By: Ryan LaBar
Photos: Sterling Lorence
Writing a review of a bike during a press camp is like saying you'll marry someone after the first date. There simply isn't enough time to get entirely used to a bike after a brief ride or two.
Kona's House of the Big Wheel press camp, however, could be an exception to this rule. Over the course of 48 hours I piled on roughly 100 miles of off-road riding atop Kona's 100-millimeter travel Hei Hei Supreme 29er. This certainly warrants enough saddle time to form a solid initial impression of a bike--it was definitely enough time for the bike's saddle to make an impression on me.
The $3,900, scandium-framed Hei Hei Supreme comes loaded with a full SRAM X9 kit, Fox RP23 shock, Fox FIT RLC fork, Easton EA 70 XCT wheels and Maxxis tires. All of these parts are both trail and race-worthy, and are right at home on a bike at this price.
While setting up the Hei Hei, I ran the stem flipped and slammed against the top of the headset to put me in my preferred position for all-day cross-country riding and racing.
The first outing aboard the Hei Hei was on a roughly 14-mile segment of the Arizona Trail that we rode as an out-and-back. It had rained on our drive to the trailhead, so the normally dusty loose Arizona desert soil was transformed into tacky red slot-car track.
I got used to the Hei Hei's mannerisms quickly. Climbing was best done in the saddle, and descending was mostly a point-and-shoot affair. The bike's stiffness was positively noticeable while descending rocky sections of trail and leaning the bike through corners--I think a lot of the credit here can be put on the front and rear through-axles (15-millimeter front and 12×142-millimeter rear).
Maneuvering quickly around or manualing through trail features took a touch of extra attention and body English because of its somewhat long 18-inch chainstays.
These longer stays made much more sense to me the next day, during the 24 Hours of Old Pueblo event.
I put in four laps on the course. During my last two laps, fatigue from both lack of sleep and fitness started to take its toll of my steering precision and ability stand and hammer. This is where I started feeling the upside of the longer, more stable wheelbase. The bike felt stable, balanced and predictable through medium to fast corners, especially with my ass planted on the seat.
For the Hei Hei's suspension duties, Kona stuck to what it knows best: four-bar linkages. The company has been making bikes with this type of linkage since 1994, so it knows a few tricks on tuning the system. The suspension action felt progressive and racy--as it should. It did bob slightly while I was out of the saddle and when I was lazy with my pedal stroke, but it was never enough for me to consider reaching for the little blue lever.
Perhaps a better testament to this bike build was that the Kona Factory Team's riders–consisting of Spencer Paxson, Barry Wicks, Sean Babcock and Kris Sneddon–each rode a dead-stock Hei Hei on their way to 2nd place in the Four Person Men Open category. Men's Solo category winner, Cory Wallace, also racing for Kona, spent a few of his 18 laps on a stock (except for the wheels) Hei Hei Supreme.
Here’s some more from the 24 Hours of Old Pueblo:
A lot of the racers at the event were carrying one of these. None of them were concerned about their hair though.
The combs and fro picks were used to help with any unfortunate and sticky contact with the abundant Cholla cacti.
CatEye provided the lighting for the factory riders and those of us at the Kona launch.
The Kona Factory team were all on completely stock Hei Hei Supremes.
Night time over 24 Hour Town.
Barry Wicks keeping his legs fresh.
Overall Solo winner, Cory Wallace, finishing up a lap.
The one-and-only Willy Warren matching form.
There aren’t many people who know this feeling.
Wallace was digging the tri tip.
The hardest of the hard.