While most aspire to shred trails on full-suspension bikes, Kona is adamant that the hardtail is far from dead – and has set out to prove it with the Honzo 29er.
Frame and equipment: alloy advances make light work
Last year’s Honzo was steel, but both bikes in the 2016 range are alloy (with a titanium frame also available). This, says Kona, has cut up to 40 percent from the frame weight – good news, because the 2015 Honzo wasn’t exactly svelte. The frame has been lengthened too, with a reach of 485mm on the XL size tested, while a PF92 BB, big weld areas and 148x12mm rear axle assure stiffness.
Limited clearance out back means you can’t upgrade to the latest 650b+ wheels
Fox’s latest 34 Float fork is plugged in up front. The 120mm (4.7in) of travel is far better controlled with the new FIT4 damper than on previous models, and the new chassis is stiffer too, offering real point-and-shoot performance on a wide range of trails. The Shimano Deore based 1x10 transmission is dependable and comes with a clutch-equipped rear derailleur, and the matching Deore brakes are good too.
Although the seat tube is wide enough there’s no dropper post, which is a real shame – but at least the frame can take a stealth-routed upgrade. WTB’s tubeless i29 rims give a really good profile to the Maxxis Minion DHF and CrossMark tread, both of which benefit from tough EXO sidewalls and tubeless compatibility. The level of grip on offer makes them ripe for alpine adventures. Up front, the short stem/wide bar combo is a winner, allowing you to wrestle the bike through sections while maintaining relatively snappy handling.
Ride and handling: capable but bruising steed
Speaking of handling, the long, low and slack nature of the Honzo makes it well at home on steep, technical terrain. Hitting big descents blind, with unexpected drops, rocks and switchbacks, was far more manageable on the Honzo than we’d have expected of a hardtail.
The stiff frame means power transfer is good, though we’d have preferred a wider range cassette than the 11-36t option specced here when the climbs got steep. The 32t chainring does help on the ups though.
Provided you can take the beating it dishes out, the Kona is ready for big-mountain adventures
That stiffness is also the Honzo’s weakness, with rough descents leaving you battered and bruised. A 2.4in rear tread would improve comfort, and it’s a shame the latest ‘half fat’ 650b+ rubber won’t fit inside the short chainstays – they’re just too narrow.
On cross-country trails, the unrelenting stiffness also interrupts your pedal stroke – sitting down is just too lumpy and when you’re stood up your body weight gets thrown about, compromising pedalling and, at times, traction too.
That said, if you’re looking for a bike to spin up and batter down the most technical trails you can find and you’re a fan of a rigid back end, we reckon you can’t go wrong with the new Honzo.