Kona changed the way we think about frame geometry when it released the Process line three years ago. The long-cockpit, short-chainstay concept isn't new, but those bikes pushed it as far as it could go. The Hei Hei had maintained its more traditional geometry until the introduction of this bike. It's been given some trail-oriented tweaks, but there are still traces of XC in its DNA.
The 100 millimeters of rear travel is paired with a 120-millimeter Fox 34 up front. The robust fork, XT brakes, XT 1×11 drivetrain and Stan's ZTR Rapid rims are the stuff of much higher-priced machines. Yes, it's aluminum and yes, we know that there are carbon bikes out there for around this price, but ask us if we care. At 28.5 pounds, the Hei Hei was as light or lighter than all but two of this year's trail bikes, both of which were nearly twice its price. We would have liked to have seen a threaded bottom bracket, though, and we all agreed this bike deserved a dropper post. But one tester firmly believes that the choice of length and dropper should be left to the consumer.Once we found a QR seat clamp in the junk drawer, the party got started. The Hei Hei was one of the most playful bikes in the trail category. Its sub-17-inch chainstays, nimble geometry and light weight made it an absolute blast to carve and manual through the sculpted berms and natural whoops of our test courses. Riding the Hei Hei challenged the biases of the testers who normally preferred mid-travel 27.5-inch carbon trail bikes.
We were wary of the fact that the rear linkage relies on some vertical flex in the stays, but performance doesn't lie. Eliminating a pivot at the dropout aids in lateral stiffness, and for having such short travel, there was a complex balance of small-bump sensitivity and late stroke ramp-up.
Much of what we like about the way this bike descends happens to transfer well uphill. Its modern geometry makes it comfortable up front and grippy in the back. The progressive rear end sat at a neutral spot in its travel, even on steep climbs.
Cross-country-inspired trail bikes usually pedal this well, especially with such moderate travel, but they rarely feel so confident, planted and fun.
Q&A with Kona
Before this year's test bikes rolled into our barn, we had questions about them–some of the same questions that you might be asking yourself when you start poking around at a new bike. Kona worked a major overhaul on the Hei Hei this year, so we had all sorts of questions for the guys from Bellingham. Here's something extra to chew on. –Vernon Felton, Bible of Bike Tests Moderator
Vernon Felton: The new Hei Hei seems a little more trail-oriented than past versions–I say this noting the burlier Fox 34 fork and 68-degree head angle, which is a bit slacker than what we saw on the 2015 Hei Hei Deluxe.
Kona: The bike was really designed with the modern XC rider in mind. With the growth and popularity of all-mountain/enduro riding, we felt it was important to imbue more capability and versatility into our cross-country bikes. Bikes that retained climbing performance and a lightweight feel, but could still take on more challenging, rugged terrain.
VF: What were you aiming to improve on (over the previous iteration's performance) with the new frame design?
KONA: We really learned a lot from the success of our Process geometry, with its great steering control, significant standover, short rear triangle and long front center. It's a design that works incredibly well for trail riding and we wanted to carry that philosophy into the newly designed Hei Hei platform. Two big drivers were a low target weight and great frame aesthetics. We were pleased to be able to surpass those two design elements. The Hei Hei aluminum frameset is the lightest dual-suspension mountain bike frame we've ever made, and perhaps one of the lightest in the marketplace.
VF: Here's the real question: If someone is looking at the new Hei Hei Deluxe, they probably also have their eye on the Process 111. The bikes are fairly similar in terms of geometry and suspension travel, but obviously the Process line is targeted at different riders. How do they differ out on the trail?
KONA: The Hei Hei is a way lighter package than the 111. This bike is for riders who really value a lightweight, super efficient pedaling bike. The 111 uses a burlier frameset and slightly slacker angles, for those wanting a bike that focuses on more aggressive riding–those not so interested in shaving grams.
VF: What sets the Hei Hei 29 apart from other shorter-travel 29ers that people might be considering this year?
KONA: Its ability to take on terrain that many might not think an XC bike could. Basically it's a bike that climbs like a hardtail, but rails trail like your all-mountain bike.
VF: Are there conditions in which you feel this bike really excels and, if so, what specific design attributes of the bike make that so?
KONA: Well, it really is the best of both worlds: our new Fuse Independent Suspension is very light and efficient when under pedal power, but where this bike really comes alive is technical, speedy singletrack. It descends, corners and accelerates through the gnarl like an all-mountain bike.
VF: Are there any aspects of the frame design that you guys are particularly proud of? If so, what are they and why?
KONA: Our new Fuse Independent Suspension negates the need for a rear chainstay pivot, significantly reducing weight on the frame without sacrificing performance. The short stem and long front center allows for a super stable, confident riding position.
VF: What were you aiming for with the spec for this bike and how did you achieve it?
KONA: There are two spec "styles" that we have given ourselves the opportunity to use with the frame design: "Race" and "Trail.” Even from the beginning of the frame design, we wanted to allow ourselves the ability in every aspect of the frame design from geo to clearances to kinematics that could cater to both well.
Our "Race" variants feature shorter-travel forks, smaller and lighter tires as well as thinner and wider rims, for example. Where the "Trail" variants, although not to the extreme of what you would see on a longer travel trail or enduro bike, are just slighter more robust (beefier rims and tires, longer travel forks, etcetera).
The idea is simply to give the Trail versions more capability to tackle more aggressive terrain and all-around versatility in a lightweight package.