With almost 35 years of experience, what Kona doesn’t know about making trail hardtails probably isn’t worth knowing. All that know-how is channeled into the Mahuna hardtail. Kona Mahuna wins MBR's Hardtail of the Year 2022.
The latest Kona Mahuna 29er quickly proved to be the class act in the shop bought category of our best Hardtail of the Year test, 2022.From the very first pedal stroke, the Mahuna felt dialled. And on closer inspection it’s easy to see why. It has the slackest head angle on test, so the steering feels calm and controlled without being so heavy as to feel laboured.
It also has the longest reach measurement, so there’s plenty of room in the cockpit to manoeuvre. This sense of freedom is enhanced further by the shortest seat tube and ample standover clearance. And thinking ahead, the shorter seat tube will also allow you to fit a dropper post with an increased amount of drop.
And while longer chainstays aren’t really en vogue, Kona uses them to great effect to provide a very balanced ride. In fact, the Mahuna is the only bike in the entire test to have a wheelbase measurement that even approaches a modern full suspension trail bike, and it is so much better for it.
We’ve been pretty vocal about capping travel to 120/130mm on hardcore hardtails to limit big swings in the dynamic geomery as the fork compresses. And while we stand by that for higher-end bikes with beefier forks with more sophisticated damping, 100mm seems to be the sweet spot at this price point.
As such, the RockShox Judy on the Mahuna delivers just enough suspension to take the edge of things and maintain steering control without upsetting the overall balance of the bike. Being air-spung it can accommodate a wide range of rider weights too, and the externally adjustable rebound damping can be set to match the spring rate.
With a wide 760mm XC/BC handlebar, steering control on the Kona is second to none. And much as we liked the extra cushioning of the soft rubber grips, because they are not a lock on design that actually clamps to the handlebar, they will start spinning at the slightest sign of rain.
Interestingly, the Tektro disc brakes on the Kona had more stopping power than on the Trek or Whyte, and we chalked that up to the unique combination of the Shimano Centre Lock rotors providing more bite with the two-finger Tektro levers.
Kona one-ups Whyte by fitting 2.35in Maxxis Forekaster tyres front and rear, and while the open tread pattern isn’t as predictable as, say, a Maxxis Minion, it’s still the best tyre combo in this category by a country mile. In fact, the only blemish on an otherwise stellar build kit is the three-piece square taper chainset.
Big, bold and beautiful, the Kona Mahuna doesn’t simply talk the 29er hardtail talk, it has the swagger to match. Weight distribution feels very well balanced, so it’s super easy to load the front end of the bike through the pedals, rather than constantly having to remember to weight the handlebar. And this has advantages in every situation, not simply when climbing.
Stability does come at the expense of agility though, but it’s a trade-off that we think riders of any level will benefit from, especially given that it’s the surefooted nature of the Kona that lets you ride faster, take more chances and roll through the biggest mistakes largely unscathed.
As such, the Mahuna is a quality bike that you’ll want to upgrade as your riding progresses. And with an inline dropper post, the saddle will be a little further forward, but the cockpit has enough space to handle it, and this will make the Kona even more of a mountain goat.
It’s a good thing then that the compact 28t chainring and ride range 11-51t cassette give the Kona the gearing to handle all gradients regardless of rider experience or fitness. In short, the Kona Mahuna’s neutral handling makes it easy and fun to ride regardless of your riding ability.
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Don’t let the laid back Hawaiian names fool you; Kona means business with its 2022 Mahuna 29er hardtail. The geometry and riding position are both sorted, the specification is dialled and as a result the ride quality is exemplary for a sub £1k bike. Especially given all of the backup and support that comes with an extensive dealer network. Yes, the square-taper chainset is a chink in its otherwise faultless armour, but given that it’s also £50 cheaper than the Whyte 429, we’re happy to let that go as we were so impressed by the overall handling of the Mahuna.