Review: Kona Hei Hei DL

by
June 15, 2017

Is the Kona Hei Hei DL just like every other 100mm travel XC bike? Certainly not, and Wil explains why in his review of the carbon fibre green machine

Brand: Kona Bikes
Product: Hei Hei DL
From: Kona Bikes, konaworld.com
Price: £4099
Tested: by Wil Barrett for 6 months

To be honest, I’m not exactly sure what I expected when I first got hold of the 2017 Hei Hei DL from Kona. It’s a Kona, so I was sure it ‘d be fun, but I’ll admit that I didn’t have particularly high expectations – I mean, it’s a cross-country 29er with 100mm travel and a single pivot suspension design – how different could it actually be from every other 100mm travel 29er out there?

As it would turn out, quite a lot actually.

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New for 2017 is the carbon version of the Hei Hei platform.

For 2017, Kona has split the Hei Hei platform into two different categories; the Hei Hei, and the Hei Hei Race. To muddle things further though, there’s a third Hei Hei category under the Hei Hei Trail label. However, that bike uses a completely different frame, more travel at 140mm, and smaller 27.5in wheels. So lets ignore that one for the time being.

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The Hei Hei DL sits in the middle of the range.

New for 2017, the carbon Hei Hei and the Hei Hei Race platforms are lightweight full suspension cross-country bikes based upon the successful alloy Hei Hei, which was first introduced in 2016. Both platforms use the same carbon fibre frame, the same 29in wheelsize and the same 100mm of rear travel courtesy of the FUSE suspension design. The difference between the two lies in the spec. While the Race model gets a 100mm travel fork and lightweight components oriented towards XC racing, the regular Hei Hei is pumped up with a 120mm travel fork, bigger rims and tyres, and a dropper post. Think of it as a pumped-up XC dually.

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Using the same carbon frame as the Hei Hei Race, the regular Hei Hei also uses 29in wheels and 100mm of rear travel.

There are three models within the Hei Hei line. The alloy-framed Hei Hei, the all-singing, all-dancing carbon-framed Hei Hei Supreme, and then this model that sits in the middle; the Hei Hei DL.

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Kona has beefed up the Hei Hei DL with a 120mm travel fork and a more capable parts spec.

The Bike

Straight off the bat, I liked the look of the Hei Hei DL. Embellished with its matte green paint job, I gotta say that this is one suave looking bike. Bright, but not garishly so. Also of note is that in the flesh (carbon?) it’s a significantly deeper shade of green that what it appears to look like online. Nice given that it’s quite rare to find something in real life that looks better than it does on the internets.

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Plenty of space for a water bottle inside the mainframe.

Like the Hei Hei Supreme, the Hei Hei DL gets a full carbon fibre frame. Devoid of the bubblegum-carbon aesthetic, Kona has gone for a more traditional tube shape on the Hei Hei DL, with large-profile junctions at the tapered head tube and PF92 bottom bracket. The organic shapes are broad, without looking fat and blobby. Along with the vertically-mounted rear shock, Kona has ensured that there is plenty of vacant space inside the front triangle for a full size water bottle. Without the rear shock, Kona claims the Hei Hei DL carbon frame weighs 1800g, or just shy of 2kg with the shock.

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The FUSE suspension design uses a single pivot and a one-piece carbon swingarm that flexes through the 100mm of travel.

The swingarm is made from a one-piece carbon fibre monocoque, with no rearward pivots to be found. Instead, the seatstays have a small degree of flex throughout their length to accommodate the 100mm of rear wheel travel. Rear hub spacing is 148x12mm, which combines with a short alloy rocker link, an oversized main pivot, and boxy chainstays to help add rigidity to the Hei Hei DL’s back end.

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The carbon seatstays are flattened out for lateral rigidity, while providing the necessary vertical give for the suspension to cycle.

Speaking of, the rear centre on the Hei Hei DL runs at a short-for-XC 430mm. Also noteworthy compared with racier XC machines is the slack 68 head angle, which helps to add stability by pushing the front wheel further out in front.

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The Fox 34 fork is a brilliant performer on the Hei Hei DL.

For the Hei Hei DL, Kona has spec’d the bike with Performance Series Fox suspension, so it’s all-black sliders front and back. The fork uses 34mm diameter stanchions to bolster steering precision, along with an adjustable air spring and the simple-but-excellent GRIP damper. It’s got a Boost 110x15mm tool-free axle, and Kona has selected the longer 51mm offset to reduce wheel flop on the climbs.

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The rear shock is a tiny Fox Float DPS.

As for the shock, it’s a diminutive Fox Float DPS that offers just 38mm of travel. For those doing the math, that equals an average leverage ratio of 2.63:1, so not particularly high nor low. Like the fork, the rear shock is air-adjustable, with a red rebound dial and a blue 3-position compression lever that offers Open, Medium and Firm modes. Deeper inside the shock, Kona has elected for a medium compression tune, a firm rebound tune and a light tune for the climb (Firm) mode.

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Internal routing for the rear derailleur cable, and external routing for the rear brake hose.
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The dropper post cable is external, until it enters the seat tube just behind the shock.
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A small external run for the rear derailleur cable.

Throughout the Hei Hei DL, details are modern without being farcical. The frame is discreetly Di2 ready for those who choose to go electric, and although the rear derailleur cable runs inside the frame, the rear brake (thankfully) routes externally to keep the home mechanics happy. The stealth-routed KS Lev dropper post mixes it up by sending the cable down through the seat tube, before it exits out of a rubber grommet near the BB shell, finally joining the rear brake line along the downtube on its way to the handlebar.

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Shimano 1×11 drivetrain with Race Face cranks.

Keeping things clean, the Hei Hei DL frame is 1x specific, with a Shimano 1×11 drivetrain taking care of gear changes. There’s a stout wheelset courtesy of WTB, with the lightweight KOM rims using a generous 29mm internal width to support the high-volume Maxxis rubber, and the rims come pre-taped from the get-go. You will, however, have to provide your own valves and tubeless goop.

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I swapped in some meatier rubber from Bontrager for the test period. Loads of clearance for the 2.4in wide tyres.

As it arrived at Singletrack Towers, the medium-sized Kona Hei Hei DL with tubes weighed in at 12.46kg on our scales. In preparation for sloppier riding conditions, I removed the rather ambitious stock Maxxis rubber and setup a pair of 2.4in wide Bontrager XR4 Team Issue tyres tubeless. This dropped the weight down to 12.24kg and gave the bike a bit more meat where it counts.

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Kona has a habit of getting geometry and positioning spot-on with its bikes, and the Hei Hei DL is no different.

The Ride

Kona recommends you setup the Hei Hei’s rear suspension with approximately 25-30% sag. For the little rear shock that equates to just 9.5-11.4mm of static sag, so you’ll need to get the ruler out to make sure you’ve got it right. For my 70kg riding weight, I started with about 130psi in the rear shock, and 65psi in the fork. Both felt smooth from the off, but the rear shock needed a little more work to get it dialed in. More about that later…

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Save for dropping the stem, I made zero changes to the cockpit – it is perfect out of the box.

Climbing aboard the Hei Hei DL for the first time it immediately feels like home. For my 175cm height, the reach measurement on our Medium test frame was absolutely spot-on at 430mm (455mm on the Large and 485mm on the X-Large), which works well with the 70mm long stem. There’s no doubting you’re in a forward-leaning XC riding position, but the 740mm wide riser bars offer a comfortable sweep that brings the grips to you, rather than making you feel like you need to take a yoga class every time you jump on.

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Love the KS Southpaw remote and ODI grips.

Adding to the intuitive cockpit feel is the brilliant under-the-bar KS Southpaw dropper lever, and the highly tactile Ruffian MX grips from ODI. All good stuff that’s been well chosen by Kona’s product managers. It also means that when you’re sitting on top of the Hei Hei DL and you can see that chunky Fox 34 fork angling out in front of you, it has a decidedly more trail bike feel to it.

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The Hei Hei DL is a zippy and efficient bike to pedal.

As you’d expect from a lightweight carbon fibre XC rig, the Hei Hei DL pedals very well. There is minimal bob from the rear shock, and I can’t recall one occasion where I felt compelled to employ the shock’s compression dial for anything other than experimentation. Left in the Open mode, the Float DPS is active, but there’s no mushiness at the pedals.

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And the stiff carbon frame does well at translating your inputs into momentum on the trail.

Part of this zippiness comes from the 1x optimised suspension design, with a main pivot that sits just high of the 32t chainring. In the larger sprockets on the cassette, there’s slightly more anti-squat to firm up the suspension when mashing in the lower gears, but the overall feel at the pedals is one of neutrality. Other XC bikes use a much higher anti-squat value to provide firm pedalling, which typically comes at the expense of suspension performance. The other trade-off with a high anti-squat value is excessive pedal feedback, resulting in a choppy feel when trying to pedal over rough terrain. However, the Hei Hei DL suffers none of that, managing to strike a sweet balance between pedal efficiency and smooth bump-response.

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The PF92 bottom bracket, boxy stays and oversized main pivot minimise twisting through the back end.

Combining stable suspension with a rock-solid carbon frame, the Hei Hei certainly feels lighter than its 12.24kg weight figure. It’s got a fantastic get-up-and-go attitude, with the short and stiff swingarm eliminating any sideways wiggle that would otherwise dampen acceleration inputs. It feels crisp, agile and willing.

While the Hei Hei DL is agile though, somehow it never feels twitchy. Pedalling along flat singletrack with my hands off the bars, the bike is steady and adept at self-correcting. Ducking and weaving into corners, the weight distribution is well balanced, and the Hei Hei DL rarely pushes you into oversteer or understeer. It offers a very predictable ride quality, and that’s due to both the excellent geometry and well-behaved FUSE suspension design. For speeding through twisty singletrack, the Hei Hei DL is so intuitive to pilot that it becomes easy to push the bike harder and faster the more you ride it.

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This bike is an absolute riot through the turns, and beats many longer travel bikes when it comes to fun factor.

Where things got really interesting however, is when the trail turns downwards. The short of it is that the Hei Hei DL just shouldn’t be this competent on technical downhills – it is very rapid. In fact, on my local test loop, the Hei Hei DL nabbed numerous descending KOMs that had been previously held by much longer travel 140-160mm enduro bikes – not short-travel XC bikes. Of course there’s something to be said of the bike’s low overall weight and poppy suspension feel, which allows the Hei Hei DL to skip its way over ugly rock gardens with a level of speed and finesse that is hair-tingellingly exciting. Sure you can overcook it, because this is an XC bike after all, but it’s surprising how stable the front end of the Hei Hei DL is on choppy terrain as the gradient steepens. And quite frankly, the Hei Hei DL blew me away with its competence at speed.

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Even I was able to get the Hei Hei DL (somewhat) off the ground.

As I started pushing the bike harder and harder though, I soon encountered some limits with the rear suspension. For returning back to earth after capitalising on an imaginary lip on the trail, I was finding it a little too easy to bottom out the rear shock, with a hefty ‘clunk’ emerging from the Float DPS as momentum sucked my weight down through the Hei Hei DL’s chassis. Initially I tried upping the pressure to add support (first 140psi, then 150psi), which worked, but meant that I was then running closer to 15% sag. As such, the rear suspension was feeling quite harsh, and had the effect of pitching my weight further into the fork travel. To validate my suspicions, I fitted a Quarq ShockWiz for some data acquisition for the rear shock. The result was as expected, with the ShockWiz recommending a reduction in air volume, as well as as reduction in air pressure to help increase the dynamic sag figure.

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Suspension testing with the Quarq ShockWiz.

Looking into the Float DPS shock further, it turns out that the air can comes sans volume spacers as stock. According to Fox, the 6.5×1.5in shock can be fitted with either the smallest or second smallest volume spacer, but that’s as far as you can go. Given that it’s quite a small volume shock to begin with, any reduction in internal volume is going to make a much bigger difference compared to a higher volume shock anyway. I did end up trying both spacer options for shits and giggles, but quickly worked out the smallest spacer was right for me.

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Decreasing the shock volume helped to increase bottom-out resistance and provide a more lively feel to the Hei Hei DL.

The difference was immediately noticeable, and with the air spring ramping up harder towards the end, I was able to lower pressures back down to 130psi to achieve that idyllic 25% sag figure. The back end of the bike became a little calmer and more controlled on rough chattery sections, and the increased small-bump sensitivity delivered more traction and comfort. However, the biggest benefit was in the bike’s willingness to get airborne, with the shock feeling like it had more support to push back on during a preload compression. For the landing, the harsh bottom-out disappeared, and the Hei Hei DL became even better at launching itself into the ugly stuff. Good times.

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Suspension aside, it’s the geometry and chassis stiffness that Kona has killed it with on this bike. Massive thumbs up.

Aside from the improvement in big-hit performance, one thing that became blatantly apparent with this shock-tuning experiment was just how good the Hei Hei DL is even when the shock wasn’t setup properly for me to begin with. Even with the shock bottoming out left, right, and centre, the Hei Hei DL was still bucketloads of fun to ride. Normally with a full suspension bike, if something’s off on the fork or shock, the whole ride suffers as a result. Not so with the Hei Hei DL however, and a sign that Kona has absolutely got the chassis stiffness and geometry nailed on this bike.

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Wide rims do well to support the tubeless tyres.

The rest of the bike must also be commended for the Hei Hei DL’s excellent off-road manners, and in particular, the wide-rimmed WTB wheelset that was super solid throughout testing. The Boost thru-axles and 32x spoke build ensures there is minimal lateral flex, while allowing for more vertical compliance compared to a cheap carbon wheelset. I’m also a big fan of the conventional J-bend spokes, external nipples and 3x lacing pattern. It makes for a robust wheelset, but also one that’s easy to live with should you ever break a spoke or simply need to true the wheel. The fact that it’s all rolling on sealed cartridge bearings with a serviceable freehub mechanism is good news too, even if engagement is on the slower side.

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No issues with the Deore XT brakes on our test bike.

Other highlights included the Deore XT disc brakes, which were absolutely faultless and devoid of the lever-pumping issues that some earlier XT brakes have suffered from in the past. Shifting was similarly bulletproof, and the tactile and punchy feel of the XT shifter pod is most excellent. I’m also a big fan of the double-shift function on the small trigger that allows you to click up to a harder gear two at a time.

Durability Notes

Having arrived just before winter, the Hei Hei DL test bike saw a significant amount of use in some pretty grim riding conditions, and it was also subjected to more cleaning and degreasing than it really should have had. But while the gritty Pennine mud did its best to get into every nook and cranny, the Hei Hei DL remained quiet and creak-free all the way through to summer. However, it wasn’t quite all smooth sailing.

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The KS Lev dropper did suffer from the usual stuck-down syndrome of other Levs we’ve tested.

From new, the KS Lev Integra dropper post suffered the same sticky behaviour that we’ve had with other KS Lev posts. This would see the saddle sometimes ‘stick’ at its lowest position, meaning you’d have to give it a tug with your hand to free it up upon return. Apparently since mid-2016, KS has rectified this problem with the use of new internals on its dropper posts. Post action aside, the Southpaw remote is the bees knees, with a smooth lever surface that’s a pleasure to use.

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The Race Face ring dropped the chain on me several times.

Although the Shimano 1×11 shifting was superb, I did get several annoying chain drops from the Race Face Narrow/Wide chainring. It’s not uncommon for the alloy teeth on the Race Face rings to lose their chain retention abilities as they wear, but it happened quite quickly on the Hei Hei DL test bike, and I’d be tempted to replace the chainring with a different option, potentially one made of steel.

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It’d be great to see the bike coming with volume spacers for at-home tuning for the consumer.

Otherwise there’s little else to worry about on the Hei Hei DL. I would like to see the bike come with optional volume spacers though. The whole shock-tuning procedure is pretty straight forward, and it’s one that I’ve come to expect with most of the full suspension bikes I’ve tested in recent times. Of course suspension setup is entirely personal, and in reality, the breadth of rider types and sizes that a brand like Kona needs to design their bikes for is much wider than any one suspension product can cope with. However, it would be nice to see full suspension bikes being packaged with a range of volume spacers for both the fork and shock to make the process for the consumer that much easier.

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The 11-42t gearing is a little too tall for our steep valley trails. 11-46t please.

Three Things That Could Be Improved

  1. The sticky KS Lev Integra dropper post. More travel would be swell too
  2. A more durable chainring with better chain retention abilities
  3. Get an 11-46t cassette on there to open up the climbing range
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Boxy chainstays with integrated rubber armouring.

Three Things That We Loved

  1. Jack Russell confidence and speed on the descents
  2. Stiff, high quality carbon fibre frame
  3. Perfectly dialed geometry and suspension package
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The Kona Hei Hei DL in its stock form.

Overall

Of the bikes I’ve ridden over the past twelve months, few have left an impact on me like the Kona Hei Hei DL has. It may have been that I lacked high expectations to begin with, but there is no doubting that Kona has got things absolutely bang-on with this bike. Like many short-travel duallies, the Hei Hei DL is lightweight, efficient and fast, but it’s the fact that Kona has managed to achieve all of that in a bike that is just plain stupid fun to ride too that makes it all the more impressive.

Not only is the geometry dialed and the frame well made, the parts spec is on-point too. Modern technologies such as Boost hub spacing, wide rims and 1x gearing have all been used to their maximum potential, and the collective result is a bike that rides far, far beyond what a few numbers on paper might suggest.

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The Hei Hei DL gets a ‘Singletrack Recommended’ stamp of approval from me – this bike is a corker!

I’d have no troubles recommending the Hei Hei DL to any mountain biker wanting a fast and fun short-travel XC/trail bike. Unless you’re a diehard XC racer (you’d be on a hardtail anyway), the Hei Hei DL is more than happy turning up to a local dirt crit or a 6-hour enduro race. It may be a touch heavier compared to Kona’s Hei Hei Race models, but the addition of a bigger 34 fork, dropper post and wider rims help to create a significantly more competent bike for the descents, I honestly believe that you’ll likely be faster on the regular Hei Hei anyway. And lets be honest, after race day, you’ll have a much more enjoyable bike for regular trail riding too.

But the Hei Hei DL isn’t just for XC guys and gals. For those who you have been sucked into the enduro marketing wormhole and have found yourself riding bigger and longer travel bikes in recent years, you owe it to yourself to try out one of the new breed of lighweight XC/trail bikes like the Kona Hei Hei DL. They’ve come a massively long way in that time, and you may just surprise yourself with how much you can get away with. I certainly did.

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A fun machine for XC riders, or a fast trail whippet for enduro riders – the Hei Hei DL ticks both boxes.

2017 Kona Hei Hei DL Specifications

  • Frame // Kona Race Light Carbon Mainframe & Swingarm, 100mm Travel
  • Fork // Fox 34 Float Performance Series, 120mm Travel
  • Shock // Fox Float DPS Performance Series
  • Hubs // Joytech Sealed Bearing, 110x15mm Front & 148x12mm Rear
  • Rims // WTB KOM i29, Tubeless Compatible
  • Tyres // Maxxis Ardent EXO 2.25in Front & Ikon EXO 2.20in Rear
  • Chainset // Race Face Aeffect, 32t Narrow-Wide Chainring
  • Front Mech // N/A
  • Rear Mech // Shimano Deore XT, 11-Speed
  • Shifters // Shimano Deore XT, 11-Speed
  • Cassette // Shimano Deore XT, 11-42t, 11-Speed
  • Brakes // Shimano Deore XT, 180mm Front & 160mm Rear
  • Stem // Kona XC 35, 70mm Length
  • Bars // Kona XC 35, 740mm Wide, 15mm Rise
  • Grips // ODI Ruffian MX
  • Seatpost // KS Lev Integra, 31.6mm Diameter, 125mm Travel
  • Saddle // WTB Volt Comp
  • Size Tested // Medium
  • Sizes available // Small, Medium, Large, X-Large
  • Weight // 12.46 kg / 27.41 lbs

Review Info

Brand: Kona Bikes
Product: Hei Hei DL
From: Kona Bikes, konaworld.com
Price: £4099
Tested: by Wil Barrett for 6 months

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