Unlike any other bike
Kona is better known for its freeride bikes but it’s no stranger to XC racing either, the 100mm travel Kona Hei Hei being its weapon of choice.
Kona Hei Hei CR/DL review
And even though freeride and XC racing couldn’t be further apart, all of Kona’s XC bikes come pumped up as standard, because it believes XC racing should be fun too.
Designed with a full carbon frame the Hei Hei CR/DL platform is rolling on 29in wheels, where Kona has used a bridgeless seat stays design to tuck the rear wheel under the rider and achieve short 428mm chainstays. And to offset any potential loss in stiffness the Hei Hei gets an oversized main pivot and beefy carbon stays to shore everything up.
The upshot of the short back end and low standover height makes the Kona feel incredibly agile, and because the Hei Hei also has the steepest seat angle in test, it’s still easy to keep the front end of the bike planted on steep technical climbs.
And even though the 120mm travel fork gives the Hei Hei CR/DL more firepower up front, the frame still displays signs of its pure XC racing roots, the most obvious being the clunky cable guides along the top tube for running a remote lock out straight to the shock.
Kona’s Fuse flexstay suspension design offers a good window for different sag setting, so getting a ballpark set up on the Fox Float DPS shock couldn’t been easier. Yes, the Hei Hei is only pumping out a hair over 100mm of travel, but don’t let the numbers fool you as every millimetre of the Kona’s suspension design is used to maximum effect, so the rear end never feels too soft or lacks support when railing turns or sprinting up climbs.
Kona has also nailed the shock tune. The range of rebound adjustment is usable for a wide verity of rider weights, and the three compression settings give you the option to firm things up for a more hardtail like response, or run it open for maximum traction and playfulness.
Even with the longer travel 120mm Fox 34 suspension fork the Kona Hei Hei feels perfectly balanced, the stiff 34mm step-cast lowers giving you the security to really push the Kona and yourself to the limit.
We’re much more accustom to seeing triple compound 3C Maxxis tyres on the front wheel to boost traction, but when reduced rolling resistance is the priority it makes sense to have a 3C Maxx Speed Ikon rear tyre and a standard dual compound Maxxis Ardent up front.
Kona’s one-stop-shop approach to the SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain means there is no mixing and matching with NX. The biggest difference being the lighter cassette offers the full 10-50t gear range and a dramatic weight saving. Being the most expensive bike in test obviously helps on that front, but you also get some of the best kit, like the 150mm RockShox Reverb dropper post and excellent WTB Volt saddle.
With the Hei Hei CR/DL, Kona has taken an elite level XC race platform and spiced it up with all of the right ingredients to produce a short-travel ripper with plenty of kick. It’s a hot ticked and not some temperamental hybrid design either. It’s easy to set up, and even easier to ride fast. In fact, it feels like there’s no other way to approach this bike, so be prepared to redline.
And that’s largely because Kona hadn’t tried to over complicate matters. The suspension is straightforward and effective and even though the Kona can’t quite match the pure pedalling efficiency of the Cannondale on smooth fire road climbs, it’s got better traction and performance in every other situation.
It helps too that the sizing and handing are balanced rather than extreme. Sure the tight rear end makes for a snappy ride, but it does not define the bike, even if it does limit your choice of rear tyre to a 2.2in semi-slick, as there’s limited clearance between the tyre and seat tube when the suspension bottoms out.
Kona set out to make a fun XC race bike and it delivered, the Hei Hei CR/DL actively encourages you to ride a warp speed everywhere. And the only thing that prevents it from getting a double-digit rating is the overly ambitious price tag Kona has attached to it. That doesn’t detract from the standout ride quality though, where Kona has managed to capture the true essence of a pumped- up XC bike. The Hei Hei CR/DL is lightening fast, superbly agile, giddily fun and ruthlessly efficient all in equal measure.