New Bike Review: Niner EMD9

For the past year or so, I’ve been saving my nickels, quarters, and the occasional folding currency for a new mountain bike – specifically, a geared 29er hardtail. After a lot of waffling and agonizing, I ended up ordering a custom Niner EMD9 build through Speedgoat Cycles. I initially wanted just a couple modifications off of a stock build they had, but ended up being able to work out several component changes for exactly the right price (thanks Michael C.!).

Begging to get dirty!

For everyone wanting to know the specs, here you go (the rest of you, skip down to the pretty pictures).

2012 Niner E.M.D.9 aluminum frame with tapered headtube
Fox 32 FLOAT 29 100 RLC FIT 15QR Tapered Fork
SRAM 2×10 X7 drivetrain (derailleurs, shifters, cranks)
Shimano XT Ice Tech brakes
Stan’s Notubes Arch EX 29er wheelset
Continental Race King 2.0 tires
Easton EA50 stem, bars, and seatpost
WTB Silverado Pro saddle
Weight: 25.22 lbs

2x10 SRAM drivetrain

I now have about 6 hours on the bike (3 rides in 3 states, thanks to a recent family trip!) and I have to say I’m having a blast. It’s a solid ride – could be lighter I suppose, but I have no complaints since it’s lighter than my Monocog! I’m also really enjoying the Fox fork (no surprise there), the 2×10 drivetrain, and the XT brakes.

The EMD9 at home

For the frame itself, I have to say it’s a really nice balance – very maneuverable, I can loft the front end easily, which is a nice change from the stable but ground-loving Monocog. I’ve also found it to be a capable climber – the last ride I went on (which I’ll be devoting a separate post to later!) involved some pretty crazy rocky and rooty climbs, and the bike handled them all – I made a few mistakes in picking my lines on unfamiliar trails, but it’s not fair to blame the bike for human error!

Rocks and roots, no problem!

I’m still making adjustments and shaking things down, but I’ve been really happy with my purchase so far. A couple changes may be in order – for one, I still have to get the tubes out of my tubeless-ready setup, and I also want to take some weight out of the seat post (it’s 400mm and I could probably do fine with 300mm). Overall though, I’ve got a sweet and fun ride that can handle a wide range of terrain with ease. If you’re in the market for a new hardtail 29er that doesn’t totally break the bank, I definitely recommend checking out the EMD9.

Who is making the move to 2×10?

The big boys are making their pitch: 3×9 is dead. It’s all about the 2×10. But are you buying it? Switching over from 3×9 to 2×10 can be an expensive proposition. You are basically at the point of having to change out your whole drivetrain:
– Derailleurs
– Shifters
– Crank
– Cassette
– Chain

Only recently have we even begun to see cranks and cassette offerings that are in the budget of the normal man. Before that, SRAM only had the XX with the 10 speed cassette and as lightweight and appealing as it may be I am not dropping $300+ on a cassette. SRAM did show off the X.0, X.9 & X.7 groupo’s with 2×10 at Sea Otter but a quick google search shows me that much of the X.7 stuff is selling for about 50% more than their 3×9 counterparts. Ouch.


Beautiful XX cassette goes for over $300

Shimano has the 10 speed stuff down through their SLX line up available to purchase right now you are still looking at a 50% price increase. It would be like purchasing SLX stuff at the price of XT. Shimano did keep the triple crankset up front but my understanding is that if you go 10 speed in the rear, you will need to go with their Dyna-Sys lineup.

But beyond price, how many of us mortals can actually push a 2×10 through our rides? I occasionally ride my SS and I can tell you that I am very careful which rides I bring that bike on. If it has too many climbs, I’m bringing my geared bike. A few years ago I had a 1×9 as my main bike and even though I got a stronger I was still killing myself on the climbs and of course the 2+ hour rides were out of question as I would be walking more than riding.


Shimano is going 10 speed but with a special triple crankset

Even one of my good friends who competes in 12 hour rides prefers to keep his 3×9 for that extra gear when he hits the climbs late in his race.

I have to admit, the bling factor is definitely there especially for those high end builds and the weight savings would probably be nice. But I would rather spend XT money and get XT stuff rather than spend XT money to get an SLX 3×10 drivetrain.

Are you making the move to 10 speeds in the rear? If you are, what are your reasons for it?

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.

Review: Kona Hei Hei

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.

Product Tested:
2008 Kona Hei Hei

Website’s MSRP:
$ 2,999


Posing in the San Gabriel mountains

Specs:
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

Strengths:
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

Weakness:
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.

Summary:
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

Project XC Racer: Done

The KHS Team Alite is done! Although I was not able to install all the parts that I wanted, the bike still weighs a respectable 25 lbs. That just means that I can still upgrade!!

Big thanks to Vince Calvillo and his crew for helping us finish the bike on time.