The Beta Tests: Kona Hei Hei CR/DL
A lot of travel for a traditional XC bike, but Kona's never been hung up on tradition.
-120mm travel front and rear
-Kona’s dedicated XC race platform
-Fuse Independent Suspension – one-piece carbon rear triangle with flex stays
-Not as plush as similar travel linkage bikes
-A bit squirrely at high speed
-Cable management could be more sano
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The utilization of a flexible seatstay, or flexible portion of a seatstay, is not a new concept. Gary Fisher and Cannondale both debuted bikes using this design approach sometime back at the beginning of the current millennium. For an XC platform, there are definite positives. The rear triangle can be made as one piece; this eliminates a pair of pivot bolts and bearings which in turn saves weight AND increases structural integrity AND enhances stiffness. As carbon fiber construction has evolved, this has become a reliable and effective design approach. But at the same time, some versatility of design is lost with the pivot deduction, and this can the limit the ability to tailor suspension leverage rates to specific purposes. When it comes to XC race bikes, though, the appeal of shedding weight and gaining chassis stiffness at the same time is very strong. And if there’s some perceived tradeoff when it comes to suspension performance, well heck, why not just throw another 20mm of travel at the design?
Why not indeed. We are not clairvoyant, so we don’t know the specific reasoning why Kona decided to buck the traditional XC “a lot less is always a lot more” ethos and build a dedicated XC race bike with 120mm of travel front and rear, but we are mighty glad they did. Utilizing what they call Fuse Independent Suspension – a single piece carbon fiber rear triangle with a flex zone in the seatstay – Kona have crafted a long legged race weapon that is also an incredibly fun trail bike.
Our test Hei Hei CR/DL represents the top of Kona’s Hei Hei food chain, and its component selection shows a solid commitment to the XC race zeitgeist: RockShox SidLuxe Ultimate shock and Sid Ultimate Debonair fork, SRAM XX1/X0 Eagle 12=speed drivetrain, SRAM G2 RSC brakes with XC-standard 180mm front/160mm rear rotors, a RaceFace Next 35mm handlebar with just a hint of rise and a pair of lightweight, fast rolling Maxxis Rekon 29×2.25” tires. The DT350 hubs laced to WTB alloy i27 rims are par for the price point but are a little chunkier than desired for a dedicated race whip. Likewise the SRAM Descendent DUB carbon crankset; it is carbon, sure, but it is also a little overkill considering the intent. This level of nitpickery is a way of saying that there is room to shed another pound or so of “excess” from the already commendably light 26-pound weight of the bike.
Aside from the aforementioned 120mm of travel, the rest of the Hei Hei’s geometry is squarely aimed at the modern XC race wheelhouse. Head angle is a sharp (by current definition) 67.5 degrees, seat angle a conservative but effective 75 degrees, reach is a modest 460mm on our size large test bike, chainstay length is a tight 430mm with room for tires up to 2.5”. All this leads to a compact (again, by modern definition), highly maneuverable, eminently raceable machine.
In real world terms, when compared to the standard fare 120mm trail bikes that are a few inches longer and a few pounds heavier, the Hei Hei flat out levitates uphill. It is a dream to climb, taut and speedy with just enough cushion to maintain traction and a liveliness that makes acceleration a joy. Generous amounts of anti-squat early in the travel contribute to this feeling, and we suspect the Fuse design also adds some spring to the Hei Hei’s step. The bike rips uphill.
Downhill performance, we should parse in two specific ways. For an XC bike, the Hei Hei is stable, composed, balanced, efficient and effective. And fun. Kona, above all else, make bikes that are fun to ride. Nevertheless, when we look at this from a trail ripper perspective, we have to compare it to the other, heftier, slacker bikes (which all would suck to race XC with, incidentally) on the market. In this sense, the Kona is still super well balanced, super easy to point right where you need it, and an absolute blast to ride right up into and past the point where both the tires and the suspension can no longer keep up with the terrain. The 120mm of travel feels like less than similar travel bikes of more aggressive intent in this terrain. Railing at warp speed into chundery rock gardens is an eye opening experience, and it is here, as well as any sort of huck to flat kind of tomfoolery, that the limited range of the suspension (and tires) is most noticeable. It gets outgunned fast in big, messy terrain.
But dear lord, it is so much fun getting to that point. As trail riders, we exist in a continuum of being perpetually overbiked. We laud big travel, big tires, and long wheelbases, and we actively heap praise on what those attributes bring to the table. We also tend to overlook some of the elemental realities of riding bikes. Light, fast bikes can cover ground at a rate that overbiked riders can barely comprehend. Light, fast bikes can be so much damn fun.So. Much. Fun. The Hei Hei CR/DL made every single one of us who rode it pine for a light, fast bike again.
This is tricky because, technically, there is an aluminum Hei Hei that goes for a pretty impressive $2,800. But it’s definitely not this bike. The alloy Hei Hei has 100 millimeters of rear travel, a slightly higher stack height, a standard 51mm-offset fork and a vertically mounted shock. Apples to apples against the $6,500 Hei Hei CR/DL is the $4,600 Hei Hei CR. It’s also full carbon, including the flex stays. The main difference is the CR’s more classic Performance-level Fox DPS shock and 34 fork. The SID suspension on the CR/DL gives it much of its light-handed XC sensibilities, so you’re likely to give up some get-up-and-go. But the more trail-oriented Fox suspension is of just as high a quality as what’s specced on the CR/DL. In fact, you could say the same about the CR’s Shimano SLX brakes and drivetrain and Fox Transfer post. Though it won’t be as light as the model we tested, the lower priced model makes no sacrifices to the build’s reliability and overall function, and will still offer most of what we loved on the CR/DL
Find it at konaworld.com/hei_hei_cr_dl
Photos: Anthony Smith