Day two in the Kona launch house and the journos are feeling jaded…
As day two dawned, weary and slightly hungover journalists dug themselves out of their beds to promises of thunderstorms. As if the first day of our trip to Austria wasn’t enough with over six hours of riding, day two started at first light with a trip up the gondola to take photos as the sun crested the ridge. Several hours and many bites from horseflies later, we had a chance to ride the same trail I’d ridden the day before on the Hei Hei Race, but this time on the longer travel Hei Hei Trail.
Plans were afoot for another long ride in the afternoon which was probably going to involved getting up close and personal with the Austrian weather as well. Or in the case of one rider from Spain, some rocks, and a trip to the hospital with a suspected broken collar bone. Other riders got the chance to sit it out in broken gondolas among thunderstorms for 25 minutes. Twice.
Hei Hei Trail & Trail DL
After spending a lot of time on the Race spec of the Hei Hei I wanted to try out the Trail spec. All I can say is that I was blown away, and for the first time I started to doubt my conviction that 100mm is more than enough for day to day XC riding. The entirety of the new Hei Hei lineup was designed around this 120mm platform. That’s not to say that the 100mm is compromised due to this, just that the design was optimised to work with 120mm. Let’s just admit this is true to the Kona mentality and move on – bikes are supposed to be fun firstly, race-oriented second.
The Hei Hei Trail also comes in its base spec and the DL spec. As with the Race lineup, this sees a move from a 2×10 groupset to a 1×11 on the Trail DL. I opted not to ride the base spec Hei Hei Trail as I’d already had the ‘fun’ of riding the Deore brakes on these alpine trails, so opted to spend a morning alternating between the Trail DL and the Honzo AL.
The Hei Hei Trail DL comes specced with the new Fox Float 34 Performance fork up front with a Fox Float Performance shock out back. Stopping duties from the ever-dependable Shimano XT brakes were flawless, and the 1×11 XT groupset performed great with a snappy feel to the new shifter that pleased this tester who mostly rides SRAM. Rims are Stans ZTR Rapid 25s and running the Maxxis Ardent and Ikon combo that really should be specced on the Hei Hei Race bikes too.
With nice wide bars, a short-ish stem and the extra 20mm of travel the Hei Hei Trail is a more competent descender than the Race version, while only losing some of its climbing ability. Downhill the Trail wants to get ragged, pedalled back up and then ragged back down again. It really has been designed as a bike to ride rather than race, so for most people in the UK this is the sort of bike that they ride anyway, just with a more modern take on the geometry that it takes to get there. The easiest way to describe the Hei Hei Trail is as a Kona Process, but for the rider who might find the Process too aggressive, or their trails less suited to its gravity-oriented mindset.
It wouldn’t be an XC launch if there wasn’t at least one hardtail to ride. Although neither of these bikes were a focus for me I did get a chance to hammer the Honzo AL DL down some short sections of trail and up some others. With a really modern geometry – read short rear end (415mm chain stays) and long top centre – the Honzo is a seriously fun bike to ride. It felt really similar to my Mondraker Vantage RR, a real valley bike that you pedal up while chatting away, then slowly tech your way back down.
Admittedly this may be at the behest of having all of your vertebrae compressed by the end of the day – it’s a seriously stiff bike, not an all-day ride. But that’s why there is a Ti and steel frame-only version should you want compliance. Otherwise, the Honza AL DL at £1,799, and base spec AL at £1,099, are a great place to look if you want a fun 29in play bike.
The Kahuna has been a staple of the Kona range for longer than I can remember. Its XC race hardtail roots have been tweaked in line with the Hei Hei and it’s now longer, slacker and lower with wide bars and short stems. Finally people are listening to us all and ignoring the XC dogma. The Kahuna comes in three specs from base Kahuna at £999, the DL at £1,399, and the top spec DDL at £1,699. All the Kahunas currently run a 2×10 groupset, and strike me as an excellent entry XC hardtail for anyone looking to get into racing, but who wants to have a bike that is just fun to ride.
Overall the new Kona XC and marathon range is really exciting. Gone are the steep head angles and high centre of gravities of old; in is the modern take on trail geometry and a real push towards making these bikes fun to ride. It’s a great turn around for Kona which has really revitalised its range over the past few years, and this lineup contains some of the best XC/trail orientated bikes I’ve seen in a long time.
As a place, Serfaus in Austria is somewhere I’d personally recommend going if you want to ride, but have a family to take along. Great natural trails, a bike park 10 minutes away in Fiss, good food, but with much more of a relaxed family vibe than other parts of the Alps. Also, the little pink schnapps that is a local treat is that – a treat. So don’t drink too much of it, like some people did.