Kona's aptly-named Hoss, unlike many burly hardtails, isn't classed as a freeride bike. Despite sharing frame design features with freeride-esque Kona hardtails from previous years, and a fork specifically aimed at the dirt jump and freeride lite market, the componentry and marketing emphasis put it squarely in the 'XC for the heavy or clumsy' camp.
Kona's Chute of a few years ago was one of the first bikes to put hardcore hardtails on the map. By combining radically shaped square-to-round section main tubes with a long travel fork and discs, the Chute provided the missing link between Kona's trail-orientated XC hardtails and DH-ready full sussers. Times have changed, and though the Hoss shares many design features with the Chute, its purpose is to provide a strong, reliable platform for the more amply built XC rider.
To that end, the square-to-round section top and down tubes provide a rigid - and theoretically pretty crashproof - backbone off which to hang the rest of the frame and components. A butted head tube is the only additional strengthening feature up front, while snaky, rectangular section seatstays and plain vanilla oval-to-round chainstays hold up the rear. In XC terms it's neither light nor subtle, but there's something to be said for overbuilding a frame aimed at riders who are likely to push it fairly hard.
The coil sprung Marzocchi Dirt Jam fork is basic and lacks any kind of damping adjustment, but works well enough within its limitations. With just 100mm (4in) of bump-eating capacity it's noticeably lacking in travel next to some of the competition though, and that - combined with a slight tendency to over-quick rebound - ultimately limits the Hoss's ability to keep up through high speed, rocky terrain. On the other hand, a shorter fork means less sag and bob when you're out of the saddle and working hard and, perhaps more importantly, the Dirt Jam is designed to take some stick.
It's in some of the componentry that you can see the Hoss's subtle bias away from drops and jumps and towards cross-country. ISIS-splined Truvativ Blaze cranks provide the full three rings for all-day rides without any pretence at being 6ft drop-proof, while the Nokian tyres, with their relatively modest profile, lend themselves to trail blasting rather than grabbing air time - though chunky rims should give a degree of extra protection from clumsy line choices.
Truvativ and WTB finishing kit is all fine, and the Hayes Sole brakes and Deore-based transmission provide predictably seamless stop-and-go functionality.
Cross-country bikes are usually light, svelte and animated in their riding feel - at least compared to anything aimed at the more gravity-obsessed of riders. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, for a bike aimed at the more amply built XC rider, the Hoss is none of these things. The frame and fork contribute a fair bit to the all-up weight, while heavy tyres and rims just add to the feeling of built-in inertia, particularly on sprints or climbs. It doesn't so much skip over high speed sections of trail as plough a furrow straight through. This is, to use an internal combustion analogy, more of an SUV with bullbars than a nippy two-seater.
Then again, there are certain things that an SUV can do that nippy two-seaters can't, and it's here that the Hoss arguably carves out its own niche. The overbuilt frame, burly fork and wide rims make for a package that's going to be less prone to damage under duress than most cross-country hardtails.
If you're carrying more than a few extra pounds, you are on the clumsy side of coordinated or you find yourself - for whatever reason - regularly breaking frames, wheels or forks, the Hoss could be the answer. Cranks aside, it's probably also a bike that'll stand up to being thrown around a bit. After all, it's got Chute DNA in it, and that's one of the bikes that began the whole hardcore hardtail thing. If you're more concerned with outright strength than flying ability, the Hoss might be worth a second look.