Kona Big Honzo 2018 Review
Cons: Harsh rear end, jarring over rough terrain
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Our Analysis and Test Results
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.
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. Despite the 2.8" rubber, this bike still manages to maintain an agile feel. The Big Honzo is in the same ballpark as the snappy Santa Cruz Chameleon which makes you feel like you're riding a dirt jump bike.
As fun as flow trails are, this bike can 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.
We are somewhat disappointed in the downhill performance of the Big Honzo. This bike can't stand up to being ridden hard like the Specialized Fuse 29. 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 more substantial. The short and stout chainstays and seat stays are so rigid that they translate the trail surface very directly. Dropping tire pressure only helps a little bit. This bike 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. The larger volume tires and slightly more forgiving rear end on the Specialized Fuse are a bit more user-friendly.
The body positioning aboard the Big Honzo is interesting. The 450mm reach measurement is on the longer end of hardtails we've tested. That said, it still feels relatively cramped. Despite having a longer wheelbase than the Devinci Kobain, the Big Honzo feels short. When carrying speed over rocks, the short feel and stiff 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 reasonably well. What's the catch? Riders looking to push their riding skills and charge 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 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 stays 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 Salsa Timberjack. It was not 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. This is similar to the very stiff rear end of the Ibis DV9 that can also feel quite harsh over chatter on the ascents.
The SRAM NX 1x11 with a 30:42 climbing gear worked well. The Maxxis Rekon 2.8-tries hooked up nicely in all conditions.
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 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 works.
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 freehub engagement is poor.
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 feeling of the narrower tires.
Our Big Honzo was 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.
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 general 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 the saddle height. Once correctly set, the post functioned 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.
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. The 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.
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 solid. It can be difficult to find a trail-worthy hardtail at this price with a dropper post; the Big Honzo is exactly that.
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 brakes are underpowered. 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.
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