Review: Kona Hei Hei

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.

Product Tested:
2008 Kona Hei Hei

Website’s MSRP:
$ 2,999

Posing in the San Gabriel mountains

Frame sizes: 14″, 16″, 17″, 18″ ,19″ ,20″, 22″
Frame tubing: Kona Race Light Scandium Butted, 2.5″ Travel
Fork: Rockshox Reba Race 85mm
Rear Shock: Fox Float RP2
Headset: FSA Orbit DL
Crankarms: Race Face Evolve XC X-Type
Chainrings: 44/32/22
B/B: Race Face Evolve XC X-Type
Pedals: Shimano M520 Clipless
Chain: Shimano HG53
Freewheel: Shimano LX (11-32, 9spd)
F/D: Shimano XT
R/D: Shimano XT Shadow
Shifters: Shimano XT
Handlebar: RaceFace Evolve Low Riser XC
Stem: RaceFace Evolve XC
Grips: Kona Race Light
Brakes: Hayes Stroker Carbon V6
Brake Levers: Hayes Stroker Carbon
Front hub: FSA XC-300 Wheelset
Rear hub: FSA XC-300 Wheelset
Spokes: FSA XC-300 Wheelset
Tires: Maxxis CrossMark 26 x 2.1 Kevlar
Rims: FSA XC-300 Wheelset
Saddle: WTB Rocket V Race Carbon
Seatpost: RaceFace EVOLVE XC
Seat clamp: Kona QR
Color: Ball Burnished/White

About Me:
6’1” 210lbs, 28 year old male. I’m a mountain biking enthusiast who enjoys XC riding.

Testing Grounds:
San Gabriel Mountains, Fullerton Loop, Turnbull Canyon, Santa Monica Mountains, San Juan and many other trails in Southern California.

Kona Hei Hei performed excellently on a 6 mile, 3000+ foot climb

First Impressions:
The Kona Hei Hei is a race bike! At first glance I wanted to name the Hei Hei “Stumpy” for its tiny rear shock. The travel on the Hei Hei is a meager 2.5 inches and in proportion to the large sized frame, the rear shock looks well… stumpy.

Visually the Kona is a sweet looking rig. The ball burnished finish on the front triangle’s front half is matched by the polished finish of the Race Face cranks. Even the graphics on the FSA wheels, which some don’t care for, I find make the Kona Hei Hei look like a fast bike even when it’s standing still. You are going to get some looks from other when you’re on this beast.

Ball Burnished front triangle offsets the white nicely

This is a race bike through and through. At 24.5 lbs, the scandium framed bike is very light for a full suspension. Personally, if I was going to spec my bike from scratch I would follow the philosophy Kona took with this bike. While not using very top of the line components Kona did spec the Hei Hei with high end, light weight parts with an eye on durability. You can see this with the XT shifter/derailleur’s, Race Face Evolve level cockpit parts and Rock Shox Reba/Fox RP2 suspension. Very high end, lightweight, but durable parts spec.

I am impressed with the suspension. In my experience, scandium frames have a propensity to feel a little brittle but I never got that impression with the Kona and that’s saying something since I normally ride steel. I found that the Hei Hei frame blends good frame feel and lightweight together. I also think the solid feel of the frame can be partially attributed to the four bar suspension. The suspension was exceptional for its purpose of XC and light trail riding. As long as you’re not hucking this bike off of 3+ feet drops the suspension will be choice for much of your riding.

On the trail, the Hei Hei easily devoured small rocks, climbing and descending.

I especially enjoyed how the rear suspension firmed up when the pro pedal was flipped on while on the flip side I experienced a ton more traction when I went to open the shock up. This was especially fun to experience on technical versus non-technical climbs. On flat fire road climbs, I flipped the pro pedal on and climbed easily without a loss of traction and just a tad bit of bob. When the trail became technical with either a steep grade or rocks/loose dirt, I flipped the switch to open and I immediately felt gobs of traction, at a small efficiency penalty. This penalty is worth it if it helps to keep me from dabbing or hike-a-biking.

The suspension felt particularly good on one of my last rides with the Hei Hei at Sullivan Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains. I especially enjoyed how, as we were flowing through the singletrack canyon floor, the suspension ate up the trail making for a rather smooth ride for me. The trail is not difficult by any means, and I could have ridden it with a rigid, but it was so much more comfortable being able to just point and shoot through the small trail debris trusting the suspension to absorb the harshest of it.

The Hei Hei was also a winner in my book also due to its light weight. When I looked at my stable and saw the Hei Hei with a 3×9 drivetrain and full suspension then compared it to my 9 speed rigid 29er, it was easy for me to pick the Hei Hei to ride. The decision was made even easier when I compared weights and found that the Hei Hei weighed even less than my 29er. Ouch!

Small shock, but very capable of smoothing out the trail and providing a bit of traction for the climbs

The wheels. The FSA wheels are probably the only downside in this component group that Kona spec’d. They fell out of true quickly admittedly under a clydesdale and although still ride-able the wheels are not confidence inspiring. The wheels were not to the durability level as the rest of the components. But, although the wheels are a little weak, I am actually fine with Kona not spec-ing a higher end wheelset. The reason being if I were to purchase this bike as a race bike I’d probably go tubeless. Tubeless, theoretically, gives you less chance at flatting while also reducing weight. And although the FSA wheels can be set up tubeless, purchasing wheels designed for tubeless use will be lighter and stronger.

I was also not impressed with the grips but I’ve always found this to be more of a personal preference. I found the grips to be a little too small without a great feel. But again, this is more of a personal preference. I’m sure many of you will love the grips.

The Kona Hei Hei is an outstanding contender in the light weight XC full suspension category with an eye towards racing. It is light enough that you’re not at a weight penalty against hardtails but you also gain the benefits of rear suspension to aid in soaking up the rough trails or gripping the more technical climbs. The Scandium frame is especially comfortable and the parts spec were completed with the idea of combining high end, light weight and durable parts together.

The Kona Hei Hei is definitely a bike to take a look at if you’re going full suspension for racing, endurance riding, or ripping the trails with your buddies.

For more info on the Kona Hei Hei, click here.

Ready to rip the trail


Our bikes atop Cocktail Rock

A few friends and I went out to San Juan this past weekend to hit the out and back trail. I was and am still nursing a cough and sore throat, but since I really enjoy riding San Juan, I decided to go against my body, mind and wife and ride anyway. This was a bad choice as my ride ended up being a sufferfest for me.

Needed lots of fluids during the hot morning ride

San Juan is basically a 6 + mile out and back. If you have the time/legs, you can throw in an extra 4 mile loop at the top, but we didn’t have the legs this time around. The 6 mile climb was pretty bad the first time I rode it, but this time it took nearly double the time mainly even with the Kona Hei Hei’s granny gear. The sickness left me gasping for air for most of the climb and there was a good 4 miles stretch where I was unable to focus …. even when I was telling myself to focus. I was lightheaded and ready to quit but thankfully my friends kept encouraging me and we made it to the turnaround point in one piece.

Narrow trail + exposed rocks = lots of fun

Too bad, nearly all of us left a little some skin on the trail on the way back down. What is normally a challenging but fun downhill became a myriad of falls for 3 of the 4 of us. It was on this extended downhill section that I decided to test my Sette Strike elbow and knee/shin pads by overshooting an exposed turn and falling off the edge of the trail. I went down a good 10 – 15 feet before friction stopped me and the bike. I decided that since I was performing a review on the pads, I might as well throw in a test of my camelbak’s durability as well. I did this by flipping over mid crash and landing on the camelbak (subsequently, my digital slr).

Any shade we could find, we hid under

The results of the test are that my digital slr is still ok… the padding I put around it did its job… I’ll post a picture of the padding to show you what I do. The Sette Strike pads are continuing to do a great job protecting me from damage. I am SO glad I brought them along. They are totally worth the small monetary investment. Click here for info on the elbow guards and here for info on the knee/shin guards.

Kona Hei Hei climbing the 6 mile switchback

Tyte Rack Update

Tyte Rack carrying the Kona Hei Hei test bike

I know that this rack has caused a bit of commotion here so I wanted to write a short update on how the rack is doing for me. I would like to think that I am objective since no money is changing hands. The full review will come after a couple more months of testing so there are just some quick thoughts after the first two weeks of testing.

The Tyte Rack is holding up nicely. I’ve used the rack for two different bikes on a variety of trips to our local trails. Some of the drives were as short as 15 minutes while others were as long as 45 minutes. Nothing really long yet but that will probably come in the next month or so.

Quick thoughts: Setup is getting easier and subsequently faster. From nothing on the roof of my car to totally setup and ready to drive away now takes less than 5 minutes. This is still a couple of minutes longer than installing a hitch mount to the rear of my other vehicle but it couldn’t be much if any longer than installing any other roof rack and putting the bike on. I’ve found that I do not have to remove the tapered seatpost so I do “cheat? a little, but this is real world use and in my real world testing this is how I go about storing it.

You have to pay attention to the front straps and how they velcro to the handlebars. If you don’t velcro them tight enough your bike will slide/move around on the front bar an inch or less. I’m sure if I was driving recklessly and taking turns at super high speeds the bars would move a bit more. But under normal driving circumstances, I have found it to be secure even when under tightened. I mount the straps between the shifter and the drop on the bikes riser bar. I’ve found that this is a good spot to get it tight and to keep it from moving around. I did worry that my handlebars would get nicked by the Tyte rack bar but they haven’t. I’ve carefully checked for damage on both my bikes handlebars before each ride and haven’t found any damage.

Straps mounted inside of the shifters but before the rise in the handlebars

I haven’t noticed any issues with my fork or brakes after using the rack. In fact I keep all of my bikes hung upside down in my garage. When I finally decided to hang them upside down I was worried about hydro brake problems but after checking with various mechanics, all of them agreed that the brakes would not be an issue. I have since had my hydro installed on my bike and that bike has been hanging upside down for the past 4 months with no issues. I did not think about the fork but I have hung a variety of air and coil forks upside down in my garage without experiencing any problems either.

Currently my main issue with the Tyte rack is having to reinstall the seatpost. When reinstalling the seatpost I never get it back to the sweet spot the first time I put the post back in. I always have to ride around a little before I can find the sweet spot again. It’s a minor quibble but I haven’t taken any steps to address this issue yet. I’m thinking either tape on the seatpost or using one of my children’s markers to mark my the sweet spot. Or maybe I’ll try both. I’ll make sure to let you know how it goes.

Click here for Tyte rack’s website.

First Impressions: Kona Hei Hei

Kona Hei Hei, size: 19″

Kona sent over their beautiful Hei Hei for us to test. The Hei Hei is a 26″ full suspension race bike outfitted with an 85mm front Reba fork and a 2.5″ inches of Fox rear travel. It is not spec’d with a “weight weenie” build kit but the bike comes in at just about 24.5 lbs for a 19″. Here are the specs via Kona’s website:

Frame sizes 14″, 16″, 17″, 18″ ,19″ ,20″, 22″
Frame tubing Kona Race Light Scandium Butted, 2.5″ Travel
Fork Rockshox Reba Race 85mm
Rear Shock Fox Float RP2
Headset FSA Orbit DL
Crankarms Race Face Evolve XC X-Type
Chainrings 44/32/22
B/B Race Face Evolve XC X-Type
Pedals Shimano M520 Clipless
Chain Shimano HG53
Freewheel Shimano LX (11-32, 9spd)
F/D Shimano XT
R/D Shimano XT Shadow
Shifters Shimano XT
Handlebar RaceFace Evolve Low Riser XC
Stem RaceFace Evolve XC
Grips Kona Race Light
Brakes Hayes Stroker Carbon V6
Brake Levers Hayes Stroker Carbon
Front hub FSA XC-300 Wheelset
Rear hub FSA XC-300 Wheelset
Spokes FSA XC-300 Wheelset
Tires Maxxis CrossMark 26 x 2.1 Kevlar
Rims FSA XC-300 Wheelset
Saddle WTB Rocket V Race Carbon
Seatpost RaceFace EVOLVE XC
Seat clamp Kona QR
Color Ball Burnished/White

I got to take the Hei Hei out to a loop called Chantry Flats about 40 minutes from where I live. This loop has lots of rocks from small little baby heads to big sharp jagged ones the size of our bikes and bigger. It also has a lot of exposure, but we won’t dwell on that too much. Although not a “race” course, the Hei Hei was more then up for the challenge. Here are some of my first impressions on the Kona Hei Hei:

Stiff rear: Kona uses a “Walking Beam 4 Bar Linkage System” that makes for a stiff rear triangle. At 210+ lbs with gear, the rear linkage system never exhibited any flex on our loop today.

The black rocker arm has 2 beams that help to stiffen the rear suspension and keep away unwanted flex

Sweet paint job: Most of the Hei Hei is a glossy white but the front half of the front triangle has a painted raw reflective look. Kona calls it Ball Burnished. I call it purdy!

Front triangle’s front half is “ball burnished” purdy

Enough travel: 85mm Reba up front and 2.5 inches in the rear was more then enough travel for a guy used to riding rigid. In fact for most of my riding, this would be plenty as it takes off the edge but still gives me great performance. I especially like both component choices because of the ability to “lock out” the fork/shock seperately. This made for efficient climbing and comfortable descending.

Just came through those rocks. The suspension performed well

Check back as we put the Kona Hei Hei through a couple of months of testing and write up a detailed review.

Some minor rocks for the Hei Hei to chew up and spit out

For more info on the Kona Hei Hei, click here.

Ready for more stream crossings