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Review: 2016 Kona Hei Hei DL Trail 29er mountain bike

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Kona Hei Hei DL Trail bike review (6)
Categories. It used to be a mountain bike was a mountain bike. You’d use the same bike for trials, DH, and XC, and all in the same weekend.  Now it seems like there is a category for everything – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Given the varying speeds, terrain, and riding styles across the full spectrum of mountain biking, having something a little more purpose built will usually improve the experience, as long as you pick the right tool for the job.

But at the same time we’re also starting to see more bikes that blur the lines between established categories. The Kona Hei Hei DL Trail is definitely one of those bikes. Possessing only 100mm of travel in the rear, the combination of 120mm up front and slightly more playful angles will leave you asking if this thing is an XC bike on steroids, or a leaned out trail bike? Yes…

Oneup one up Shark 50t 50 tooth cassette adapter shimano xt wide range 1x-17
Shown with the addition of the OneUp Shark 11-50t drivetrain.

The 2016 Kona Hei Hei DL Trail is a bike that comes from a family of split personalities. The aptly named Hei Hei DL Race (both bikes are also available in slightly less expensive builds), uses the same Kona Race Light 6061 butted aluminum frame with 100mm of travel squeezed out of their Fuse Independent Suspension system. Essentially a modified single pivot that relies on a small amount of flex from the flattened seat stays, the suspension on the Trail DL is handled by a Fox Float Performance rear shock rather than the RockShox Monarch RL on the Race.

Kona Hei Hei DL Trail

The other huge difference in terms of spec and performance between the two bikes is the choice of fork. The Race is meant to be a race bike, so it is spec’ed with a 100mm travel RockShox Reba RL set at 100mm of travel. The DL Trail bumps this up to a 120mm travel Fox 34 Performance. This not only has a big effect on the handling and performance of the front end, but it results in a subtle change in geometry with 1º slacker angles at the head tube and seat tube. Between the longer travel and slightly different geometry, the trail bike designation is hit home with a 1x drivetrain, wider bars, and a shorter stem. As we’ve seen with the 2017 carbon varieties, the Trail version steps it up even more with the addition of a dropper post.

If you’re wondering how that geometry compares to the thoroughly trail focused Process 111, it has the same 68º head tube angle and 74º seat tube angle, though the Process ends up with a longer top tube and front center. This was noticeable on the bike, as I thought to myself that I wished the top tube was just a little longer which is surprising considering I’m typically between a small and a medium (I’m 5’8″) on many 29ers. After riding a number of recent trail and enduro bikes, the shorter front center is noticeable, but not a deal breaker. Other than that small quibble, the geometry of the Hei Hei DL Trail is an excellent balance between all day XC and Trail. I really like the fact that the stand over is excellent while maintaining plenty of room for a bottle cage inside the triangle as well as ample room for a dropper post.

Kona Hei Hei DL Trail bike review (8)

As you would expect from a bike with Trail in the name, the Hei Hei comes with a properly wide 750mm Kona XC/BC 35 riser bar and short(er) Kona XC stem, along with ODI Ruffian MX lock on grips.

Kona Hei Hei DL Trail bike review (10)

The seat and seatpost include a WTB Volt Comp and another Kona house brand part in the Thumb offset post. Honestly, there are surely lighter parts out there, but the Kona branded parts worked as they should and wouldn’t leave me wanting to upgrade due to sizing or other concerns right away.

Kona Hei Hei DL Trail bike review (5)

The stock wheels and tires add to the smart component package, with Stan’s ZTR Rapid 25 rims laced to Novatec 15×100 and 142 x 12 hubs with stainless 15g spokes. Tires include Maxxis Ardent EXO TR 29×2.25″/IKON EXO TR 29×2.2″ which mount up tubeless quite easily. That leaves the drivetrain and brakes which are all Shimano XT except the RaceFace Aeffect Cinch crank and KMC X11 chain.

In most situations the stock drivetrain was adequate, but after riding around Pisgah and Dupont, I was wishing for a wider range of gears. The addition of the OneUp Shark group made a big difference and would definitely be an upgrade I would consider if I owned the bike. Note that the Shark does require a different chainring with a greater offset to the inside for ideal chainline (49mm vs 51mm). I tried it initially with the stock RaceFace ring and the drivetrain was not happy. There is also a removable front derailleur mount so if you wanted to add a front derailleur, you could – and with the Cinch crank you could simply add a 2x spider to get there on the gearing.

Stock, the medium bike came in at 27.69lbs (12.55kg) set up with tubes – I rode the bike tubeless, but weighed it as shipped. Retail price is $3299 complete or $1699 for the frame and shock.

Kona Hei Hei DL Trail bike review (3)
Thanks to Grant B. with some help on the photos.

The Ride

I’ve already proclaimed my affinity for slacker, short travel trail bikes, and the Hei Hei DL Trail seems to check off a lot of boxes. Realistically though, I’d say the Hei Hei falls a little more into the XC category than the Trail category. Put it in a high gear and the bike flies through woods without the nervousness of a stereotypical XC geometry, which is really where the bike shines. The Hei Hei is really a bike that you could spend all day riding your local trails and still jump in on the local XC or short track races and do quite well.

The choice of components really stands out as it provides a build closer to what you would choose on your own given the opportunity. Really, the only knock to the component spec would be the loose ball headset – which only became apparent when I tried to install our Ohlins test fork. The Ohlins RXF uses a built-in crown race which is not compatible with the stock headset on the Kona.

Tire clearance is something to consider when purchasing the Hei Hei as even with the 2.25 Ikon in the rear, it still managed to rub on stays when it was muddy. You won’t get much bigger tires in the frame, which alludes to its XC lineage.

While the Fox 34 fork offers an incredibly confident front end (especially with the 35mm bar and stem), at times it feels a little over spec’ed compared to the rear. While riding in North Carolina, I found myself pushing the bike past its comfortable limits, but with the limitation coming from the back of the bike rather than the front. With that said, it is an incredibly capable and impressively stiff XC bike that will be more than adequate for a majority of users.


Kona Hei Hei DL Trail bike review (1)

My advice would be if you look for every little undulation of the trail to be used as a jump, you’d be better off with something like the Process 111 DL. However, if you consider any air to be “big air” and want a bike that is comfortable, relatively light and affordable, and easy to ride fast, the Hei Hei DL Trail is an excellent machine. Bikes like this are the perfect choice for riders who dabble in XC racing but will be simply riding trail for the majority of the season.


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8 years ago

Great review, I work at a Kona dealer and have been eyeballing this thing since announcement. Any time I spend in NC I’m usually at Dupont or in Pisgah and Bent Creek, so I don’t think this could have been any more relevant. Might just have to pull the trigger.

8 years ago

Great pics of Dupont, Zach! My home away from home. Huge Kona fan – looking forward to the rumored carbon Honzo. And I really dig the HeiHei, including the carbon version, but think Kona missed the boat with the rear tire clearance. It seems with more folks, including the XC crowd, running 2.35 in the rear, that should be the baseline.

8 years ago
Reply to  TheFunkyMonkey

XC? The guys who race full-sussers often still run 2.0s and 2.1s in the back, though 2.2/2.25 are becoming more common recently. I dig the 2.2 rear, but it’s definitely on the bigger side of what XCers currently run.

8 years ago

@tessar – just an observation I’ve made after volunteering at a number of local XC races last year and this year. I was surprised at how many racers, Cat1 and otherwise, were running 2.35 Ikons and Racing Ralphs. Plenty still running skinny rubber but it seemed, based on my unscientific observation, that more racers are running bigger rubber. It may be a local thing, I don’t know.

8 years ago

Balance is best, but it’s always best to have the rear end of a bike be “overwhelmed” before the front!

8 years ago

Great review. Having owned this bike for several weeks now, and ridden many of the
local trails here in NelsonNZ, i can confirm that is a verycomfortable capable xc bike. I have been riding a carbon XC race hardtail 29er (xtc) previously, and I was concerned about the change to
slight increase in weight, slacker angles and aluminium frame ride. My concerns have been unfounded though, and I can honestly say that unless you ride serious downhill then it is very capable. It Climbs and rolls very smooth and quick, but is solid and confident on rough descents. I have swapped the wheels to tubeless carbon hoops, and it rides so good I couldn’t care it isn’t the carbon frame. If you are an experienced rider, looking for a really nice solid light FUN bike that can handle most if not all of the stuff 99% of us do – and do so at speed – then for the price this is really the best there is available. Yes I could have spent 2000 more and got the base level 2015 santa cruz tallboy, or a trek 9, or giant or bmc or yeti etc. but ride this thing around a bit, and then see if you even think of anything else but getting out to ride again. That is what a great bike does, and that is what this bike does. If it fits the criteria you are looking for buy it you will not be dissappointed.

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