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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
#11 of 12
  • Fun Factor - 25% 6
  • Downhill - 30% 6
  • Climbing - 30% 6
  • Build - 15% 7

Our Verdict

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.


Compare to Similar Products

 
Awards  Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Top Pick Award  
Price $1,799 List$2,150 List$2,550.00 at Competitive Cyclist$1,599 List$1,499 List
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Pros Sharp handling, precise, excellent on flow trailsHigh value, fun on a wide range of terrain, dialed geometrySwift climbing, sharp handling, excellent valueExcellent descender, high-end fork, excellent pop out of cornersExcellent high-speed stability, great traction, capable on rough terrain
Cons Harsh rear end, jarring over rough terrainPoor fork specification, less compliant frame compared to outgoing modelNot as fun on rough trails, 11-speed drivetrainNo dropper post, weak tire specificationGeometry could be awkward for some, no dropper post, long wheelbase
Bottom Line A stout and precise trail bike that shines on flow trails and suffers on rough terrain.A stellar hardtail that is tremendously fun, versatile, and a solid value.A swift-climbing hardtail that could serve as a daily driver or a cross-country race bikeAn aggressive descender with an impressive build kit despite a couple notable drawbacks.An aggressive hardtail built for high speeds with some geometry quirks.
Rating Categories Kona Big Honzo Specialized Fuse Expert 29 Ibis DV9 NX Meta HT AM Essential Whyte 901
Fun Factor (25%)
10
0
6
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
8
Downhill (30%)
10
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6
10
0
9
10
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7
10
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9
10
0
8
Climbing (30%)
10
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6
10
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8
10
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9
10
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6
10
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6
Build (15%)
10
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7
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8
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7
10
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7
Specs Kona Big Honzo Specialized Fuse... Ibis DV9 NX Meta HT AM Essential Whyte 901
Wheel Size 27.5"+ 29" 29" 27.5'+ 27.5"+
Weight (w/o pedals) 29 lbs 6 oz 29 lbs 14 oz 26 lbs 8 oz 29 lbs 8 oz 28 lbs 2 oz
Frame Material Aluminum Aluminum Carbon Aluminum Aluminum
Frame Size Tested Medium Large Large Medium Large
Available Sizes S, M, L, XL XS, S, M, L, XL S, M, L, XL S, M, L, XL S, M, L
Fork RockShox Recon RL 120mm, 32mm stanchions RockShox 35 Gold RL, 130mm Fox Float Rhythm 34 RockShox Yari RC, 160mm, 35mm stanchons RockShox Recon RL Gold 130mm, 32mm stanchions
Wheelset WTB Scraper i40 TCS, Shimano Deore Hubs, 40mm ID Specialized Stout Alloy SL, 29mm ID Ibis Hubs, Ibis 938 Alloy rims E*Thirteen TRS, w/ Formula Hubs, 35mm ID WTB i29 w/ Boost hubs, 29mm ID
Front Tire Maxxis Rekon EXO, 27.5 x 2.8" Specialized Butcher Grid, Gripton, 2.6" Schwalbe Hans Dampf 2.6" Vee Tire Co Flow Snap 27.5 x 2.6 Maxxis Forekaster 27.5 x 2.6
Rear Tire Maxxis Rekon EXO, 27.5 x 2.8" Specialized Purgatory Grid, Gripton, 2.6" Schwalbe Nobby Nic 2.6" Vee Tire Co Flow Snap 27.5 x 2.6 Maxxis Forekaster 27.5 x 2.6
Shifters SRAM NX 11-Speed SRAM NX Eagle SRAM NX 11-speed SRAM NX 11-Speed SRAM NX 11-Speed
Rear Derailleur SRAM NX 11-Speed SRAM NX Eagle SRAM NX 11-Speed SRAM NX 11-Speed SRAM NX 11-Speed
Crankset SRAM NX 30t SRAM NX Eagle DUB SRAM NX 30T SRAM NX 32t SRAM NX 30t
Bottom Bracket Press Fit SRAM DUB Threaded SRAM GXP XR Press Fit Threaded
Cassette SRAM PG-1130 11-42t SRAM NX 11-50T SRAM PG 1130 11-42T SRAM PG-1130 11-42t SRAM PG-1130 11-42t
Saddle WTB Volt Sport Specialized Bridge Comp WTB Silverado 142 Ride Alpha Whyte Custom
Seatpost Trans-X dropper, 125mm travel, 31,6mm diameter TranzX dropper 150mm travel 34.9mm diameter KS E30i Dropper Ride Alpha Rigid Whyte Rigid
Handlebar Kona XC/BC, 800mm, 35.0mm clamp Specialized Stout Riser 780mm Ibis 780mm Alloy Ride Alpha 780mm, 31.8 clamp Whyte 760mm
Stem Kona XC/BC, 35mm clamp, 45mm length Specialized Stout Ibis Ride Alpha 40mm Whyte 40mm
Brakes Shimano M315 Hyrdraulic SRAM Level TRL SRAM Level SRAM Level SRAM Level
Grips Kona Key Grips Specialized Trail Lizard Skins Charger Evo Ride Alpha Whyte Lock-On
Warranty Lifetime Lifetime Seven Years Five Years Four Years

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Kona Big Honzo sees some tweaks for 2020. First, the price drops $100 to $1,699. This bicycle now runs a longer-travel 130mm fork, WTB Ranger tires, and an NX Eagle drivetrain.

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. 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.

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

Downhill Performance


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.

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 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 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 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.


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 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.

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 feeling 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 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.

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 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.

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. 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.

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 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 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 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.

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