Tester: Katherine Fuller
Age: 30 Height: 5’4″ Weight: 120 lbs. Inseam: 31”
Sizes: S, (Tested), M, L, XL
Online: Kona Bikes
I laughed when the powers that be said I was getting a “race” bike to test because racing is not exactly my thing, but it immediately became apparent that approaching this review strictly with a racer’s perspective would be unfair to the bike. I think the only reason this Kona has that four-letter word in its name is because it kinda has no choice; there’s not yet a defined category for a really fun, super-short-travel carbon trail bike that’s light, fast and not-too-serious.
The Hei Hei Race DL is for people who might race, but who don’t maintain a regular USAC license and who have ridden un-ironically in cutoff jean shorts. It’s for people who don’t need or want a heavy all-mountain rig but who want some rear suspension and enjoy exploring trail nuances. It’s for people who want a racy bike that allows them to relish descents, not just survive them. It’s for people who want to have fun.
Now that we have that cleared up…
The Hei Hei Race DL marks Kona’s return to using carbon fiber frames on its (non-downhill) mountain bikes, after a few years spent refining the process and finding the right production partner. The frame features Kona’s Fuse Independent Suspension, which eliminates a pivot at the chainstay-seatstay junction for a lighter, stiffer ride.
Even when I found myself carrying too much speed into an unseen rock garden, the duo of a RockShox Reba RL up front and a RockShox Monarch RL out back soaked up just enough to keep me in control, rather than throwing me immediately like a hardtail might. I left the rear shock wide open at all times, as pedaling is plenty efficient on all but the most paved of climbs. Still, with only 100 mm of suspension front and rear, this bike can wear you out after a long day on rocky trails. It also got a little pogo-sticky on long, chunky runs.
Despite my misgivings and misfit-ness, I felt at home immediately on the Hei Hei Race DL, particularly thanks to its relatively short 60 mm stem and 750 mm-wide handlebars paired to a longer, slacker front (for a crosscountry bike) and a compact rear triangle. I celebrate those things because I appreciate bikes that are as lively to ride downhill and on twisty trails as they are effortless to point and shoot uphill. Kona obviously appreciates that, too, because that’s exactly how this bike rides.
I applaud Kona for nailing the geometry of a full-suspension 29er on a size small frame. The benefits of 29ers are well documented, but many companies switch their small-size models to 27.5 wheels. The Hei Hei never felt cumbersome or disconnected despite a small frame stuck between big wheels; I was one with this machine from our first ride together.
In many ways, this bike reminds me of a European sports car: It’s sexy, fast, handles brilliantly and gives you tingly feelings in your bits when you really ramp it up on smooth trails and push it around bermy corners. But the tires and component spec make it more reminiscent of an American muscle car: fast on the straights, useless in the bends and sporting a somewhat cheap build.
The only notable blemish on the otherwise-enjoyable experience of testing the Hei Hei Race DL came from the two-inch, 350-gram Maxxis Maxxlite tires it rides on. Even though this is a quote-unquote race bike, I think it’s fair to criticize a machine with trail bike inclinations and a midlevel- only spec for lacking actual mountain bike tires. Kona should pair this sweet ride with rubber that has at least some grip.
As for the build, SRAM GX is fine but heavy for a carbon cross-country bike. It also doesn’t appreciate swift gear dumps. I found the 34-tooth chainring to be a bit ambitious for the long, relentless climbs that we Coloradans regularly face. The aluminum WTB KOM i25 rims with Joytech Boost hubs are just fine—nothing to see here. The bike does sport SRAM Guide RS brakes, which I am a fan of. Finally, if you’re not going to give me a dropper post, at least spec a quick-release seatpost collar so I don’t need a tool to lower my saddle for long descents (the bike does have routing for a stealth dropper).
Worth noting is that Kona also makes a Hei Hei DL Trail with the same carbon frame, wider tires, a dropper post and 120 mm of front suspension. Basically, it takes everything that’s excellent about this bike and adjusts it to satisfy each of my minor complaints. Even though I haven’t ridden it, I would buy that model with my own money in a heartbeat.
- Reach: 15.9”
- Stack: 23.2”
- Top Tube: 22.2”
- Head Tube: 69°
- Seat Tube: 75°
- BB Height: 13”
- Chainstays: 16.9”
- Weight: 24 lbs. w/o pedals
- Specs based on size tested