Review: 2009 Kona King Kahuna

Who:
The Kona Bicycle Company designs, manufacturers and distributes more than 60 models of purpose-built, high-performance mountain, road and urban bicycles. Founded in 1988 and headquartered in Ferndale, Washington, USA, Kona bicycles are distributed worldwide in more than 60 countries through independent specialty bicycle dealers. Kona funds several professional road, mountain and cyclo-cross racing teams that include World Cup Champions, World Champions and National Champions.


Kona King Kahuna, freshly built up

Product Tested:
Kona King Kahuna

Website’s MSRP:
$2,299

Specs:
Frame sizes 16″, 18″, 19″, 20″, 22″
Frame tubing Kona Race Light Scandium Butted
Fork Fox 32 F29 RL 80mm
Headset FSA Orbit DL
Crankarms Shimano SLX
Chainrings 44/32/22
B/B Shimano SLX
Pedals Shimano M520 Clipless
Chain Shimano Deore
Freewheel Shimano Deore (11-34, 9spd)
F/D Shimano SLX
R/D Shimano XT Shadow
Shifters Shimano XT
Handlebar Kona XC/BC Deluxe Riser
Stem Kona XC/BC Deluxe
Grips Kona Race Light
Brakes Shimano SLX Hydraulic Disc
Brake Levers Shimano SLX Hydraulic
Front hub FSA XC-290 Wheelset
Rear hub FSA XC-290 Wheelset
Spokes FSA XC-290 Wheelset
Tires Maxxis Ignitor 29×2.1 Kevlar
Rims FSA XC-290 Wheelset
Saddle WTB Rocket V Comp Cromo
Seatpost Kona XC/BC Deluxe
Seat clamp Kona Clamp
Color Grey Metallic/Pearl White

About Me:
6’1” 210lbs, 29 year old male. I’m a mountain biking enthusiast who enjoys XC riding.


Clearing a long climb on the King Kahuna at Fontana’s XC Winter Race Series

Testing Grounds:
Whiting Ranch, Fullerton Loop, Southridge and many other trails in Southern California.

First Impressions:
The Kona King Kahuna is a looker. The build up was easy as most of the bike was pre-assembled. The brake lines were a bit long. They were not so long as to cause any issues while riding but they were long enough that they look a little awkward even though functionally they were fine. If this were a bike I was to keep I would have invested in shortening the lines but since this was a 3 month demo I decided to leave them as is.

Strengths:
I have to say that the Kona King Kahuna is one knock out bike. It is very pretty if you’re into those things which I happen to be. The color scheme is excellent. The graphics on the bike are top notch and very cool. The paint job held really well even after I ate it a few times out on the trail. The blue on the top tube has a sweet metallic finish that shimmers in the light. White forks have always been a plus in my book and I personally like the look of the SLX crankset as compared to Shimano’s LX or XT cranks.


Dropping into a local trail, taken by Mr. Ivan, photog extraordinaire

But what sets the bike apart from other bikes is the Kona branded parts. House brand parts can be hit or miss especially when there is very little information about the parts. You really can’t stack them up against the Race Faces, Eastons and Ritcheys of the world with such a short review period. Over the testing period the parts worked fine which is always a plus but where the Kona parts really shined was the look. The stem, handlebar and seatpost drew rave reviews from virtually everyone who stopped to look at the bike. I was even asked if Kona sold those bike parts separately from their bikes. All I knew was that they were on the website, but without pricing details, I wouldn’t know if they could be purchased sans bike.

Beyond the superficial and subjective opinions on the look of the Kona King Kahuna, what makes the King Kahuna really stand out at this price are two things: 1. the Scandium frame and 2. the Fox fork.

The frame rode surprisingly well for a Scandium frame. Coming off of riding a steel hardtail I was expecting the Scandium frame to be brittle and harsh, but over the testing period I never thought twice about the frame. I was very impressed at how great it felt for not being steel. I wasn’t able to get an exact weight for the frame as the bike came 80% assembled to me but the full bike was probably at least a pound less than my similarly built steel hardtail.

The geometry used on this frame seems to be the “standard” 29er geometry right now. The 71/73 degree head tube/seat tube angles respectively seems to be the norm for 29er hardtails and when I jumped on the bike, I felt pretty much at ease. About the only thing I have to point out is the slightly taller standover height. Most bikes at 19”/Large size do not sport the 32.5” standover height. This, thankfully, did not rear its head in testing, but it is something to be aware of when considering what size to buy.

The Fox F29 is a very good fork. It is stiff and plush for being only 80mm of travel. It took me only a ride to get it fully adjusted to the way I like it which to me makes it easily adjustable. The surprising part to me about the fork is how well it worked on pretty much everything I threw at it. I wasn’t able to get out on really rocky or long technical descents rides but I did ride a lot of my favorite trails. On the trail, there were many times I would just look to find the gnarliest line and send the King Kahuna down it. During those sections I never really wished for more travel which sort of surprised me. The travel is really good on the F29, so much so that the 80mm advertised seems incorrect.


Dropping the King Kahuna in to Cactus at Whiting Ranch

I was able to get the King Kahuna out to Fontana for a XC race during the winter series. The bike carried me to a fourth place finish on a course that had a little bit of everything including muddy climbs, rocky climbs, sandy descents, switchbacks, singletrack… The King Kahuna did a great job of navigating me through it all.

Weakness:
I really had no issues with the Kona King Kahuna from beginning to end. The geometry is good and the bike is a looker. The components are good for the price, all the way around the bike save two parts.

About the only thing I can nitpick on are the two Deore level components on the bike: chain and cassette. These are two “hidden” components that, at this price point, should not be spec’d on a bike. At $2,300 I feel that the minimum level of componentry should be SLX and higher. From our friends in the industry, I know that spec’ing bikes is a difficult process. Getting the best parts for the price is a difficult task but Deore level components, which although not bad are still two steps below SLX, in my opinion should not be on a $2,000 plus hardtail bike.


Steep downhill section at the Fontana race, see the Pro rider behind me? j/k. He was on his 2nd lap… me just finishing my first.

Summary:
The Kona King Kahuna is Kona’s high end hardtail 29er. It comes with a great Scandium frame that combines surprising comfort while also keeping things pretty light weight. The Fox fork and strong components make for a durable well rounded bike that can withstand some hard trail riding while also easily slipping into the racer mode if you so desired.

For more info on the Kona King Kahuna, click here.

9 comments Add yours
  1. The Deore cassette is probably the better choice…sure, it’s 50 grams heavier than the comparable SLX, but it is made out of STEEL. I’ve read that at least some of the individual sprockets on the SLX are titanium, and we all know they wear out much faster than steel cogs.

    Spec-ing a Deore rather than SLX is for the same reason that many racers use an Ultegra (or lesser) cassette on an otherwise all-Dura Ace bike — durability. It shifts the same, it works the same. The only tradeoff is weight and longer life.

  2. Thanks for the informative review Jeremy. Looks like you were able to ride that beast at a bunch of diff place and terrain. The rig def rolls over things a lot smoother with the 29ers and gives you a solid ride. Kona also has similar 29ers as well – http://www.konaworld.com

  3. GR: Sorta had a feeling you’d chime in on the cassette issue. 😉
    IMO, at this HT price range, I think people are interested in less weight and are willing trade it for durability. Thanks for your thoughts. I always appreciate them.

    DaCuzz: I’m still surprised at how comfy the Scandium frame was. I know Kona has been using Scandium for a while which shows in their ability to make it so compliant. Kona does have an extensive 29er lineup. 7 x 29ers = rolling over lots of trail stuff

  4. jeremy

    you are 6’1″, what size did you ride?
    was it the 19″?
    Trying to decide between 18″ and 19″
    I am 5’11”

    any thoughts?
    thanks

  5. Scott: I’m 6’3/4″ so just shy of 6’1″, but who’s counting anyway?

    I did ride the 19″ and I mentioned stand over height as being an issue when looking at the numbers but not an issue in real life riding. Funny how that seemed to work itself out. I’d say go for the 18″ just in case SO might be an issue for you.

    I didn’t mention this in the article but it’s very nice that Kona has 5 different sizes to accommodate many different riders.

  6. To Scott:

    Just read this review and believe Jeremy is spot on with this bike and his size recommendation. I bought the King Kahuna on March 19 and I am maybe 5’11. The store I bought from had an 18″ K.K. but it felt and looked really crampled. Also something to consider the 29er has bigger wheels so when you turn (as I was trying to do on the 18 inch frame) your feet can get really close to the front tire. OUCH!

    Aside from that this bike is amazing and very fast. Momentum definitely is a plus as this is my first 29er. It handles far better than any 26 and/or Full Susp. It completely grabs the curves and lets you keep your speed while standing and pounding with no lost power. I have easily cut 1-3 minutes off lap times or total times of my usual courses(not in racing shape yet either, its March, but I am getting close). Last note, the most amazing thing about this bike yet to be mentioned is how freaking light it is. Its weight is like 27/28 pounds, that makes it very, very quick. Would recommend this bike. love it!!

  7. Hi Scott or anyone in the know,

    This bike looks ideal for what I’m looking for, I see the largest size they do is 22″. I’m 6ft5″, any idea if 22″ would be ok.

    Cheers…

  8. Alister,
    I think the ETT top tube measurement is important. If you are already riding a comfortable bike, I would check what the ETT is on your bike and compare it to the Kona King Kahuna’s geometry. If the 22″ size Kahuna is similar, I’d go for it and make slight adjustments with the stem/seatpost.

    If you don’t have a bike you’re currently comfortable with, I’d definitely try to demo the Kona King Kahuna

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