Kona is quickly making a name for themselves in 29er land. After ogling over the Hei Hei 2-9, I was anxious to get onboard a hardtail Kona 29er to see if they could sprinkle some magic old-school hardtail-style. As it turns out, the King Kahuna represents a great option for hardtail aficionados.
Kona King Kahuna 29 Features:
- Kona Race Light Scandium butted frameset
- Fox F29 RL 80mm fork with 15qr
- Drivetrain: Mostly Shimano XT with Deore and SLX here and there
- Shimano SLX disc brakes
- Easton XC2 wheelset
- Kona cockpit (bars, stem, seatpost, grips)
- Weight: 26.6 lbs (as tested)
- MSRP: $2799
Kona King Kahuna 29er Review
While hardtails sometimes lack the character of their full-suspension brethren, they still offer plenty of individual personality that makes one unique from another. This year is really the year of the 29er. All it takes is a call to your local bike shop and you’ll quickly find out that most of the hot big-wheeled bikes are either gone or in limited supply. I was lucky enough to get my hands on the new King Kahuna for testing this Spring and have enjoyed carving up the singletrack onboard this momentum-loving machine.
Without question, 29ers simply roll faster and smoother — obvious physics lays that out pretty clearly. But, what your physics professor can’t tell you is just how different that rolling momentum feels on the trail. Let me tell you… the difference is immediately-noticed.
Like any 29er, the King Kahuna requires strong legs and lungs to get the most of it. Wallowing in the granny gear doesn’t bring out the best in this big-wheeler. If you can keep powering through the middle ring on your ascents, you’ll cover more ground in less time. The low-profile Kenda Small Block 2.1 tires have provided ample traction in all conditions and offer extremely-fast rolling.
The mostly-XT drivetrain has performed very well under load and the SLX stoppers have confidently kept me from dumping on steep switchbacks. Shifting is a little more vague than with comparable SRAM drivetrains, but it wasn’t unacceptable by any means… just very Shimano-like.
My 18-inch test bike came improperly-equipped (according to specs) with a 120 mm Kona stem. Looking at the specs, it should have come with a 105 mm stem (a big difference). A quick swap for the Easton EA70 100 mm stem got me back in business and in a much less stretched-out position. Once set up properly, the bike feels comfortable. Not too racy, but just racy enough to let you know you could shave your legs, throw on the spandex and compete on the race track.
Seated climbs were always met with consistent traction. Standing climbs, however, required a little more careful body positioning to maintain traction. Too far forward or back and the rear wheel lost purchase. Slight adjustments will quickly yield the best body position for standing climbs.
While many believe 29ers lack quickness and maneuver like Greyhound buses, one run on the King Kahuna will help them learn to believe otherwise. Once again, the key is momentum. Once rolling, the Kahuna just flows through singletrack and stays perched on the trail with its wide contact-patch. I have felt very confident bombing down winding singletrack and have yet to feel top-heavy or awkward.
Hammering things home… Kona really knows how to make fun mountain bikes with excellent trail manners and the King Kahuna shines on the singletrack. I can rail this bike hard and fast and it just keeps swooping from turn-to-turn.
I am getting old, I suppose because while this hardtail is sweet and is far better than riding a 26-inch hardtail, you’re still going to feel it when the trails are rutted or hoof-happy. Occasionally, my lower-back would feel just a bit tight after pounding down a descent — I probably just need to build up some hardtail back muscles, I suppose.
Good King Kahuna
- Feels very comfortable on the trail
- Rolls over everything in sight
- Capably climbs with the best hardtails on the market
- Kona cockpit bits are flashy… not your typical house-brand stuff
- Scandium frame is quick and nimble
- Digging the pewter paint color and overall finish quality
- Sloped top-tube provides excellent standover
- Love the tires (mine has Kenda Small Block 2.1’s, but the spec shows Maxxis Aspen’s)
- Fox 32 F29 with 15qr adds stiffness
Bad King Kahuna
- Standing climbs require careful body positioning
- Came equipped with an uber-long stem
- Oh seatpost quick-release, where have you gone?
- A tapered head-tube would be welcome (maybe for 2011?)
Bottom Line: Kona King Kahuna 29er
The performance-oriented scandium frame is very stiff and will react in a split-second. While it’s no full-suspension and lacks the vertical softness of carbon fiber, if you’re looking for a solid hard-tail 29er, the King Kahuna is a great player. Like most 29ers this year, this one may be difficult to find, so keep your eyes peeled.