Kona Big Unit review£1,499.00

Skittish scandium sprinter

BikeRadar score3.5/5

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.

Kona big unit: kona big unit
Kona big unit: kona big unit

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.

Kona big unit: kona big unit
Kona big unit: kona big unit

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.

Fine fox forks, but is 80mm enough travel?: fine fox forks, but is 80mm enough travel?
Fine fox forks, but is 80mm enough travel?: fine fox forks, but is 80mm enough travel?

Guy Kesteven

Freelance Writer, UK
Guy started filling his brain with cycle stats and steaming up bike shop windows back in 1980. He worked the other side of those windows from '89 while getting a degree in “describing broken things covered in mud" (archaeology). Dug historical holes in the ground through the early '90s, then became a pro bike tester in '97. Guy has ridden thousands of bikes and even more components the world over since then and can remember them all in vivid, haunting detail. Can't remember where the car keys are, though.
  • Age: 45
  • Height: 180cm / 5' 11"
  • Weight: 68kg / 150lb
  • Waist: 76cm / 30in
  • Chest: 91cm / 36in
  • Discipline: Strict sadomasochist
  • Preferred Terrain: Technical off-piste singletrack and twisted back roads. Up, down, along — so long as it's faster than the last time he did it he's happy.
  • Current Bikes: An ever changing herd of test machines from Tri bikes to fat bikes and everything in between.
  • Dream Bike: His Nicolai Helius AM custom tandem
  • Beer of Choice: Theakston's Old Peculier (not Peculiar)
  • Location: Yorkshire, UK

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