By Vernon Felton

Sometime ago, I took possession of Kona's cross-country, full-suspension 29er, the Hei Hei 2-9. Since then, I've ridden the bike through every season and in every possible condition. For 2010, the evolution of this model gets a bit more interesting, but we'll tackle that later in this review. For now, a long-term review of the existing bike is in order.

Beyond the occasional 3- or 4-month stint aboard a test bike, I haven't spent too much time riding 29ers. But there are some constantly rolling, root-strewn, low-lying trails in my neck of the woods and on these trails many longer-travel bikes tend to wallow about annoyingly. Pat White, product manager at Kona, suggested the Hei Hei 2-9 as a solution.

Kona's Hei Hei 29er receives nice upgrades for 2010

Kona's Hei Hei 29er receives nice upgrades for 2010

The bike has 3.5 inches of rear suspension via the same four-bar suspension system that Kona has been fine-tuning since 1996. The Hei Heis are Kona's race-bred full-suspension bikes and sport lightweight Scandium frames. The model I tested came with a Fox RP2 rear shock and RockShox Reba SL fork. The rest of the kit is reliable stuff: XT shifters and derailleurs, RaceFace Deus XC cranks and Hayes Stroker Carbon disc brakes. This base-level Hei Hei 2-9 retailed for $2,500.

The bike has a racy 71.5-degree headtube and 75-degree seat-tube. The 18-inch-long chainstays are pretty standard for 29ers. The bottom bracket sits 13.3 inches off the ground. In short: it's pretty conventional geometry, though the seat angle is a tad steep.

On the trail, the bike proved itself a reliable XC machine. Since I'm nothing if not sluggish and dull, I used the bike for long cross-country rides peppered with lots of technical trail features. It soldiered through admirably well. The bike was an excellent climber—even without the ProPedal engaged, the suspension offered excellent traction with relatively little pedal-induced bobbing.

There's a climb near my house that consists of a few miles of singletrack that is, for long stretches, almost entirely composed of roots. The Hei Hei 2-9 was the perfect machine for that trail. The bike's active, efficient climbing traits and bigger tires just scooted up and over root balls that normally bitch slap me mercilessly. And Pat White was right, when it came to that technical, rolling singletrack, the Hei Hei was the ideal weapon. It maintained its momentum beautifully and just floated over big rock gardens.

The flip side, however, is that there were also times that I found the Hei Hei a bit wanting in the suspension department. With only 3.5 inches of travel, I wasn't expecting the bike to turn hacked-out terrain into a silky smooth ride. But the rear shock ramped up faster than I liked. Though the bike's stout construction gave the Hei Hei a surprisingly capable feel in tough and tight singletrack, on fast descents, the bike's front suspension quickly found its limits. The 3 inches offered by the Reba SL was a little too little. One last quibble: rear tire clearance was in short supply. Fitting a rear tire wider than the stock Maxxis Ignitor 2.1 was a definite challenge. Sure, it's an XC bike, so you're not going to try and cram 2.5s out back, but a bit more wiggle room would have been welcome.

Kona rectified several of those shortcomings with the 2010 model, which features another half inch of rear suspension and a plusher feel via a Boost Valve-equipped RP23. Up front, the bike comes with a Fox 32 with 15-millimeter through axle. The headtube also gets the tapered treatment in 2010. In short, things should be both smoother and stiffer with the new model, which costs $3,500.

If you're looking for one bike that can cover long miles and shrug off a beating, you'd do well to check out the Hei Hei 2-9. I've flogged the hell out of this bike, on trails that have a reputation for ruining machines, it is still running like a top.