Unlike any other bike.
The Kona Hei Hei is on another level. Tight responsive ride. A fast efficient bike. None of the twitchy-ness associated with short-travel rigs.
This year, Kona has dropped the trail tag from the entry-level Hei Hei 29er, but don’t think for a minute that it has changed the focus of this short-travel ripper. In fact, by swapping the 2x Shimano XT transmission for 1x setup, and by adding a 125mm KS dropper post, the entry-level Hei Hei is more trail orientated than ever before.
Yes, the addition of the dropper post has meant that the weight of the Hei Hei has crept up, but this has been offset somewhat by ditching the twin-rings, front mech, L-hand shifter and the associated cables. The end result is that the overall weight of the Kona has only increased by 260g, to 13.75kg, making it the lightest bike of the three with a dropper posts in this test
And the Hei Hei should be the lightest bike as it is essentially a 100mm travel XC rig with a 120mm suspension fork bolted on to correct the geometry for trail riding. And by correct, we’re talking about a 66.1 degree head angle. That makes it the slacked bike in test and as a result the handing on the Hei Hei belies its XC racing roots.
Kona is one of growing number of brands using a flex stay suspension design on its shorter travel bikes. So instead of having pivots on the seat stays, above the rear dropouts, Kona uses a flatted stay profile that can flex as the suspension compresses. Fewer pivots mean less moving parts, reduced weight and probably reduce cost, but flex stay designs have their limitations as we’ll find out later.
As we mentioned earlier the Kona has 120mm of travel up front where the RockShox Recon RL takes care of business with minimal fuss.
The back end of the Kona Hei Hei gets 148x12mm Boost dropouts but it uses the older 142mm Shimano Deore hub a longer axle and spacers to keep costs down. The upshot is that the axle measures 148mm, but the hub flange spacing hasn’t increase so the wheel isn’t any stronger or stiffer than with the older 142mm standard. Kona also cuts costs where the rubber meets the trail, with cheaper, heavier steel bead Maxxis tyres. At least the rubber on the Ardent and Ikon are both first rate.
It’s all about balancing the budget though, and the 125mm KS E-Ten Integra dropper with it’s neat under bar remote nestling where the front shifter used to live, really tips the balance back in the right direction.
Kona Hei Hei performance
Keeping it simple but effective the RockShox Monarch RL shock has a two-position lever that lets you toggle between open or locked out. The lockout is pedal platform firm, but it has a blow off valve so the suspension can still spring into action on bigger hits. In the open setting the Kona offers a lively and responsive ride, in part due to the additional spring effect of the flex stay that we mentioned earlier. As such, you need to wind on the rebound damping to about 4 clicks from fully closed to tame the rear end. No big deal but it means heavier riders running higher air pressures may struggle to get the rebound damping slow enough.
At 85kg we had no such issues and once control was restored the Hei Hei simply rocketed up the steepest climbs with minimal movement of the suspension, its efficiency helping to save energy so you can really savour the descents.
For a 100mm travel bike the Hei Hei 29 is remarkably sure footed, and that has a lot to do with the progressive geometry. In the same way that super slack hardtails work so well, the 66.1 degree head angle on the Kona feels perfectly normal in every situation.
Yes, we’d prefer a shorter stem than the 70mm Kona provides, but we wouldn’t reel it in too much as it’s the stem length that helps compensates for the super short chainstays, which in turn helps you load the front tyre on flat corners and stops the front wheel from wandering on the climbs. The reach isn’t massive on the Kona either so we wouldn’t recommend going shorter than a 60mm stem.
It would be all too easy to look at numbers on the Kona Hei Hei 29 and instantly dismiss it as an outlier. After all, who else makes a 100mm travel 29er with a head angle that is every bit as slack as the best 160mm Enduro bikes? By combining two extremes, Kona has taken the Hei Hei to another level. You still get the tight responsive ride of a fast efficient bike, but none of the twitcheness associated with short-travel rigs. It’s not a bike for everyone though, as the Hei Hei 29 rewards a more dynamic riding style and punishes laziness.