We ride Kona's redesigned racing snake

XC race bikes: they’re nervous, twitchy thoroughbreds that just want to buck you into the weeds at the merest hint of a technical descent?

Well, yes, broadly speaking – with a few exceptions – they’re built to be light and quick, with stretched riding positions that hang your weight over the front wheel, and suspension that’s geared towards pedalling efficiency rather than bump absorbing ability.

Not, though, in the case of Kona’s redesigned XC race full-suspension bike; the Hei Hei.

The Kona Hei Hei Trail DL

The Kona Hei Hei Trail DL

So what’s the story? What makes it so different?

Kona has taken cues from its successful, and critically acclaimed Process range and applied it to a lighter, shorter travel, racing snake. What the Process bikes brought to the table were bikes built around short 40mm stems, with longer front centres to compensate.

Kinda like a watered-down version of Mondraker’s Forward Geometry. They were also given short chainstays, low bottom brackets, acres of standover clearance and more linear kinematics that were easy to tune shocks for and meshed well with an air-spring’s inherent ramp-up.

>>> Click here for our complete guide to mountain bike geometry

Probably our favourite Process bike is the 111 29er – a bike that truly burls beyond the numbers – and the new Hei Hei Trail version mirrors that bike almost exactly.

Possible Kona Hei Hei riding shot

Giving the Hei Hei a thrash in the Serfaus bike park

Ok, so how close it to the Process 111?

In terms of geometry, very. The reach is 5mm shorter, the standover is a bit taller, the bottom bracket height is slightly lower and the Hei Hei gets a hair less travel (100mm vs 111mm). Other than that, they cast the same shadow.

With a different linkage design, and less standover, even the small Hei Hei frame accepts a water bottle cage. In terms of the suspension design, the Hei Hei moves away from the Process’ shock extender design. To save weight and increase stiffness, the dropout pivot has been eliminated.

The Kona Hei Hei Trail

The Kona Hei Hei Trail

Instead, the stays flex – much like the Giant Stance and Orbea Occam – by up to 1.5º through the stroke. It’s called Fuse Independent Suspension and Kona explains that certain aluminium frames have been used with up to 6º of flex without problem, and remains confident that the Hei Hei won’t suffer fatigue issues.

For further peace of mind, the Hei Hei comes with a lifetime warranty for the original owner.

How much weight do the flex stays actually save?

That’s hard to say, since the old Hei Hei was a completely different design. But Kona says the rear end is 240g lighter than its predecessor, and with frames weighing in at 2,200g – 2,400g depending on size, it’s light for an aluminium full-suspension frame.

200 grams has been trimmed from the rear end over last year's model

200 grams has been trimmed from the rear end over last year’s model

You said Trail version. Does that mean there’s another option?

Correct. The Hei Hei Race gets an identical frame mated to a 100mm travel fork; that’s 20mm less that the Trail version. As a result, the head angle steepens 1º, the BB lowers a little and the front centre shortens a touch.

The Race bikes also get fast-rolling tyres. But Kona optimised the geometry to work in the trail configuration, and it’s this version we see being the most relevant to UK riding.

How many models are there?

Just two, in each configuration. The Hei Hei Race and Hei Hei Trail priced at £2,099, and the DL versions both priced at £2,799.

There are four frame sizes, ranging from small to extra-large and all frames are stealth dropper post compatible. There’s an option to run a front derailleur, 142x12mm dropouts and a PF92 bottom bracket.