Never judge a book by its cover
If you look at the geometry on the Kona Hei Hei Trail it appears to have been designed to have more in common with modern XC bikes that its rivals.
Recently we tested the Kona Hei Hei CR/DL in our pumped-up XC bike test. That bike is a 100mm XC ripper with a longer travel fork, and it has a lot in common with the Hei Hei Trail tested here.
Kona Hei Hei Trail review
Both models employ pivot-less rear stays where flex is used to eliminate the rear most pivots, reducing complexity, weight and maintenance. The main difference to Kona’s Fuse design being that the alloy Trail version here pumps out 140mm of rear wheel travel, but retains short 425mm chain stays.
It hard to say just how much weight the Fuse suspension actually saves, but most XC bikes use a similar configuration and, at 14.21kg, the Kona Hei Hei Trail is the second lightest bike in test, with easily the worst build kit.
A trunnion mounted RockShox Deluxe RL shock controls the 140mm rear suspension, and Kona has done a good job with the shock tune. We’re of average weight and were able to run the rebound adjuster in a mid setting; the spring effect of the flex stays only noticeable on bigger hits.
The shock is also mounted nice and low in the frame to aid stability, but this means the lock out lever is a bit of a stretch when the saddle is at full height. Also it’s more of a firm threshold that a full-blown lock out, which is great, because it still allows the suspension to track the terrain for grip while climbing.
Matching travel up front is the 140mm RockShox Recon Gold fork. It has a smooth, plush action, but the spindly 32mm upper legs feel woefully inadequate compared to the beefier forks on all of the other bikes. At least you know the damping is working overtime, because you can hear it wheezing after every impact.
We gave Kona a massive leg up in this test by swapping the basic 60a Maxxis tyres on the Hei Hei Trail for our softer, gripper more composed 3C MaxxTerra rubber. Kona isn’t doing itself any favours with the rest of the build kit though.
Sure the 10-speed Shimano Deore drivetrain offers slick precise shifting and never missed a beat, but with a 42t cog being the biggest on the cassette, your heart will be beating double-time on steeper climbs.
Thankfully, the 30t Race Face chain ring helps here, but it’s effectively robbing Peter to pay Paul, because a relatively fit rider will easily spin the gears out on a flat fire road, especially with those fast rolling tyres. The biggest issue though, is you can’t even upgrade the drivetrain without changing virtually every component part.
Ten minutes into our first outing on the Kona and the phrase “never judge a book by its cover” instantly sprang to mind. Pulling the Kona out of the van we were joking about how it looked like a trail bike from yesteryear, with its rangy 70mm stem, spindly 32mm suspension fork, 10-speed transmission and neon paint job. The thing is, it didn’t ride like a dated bike. In fact, the opposite was true. The short chain stays and springy suspension offering a lively and engaging ride.
Yes, the suspension is nothing like as plush or planted as the Trek Remedy 8 or Canyon Spectral AL 6.0, but the Kona felt stiff and efficient under power. And with the steepest seat angle in test, and that WTB Volt saddle tilting your pelvis forward, it was super easy to keep you weight over the front on climbs. No doubt the 70mm stem helped here too.
Get the Kona into more challenging terrain however and it quickly comes unstuck. The short wheelbase, steep head angle and elevated BB height make it more of a white-knuckle ride to be endured, rather than enjoyed. Thankfully the budget Shimano brakes are some of the best available, allowing us to nurse the Hei Hei Trail home in one piece.