MBA LONG TERM REVIEW: KONA REMOTE 160 DL
A fast and capable eMTB without the cookie cutter vibe
Already well known for its line of big-hit-loving Process pedal bikes, legacy Canadian brand Kona continues to bring its off-road R&D smarts to its e-bike line. For 2021 Kona has produced two versions of its Remote 160, with the major update being the move from 27.5-inch wheels to a pair of 29-inch hoops. With 160mm of travel and an aggressive build, this is an e-mountain bike designed to span the range between aggressive trail and enduro riding.
Shimano introduced its updated EP8 unit late last year as a lighter and slightly more powerful unit than its e8000 predecessor. Shimano increased the assist to 85 N/m in the second power mode (trail), but only if you can put the power from your legs to the pedal. They’ve also increased overall assist from 350 to 400 percent from the previous e8000 unit. This motor is 300 grams lighter and should stay a little cooler with the new magnesium cases. Kona went with the smaller 504-Wh battery, which does save a small amount of weight. Kona says the battery size is ideal for 95 percent of riders, so why carry extra weight if it’s not needed?
The aluminum frame and rear triangle look jump-off-your-rooftop beefy. The color is Indigo/Forest Grey and a standout from the crowd. Kona went with a 64-degree head tube angle, which is on par with a few other heavy-hitting enduro-style bikes. Kona helped minimize pedal strikes with a reasonably high bottom bracket height of 350mm. The 435mm chainstays are as short as we’ve yet tested, and that length remains the same on all available sizes. The reach on the medium we tested is 442mm, which could leave riders with longer arms feeling a bit cramped on the medium compared to certain brands.
The top-level build tested starts rolling with e-mountain bike-specific WTB HTZ i35s rims that feature 25–30-percent-thicker walls compared to WTB’s standard rims. Formula hubs proved to be issue-free in spite of being hammered through endless chunk sections over the course of a few months. The wheels are covered with extra-grippy, 2.5-inch Maxxis Assegai 2.5s tires that offer exceptional traction thanks to a softer compound. The only drawback to the Assegai we can find on an e-mountain bike is that they will wear faster than something like a Maxxis Minion or a Magic Mary from Schwalbe. The SRAM Code R brakes partner with 200mm rotors and levers. Although overkill for most riders, an accessory upgrade to 220mm rotors is possible.
The 12-speed SRAM NX-Eagle with an 11-50t cassette is paired to a SRAM GX derailleur and a SRAM NX 1 click shifter. SRAM claims that one click limits any shifting inaccuracies and helps with efficiency on e-bikes. We would prefer to have more than one click, though, for getting in the right gear quicker when we need to. The 34t chainring is small enough to still give you a high cadence when encountering ultra-steep bits. The 780mm-wide handlebars and 40mm-long stem are Kona’s house-brand XC/BC parts. Our medium test bike features a 150mm-travel TranzX dropper post. Kona spec’d a RockShox Zeb Select+ charger RC 2.1 DebonAir fork with 160mm of travel and a RockShox Super Deluxe Select air shock. There is no lockout on the shock, and it only features rebound adjustment. The Super Deluxe Select shock, although without a lockout or compression adjustment, is rated for enduro and heavy-hitting.
Kona achieved 160mm of rear-wheel travel via its Beamer Independent Suspension System. It’s essentially a simple, four-bar, single-pivot rear system with the rear pivot located at the seatstays instead of the chainstays as with Horst-link-style systems. On paper, the downside of a single pivot like this is slight stiffening under pedaling and braking, although only the most sensitive riders in the wrecking crew noticed either during testing. The vertically mounted shock is actuated by a beefy rocker link that greatly reduces side-loading on the shock compared to clevis-driven designs.
The Remote 160 DL, being an enduro-style e-bike with less travel than the average 180mm we usually see, performs well when climbing. The lack of lockout on the shock isn’t a problem unless you plan on riding up tar roads to a trailhead. Even then, it’s an e-bike, so pedaling efficiency is not much of a problem. In the dirt, it’s very at home climbing technical stuff, and the rear wheel works well with the suspension to maintain traction. We found it was important to be in the right gear in dry/loose conditions so you could still spin without breaking the rear wheel loose. The same logic applied when climbing uphill switchbacks; if we had too high of a cadence, the bike would either lunge forward or just spin the rear wheel. It was crucial to shift up a gear or two to not engage the motor quite as much.
Shimano’s motor is fantastic. It is slightly quieter than the previous Shimano unit, and being in an aluminum frame seems to make it even quieter than the carbon frames we’ve tested. The difference in the new motor honestly didn’t seem drastically upgraded from the previous generation; however, it was apparent that the torque had gone up. Also, the motor is really intuitive and provides an instantly smooth power curve as soon as pressure is applied to the pedal. Likewise, when we let off the pedal, it doesn’t keep powering forward but tapers off predictably instead. It offers an impressively abrupt but smooth downward power curve when letting off the torque, even in Boost mode.
This year’s 29er wheel upgrade made a big difference in rolling speed and the ability to push through chunky sections more comfortably. A few of the test riders noticed they felt a little high on the bike, but didn’t mention it being a huge detriment. Even with 165mm cranks, pedal strikes weren’t excessive. That high feeling we talked about may have been a small hindrance when it came to really tight downhill switchbacks, especially when the speed increased and the conditions were dry. We could almost feel the front end wanting to push out after the apex of tight switchback corners. As far as pointing down and shooting, the Remote gave us a confident feeling. The bike felt lively and had a quick response for maneuvering through the nastier sections we hit.
The newest 160mm ZEB fork from RockShox shined under intensely rough conditions. The 38mm stanchions begged to be hammered, and when we rode in flatter and slicker areas, they were almost a little too stiff—notably more so through the dusty, slippery corners we find here in SoCal. A lack of lockout is understandable on the shock, but it would be nice to have some sort of compression adjustment so you’re not solely dependent on the air pressure for tuning. On the flip side, minimal adjustment options require less thinking and messing around on the trail. It also takes away some of the mental strain of not knowing if the setup is just perfect, as you don’t have multiple compression and rebound adjustments. Thankfully, none of that takes away from the performance. The same can be said for the ZEB fork, which has the minimum adjustments for a high-end fork. When we wanted to hop over logs and attempt some of our trials tricks, the suspension did have a lively feel. It didn’t seem like the suspension wanted to hold us down, rather it allowed for pop when we needed it.
UPGRADES AND MODS
The SRAM Code R brakes are favored by some because of modulation and not-so-bitey characteristics, but we would like to try some Shimano XTs or even some Magura MT5 or MT7s for some additional raw stopping power. After a few months of testing, the TransX dropper post started sticking and not extending for its last inch of travel, so an upgrade to something more reliable like a Fox Transfer might become necessary.
We would like to see the speed sensor mounted on the rotor versus a spoke-mounted magnet sensor that is easier to lose or move. The charge-port cover can be a challenge to reattach, because the small piece connected to the cover can easily get kinked, and it starts to become a small problem within a month of use. Although it does align with the goal of keeping weight down, and the bike does have an easily maneuverable feel, the 504-Wh battery is small compared to what’s available now. If battery range is a concern, make sure to learn what you can get out of a charge using the different power modes. We wish Shimano would add more power modes, which might help in battery conservation and eliminate having to go to the app for adjustments.
This bike is truly an all-rounder e-mountain bike. Whether it was doing laps on a jump line or going down the gnarliest downhill trail, the Remote 160 always shined bright. Overall, our time on the Kona was enjoyable, and the list of test riders looking for some saddle time on it never seemed to shorten.
WHEEL SIZE: 29″
SUSPENSION: 160mm (front and rear)