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

Kona Big Honzo Steel 2019 Review

An attractive steel hardtail that gets the job done.
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Price:  $2,399 List
Pros:  Short chainstays deliver a playful ride, handsome frame
Cons:  Middle of the road downhill performance, mediocre climber, heavy
Manufacturer:   Kona Bikes
By Pat Donahue, Joshua Hutchens  ⋅  Oct 17, 2018
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70
OVERALL
SCORE


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

The Skinny

The Kona Big Honzo ST is a capable, yet hefty, trail bike that balances solid climbing and descending skills. The steel frame adds some weight, but serves to mute and dampen the ride a little bit. Three professional mountain bike testers hammered the Big Honzo for six weeks to determine the key ride characteristics and the critical subtleties. Balanced geometry, 27.5 x 2.8-inch tires, and a solid build kit deliver a fun ride that doesn't exactly push the envelope in terms of performance. This easy-riding hardtail is fun on a wide range of terrain but is particularly fun on fast and flowy trails with intermittent rock gardens. At $2399, this Big Honzo ST delivers a strong value and is outfitted with a nice build kit including decent rubber, a stout RockShox Revelation fork, Guide T brakes, and a SRAM NX 1x11 drivetrain.


Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Maxxis Rekon tires hook up nicely on rock.
The Maxxis Rekon tires hook up nicely on rock.

Should I Buy This Bike?


The Big Honzo ST is a great, utilitarian, hardtail. This bicycle is fun on a reasonably wide range of terrain and it is easy on the eyes. A lot of mountain bike purists love steel frames and the Big Honzo delivers a fun and predictable ride. Downhill performance is decent and climbing performance is okay despite the obvious weight. This bike isn't going to blow you away on any area of the trail, but it is still a fun bicycle. You can find a hardtail for less money that may deliver superior performance, but the Big Honzo is a handsome, unique, and reliable bicycle.

The Specialized Fuse is a better all-around bike. If you are looking for a hardtail to use as a daily driver, the Fuse is more comfortable than the Honzo ST. Despite having a traditionally less compliant aluminum frame, the Fuse feels more forgiving due to the thin chainstays that provide a little bit of flex to take the edge off.

The short chainstays can make this bicycle feel a little squirrelly at high speeds.
The short chainstays can make this bicycle feel a little squirrelly at high speeds.

Looking to go fast and cover a lot of ground on relatively tame terrain? The Trek Stache 9.7 is a fast-rolling 29+ carbon hardtail. The 29 x 3.0-inch tires roll extremely fast and carry an unbelievable amount of speed on relatively straight and smooth trails. If you are looking for a bike to ride long distances and don't mind a rough ride, the Stache may be the bike for you. Due to its harsh feel over rocks and roots, the Trek is not the best option to use as a daily driver and the Honzo is a better option for a day to day trail bike. The Stache is available in aluminum and carbon fiber with build kits ranging from $1,899 to $3,799.

Frame Design


The Big Honzo ST has a steel frame. This frame is also available in carbon fiber and aluminum. Steel is a compliant and durable material. It adds some weight in favor of a better ride quality. This bike can run 27.5+ wheels or 29-inch wheels. The dropouts allow you to run a geared setup or singlespeed.

The Honzo Steel is a sleek and attractive bike.
The Honzo Steel is a sleek and attractive bike.

We measured our large test bike. The top tube measures 649mm and the reach is 478mm. The chainstays are 426mm long and the wheelbase is 1205mm. We found the bottom bracket height to be 312mm. The head tube angle measures 67.8-degrees while the seat tube angle is 74.8 degrees. Our steel Big Honzo hit the scales at 31 lbs 13 oz set up tubeless without pedals.

Design Highlights


-Chromoly steel frame.
-27.5+ or 29-inch wheels
-Singlespeed or geared
-Modular dropout system
-Designed around 130mm fork

-Boost spacing

Conservative geometry creates shard handling but can get sketchy on rough trails where longer geometry might be more stable.
Conservative geometry creates shard handling but can get sketchy on rough trails where longer geometry might be more stable.

Downhill Performance


The Steel Big Honzo is a predictable and confident descender. What it lacks in excitement, it makes up for in a versatile and well-rounded approach. Want to go shred a flow trail? Perfect. Rocky downhill? No problem. While the Honzo doesn't blow your mind on the descent, it's pretty comfortable riding a wide range of terrain. The component grouping worked well on the descent with a stiff fork and solid rubber.

The Big Honzo has fairly balanced geometry that creates a responsive and fun ride. The 67.8-degree head tube angle offers quick steering and sharp handling. The short chainstays are a bit of a double-edged sword. On one hand, a stout rear end creates a supremely snappy ride and offers a sharp finish to a corner, easy manual-ing, and a very fun, dirt-jump inspired, attitude. On the other hand, short chainstays can detract from stability where a longer rear end is more confident and planted at speed. Back to the Kona, the Big Honzo is pretty responsive despite a longer 1205mm wheelbase. Shenanigans are encouraged in the form of side-hits and boosts. When you are charging down less-than-smooth trails in a high gear, there is a significant amount of chain slap. The slack in the chain slaps into the chainstay and makes a loud, audible, clank. It might be a good idea to wrap some protective material, like electrical tape or an old tube, around the chainstay to quiet things down.

The million dollar question among testers was how the steel frame would feel over choppy services. Steel is typically a more forgiving and more compliant material compared to aluminum or carbon fiber. For many bikes, a steel frame will deliver a less-brutal ride over rocks and chatter. We found the steel was a little mellower than some of our aluminum or carbon test bikes. The more forgiving feel was noticeable, but it was far from a game changer. The Steel Honzo is still a hardtail and feeding it through rock gardens is still rough. This bike is at its best when you take a finesse-minded approach to the trail. Gapping over a rock to find a cleaner line is a nice strategy and line selection is critical.

The Maxxis Rekon tires have decent shoulder bite.
The Maxxis Rekon tires have decent shoulder bite.

As with all plus-sized hardtails, tire pressure is critical. Too high of a tire pressure and you lose the damping and traction provided by the wider, 2.8-inch, Maxxis Rekon tires. When the tire pressure is too low, the cornering feel can get vague and washy. We found the sweet spot to be to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 16-18 PSI depending on rider weight. Lighter and less aggressive riders can get away with lower pressures.

The component group works well on the descent. The 130mm RockShox Revelation fork and its 35mm chassis provide an aggressive and confident front end. The Revelation is far from plush, but it stands up well for a mid-range fork. The Maxxis Rekon tires are solid. The Rekon is available in normal, narrower, sizes which we have ridden on test bikes in the past. The skinny Rekon is mediocre at best. That said, we have tested the 2.8-inch version on a few bikes and have always been pleasantly surprised. Cornering ability is okay, rolling speed is solid, and the braking bite is fine. Aggressive riders might think about a more aggressive front tire for more confident cornering.

Another noticeable problem is the 28-tooth chainring. On fast downhills, you will run out of gears if you want to keep putting the power down. This is a relatively cheap fix if you should choose to address the issue. Simply install a 30-tooth ring and check to see if you need a longer chain. Our Big Honzo has the new SRAM Guide T brakes. This budget brake provided adequate stopping power, but the lever feel was less than impressive.

The Steel Honzo is heavy  but it scoots uphill effectively.
The Steel Honzo is heavy, but it scoots uphill effectively.

Climbing Performance


The Big Honzo Steel is an effective climber that favors buff and smooth singletrack or doubletrack. This bike sets you up in a nice position to grind it out. The Big Honzo is not light and it is one of those bicycles where you can really feel the additional weight. The component grouping worked well-enough on the climb, but we'd like to see a tweak or two.

The Big Honzo has a 74.8-degree effective seat tube angle. This number is middle-of-the-road but leans toward the slacker side of the spectrum. Regardless, the Big Honzo sets the rider up in a comfortable and effective climbing position. The long reach measurement seems to pull the rider forward and brings your midsection over the bottom bracket.

The 28-tooth chainring offers light gearing that pays dividends on long climbs.
The 28-tooth chainring offers light gearing that pays dividends on long climbs.

There is no-doubt the 2.8-inch tires produce a bit more drag than regular 2.4-2.5-inch mountain bike tires. This is primarily noticeable on doubletrack or smooth singletrack. It isn't a crippling problem, but you can hear an audible whirring on certain surfaces. On rougher or more technical surfaces, the 2.8-inch tires provide excellent grip. When you run the Rekons at that 16-18 PSI sweet spot, they provide stellar traction on mixed surfaces. The Big Honzo scoots right up sandy trails or off-camber rocks. You may be tempted to run these tires at a higher pressure to gain more rolling speed…don't. 27.5+ tires are all about traction and lower air pressures.

The Kona delivers mild uphill manners. Despite its length, it steers quickly and works around switchbacks effectively. The Big Honzo isn't the easiest bike on which to change lines quickly. Lucky for you, the plus tires can compensate for poor line choice offering great traction to help you work your way through less-than-desirable lines you find yourself on.

The component grouping was okay on the climb. The SRAM NX 1x11 drivetrain was a little disappointing. It is 2018 and we are quickly getting used to Eagle 12-speed drivetrains at lower price tags. The NX 11-42 drivetrain is fine and shifted reasonably well, but that 50-tooth climbing ring would have been nice on this 32-pound bicycle. The Maxxis Rekon tires were serviceable, they roll well while delivering respectable traction.

Photo Tour


The RockShox Revelation fork is impressive for a budget-minded fork.
Kona's Modular dropout system.
The SRAM NX 1x11 drivetrain works well enough with a 28-tooth chainring.
That said  we are getting used to 12-speed drivetrains at this pricepoint. Who wouldn't want a lighter climbing gear.
While the Maxxis Rekon is far from perfect  it delivers decent cornering bite  nice rolling speed  and solid braking power.
The SRAM Guide T brakes deliver reasonable power  but the lever feel is weak.

Value


At $2,399, it is easy to call the Steel Big Honzo a solid value. No, this bike will not blow your mind with its performance on any section of the trail. That said, the blend of solid components, price, and a downright cool steel frame make it unique. You can probably find better performance at a lower price tag, but there is something about this slender steel shredder that is more appealing than the Specialized Fuse or Trek Stache.

Conclusion


The Kona Big Honzo ST is an attractive and somewhat unique hardtail. Well-rounded performance and decent components make this an intriguing bicycle for those looking for a squish-less bike for day-to-day riding.


Pat Donahue, Joshua Hutchens