We like the 'Back Country' tag on Kona Dawg bikes. It's a strong identity that sums up the breed better than most of the other marketing labels intended for bikes sitting somewhere between cross-country and freeride.
The best news for the 2006 Dawg range is that prices are substantially less than for similarly equipped bikes in 2005. The standard Dawg costs £1,100, and the top-of-the-range Dawg Supreme is £2,500. At £1,000 less, the mid-range Deluxe is a more sensible purchase if you prefer riding hard and fast terrain.
Sturdy, no-nonsense, workhorse frames like the Dawg Deluxe have really benefited from platform shock technology in the past couple of years, to a point where we no longer feel obliged to point out the oft-assumed benefits of Horst Link (chainstay pivots) four-bar linkage bikes. These days bikes like the Dawg (with its rear subframe pivots in the seatstay) ride just as well if they're properly set up. The Fox Float ProPedal shock and quality pivot bearings on the shock linkage have combined with Kona's subtle design tweaks over the years to produce a strong, stiff and efficient full suspension chassis.
The frame build quality is good. There are reinforcing gussets over the top tube at the seat juncture and under the down tube at the head juncture. Standover height is generous and the cable routing is thoroughly practical but there's very little mud clearance under the 'seatstay' bridge. Still, we wouldn't expect anyone to fit bigger tyres than the 2.3 inchers specced.
Both the Fox shock and Marzocchi's 120mm (4.75in) travel Gran Fondo 1 fork have very effective external rebound damping. The fork takes a few rides to reach full potential because initial stiction creates a fairly constipated feel out of the box. The air, coil and oil internals suit the Dawg's heavy duty but easy-to-tune personality, though, and there'll be times on the climbs when you'll be happy there's a compression lockout dial on the left leg.
The component package is OK, but nothing notable for a £1,500 bike. The drivetrain has a Shimano Deore XT rear mech, Deore shifters and front mech and a fairly basic RaceFace Ride XC crankset with two steel rings. Shifting was perfect throughout the test, and thankfully not Rapid-rise. The large-lever Hayes Nine brakes have an excellent durability record and they're powerful enough for our liking on 160mm rotors.
The wheels use Sun's excellent SOS medium-weight rims laced to a Deore hub at the back and an anonymous one up front. The build quality is good and we like the grippy, non-blocking tread pattern and big, comfortable volume of Nokian's NBT 2.3in treads. A long Truvativ seatpost allows the 19in bike to stretch to riders around the 6ft 1in mark, WTB's Speed V saddle is comfy enough to please the majority and we like Kona's Jack Shit grips, Truvativ's XR oversized 648mm (25.5in) riser bar and medium-length stem.
Weighing in at 14.79kg (32.6lb), the Dawg Deluxe is relatively heavy for its price and riding style. Inevitably, you'll feel that on the climbs if you compare it to a 28lb cross-country biased bike. Of course, what you need to decide when you're choosing a suspension bike is what you want it for. There's no doubt that the Dawg Deluxe will take more abuse than an XC-orientated bike without giving you frequent reminders of its limitations, but you'll have to work harder on the ups to get the rewards.
Every bike is a compromise of input and results. Work a Dawg hard when the going gets rough and it rewards you handsomely by letting you get away with manoeuvres that border on calculated risk. Work lighter, less sturdy, shorter travel bikes hard and they reward you with instant speed, followed swiftly by a reminder of their limits on rough terrain.
The Dawg Deluxe is at its best when you ride it hard. The fork, shock, tyres, components and frame build are all well suited to fast and aggressive riding, but the suspension is efficient enough and the top tube reach is rangy enough for all-day excursions. It has a bit less suspension travel than some bikes in its class but most of the Wreckers thought it was more fun to ride on the pedally, raggedy singletrack that typifies a lot of our test routes. More than that, it flows the drops with a flourish that boosts confidence and it feels more controlled than many similar bikes when you get close to your nerve limits. Our one reservation was that a high bottom bracket makes slow-speed moves feel a little gawky.