Square-to-round shaped tubing on Konas has become as much a signature as GT’s triple triangle, and the engineering principles behind it are sound. Stiffening the front end of the bike while retaining a smaller overall tubing profile prevents the bike from becoming too harsh to ride on bumpy ground. Like many machines in this test, the down tube is flattened where it joins the bottom bracket. This widening of the tube stiffens the area.
Simple, small-diameter round tubing for the rear triangle also offers the perfect compromise between lateral rigidity and vertical compliance. It flexes enough to be comfy, without robbing you of the effort put through the pedals. A small-diameter seat tube — and hence the post that slides in — further aid comfort.

With TurnKey damping, the RockShox Dart 2s hold up the rider’s weight well. Progressive hydraulic damping prevents the fork from diving when you brake hard or ride through compressions without unweighting the front end. Out-of-the-saddle climbing is also improved because bobbing is limited. With 28mm stanchions and a basic forged crown they are not as stiff as the Tora 302 fitted to the Specialized, but the internals have the biggest positive effect on the ride.

Fast-rolling, 2.1in Maxxis Ignitors are a good compromise between a comfort-enhancing large volume, and speed-restricting chunky tread pattern. With a good spread of small knobs with nothing too aggressive, they have enough bite for most conditions. Their relatively low weight also aids the sprightly overall feel.

An FSA Alpha Drive/Power Drive chainset/BB is the undoubted highlight of the drivetrain. Nice and stiff, it shifted very well and, with an aluminium outer ring, is quite light as well. Cable-actuated Hayes disc brakes are a slight let-down, but had better modulation than the single-piston Soles. The Avid levers’ blade profile makes them more comfortable than almost everything else on test.

The thickly-padded WTB saddle is a let-down. The short, wide profile makes it difficult to move around on when you should be constantly moving around to keep traction on ever-changing trails. Most of the finishing kit is functional enough, but the bar is truly out of place: an awful profile and very, very cheap.

Fifteen years ago Kona designer Joe Murray started the whole sloping top tube thing. Ever since then, the firm’s hardtails have been some of the best-shaped bikes around and this Blast is no exception. Even with a horribly shaped bar, every one of the test crew came back grinning. Cable disc brakes will always need more maintenance than full hydraulics, but the feel is aided by the best lever shape here with the Avid Juicy 3. All in all, a solid, splined chainset/bottom bracket junction, nine-speed drivetrain and the most balanced geometry on test combine to make a very, very well rounded performer that’s much better than the sum of its parts.

Previous Konas at this price have always been let down by the forks. But the Dart 2 fitted here changes the machine from a good shape, let down by a dodgy fork, to a winning combination. There are bikes with a better spec in every individual area, but the key thing with a Dirty Dozen bike is getting the best overall compromise. Other bikes may offer more room to grow (with upgrades) but, as it stands, the Blast was the boxfresh bike any of the test crew would be happy to ride round the woods for hours. For the money, it would be difficult to get a better overall machine.