review and photos by Eric (Auk) Akiyoshi, The Path Bike Shop Ambassador Race Team
A few months back, my weight weenie, amazing, aggressive-trail, 130mm travel, sub-26-lb, uber carbon, do-everything, full-suspension, 29er was sent back to Factory X for some warranty work. I decided to build a Kona Honzo 29er since the geometry looked amazing and I wanted something to pedal around while the “super-bike” was being examined at Factory X. The steel 29er Kona Honzo looked like it just might fill in nicely.
An unassuming, 7-lb steel hard tail seems out of place in these modern times of full suspension carbon frames. Kona product manager Chris Mandell once described it as, “...a trail bike that can go into the all-mountain realm.” (Dirt Rag, Feb 2014). True to the design intent, the Honzo inspires the charger mentality through the chunky-gnar of Orange County, CA
This Kona Honzo was built from the frame up:
- • Frame - 2014 medium Kona Honzo (identical geometry as the 2015, but with slightly less standover). The medium frame weighs approximately 7.0-lbs (It’s just “big-boned” okay!?!?)
- • Fork - Rockshox Pike RCT3 140 mm (yes, 140 is a lot of travel)
- • Wheels - Stans Arch EX on DT Swiss 240s (Hans Dampf 2.35 / Geax AKA 2.4 tires)
- • Cranks - 30-tooth integrated bash White Industry ENO cranks with K-Edge "Cross Chain Catcher” (No wide-narrow chainring needed)
- • Cassette - XTR 10-speed w/ Wolf 42-tooth chainring
- • Derailleur - SRAM X9 medium cage w/ XX 10-speed shifter
- • Seat post - Rockshox Reverb external
The final weigh-in, a svelte (NOT!) 28.5 lbs, but this wasn’t built as an XC racer boy bike.
- • Head Tube Angle = 67-degrees
- • Bottom Bracket Height = 12-inches (304-305 mm)
- • Chain stay length = 16 3/8-inches (416 mm)
- • Effective Top Tube = 24-inches
- • Seat tube Angle = 74.5-degrees (not measured and probably slightly slacker)
- • The head tube angle, bottom bracket, and seat tube angles are are a little different than the website due to the longer travel fork.
“We wanted the maneuverability and responsiveness of the Honzo, but with just enough travel to take the edge off and provide grip…” (Chris Mandell - Kona Product Manager quoted in Bike Magazine’s review of the Process 111). Full suspension bikes dominate the Enduro/aggressive-trail/one-bike-to-rule-them-all market. However, in 2013/14 Kona revamped the Honzo geometry and made a case that hard tails can still rip with the best of them. It’s interesting that Mandell mentions the Process 111 took its design cues from the Honzo, not the other way around.
Enough backstory, on to the ride! The wheels and tire combo were built to keep things light without sacrificing trail-worthiness. Climbing the steep ups of Orange County (think Santa Ana Mountains, Aliso-Woods and Laguna Wilderness Parks, and Santiago Oaks), the weight of the Honzo is noticeable, but as a hard tail it climbs admirably. The stated 74.5 seat tube angle helps keep it steady, even with the longer fork. As folks have noted before, don’t expect to win any XC World-Cup races on this beast, but even at 28.5-lbs, this could easily be pedaled all day. The steep seat angle, short chain stays, and long-reach probably help make this a comfortable climber: even with a 67-degree head angle, it stays planted.
Point the Honzo downhill, and that’s where it shines. “Steel is real” was never truer, and the Rockshox Pike is simply an amazing fork. Although the Honzo is spec’d around a 120 fork, the 140 mm helps smooth the ride. The Pike can be set up with a more progressive through the use of “bottomless tokens”; however, straight out of the box the Pike didn’t dive or wallow through high speed berms and turns. The super short chain stays matched with the heavy-ish steel frame provide plenty of traction and “pop” through rock gardens, flowy single track, and technical chunk. Another interesting point about the Honzo: the same trails ridden at higher speeds seem to get smoother as the Honzo's 29-inch wheels “float” over the top of the trail. At slower speeds, the lack of rear suspension can really jar the kidneys; keep the charger switch on and the Honzo rewards you for it.
The long and short (reach and chain stay) of this story is: get aggressive, point the Honzo down, hold onto your hats, and get ready for some hootin’ hollering and hard charging good times!