There are some bikes you just don’t get rid of. The Kona Honzo CR has been one of them, filling the 29″ hardtail slot in the quiver for a few seasons now, and being the test platform for a wide range of review products. At the time of its introduction, the Kona Honzo CR enjoyed a reputation as the progressive 29er hardtail of the time. For those unfamiliar with the Kona staple, the Honzo initially launched as a stout chromoly rig that was anything but XC. The platform has evolved over time to include alloy and carbon iterations with the Honzo CR introduced in 2017 as a lightweight carbon fiber iteration of Kona’s popular production 29er all mountain hardtail.
Ironically the geometry that was once on the cutting edge is now almost retro. In 2022, the Honzo is still being produced though it’s evolved, with several iterations being offered — the Big Honzo, Honzo DL, and the long and low Honzo ESD.
The current edition of the Honzo (alloy) steepens the seat angle a degree, and relaxes the head angle 2º, taking it down to 66º, which moves the front wheel out, lengthening the wheelbase and the front center. The chainstays grow a few millimeters but remain relatively short at 417mm.
Longer reach measurements on mountain bikes have been trending for some time now, and one of the reasons I picked up the Honzo frame in the first place was that it was a size large. I had been at home on size medium frames with a 450mm reach measurement, but at 5’10” am generally between most medium and large size frames. A number of riders have pushed me towards a large so I figured I would try it to see how it worked for me. The size large has a 470mm reach, which is inline with the sizing I’m currently running my full suspension trail bikes. There is plenty of standover for me with an inseam of 31″ or so, and I am able to run a 150mm dropper post.
The size large has worked well for me for the cross country application I mainly use it for, though it feels on the long side at times on dirt jumps and technical stuff, a 30mm stem keeps it manageable. (though I think for a hardtail I’d almost prefer a 460-465mm reach and a 40-50mm stem, which is inline with the stems I used to run on BMX and dirt jump bikes)
Kona fans in da house
I’ve been a fan of Kona’s hardtail philosophy, and as a fan of titanium, acquired both the Raijin (XC frame) and Rove (cyclocross) for my personal quiver. A few seasons back I documented the build-up of a ti Kona Raijin frame. I was hoping it to be the last hardtail for a long time, but my preferences in regards to frame size — specifically reach — have evolved after riding longer bikes. Eventually, I parted with my Raijin in order to acquire the much longer carbon Honzo frame, which I proceeded to assemble with my favorite components.
My setup has evolved over the last few years as I’ve changed things up to reflect the various intentions I had for the bike. Realistically though, the main thing that’s changed is the size and volume of the tires, though I’ve also experimented with various handlebars and grips for product reviews.
Transforming from a dedicated winter trail steed to a multi-surface rocket intended for XC and short track events, the swapping of tires has a dramatic effect on the personality of the ride.
The Current Build — Shimano XT Di2
- Shimano XT Di2 Drivetrain
- Customized Fernhill Co frame bag with eyelets added for Di2 Battery cable routing
- Shimano XT Brakes – a personal fave
- Shimano XT cranks (170mm) and press-fit bottom bracket
- Fox 34 fork, 130mm travel
- Initial build: FSA Afterburner 29″ wheelset — now DT Swiss
- FSA Headset
- Initial build: Shimano Tharsis Carbon Handlebar — current: PNW Components Range Bar
- SDG Tellis Dropper Post, 150mm — still going strong 3 seasons later
- SDG Bel Air Saddle, ti rails (limited edition blue colorway)
- Default grips: SDG — current: whatever I’m testing at the moment
- Syntace 30mm stem
The build has been based around a Shimano XT Di2 drivetrain. I initially ran the electronic shifting system on an Evil Following and the reliable (though possibly a bit overcomplicated) drive train system has proved itself over several seasons of use. Yes, it costs more and can be a pain to set up initially but it works extremely well, with shift after shift clicking perfectly.
Shimano has pulled back on marketing the Di2 platform to the mountain bike community; while I’m torn on it from a maintenance standpoint, it has proven the test of time and I’m extremely impressed with its longevity. Though Di2 isn’t offered for MTB, the tech continues on the road side and in the e-bike component range.
Settling on the tires to run has been the biggest challenge. I started off with Continental models that features a good amount of air volume but after spending time on the bike, decided to embrace the geometry which feels most effective as an XC rocket.
I already have trail bikes set up to go fast over the gnar and technical terrain, and to be honest, I don’t see why I’d want to subject myself to getting beat up on a hardtail unless it offered a distinct advantage. Last year I was running an XC 2.2 rear tire paired with a Maxxis 2.3 DHF, but as I now have a downcountry/short travel 29er again, I’m going to go back to narrow XC tires and utilize the Honzo for gravel and multi-surface rides. While a gravel bike would be faster on the pavement, I’m always having more fun on the Honzo when I’m off pavement.
On the trail
When I lived in the east bay — Oakland, to be specific — I spent a lot of time on hardtails exploring the green space lining the bay. Though bike legal single track is almost non-existent, one can travel the entire length of the bay on natural surface roads, making hardtails a logical choice for all-day exploration.
I’ve taken advantage of having the Honzo for similar exploration in the Portland area, embarking on rides from my home to explore the many buttes and green spaces, connecting each patch of green on the map via bike routes and bicycle greenways.
Most locals do these routes on drop bar-equipped gravel bikes, and it makes sense to have multiple hand positions on these all-day excursions. The main downside of the Honzo or any flat bar bike for all day excursions is that the single hand position does get tiring; I’ve been experimenting with faster multi-surface tires as well as inner bar ends to add comfort on these longer adventure rides. (still an experiment in progress)
As I’m accustomed to more aggressive geometry found on modern trail bikes, the 68º headtube angle of the Honzo does feel a bit dated at times. (I also wish the BB was a tad higher at times, which is why I run a 130mm fork on it) Admittedly, it’s far better than taking a gravel bike down the same trails, but in the context of a progressive XC hardtail, you can’t even buy a carbon frame like this at the moment. I’ve been considering taking it further and adding a rigid fork to it (or a lighter weight XC fork), so I’m planning to continue changing up the builds and configurations of the now-classic carbon Honzo.
The downside? I keep thinking about the N+1… and building up a more progressive lightweight steel bike for more aggressive winter rides.. plus it would be nice to have a bike I could lock up without concern of being damaged.