Positioned in Kona’s Back Country range, this butted (varied tube thicknesses to achieve the best combination of strength and weight saving) ‘All–Mountain’ aluminium frameset features the Canadian company’s characteristic sloping top tube, with both down and top tube running from square at the head tube, in an effort to improve front end rigidity, to flattened out towards the seat tube. This, combined with the kinked seatstays and chainstays, provides ample clearance around the 2.1in tyres fitted, as well as helping to take some of the sting out of hits to the rear end. It’s purposeful construction all the way, with skimmed metalwork behind the scenes for weight saving the only tweak to the frame’s proven template for 2008.
Repeating its spec of last season, a pair of RockShox Dart 2s take care of the front squidge. Internally, TurnKey hydraulic damping is used effectively to prevent the fork from diving at inopportune braking or compression moments. Although the 28mm stanchions lack the
rigidity of the Tora’s 32mm ones, the fork operates in a stable enough manner without the energy-sapping bobbing normally associated with lower end suspension forks. It also features a lock-out switch with a blow-off valve to allow the fork to suck up a hit if absent-mindedly
left in locked mode.
With serviceability all important, whether that means getting your own mitts dirty or handing over to a bike mechanic, Shimano rear hubs are at least spares friendly, which means the M475 in the rear hub will turn for longer than most here. Maxxis Ignitor tyres in 2.1in width comfortably walk the line between rapid progress on fireroad or tarmac and drifting corners in the rough. The open knobbly tread effectively clears trail debris and is a good, if portly, all-round choice.
Pegging back the freewheel to a Shimano Alivio model, which offers eight rather than nine sprockets, has actually improved the shifting department. Acera-X is now replaced with a Deore rear derailleur alongside Acera front and Alivio shifters. The FSA Alpha Drive Exo crankset returns, providing stiff engagement and a lower profile than the heel-rubbing Truvativ options on our test rigs. Hayes HX4 cable-actuated brakes avoid any bleeding worries but are less consistent than hydraulic oil-operated calipers. If you do want the added power of the latter there’s always the Deluxe model.
Replicating last season’s choice is the bulky, albeit very yielding, WTB Speed V perch with its nethers-saving groove. The cockpit combines the smart choice of an 80mm stem and a woefully basic but serviceable riser bar (once it’s given a forward roll to provide sufficient lift).
Marginally slacker than 2007’s Blast, a 68.5-degree head angle superbly balances the prerequisites of technical prowess and pedal-to-the-metal progress. This is helped by a considered tyre choice, and the pace made possible on the Blast belies its sub-£500 price tag. The fork’s slightly budget appearance detracts from its true performance. An active shocker finesses the ride as well as some high-end forks from a couple of years ago. Meshed with its customarily comfortable riding position, if you just want to potter the bike is relaxed enough, but equally, when you do decide to step up the pace and chuck the bike about it responds without undue effort, despite its understandably unimpressive all-up weight.
Even with our reservations about the finishing kit, we still rated last year’s Blast one of the best rides for the money and, as a result, it made the final three. The 08 model is not only £65 cheaper but offers a harder-wearing drivetrain with the same trademark Kona ride. The Deluxe version, with Hayes Stroker Hydraulic discs, has not only filled the £550 slot but made the standard Blast (with identical frame and forks) the bargain of this test. There are other practical reasons why the Blast is a top choice. Dimension-wise, Kona caters for the Wee Jimmy Krankies right through to the Sgt Hightowers of this world, with a range of sizes plugging the gaps from 14 to 22 inches.
MBR RATING: 10/10