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Kona Honzo AL/DL 2017 Review

Price:   $2,199 List
Pros:  Predictable, suited for longer climbs, reliable
Cons:  Bland, poor build specifications, expensive
Bottom line:  A well-rounded bike with reliable, if overly predictable, performance
Editors' Rating:   
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Manufacturer:   Kona

Our Verdict

Kona offers straightforward 29-inch hardtail performance with the Honzo. The bike is a light and pleasant climber, easy to manual up and over obstacles. It's stout gearing and classic, narrow tires offer fast-rolling performance. Poor hub engagement and a lack of traction in the rear 2.25" Maxxis Ardent tire detract from the experience, however. Traction is also lacking on descents, though the bike remains fairly capable thanks to modern geometry and sharp handling skills. The Honzo does provide a harsh ride compared to the plus-sized hardtails that have wide tires that have some minor damping properties. The $2,199 price point is difficult to digest for a SRAM NX drivetrain, low-end Shimano M447 brakes and Shimano Deore hubs with a massive dead spot in them.

The 2018 Honzo AL/DL offers some excellent upgrades over the 2017 version we tested for the same $2,199 price tag. Read all about it below.

The Kona is a serviceable all-arounder for riders not looking to push the envelope or adapt to new standards. Folks uninterested in 27.5+ or 29+ tires will appreciate the Honzo's straightforward performance with its tried and true wagon wheels. Look towards the Specialized Fuse for maximum traction. To retain that all-day capability with some more comfort, check out the versatile and efficient Santa Cruz Tallboy.


RELATED REVIEW: The Best Trail Mountain Bikes of 2018


Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results

Review by:
Pat Donahue, Paul Tindal, Curtis Smith, Robert Braun, Clark Tate

Last Updated:
Wednesday
December 13, 2017

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2018 Honzo AL/DL


The 2017 Honzo is below at left, the 2018 version at right.

Kona Honzo AL/DL
2018 Kona Honzo AL/DL
 

See the 2017 components and their 2018 replacements below:
  • Fork — RockShox Yari RC to RockShox Revelation RC
  • Brakes — Shimano Deore to SRAM Level T
  • Rear Tire — 2.25" Maxxis Ardent to 2.3" Maxxis Minion
  • Dropper — KS eTen Integra Dropper to Trans-X Dropper
  • Drivetrain — SRAM NX/XG to SRAM NX/GX
  • Crankset — RaceFace Aeffect to SRAM NX
  • Cassette — SRAM XG-1150 10-42t to SRAM PG1130 11-42t
  • Hubs — Shimano Deore to Formula
  • Grips — Kona Race Light to Kona Key Grip

Switching from a RockShox Yari to a Revelation gives the Honzo a solid performance advantage in 2018. Similarly, slapping a 2.3" Maxxis Minion on the rear wheel will improve traction and comfort markedly. We're not as excited about the move to SRAM Level brakes. While many appreciate their gentle modulation, they don't have the power we'd like. Likewise, we're afraid the Formula hubs won't be much of an improvement over the Shimanos. The drivetrain shuffle gives you a stiffer climbing gear, which may frustrate some. Performance should be similar otherwise. The Trans-X Dropper post is an improvement. We've tested several and they work well. They do, however, seize up on occasion. Pressing the lever all the way down with the palm of your hand — past the normal activation point — seems to reset it. Be careful not to force it.

2017 Analysis and Test Results


Four experienced bike testers pitted five hardtail mountain bikes against one another over six rigorous weeks. The Kona Honzo AL/DL faced off against the 2017 Santa Cruz Chameleon R1+, 2017 Specialized Fuse Expert 6Fattie, 2017 Trek Stache 7, and the 2017 Salsa Woodsmoke 29 Carbon NX1. We tested and scored them in regards to their fun-factor, downhill, climbing and cornering skills, as well as build specifications. That comparison is fully discussed in our Hardtail Trail Bike Review. We also stacked the top four hardtails against the full suspension bikes we've tested in our full Trail Bike Review.

The Honzo is comfortable on a wide range of terrain.
The Honzo is comfortable on a wide range of terrain.

Fun Factor


The Honzo is fun in the way that a sensible and practical automobile is fun. Riders will not be blown away by chuckle-inducing ride characteristics in the same way that operating Toyota Corolla may not be the most amusing endeavor. That said, folks who put stock in a well-rounded, sensible ride will enjoy the way the Honzo handles all aspects of the trail with a quiet confidence.

The Honzo is a quick steering bike. The short chainstays allow for a stiff ride and make it easy to ride a wheelie or manual, although the Kona discourages such behavior. These short stays create the shortest wheelbase among our test bikes and make for sharp handling and quick line adjustments. Any "moto whoops" in the trail can be pumped for speed thanks to the short running length and stiffness. The Kona is fun in the way that it leaves the door open for line exploration and a free-flowing feel. The presence of the KS Eten Integra dropper enhances participation in shenanigans.

This aggressive hardtail has a business-like demeanor and prefers life on the ground.
This aggressive hardtail has a business-like demeanor and prefers life on the ground.

Even though this rig is sporty, testers found the bike planted and grounded. The Honzo is at its best with the rubber down. While dropper posts typically entice riders to jump around the trail and over obstacles, the 100mm of travel on the KS Eten post is barely sufficient. Bunny hops over logs or rocks result in a firm thud on your rear end when the seat smacks you. In 2017, when dropper posts frequently feature 150mm of travel and even reach 200mm, a 100mm travel post is a major buzz kill. The benefit of the dropper is severely reduced when it features so little travel. As a result, this Kona prefers living its life on the ground.

As red-blooded mountain biker's we should be able to agree that going fast is fun. The Honzo is comfortable at speed even if it lacks some of the traction of its plus-sized competition. When the going gets chunky, the Kona is even-keeled and doesn't bounce as much as the plus sized options. We'll discuss this phenomenon at greater length in the downhill section, but this bike is fun to ride fast.

Riders who appreciate a versatile and practical ride will love the Santa Cruz Tallboy. The Tallboy has 110mm of rear wheel travel and is sensible in a lot of ways. The Specialized Fuse has a more fun and progressive approach to a hardtail trail bike.


It's not that the Honzo isn't fun, it's just not that fun compared to the best trail bikes out there.

This 29er has no qualms with high speeds.
This 29er has no qualms with high speeds.

Downhill


The Honzo rolls quickly and retains its speed. This bike feels okay over chunder but suffers from limited traction, particularly in loose conditions. This Honzo retains its composure at high speeds and allows riders to maintain its momentum effectively. While the Kona handles speed and chop well, you are on a 29-inch hardtail and are reminded by every root or rock in a loud manner.

The Honzo, while it carries speed well, lacks in the traction department. This bike is very close to being the shortest in the test with a 1119mm wheelbase. This short wheelbase allows for a nimble and responsive ride, but traction suffers as a result. Longer bikes tend to provide more grip and stability than short ones. Multiple testers reported losing the front wheel at speed, which is frightening and downright dangerous. The Maxxis Minion DHF is a long-running favorite among our testers, therefore, it is difficult to blame the rubber.

The RockShox Yari RC fitted to the front of the Honzo creates a stiff front end.
The RockShox Yari RC fitted to the front of the Honzo creates a stiff front end.

The downhill ride aboard the Kona is fast and stable save for some questionable rubber. It is also fairly harsh on rough terrain. There is no mistaking the fact that you are riding a hardtail with narrow tires. While this bike is confident attacking rough trails at significant speed, riders are required to utilize some finesse and soft elbows and knees to try to take the edge off. The geometry makes for a stable, assertive, and relaxed descending position

When it's time to put the power down on the descent, it's a bit of a struggle aboard the Honzo. While the stiff gearing provided by the large front ring should lend itself to great downhill performance, the drivetrain is severely limited by the rear hub. The Shimano Deore freehub has a serious dead spot and the engagement is downright poor. Testers reported feeling like it took a quarter pedal stroke to get the pawls to bite. Slipping that extra pedal stroke or two on a straightaway is an energy zapping and disheartening endeavor. The low-end Shimano brakes have solid braking power but possess a very "on or off" feel with no modulation. As a result, riders must be thoughtful about how much brake to apply.

This bike prefers straightaways as its tires lack traction.
This bike prefers straightaways as its tires lack traction.

Our timed benchmark downhill testing provided somewhat vague results that lacked consistency. It is clear that the Trek Stache is our fastest descender. We got inconsistent results from our four other bikes.


Among the least confident descenders in the test, the Honzo comes in at the bottom in rankings. The broad nature of this test forces us to compress ratings. The Specilaized Fuse descends far better than the Honzo. The Fuse is a capable descender in its own right. The 3.0-inch tires offer copious amounts of traction and provide a small sensation of suspension. The Honzo may have more aggressive angles, but the Fuse has a more confident approach. Riders serious about longer rides with bonier descents should think about the full suspension Santa Cruz Tallboy.

Punching the Honzo up steep pitches requires some power due to stiff 32-42 gearing.
Punching the Honzo up steep pitches requires some power due to stiff 32-42 gearing.

Climbing


The Honzo is a capable climber suitable for longer climbing missions, but it's slightly handicapped by some components. Regardless, this bike puts riders in a nice position to succeed and offers an efficient pedaling motion for a semi-aggressive bike.

The Honzo's 29-inch wheels result in a lighter rotating weight when compared to the 27.5+ and 29+ options. A steep, 75-degree seat tube angle places your hips right on top of the cranks to put power down effectively. The measured 67.9-degree head angle is about right for a trail bike/hardtail. Testers agree that while this is certainly no cross-country race rocket, climbing is rock solid given its intended use.

The Kona is the most capable climber in terms of comfort on long  sustained  climbs.
The Kona is the most capable climber in terms of comfort on long, sustained, climbs.

The 2.3-inch Maxxis Ardent mounted to the rear wheel of the Kona is a legitimate area of concern. The Ardent is a fast rolling tire that lacks any sort of bite. Standing to climb requires careful weight distribution. Leaning too far forward while standing up on the cranks results in a spinning rear tire with little notice. The Shimano Deore freehub's poor engagement is an issue that reared its ugly head once again on the climb. The delay between starting your pedal stroke and power transfer into the wheel is significant. When stalling out on a climb or breaking your cadence, some serious effort is required to regain your momentum thanks to the dead spot in the hub.

The Honzo, like most 29ers, requires some anticipation through uphill switchbacks. The short wheelbase helps negotiate these corners with relative ease and momentum is your best friend aboard the Honzo. Carrying sufficient speed into obstacles is a great idea to make the most of your well-earned energy. Wagon wheels go a long way to keep you out of trouble in the form of bomb holes and rocks. Lifting the front wheel up and over logs and rocks is a relatively easy task thanks to a light front and short rear end.


The Honzo fairs much better in the climbing scores, coming in at about the middle of the pack. There is no question the Honzo is a great climber on long slogs. Riders who ascend rougher trails will no-doubt benefit from a full suspension bike. The Santa Cruz Tallboy's suspension rear end helps with traction as the rear wheel stays in better contact with the ground. The Specialized Fuse's larger footprint is beneficial on looser terrain.

The Honzo finished second to last in our timed climbing trials  but its comfortable cockpit and lack of rolling resistance make it our favorite for long climbs. The course lasted 2:42 min:sec on average.
The Honzo finished second to last in our timed climbing trials, but its comfortable cockpit and lack of rolling resistance make it our favorite for long climbs. The course lasted 2:42 min:sec on average.

Our hardtail timed testing found the Honzo was our fourth fastest climber. The Specialized Fuse was the fastest climbing bike closely followed by the fast-rolling Trek Stache. We still rate the Honzo higher than the fast Stache for climbing because all of use prefer the lighter Kona for longer climbs. The lightweight Salsa Woodsmoke came in just ahead of the Kona.

The Maxxis Minion DHF front tire offers substantial corner bite. We recommend going to a wider 2.5-inch version.
The Maxxis Minion DHF front tire offers substantial corner bite. We recommend going to a wider 2.5-inch version.

Cornering, Handling and Body Language


The Kona is tidy and quick through corners but requires precision and a certain level of rider input. One tester described the handling skills of the Honzo to be precisely what you would expect from hardtail 29er. There is a distinct limit as to how far you can dip this bike into corners. Turning aboard the Honzo is stable and predictable but not quite as fun as the 27.5+ bikes that we are so fond of.

The Maxxis Minion DHF front tire inspires confidence to lean into the corners and the 100mm KS Eten dropper post allows you to get down (at least a little) into the bike. The short wheelbase is helpful but the 29-inch wheels are still a handful to maneuver. Clean and precise corner entry is important and goes a long way to ensuring a smooth turn. Jack-knifing a corner comes with a serious penalty as it is time-consuming to regain momentum on this bike. The 2.3-inch tires feel like razor blades when compared to the plentiful, girthy, traction of the plus-sized options. The Maxxis Ardent rear tire, which wanted to break loose on the uphills, faired slightly better in the corners. Luckily, the Minion DHF front tire helps keep the rear tire on track. In a rooty or wet climate, we would recommend a Maxxis Minion DHR for the back of this rig to help keep you upright.

The Honzo requires some persuasion to get it through turns.
The Honzo requires some persuasion to get it through turns.

The Honzo offers quick steering with a reasonable amount of body language. Riders could move throughout the spacious cockpit easily and get the bike to react without excessive use of force. At 29 lbs 11 ounces, this bike is far from a featherweight, however, handling the Honzo requires less persuasion than one might expect.

Ease of Maintenance


It is important to consider ease of maintenance when considering a bike purchase. Hardtail mountain bikes may not be able to match the performance of a full suspension rig, but they sure are easier to maintain. Our ease of service rankings take into account frame design, fork, brakes, and dropper post, where applicable. Find out more about our rankings in the trail bike review.


The Kona Honzo is among the easiest bikes to maintain due to its rigid rear end. The RockShox fork requires slightly above average service interval, but the Shimano brakes are relatively straightforward to bleed.

To make sure the bikes' geometry numbers are comparable  we measure the bikes ourselves. Here are the Honzo's numbers. Read about our methods in How We Tested.
To make sure the bikes' geometry numbers are comparable, we measure the bikes ourselves. Here are the Honzo's numbers. Read about our methods in How We Tested.

Frame Design


The Honzo is constructed of Kona's 6061 butted aluminum. We measured the head tube angle to 67.9-degrees with the stock 120mm travel fork. This head angle is fitting for the semi-aggressive trail application as Kona markets this bike as a hardtail with full-suspension geometry. This semi-slack head angle is matched with the longest top tube in our test, 621mm, to allow riders plenty of cockpit space. Short, 416mm chainstays don't dominate the stout 1119mm wheelbase.

The Honzo is built with Boost spacing which features a 15x110mm front axle and 12x148mm rear end. This allows it to run 27.5+ or traditional 29-inch tires. Boost spacing also adds stiffness to the frame and fork as it creates a wider stance. The Kona has internal cable routing for a nice, clean, look.

Build


Much like its on-trail performance, we are not impressed with the Honzo's build specifications. While there are a few notable highlights, they are heavily outweighed by some serious head-scratchers. For a bicycle designed to get a little rowdy, Kona may have missed the mark on a few items.

Fork — Front suspension duties are performed by a RockShox Yari RC 120mm fork. This fork features 35mm stanchions, which are the same diameter as the popular RockShox Pike. The Yari, while it is undeniably stiff, is harsh on small to medium sized hits. The external adjustments are rebound and low-speed compression/lockout. The burly nature of this fork is not in question, however, a more plush option would be nice.

A fork more sensitive to small-medium sized hits would do wonders for the Kona.
A fork more sensitive to small-medium sized hits would do wonders for the Kona.

Wheels and Tires — The Honzo rolls on WTB STP TCS rims with a 29mm internal diameter. This rim width is appropriate for the trail application. These rims are laced to a Shimano Deore M618 32h hubs. The freehub offers poor engagement and multiple testers took issue with the large amount of pedal/crank motion it took to get the hub to bite.

 

This bike is fitted with a Maxxis Minion DHF 29 x 2.3" front tire. We at OutdoorGearLab are huge fans of the DHF. However, we would like to see the 2.5-inch version on the front of this rig. The Maxxis Ardent rear tire is sloppy and offers little traction and poor bite when braking. This tire has no place on a trail bike and should be reserved strictly for the pure cross-country application.

A SRAM NX1 drivetrain powers this bicycle. Riders seeking a more relaxed ride might consider using a smaller front chainring.
A SRAM NX1 drivetrain powers this bicycle. Riders seeking a more relaxed ride might consider using a smaller front chainring.

Groupset — Shifting duties are performed by a SRAM NX1 drivetrain. This groupset is serviceable but tends to feel a little clunky in the shifter. The 32 to 42-tooth gearing is an interesting choice and we think dropping the front chainring to a 30-tooth would go a long way in enhancing the climbing experience on the Honzo.

Shimano M447 brakes offer a solid amount of power but have a poor lever feel. Higher end brakes have modulation, which is the brake feel between the point where the rotor is engaged by the pads but before the brakes lock up. These brakes had very little modulation and felt very on/off.

 

Handlebars, Seat and Seatpost — The KS Eten Integra internally routed dropper post is a nice specification, however, testers have a difficult time with the post. The return speed of the post is extremely slow and it was suspensioning, i.e. sagging a little with weight, fairly quickly after testing began. In addition, 100mm is not enough travel on a dropper post in 2017.

This Kona utilizes the KS Eten Integra dropper post with an "under-the-bar" remote.
This Kona utilizes the KS Eten Integra dropper post with an "under-the-bar" remote.

Kona XC bars measured to 760mm with a 35.0mm bar clamp. Our medium-sized test bike came with a 45mm stem. This combination worked well.

Build Options


We tested the Kona Honzo AL/DL, which retails for $2199.

The Honzo AL retails for $1599 and features a RockShox Recon Silver RL fork. This build kit is still powered by a SRAM NX 1x11 drivetrain and the same Shimano M447 brakes with the same KS dropper post. The main difference, aside from the fork, is Maxxis Ardent tires front and rear.

If you want 27.5+ tires, the Kona Big Honzo DL is the ticket. This bike retails for $2399 and features a RockShox Yari 120mm fork, SRAM GX1 drivetrain, and 2.8 inch Schwalbe Nobby Nic tires.

The next 29er in the lineup is one step above our text version. It is dubbed the Kona Honzo CR Race, which retails for $3499. This bike features a carbon fiber frame construction and Fox Float 34 Performance fork. Shimano SLX brakes keep things under control while a Shimano SLX/XT drivetrain powers this rig.

Value


A $2199 price tag makes the Honzo the most expensive bike in our test. Given the middle-of-the-road performance and some questionable build specifications, it is difficult for us to call this bike a good value. Other test bikes such as the Specialized Fuse, Santa Cruz Chameleon and the Trek Stache offer superior performance at a lower price point.

Suggested Upgrades


While the Kona Honzo AL/DL is certainly rideable right out of the box, it could use some upgrades to maximize its potential. The most obvious and wallet-friendly upgrade would be to take the stock tires off and go wider. We tossed on some a 29 x 2.5" Maxxis Minion DHF front and rear for a few rides. Though this didn't drastically change our opinion of the bike, the tires did improve traction and reduce some harshness over rocks. We suggest a 29 x 2.5" Maxxis Minion DHF up front and Minion DHR II 29 x 2.4" in the rear.

Riders who live in an area chock-full of long climbs might want to consider downsizing the front chainring. A 30-tooth chainring would make climbing significantly more pleasant and riders who don't feel the need to hustle uphill may even go with a 28-tooth ring. These same riders who live in mountainous regions may want to upgrade brakes as well. Shimano SLX with Icetech rotors would be a fantastic choice without breaking the bank.

A loyal steed  the Honzo is reliable and doesn't offer much in the way of surprises.
A loyal steed, the Honzo is reliable and doesn't offer much in the way of surprises.

Conclusion


The Honzo is a confident hardtail that has the ability to handle long climbs and nasty descents. While this bike is trail worthy and pedal friendly, it's not a standout manner on any section of trail. A less than desirable build kit at a high price point, $2199, is difficult to stomach. Manufacturers can charge a premium price when there is premium quality and/or performance. The Kona Honzo provides neither.
Pat Donahue, Paul Tindal, Curtis Smith, Robert Braun, Clark Tate

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