rims, but short-travel fork and cheap brakes let spec down
Bashguarded RaceFace Atlas cranks can take an inner ring if needed. Their stiffness helps turn the single Formula cog and the cassette design means easy swapping to other ratios.
Other kit is high-quality too, with tough Mavic 719 29er rims surviving some tyre-splitting impacts and Maxxis rubber giving good all-round performance. Low rise Kona bars give plenty of leverage on the climbs too.
Despite typically excellent Fox control, the 80mm fork offers 20mm less travel than we would expect (and recommend) for a bike of this type. The Shimano brakes look and feel cheap on a £1,500 bike too.