The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

Kona Big Honzo 2018 Review

A stout and precise trail bike that shines on flow trails and suffers on rough terrain.
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Price:  $1,799 List
Pros:  Sharp handling, precise, excellent on flow trails
Cons:  Harsh rear end, jarring over rough terrain
Manufacturer:   Kona
By Pat Donahue, Clark Tate, Joshua Hutchens  ⋅  Jan 29, 2018
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62
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#8 of 10
  • Fun Factor - 25% 6
  • Downhill - 30% 6
  • Climbing - 30% 6
  • Build - 15% 7

The Skinny

The Kona Big Honzo is a sharp-handling hardtail with a decisively stiff feel. The Maxxis Rekon 2.8-inch tires are responsive, provide a small element of cushion, and allow riders to change lines quickly. Cornering abilities are precise on mellow and flowy terrain. The Big Honzo is a respectable climber in and out of the saddle so long as the trail surface is smooth. Things get rough over chunky terrain. The short chainstays and stiff frame design translate the trail surface directly to the rider beyond normal levels for a plus-sized hardtail. This results in a particularly harsh and jarring ride over rocks. The build kit is respectable, but weak brakes and fork are two striking lowlights.

Riders who want a responsive and nimble hardtail might like the Big Honzo, just be prepared for a very jarring ride over rocks and roots. Those seeking a more muted and comfortable ride will love the Specialized Fuse. Riders who are interested in an ultra-fun ride and a nimble feel should check out the less-jarring Santa Cruz Chameleon.


Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

Update October 2018
The Big Honzo frame remains unchanged for 2019. There are some tweaks to the build specification, but we don't expect major peformance changes.

Three professional mountain bike testers rode the Kona Big Honzo and Devinci Kobain against our reigning hardtail champion, the Specialized Fuse. We spent weeks aboard these squish-less bikes to determine the relative ride characteristics of each rig.

With no suspension linkages to worry about  riders can have a blast splashing around.
With no suspension linkages to worry about, riders can have a blast splashing around.

Fun Factor


The Big Honzo's sharp handling makes for a reasonably fun ride. The frame geometry inspires plenty of playful maneuvers. The catch? This bike relies on the right terrain to provide a grin-inducing experience.

Short, 417mm, chainstays allow riders to lift the front wheel with ease. Given the short rear end, riders can load up the back wheel and hop over obstacles. The Big Honzo is a blast on flow trails and jump lines. Carving through the berms and pumping over rolls is effective. The 2.8-inch tires make this bike significantly more agile than theSpecialized Fuse and its 3.0-inch tires. The Big Honzo is in the same ballpark as the snappy Santa Cruz Chameleon which makes you feel like your riding a dirt jump bike.

As fun as flow trails are, this bike can really dish out a beating on technical or rough trails. We will cover this phenomenon in more detail in the Downhill Performance section, but it is not fun when your bike feels like a jackhammer on the slightest sense of chop.

The 2.8 Maxxis Rekons offer sharp handling.
The 2.8 Maxxis Rekons offer sharp handling.

Downhill Performance


We are disappointed in the downhill performance of the Big Honzo. This bike simply can't stand up to being ridden hard like the Specialized Fuse. While the components were sub-par and didn't help the cause, our main qualms were with the unrelenting frame design.

The Big Honzo makes the small to moderate size hits feel much larger. The short and stout chainstays and seatstays are so rigid that they translate the trail surface very directly. Dropping tire pressure only helps a little bit. This bike really beats you up on rocky or rooty terrain. Finishing up a 10-mile ride makes your body feel like it just underwent a much more substantial endeavor. This is similar to the Santa Cruz Chameleon in its short dropout configuration. The larger volume tires and slight flex in the rear end on the Specialized Fuse.

With the ultra-stiff rear end  impacts can be a little rough on the Big Honzo.
With the ultra-stiff rear end, impacts can be a little rough on the Big Honzo.

The body positioning aboard the Big Honzo is interesting. The 450mm reach measurement is one of the longest we have tested among our hardtails. That said, it feels relatively cramped. Despite having a longer wheelbase than the Devinci Kobain and Specialized Fuse the Big Honzo feels short. When carrying speed over rocks, the short feel and rough rear end can be disconcerting. It feels like the rider might get tossed straight over the bars at any time.

The components on this $1,.799 Big Honzo fit the price tag fairly well. What's the catch? Riders looking to push their riding skills and get a little chargey may have serious problems with the Shimano M315 brakes. There is very little stopping power and the performance when wet is miserable. The RockShox Recon fork isn't excellent, but it works well enough.

The Kona provides a nice climbing position  sitting or standing.
The Kona provides a nice climbing position, sitting or standing.

Climbing Performance


The Big Honzo is a reliable climber with solid geometry. Motoring up sweeping and smooth singletrack is pleasant. The theme of harsh rear end feedback persists on the climb, this forces riders to get up out of the saddle to pedal through rocks. The components found on our test bike worked well on the ascent.

The Big Honzo has a comfortable and relatively upright climbing position. Here the cockpit feels pleasantly compact despite having a sizeable reach. Steering is direct and the front wheel stayed on the ground through uphill switchbacks. Our medium test bike weighs in at 29 lbs 6 oz. It never feels bulky, sluggish or hefty on the ascent. Having the rear axle short and tucked into the BB can sometimes lead to an unstable rear end that causes riders to "loop out" under pedaling forces. This was our experience with the Santa Cruz Chameleon. It was no the case with the Big Honzo, the rear end has plenty of traction.

The short and stiff rear end makes climbing rough terrain jarring. You need to get up and out of the saddle and power over it. Staying seated provides a harsh and unpleasant bounce. Your best bet is to stand up, gas it, and hope the rock garden is short. The Specialized Fuse has a far more forgiving ride thanks to a little frame flex in the rear triangle and 3.0-inch tires. The Fuse feels a bit more like a full suspension bike while the Big Honzo feels like it has a rigid rear end.

The SRAM NX 1x11 with a 30:42 climbing gear worked well. The Maxxis Rekon 2.8-tries hooked up nicely in all conditions.


Build


Our Big Honzo test bike retails for $1,799. The build kit is serviceable and offers a few key highlights. There are also some less than impressive specifications.

The RockShox Recon is far from a nice fork. But it works.
The RockShox Recon is far from a nice fork. But it works.

Fork — The 120mm RockShox Recon RL fork has 32mm steel stanchions. The only external adjustments are low-speed compression/lockout and several clicks of rebound. There is no mistaking the Recon for a RockShox Pike or Fox 32 or 34, but it is no doubt serviceable.

Wheels and Tires — Our test bike rolls on WTB Scraper rims with a 40mm inner diameter. The rims are laced to Shimano Deore hubs. The wide rims make for a fantastic tire profile. Shimano Deore hubs are fine but the engagement is poor.

We like the precision that the 2.8-inch Maxxis Rekon tires offer.
We like the precision that the 2.8-inch Maxxis Rekon tires offer.

The Maxxis Rekon 27.5 x 2.8 tires are a nice specification. After testing a substantial amount of plus-sized tires, we much prefer the responsiveness and the more aggressive feel of 2.8-inch tires compared to the wider 3.0-inch options. The Rekon has defined and reliable shoulder knobs that add to the responsive and confident feel of the narrower tires.

The SRAM NX 1x11 drivetrain proved once again to be reliable.
The SRAM NX 1x11 drivetrain proved once again to be reliable.

Groupset — Our Big Honzo is outfitted with a SRAM NX 1x11 drivetrain with a 30x42t climbing gear. SRAM NX has proven to be a reliable option on many test bikes. Shifting remained solid throughout testing and the derailleur never came out of adjustment.

Shimano M315 brakes lack braking power and require a hefty squeeze.
Shimano M315 brakes lack braking power and require a hefty squeeze.

The Shimano M315 brakes are bad. When the trail gets steep and the speedometer rises, it can take a substantial squeeze to slow you down. There is no noticeable brake pump or fade, just a significant lack of power.

Handlebars, Seat and Seatpost — The Big Honzo comes stock with a 150mm Trans-X cable-actuated, stealth, dropper post. This dropper has proven reliable on multiple test bikes. Cable tension can be thrown off when adjusting saddle height. Once properly set, the post functioned well.

The wallet-friendly Trans-X dropper post worked well.
The wallet-friendly Trans-X dropper post worked well.

Kona BC aluminum bars are a hefty 800mm wide with a 35.0mm clamp diameter. A slightly narrower bar might be nice for folks who frequent tight and narrow trails.

Build Options


Our Kona Big Honzo is one of two available 27.5+ build kits. It retails for $1,799.

The Big Honzo DL sells for $2,399. This build kit features a more burly RockShox Revelation RC fork with burly 35mm stanchions. The shifter is upgraded to a SRAM GX as opposed to the NX on our test bike. Braking duties are updated to the SRAM Level T brakes. Tires, dropper post, cockpit, cranks and rear derailleur all remain the same. If you have a little extra cash on hand, it might be beneficial to bump up to the DL build kit.

Value


Reliable performance meets a reliable build kit with the Big Honzo. It is easy to call this a decent value. While some of the components are lacking, the all-important tire specification is decent. It can be difficult to find a trailworthy hardtail at this price with a dropper post, the Big Honzo is exactly that.

The Honzo is also available in steel and carbon fiber in the 29-inch version.
The Honzo is also available in steel and carbon fiber in the 29-inch version.

Suggested Upgrades


The Big Honzo is a solid buy. That said, there are a few components that we would recommend upgrading sooner than later.

We would ditch the Shimano M315 brakes right away. If you ride fast or steep trails, these binders are especially problematic. Many online retailers have great deals on brakes. A set of Shimano Deore brakes can be purchased for about $80 and Shimano SLX for approximately $140.

A more pricey endeavor would be to address the lackluster RockShox Recon fork. The high-end RockShox Pike can be found online for approximately $650. If that is a little too spendy, the RockShox Yari can fit the 2.8-inch tires and can be found online for about $575. The Yari has the same chassis as the RockShox Lyrik, but has a downgraded damper.

Smooth terrain is the most fun terrain aboard the Devinci.
Smooth terrain is the most fun terrain aboard the Devinci.

Conclusion


The Kona Big Honzo is a reliable hardtail that excels on smooth and flowy terrain. Sharp handling and a short rear end make this bike tremendously fun carving, flowing, and pumping down the hill. Rocky and choppy terrain is far less pleasant as the stiff frame translates the jarring forces very directly. For $1,799, this bike is a solid value


Pat Donahue, Clark Tate, Joshua Hutchens