Kona has been known for making rowdy bikes that are not only extremely capable but just fun to ride. We have tested our fair share of Konas over the years and have continually been impressed, especially with their Process lineup. Two years ago Kona sent us their Honzo Ti that was more than ready to crush our local trails. This year we ordered a carbon Honzo frame and built up a custom bike for us to rip through the spring and summer months. After plenty of miles, our test riders were confident that Kona knows what they’re doing when it comes to hardtails.
WHO IS IT MADE FOR?
The Honzo fits the bill for a lot of riders with a big range of capability, all of which will depend on just how hard the rider is willing to push. While the Honzo is first and foremost a hardtail, its progressive geometry and ability to run various fork travels will suit cross-country riding to more aggressive trail ripping. There are several versions of the Honzo available, ranging from the chromoly Honzo ST frame for a modest $550 to complete builds starting at $1500 with aluminum frames. Kona offers trail and more cross-country race-oriented builds for the Honzo.
WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?
Hardtails are known for their simple designs and looks, but the Honzo has plenty to talk about when you get down to the details. Kona has been pushing the boundaries when it comes to geometry, and Honzo has a very progressive geometry that rivals many modern enduro bikes. For a size large, the Honzo has a longer reach of 475mm with short 415mm chainstays. Kona designed the Honzo with identical reach numbers as the Process 153. With a 120mm fork up front, the Honzo has a relatively slack 68-degree head tube angle with a steeper 75-degree seat tube angle.
This version of the Honzo has a carbon fiber frame with a tapered head tube and Press-Fit 92 bottom bracket shell. Kona uses a high-modulus fiber with longer strands to ensure the right balance of durability and stiffness. The Honzo has large oversized frame tubes, along with a beefy rear triangle. Most of the cables run internally through the frame, with the exception of the rear brake hose that runs along the underside of the top tube. The frame does allow for a stealth dropper post and has mostly internal routing with a small exposed bit of cable that passes the end of the downtube into the seat tube.
Kona designed the Honzo around 29-inch wheels with enough clearance to run up to 2.4 inches tires. With Boost 148 rear spacing, riders can run 27.5 plus-sized tires on the same Honzo frame. Kona did design the Honzo to be 1x-specific to allow for maximum tire clearance and shorter chainstays.
WHICH COMPONENTS STAND OUT?
We had picked out every part of our bike, right down to the spoke nipples. Kona spec’s the Honzo with 120mm forks, and for our testing we opted for Fox’s new 34 Step-Cast fork that has impressed our test riders. Considering the Honzo is 1x-specific, we opted for a SRAM Eagle GX drivetrain with an FSA SL-K crankset with 34-tooth front chainring. Magura sent over a pair of their MT Trail brakes that use a four-piston front caliper with two-piston rear on 180mm rotors. The Honzo has a larger 35mm seat tube that limited our choices of dropper posts, but to our luck, KS offered one of their reliable LEV posts to suit our needs. WTB sent us a pair of ASYM rims that we laced to Rotor’s new RVOLVER hubs. Wrapping up the build were a pair of Maxxis Forekaster tires with an Astute Skyline saddle and a Race Face cockpit.
HOW DOES IT PERFORM?
Setting the sag: We tested the 34 Step-Cast fork in our June issue and were impressed with the ride quality and damper tune. Setting the sag wasn’t very complicated, with 20 percent and two volume reducers in the air spring. We adjusted the rebound setting and ran the low-speed compression about halfway for a little extra support when pedaling out of the saddle.
Moving out: Sitting on the Honzo, we felt comfortable right away with the longer reach. We spec’d our bike with 760mm-wide Race Face Next bars with a 50mm stem that gave the Honzo a trail-worthy feel. This was our first experience with the Astute Skyline saddle that has a narrower design aimed at a more cross-country style of riding with a longer nose. We set the pressures in our Forekaster tires to 24 psi in the rear and 23 psi in the front for a little extra traction on our loose trails.
Climbing: Hardtails are known for being efficient climbers, and the Honzo is no exception. Between the stiff frame and ample traction from the Forekaster tires, there wasn’t any section of trail too steep for the Honzo to conquer. Out of the saddle, the frame was incredibly stiff, especially the rear triangle. The longer reach gave us a nice, low, aggressive position to power over technical sections of singletrack and steep pitches.
Our test riders were impressed with the Rotor hubs and their quick engagement. Rotor uses 14.4 degrees of engagement for a ride that is more responsive than other hubs currently on the market.
Cornering: Between the short chainstays and generous shoulder knobs on the Forekaster tires, the Honzo surprised us with how far it could be leaned over in corners. At high speeds, the Honzo could be whipped around in a playful manner and didn’t stray from an inside line. On tighter sections of trail and lower speeds, we could pick our way through tight switchbacks with some finesse.
Descending: The Honzo is an aggressive bike that likes to be pushed hard, especially when the trail points down. With the KS LEV down and the FIT4 damper in the “open” setting, the Honzo proved to be one seriously ambitious machine. Flowing down our usual singletrack, the Honzo didn’t shy away from hitting extra features or bonus lines, no matter how technical. Rolling into steep sections of the trail, the progressive geometry allowed us to shift our weight back over the rear wheel confidently.
At high speeds, the Honzo felt precise with stable handling that responded efficiently to feedback from our test riders. The Fox 34SC fork soaked up big hits and sat higher in its travel, keeping the front end of the Honzo from wallowing or diving, especially when hitting steep drops. While the Honzo is extremely capable, it is still a hardtail and won’t soak up trail chatter the way that a full-suspension would.
Braking: Our choice in brakes was a solid match for the Honzo. The Magura MT Trail brakes gave us a large range of modulation with plenty of front-end control with the larger four-piston caliper. The Maxxis Forekaster tires had more than enough grip when slowing or stopping.
TRICKS, TIPS OR UPGRADES?
There is very little about the Honzo that we would have changed. The KS LEV post worked consistently, but most riders would have opted for one with a bit more travel. The Honzo is a very stiff frame, and if you are sensitive to trail chatter, you may want to consider tires with more air volume to provide a little more comfort.
While many companies are relying on more suspension to make their bikes more capable, Kona relies on good geometry and a rider who is willing to take some chances. The Honzo defies the notions that hardtails were only made for racing and training, and delivers a ride experience that is fun. If you are looking for a bike that is simple and just wants to go out and have fun, the Honzo is ready to rip your local trails.