We were already familiar with Kona’s entry into this year's testing, having sampled it at Kona's dealer unveiling in Squamish, British Columbia, then later at Retallack Lodge. The Hei Hei Trail DL is an evolution of Kona's XC-race platform, with a full-carbon frame, 27.5-inch wheels and travel bumped to 140 millimeters at each end. It's designed to fill the gap between Kona's XC-race offerings and the plusher enduro range. Rear suspension is handled by Kona's FUSE, a single-piece rear triangle pivoting from just above the bottom bracket, with a small amount of seatstay flex compensating for the change in arc that the rocker link needs to swing. Following the geometry path Kona has been pursuing in recent years, the Hei Hei has short chainstays, a steep, 75-degree seat angle, rangy front center and an almost-sharp 68-degree head angle.
At the $6,000 price point, our test bike came suitably equipped: XT brakes and shifter, XTR rear derailleur, Fox 34 Factory Float Air fork, Fox Factory Float DPS shock and WTB carbon ci31 rims laced to Hope Pro4 hubs, Kona XCBC bars and stem and a KS Lev Integra dropper post.
The tight, punchy terrain of our test loops played to the Hei Hei's strengths. It is a snappy, fast-accelerating, climb-happy beast, described by one tester as both "playful and efficient." It corners well regardless of line choice and the suspension feels taut and balanced. As opposed to some bikes of this travel, where plushness is the over-reaching ride characteristic, the Hei Hei feels more like an XC bike on steroids–which it is. This puts it at a slight disadvantage compared to plusher competition in terms of bombing down the rough, but the climbing prowess and nimble manners offset that everywhere else.
Flies in the ointment are few. One tester thought the bike would be better served, given its pedal-friendly intent, by 29-inch wheels. Another questioned the value of an XTR rear derailleur when an XT cassette would have allowed for broader gearing and a lower price. The remaining testers spent their time arguing over who would get to ride it next. For backcountry fiends or for trail riders looking for snap and acceleration first and foremost, this is your bike.
Q&A with Ian Schmidt, Product Manager – Kona Bicycles
Given the current rush to market bikes that appease the plus size market, do you foresee any plans to bring big clearance for the plus size tire crowd to the Hei Hei Trail DL? If not, why not?
The Hei Hei Trail DL is already using the 12 x 148mm rear axle standard. The original goal with the the Hei Hei Trail design was to create a fun and easy to ride bike that had sufficient tire clearance to run 2.5 DHF tires on wide rims. The bike as-is was never specifically designed around plus-tires, but as stated previously, boasts impressive clearance for good, high-volume, sticky rubber. We're seeing a fairly substantial retraction towards more modest tire volumes from the original 3.0-3.25" conversations of last season. Most companies seem to be moving towards a 2.6-2.8" range and as you can attest, a 2.5" DHF on a wide rim is not a small tire.
Some of our testers felt that the XTR rear derailleur was a nice touch, but would have preferred a wider range cassette, like an 11-46, instead. From a sellability standpoint, what's Kona's take on this?
The first production run of the Hei Hei Trail models didn't coincide with Shimano delivery for the 11-46 cassette option. As such, we opted to maintain the original 11-42t specification and receive timely delivery of the product. Additional gear range is always a benefit, but as someone who has ridden a large variety of wide-range offerings I can state that it often comes with concessions. The gear range on the Shimano wide-range offering is good but there are some idiosyncrasies that make it challenging to find a good ring size for each rider. The steps in the 11-42t offering are smooth and the range is acceptable for most riders in most conditions with the chainring we're using.
This is a significant reach for the FUSE-link suspension, which has previously been more oriented toward XC duty. With this foray into longer travel and more burly terrain, once the sole realm of the Process line, what are the implications of this for the Process models? Will they get more burly, or will they begin to adopt FUSE – where will the boundaries between lines develop?
We didn't feel that the longer-travel design was a 'reach' for the flex-stay design. Who could say what the future holds? Anything is possible if you dream, Mike. Even a Trump presidency. In short–we're working on the future every day, but at this time we're not ready to discuss what that is going to look like, sorry. You'll just have to deal with an amazing bike that has a great ride quality and few limitations inside its given application.