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Kona Honzo ESD review

Downhill-focused hardtail that lets your legs do the talking

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0
GBP £2,899.00 RRP
kona honzo esd

Our review

Takes the sting out of the trail so you can focus on going full speed
Pros: Geometry that’s not going to give you any excuses; remarkably smooth ride over the rough; climbs well despite gravity intentions
Cons: Value for money isn’t great; the bike deserves stouter rubber
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Kona’s Honzo ESD has gravity at the forefront of its design depsite not having any squish at the back, with a shape rivalling the best descent-focused hardtails around. It’s long, it’s low and it’s very slack.

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The steel frame gets a burly 150mm fork clamped into the head tube, while there’s buckets of room for aggressively treaded rubber to generate as much grip and control as possible.

Kona Honzo ESD frame details

kona honzo esd fork
The 150mm-travel Marzocchi Z1 contributes to a burly front end.
Russell Burton / Immediate Media

Kona’s chromoly steel tubes are backed up with braces for strength and are butted to shave off a little bit of weight. There’s room in the back to work with chunky rubber to take the sting out of the trail.

The rear of the frame features adjustable dropouts, held in place with two bolts per side, to help tweak geometry. Alternatively, it allows the Honzo to be run as a singlespeed, or we reckon, fit some seriously fat 650b+ rubber.

kona honzo esd adjustable dropouts
Adjustable dropouts allow geometry alterations, wide tyres or singlespeed drivetrains.
Russell Burton / Immediate Media

Cables run externally, guided neatly by bottle cage boss clips, making them easy to maintain. Inside, there’s space for one bottle cage in a higher or lower position, and there’s an additional pair of bosses under the down tube, should you want to fit a second bottle – though you’ll want to have a cap over its valve.

Kona Honzo ESD geometry

Kona has taken geometry figures straight from the aggro-hardtail handbook, with a shape that rivals the most forward-thinking bikes out there.

The reach on our size large comes in at a lengthy 490mm, which is paired with a very slack 63-degree head tube, giving a long 1,245mm wheelbase.

kona honzo esd mud room
There’s plenty of room for wide tyres, or a lot of mud…
Russell Burton / Immediate Media

The seat tube is nice and steep at 77.5 degrees, helping put your hips nicely over the pedals on steep climbs. The uninterrupted seat tube itself is short at 420mm, meaning long-drop droppers are easy to fit.

150mm is quite a bit of travel for a hardtail. As the fork cycles through its travel, the bike’s shape pivots around the rear axle, steepening all the angles and shortening the length of the bike.

On a full-suspension bike, generally the changes in geometry are lower, as the rear suspension’s compression counteracts the impacts on the geometry of the fork. However, with such a slack head angle, even at the depths of the travel, the Honzo ESD remains long and slack.

SMLXL
Seat angle (degrees)77.577.577.577.5
Head angle (degrees)63636363
Chainstay (mm)417417417417
Seat tube (mm)380380420450
Top tube (mm)578605633670
Head tube (mm)90100110120
Fork offset (mm)42424242
Bottom bracket drop (mm)62.562.562.562.5
Bottom bracket height (mm)312.5312.5312.5312.5
Wheelbase (mm)1186121612451285
Standover (mm)712710709706
Stack (mm)625634643652
Reach (mm)440465490525

Kona Honzo ESD specifications

Marzocchi’s 150mm-travel Bomber Z1 shares DNA with Fox’s 36 forks, so there’s plenty of stoutness up-front when you’re hussling it through the trees, and a (relative to the back end, at least) smooth GRIP damper keeps the air spring well controlled through its travel.

kona honzo esd assegai
The Assegai is one of our favourite aggressive front tyres.
Russell Burton / Immediate Media

There’s little harshness to speak of, and it stays propped up nicely until you really start to hit repeated big hits. There’s a dial on the top of the fork to offer some compression damping adjustment on the fly, which ranges from fully open to locked, ideal on longer smooth climbs. Rebound adjustment is also present.

Four-pot Shimano brakes are snappy and powerful, and are paired with a large 203mm rotor at the front and 180mm rotor at the rear. A wide-range SLX drivetrain driven by a 30t Race Face ring gives no excuses on steep pitches, thanks to a 10-51t cassette. We appreciate the addition of an XT shifter, which has a double release on the up-shift – a nice spec touch.

kona honzo esd xt shifter
It’s always good to see brands up-speccing shifters.
Russell Burton / Immediate Media

Broad Wide Trail, triple-compound Maxxis rubbers wrap Race Face AR 30 rims – these needed double taping and some valve jiggery-pokery to get sealed around the off-centred rim bed. SLX hubs have a positive drive with a fairly quick pick-up.

kona honzo esd ar30
Tubeless setup with the Race Face AR30 rims was a bit of a pain.
Russell Burton / Immediate Media

Race Face’s Aeffect 35 range is featured at the cockpit, with a WTB Volt saddle sat on top of a TransX dropper with plenty of travel.

Kona Honzo ESD ride impressions

kona honzo esd jump
Though it’s not light, the Honzo ESD loves a bit of air-time.
Russell Burton / Immediate Media

With just a fork to worry about, setting up the Honzo’s suspension was fairly simple. I used the suggested pressures for the fork initially, but added 10psi, as I prefer my fork to be better propped up on a hardtail, given the extra work it has to do in calming the ride.

Likewise, keeping it higher helps maintain geometry on steeper trails, as well as giving a little extra to push against when riding hard.

Tyres were inflated to pressures in the low-20s psi, depending on conditions. The offset profile of the Race Face AR 30 rims does make sealing the rim a little trickier. I needed to double tape the rims, and needed extra rubber grommets to hold the valve secure.

Usually, these rims come with an offset spacer to sit below the valve’s lockring, but my test bike came with tubes installed, necessitating the rubber grommet.

Kona Honzo ESD climbing performance

Though gravity is at its core, there’s a nod towards climbing prowess, and during testing I was impressed with how the Honzo ESD coped with ascents.

The 30t chainring is paired with a wide-ranging cassette, meaning there’s a really low gear to help winch up steep pitches. The steep 77.5-degree seat angle, which only steepens when you’re sat on the bike, helps get your body position nicely over the cranks for effective pedalling dynamics too.

kona honzo esd aeffect
Race Face’s stout Aeffect 35 cockpit.
Russell Burton / Immediate Media

It feels a little odd rolling along the bottom of the valley to the trails, with such a forward position over the cranks, but it’s soon forgotten uphill. 

The length of the bike means there’s tons of room to move about over the bike too. This means you never feel cramped on long drags. Furthermore, on technical climbs you’re easily able to manipulate your body weight to balance traction and steering accuracy over rocks and roots.

Kona Honzo ESD descending performance

kona honzo esd steep
The Honzo excels on the steeps.
Russell Burton / Immediate Media

Kona isn’t shy with its geometry, and there’s no doubt the 63-degree head angle, 490mm reach and 310mm BB height all contribute to a ridiculously stable bike that’s just as at home ripping berms as it is nosing down some impossibly steep chutes. 

In its longer chainstay setting, the Honzo loves to surf loose terrain, shrugging off shifting rocks below its tyres as if it were cruising the most mellow terrain around. With a long wheelbase, it carves corners, letting the Maxxis Assegai (f) and Minion DHR II (r) tyre combo’s shoulder tread dig into the dirt while you weight the outside pedal and inside grip.

Chopping a couple of centimetres off the chainstay’s length turns it into a hooligan when scything through tight, twisty trees and ruts, which it does with absolute ease. It chops and changes direction far easier than you’d think a bike with a 63-degree head angle and 150mm fork should. As such, it hustles effectively through tight singletrack.

It is most at home on steeper, more technical terrain, though. Roll it off a step and the length of the bike, and the stiff fork, means the rear wheel rarely feels as if it’s going to ride up and pitch you over the front.

With the front brake offering plenty of power and control, it’s got an assured feel when you’re hanging off the back of the saddle. Though there’s no suspension to help keep the rear wheel stuck to the floor, the grippy tyre helps no end.

kona honzo esd corner
With the front wheel miles out in front, dropping it off a steep roll poses no issues.
Russell Burton / Immediate Media

Grip in the dry is exemplary, enabling you to lean the bike as far as you dare, and the front only really struggles in sticky mud. The Assegai has a MaxxTerra compound, which does a good job of balancing grip and rolling resistance. 

In truth, you might find the rear tyre doesn’t last long, though. The EXO casing is thin for a bike of this type, and we’d happily add a few grams and lose a bit of rolling speed for a DoubleDown carcass out back and EXO+ at the front, just to give that little extra peace of mind when you send it off a lip and onto a bed of roots.

Certainly, if you intend on pushing the bike towards its limits, you’ll want to swap the rear out pretty quickly in our experience.

As it is, Maxxis still prove to be the tyres to beat, as even without the sturdy carcass, the rear end feels beautifully damped, letting you land squiffy drops and rattle through rocks without getting pinged left, right and centre.

Kona Honzo ESD bottom line

The Honzo ESD is one of the current breed of hardcore hardtails proving that you don’t need rear suspension to tackle the gnarliest lines.

That’s down largely to the excellent geometry and capable fork, combining to give buckets of control, composure, stability and confidence.

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It’s not the fastest up a hill, and it’s not exactly light either, but it joins the likes of the Marin El Roy as one of the most capable hardtails I’ve ridden in a long time.

Product Specifications

Product

Price GBP £2899.00
Weight 14.59kg (M) – without pedals
Brand Kona

Features

Available sizes S, M, L, XL
Brakes Shimano Deore, 203/180mm rotors
Chain Shimano Deore
Cranks Race Face Æffect R cranks
Fork Marzocchi Bomber Z1, 150mm travel
Frame Butted chromoly steel
Handlebar Race Face Æffect R 35, 800mm
Rear derailleur Shimano SLX
Saddle WTB Volt
Seatpost TranzX
Shifter Shimano Deore XT
Stem RaceFace Æffect R 35, 50mm
Tyres Maxxis Assegai EXO TR 3C 29x2.5in WT (f) and Maxxis Minion DHR II EXO TR 3C 29x2.4in WT (r)
Wheels Race Face AR 30 rims on Shimano SLX hubs