Bike Test: Kona Honzo
Simplicity and affordability—these are two of the characteristics people appreciate when they inevitably stumble upon the Kona Honzo. Experienced riders often hear about the Honzo from a trusted buddy who deems it his or her favorite hardtail, while novices are more likely made aware of the Honzo by a shop employee. The Kona Honzo has developed a following with both types of riders, as it is a ripping bike that won’t break the bank or sit out of commission in the garage because its pivots need some love. Since more and more of our readers are requesting that we test bikes made for the “common man,” we decided to see if the Honzo was a bike that outperformed its price tag.
WHO IS IT MADE FOR?
We’ve made it clear that the minimal cost of the Honzo is a key component of its appeal, but that doesn’t mean it’s just for intermediate riders. It’s designed to be ridden at blurring speeds on terrain that may not traditionally be seen as suitable for a hardtail. There will be no putzing around on the Honzo, and it is not for riders who want to carefully snake through rock gardens. The ideal Honzo rider is not someone who’s looking to head out into the unknown. The bike is designed to be a solid companion for riders who would kick themselves for passing up a natural trailside feature. It just so happens to be extremely affordable, which is key for riders who don’t want the amount of fun they can have to be limited by the amount of money they can spend.
Through the narrows: The Honzo proved to be fully capable hardtail for the full spectrum of trail riding. Whether we were throwing it around on the descents or cruising through encroaching walls of rock, it delivered well above its pricepoint.
WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?
The Honzo’s steel construction has been a signature feature of the bike since day one. You’d be hard-pressed to find a conversation about steel hardtails in which the Honzo name isn’t brought up. It offers 12×142-millimeter rear axle spacing, a tapered head tube, and dropouts that slide horizontally to provide adjustment for single-speed setups, as well as small adjustments for tire clearance.
Keeping it simple: While a 1×11 drivetrain is on the wish list of nearly every rider nowadays, 1×10 drivetrains still offer affordable simplicity for trail riders. It may not have a cassette with a 42-tooth cog, but we simply see it as additional strength training!
WHAT CAUGHT OUR EYE?
The Honzo’s low-sloping top tube provides a low standover height that even our teeny grandmother could hover above without feeling uncomfortable. It’s a standout characteristic of the frame that allows for unrestricted leg movement when leaning the bike over during cornering or in the air. While the bike could be mistaken for another limited hardtail, the 68-degree head tube angle, wide 760-millimeter handlebars and 1x drivetrain make it clear that this is a machine built for some hefty after-work aggression on the trail.
Best budget stoppers: Shimano Deore brakes are still among our favorite brakes due to the amount of stopping power and reliability they provide at such a low price point.
HOW DOES IT PERFORM?
It’s a hardtail, so it is going to provide the pedaling efficiency that hardtails are known for, but that doesn’t mean it’ll automatically motor up the climbs. The slack head-tube angle, long front-center, short stem and 1×10 drivetrain all affect the bike’s performance on steep climbs, where more weight over the front tire and a greater gear range would be welcome. It climbs better than many full-suspension bikes, but it still sits in the back of the pack in terms of hardtails. Trust us, though, nobody in his or her right mind would choose the Honzo with extensive climbing in mind.
Depending on how aggressive a rider you are, the Maxxis Ardent tires may not deliver the level of traction you need to keep your tires rubber-side down in the corners. We swapped them out for all-mountain tires with larger knobs and noticed an immediate difference in the bike’s cornering abilities. From that point on the long front-center of the Honzo kept us in control through high-speed corners. Its short chainstays made tight switchbacks easy work and provided enough stability that we went right back to cranking upon each exit.
Not your average hardtail: It’s a hardtail and therefore isn’t meant for the same punishment a full-suspension bike is, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t hungry for rocky terrain. The long front-center of the Kona Honzo had us feeling confident on steep, technical obstacles.
The Honzo is the Swiss army knife of hardtails, which is most noticeable on the descents. Sure, it can be used as a daily trailbike, but it really shines when charging down the mountain through thick and thin with a sense of all-mountain gusto.
The Honzo’s steel construction kept us worry-free as rocks dinged off our downtubes, while the soft ride characteristics of the material provided a flowy feeling in the corners without the harshness of an aluminum hardtail. It bounced us around as much as the next hardtail when we weren’t careful with our line choices, but its relaxed geometry and short/wide cockpit allowed us to lean back and pin it through rough sections of trail without worrying about getting twisted up in the roots.
We’ve yet to find an entry-level brake that performs as well as the Shimano Deore. It’s reliable through a wide heat range, and delivers consistent modulation so you’re less likely to over-brake into a corner.
For ultimate simplicity: Adjustable horizontal dropouts allow riders to set their Honzo up as a single-speed without any hassle. Be sure to tighten them down occasionally as we had a few loosen during testing.
TRICKS, UPGRADES OR TIPS?
No dropper post? We understand the Honzo’s focus on simplicity and affordability, but a dropper post is one component we’d gladly pay an extra couple hundred bucks for. Bikes with this much aggressive trail capability should all come with the option of a dropper post, even if it means selling the bike in two different build options to retain a more affordable model. Kona did, however, do the right thing by providing an internal routing feature in the seat tube for riders who want to upgrade with an aftermarket stealth post.
No dropper post? Selling an all-mountain bike without the option for a dropper post is like selling a NASCAR stock car that only turns right.
Since we began testing this model, Kona has introduced an aluminum version of the Honzo in two complete build-kit options for either $1600 or $2200. The steel version will now be sold as a frame-only option for $525, while a titanium frame will also be offered for $2200. At a time when the cost of bikes causes customer’s jaws to hit the floor and their bank accounts to head into the red, it’s refreshing to finish up every ride on the Honzo wondering, “How is so much fun so affordable?”
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