With the new version of the Honzo, Kona wanted to create the ultimate do-it-all hardtail. In the pursuit of better handling, the brand has combined a really long front end with a ridiculously short rear, thrown in 29in wheels for maximum straight-line speed and lightened the frame too. But has it worked?
Super short back end
Compared with the old steel Honzo, the 2016 frame is a claimed 40% lighter. Butted 6061 alloy tubes form a long front triangle, and a low BB and curved seat tube squeeze around the rear wheel to keep the chainstay length to a skimpy 412mm – we had to measure it twice to make sure!
There’s nowhere to mount a front derailleur or an ISCG chain guide, but stealth-routed droppers are catered for in case you upgrade. The frame feels stiff when riding, and a Boost rear axle helps deliver this rigidity to the trail. Clearance is tight though.
The rockshox sektor up front isn’t the most refined performer: the rockshox sektor up front isn’t the most refined performer
The RockShox Recon up front isn’t the most refined performer
The 120mm (4.7in) travel RockShox Recon fork isn’t particularly smooth or refined, but does the job okay. The wide 760mm bar and 60mm stem help massively when descending.
Shimano Deore kit combined with Race Face Ride cranks provides simple, light and reliable 1×10 gearing, but you’ll need to be fit for the climbs. The Shimano Acera brakes aren’t the most powerful, but the first thing we’d swap out is the bolted seat clamp.
Jumping aboard the Honzo, we first carried out our sort-of-scientific comfort test, riding seated over bumpy ground with the rear tyre at 28psi. The Kona was markedly comfier, smoother and faster than other hardtails we were putting through their paces via the same criteria at the time.
There may be a little give in the relatively slender seatstays, but the crucial difference is the bigger wheels. When compared directly in this way, it’s remarkable what a difference they make. Fatter rear rubber would make it comfier still, but the 2.25in Maxxis Ardent already occupies the tight chainstays with little room to spare.
The curved seat tube allows the rear wheel to sit as far forward as possible, resulting in a super-short back end: the curved seat tube allows the rear wheel to sit as far forward as possible, resulting in a super-short back end
The curved seat tube allows the rear wheel to sit as far forward as possible
Pointed uphill, the steep 75-degree seat angle and roomy effective top tube (660mm on the XL frame) encourage you to attack the climbs hard, and the fairly tall gearing means you often have no other choice. The combination of a 32t chainring and 36t biggest sprocket would be fine on a 650b bike, but on a 29er we’d sooner swap to a 30t ring or fit a crawler cog to the cassette. Despite the gearing – or perhaps because of it – the Honzo was still a rapid climber.
Flatter sections of trail are dealt with both swiftly and comfortably thanks to the big wheels, fast-rolling rubber and roomy cockpit. It’s a bike we’d be happy to take for a really big day’s ride, once the gearing had been sorted out.
It’s no XC racer, mind – the limited gearing and 13.2kg (29.1lb) mass see to that – so it’s odd to see a bolted seat clamp. Despite the meagre few grams it saves, we’d rather have a QR clamp (or even better, a dropper post) to allow us to drop the saddle quickly and open the Honzo up on the descents.
When things get nasty, the Kona doesn’t get left behind. While the Sektor fork is a bit basic in terms of damping and spring sensitivity, it’s at least got a 15mm axle, so steering precision and bushing bind aren’t an issue.
Combined with the 2.4in front tyre and big wheels, rough terrain is dealt with pretty well. We could have done with more braking power at times though, especially with the big wheels requiring more torque to slow them down.
The kona’s bb sits 65mm below its axles, which makes for an incredibly stable, surefooted ride: the kona’s bb sits 65mm below its axles, which makes for an incredibly stable, surefooted ride Steve Behr
The Kona’s BB sits 65mm below its axles, which makes for a surefooted ride
On slippery, rutted trails the low-slung BB – which sits 65mm below the axles – keeps things a lot more planted and calm than the short chainstays and steep head angle would suggest. Combined with the roomy top tube, this massive BB drop helps the bike stay on-line and upright as the wheels slide beneath it.
The flipside of this low-slung stability is that the Honzo isn’t very willing to hop or manual, despite its short stays. A shorter stem would go some way to curing this though.
Upgrading the weighty steel-beaded treads would also be a good move, improving acceleration and pop. As it is, the heavy wheelset makes the bike feel a little lazy when swapping between corners or accelerating, but once in the bends, the stiff frame and short rear end help it cut a tight line and pop out the other side.
Overall, the Honzo achieves a pleasing blend of comfort, speed and stable handling, which allows it to be ridden all day or thrashed hard. Just remember to factor the cost of swapping the seat clamp, chainring and tyres into the cost.