When I was looking to assemble a do-it all hardtail mountain bike that could handle everything from XC racing to trail riding to long distance exploration, the Kona Raijin came out as the top choice for the heart of the build. Available only as a frame set, the Raijin is fabricated from 3-2.5 titanium and manufactured in the US in small limited edition runs.
With a listed frame only weight of 4lbs, it’s not too heavy or too light for a bike intended for laying down miles. Though weighing in at more than a typical carbon frame, it is still light enough to race, with enough heft to actually trail ride. More importantly, unlike many of the current crop of XC whips, it’s dropper post compatible with stealth routing.
Sliding dropouts add weight but also allow slamming the wheel forward for decently short stay generally only found on over built hardtails. There’s also the option to easily covert the drivetrain from geared to single speed.
Why choose a hardtail MTB over a Cross or Gravel Bike
A 29″ mountain bike hardtail is one of the most versatile bikes an urban cyclist can have in their quiver. While the road side of the sport experiments with clearance for wider tires, disc brakes and other trending aspects of bicycle design, the garage tinkerers on the MTB side of the fence have been shaking their heads with the knowledge that this ground has already been tread and retread numerous times. If you’re already running flat bars, why limit yourself in terms of tire clearance?
Those of us that have been experimenting with our bikes already know that swapping out a suspension fork to a light rigid model transforms it into the ultimate hybrid of road and dirt. You can make a 29er road or cross-friendly, but when you see riders on flat bar cross bikes trying to get rad you have to wonder if they made the right call.
Built with a suspension fork, dropper post and large volume tires, its more than suitable for exploring trails locally or in the hills. Put narrower, faster rolling tires on it and explore paved or gravel roads. Or 27.5+ wheels and tires for an epic bike packing setup. Mountain bikes were after all, the original adventure bikes. Gravel, road, cyclocross, touring; a change of tires gives the bike a whole new demeanor. Unlike a carbon bike, with a brushed finish you can stick a u-lock (in a fairly secure area) on it while you run inside to grab some take out, not worry about scratching the paint, and if it scuffs up, a bit of steel wool will buff it right out. I’m not anti-gravel bike, but if I can only have one, my first choice is clear.
Carbon vs Steel vs Titanium
Steel is real, but titanium remains the ideal for a small niche of riders willing to pay a bit more for bikes made from the material that got its start in the aerospace sector. Strong as steel, with a high strength to density ratio and resistance to corrosion, it’s lost favor in the cycling world to carbon fiber. But unlike carbon, titanium includes a certain peace of mind when it comes to the subject of longevity and durability. Around town, the slightly dirty frame doesn’t even draw attention to itself.
I’ve been looking for the right ti frame for a long time. While I’m a fan of carbon fiber for full suspension mountain bikes, I’ve always had a soft spot for titanium hardtails. They’re definitely more expensive, but it’s common to see decade old ti bicycles still in use with frames that look brand new. The Kona Raijin checked all the marks for what I’ve been seeking.
- Seamless 3-2.5 Titanium frameset manufactured in the US by Lynsky
- Sliding dropouts offer geared or single speed compatibility + 428mm / 16.9″ stay length
- Threaded 73mm BB
- 31.6mm seat post diameter and stealth dropper routing
- Designed for 29″ wheels
- Listed weight: 4 lbs.
- HA 69º
- SA 74º
- Reach (17″) 16.5″ / 419mm
- 44mm Headtube allows use of tapered forks
The initial build
Most of the build consisted of parts I had been stock piling for sometime for the project; I began with hanging an XT Shimano 1×10 drivetrain on the bike. Although I debated running XT 1×11, the silver crankset of the 10 speed group looks better over time than the black models, and unlike many of my project bikes, this addition to the quiver is intended to be a treasure I keep around for the long haul.
As opposed to showcasing the latest, greatest or gouchi-est, I’ve select tried and true components I’ve come to trust. Hardtails in the northwest are also our rain bikes, so 1x was a no brainer. 1×10 offers more leeway in terms of durability and while I’ve had great luck with the new M-8000 11 speed XT drivetrain, the 10 speed version should hold up better in the long run. I chose a 32 tooth Oval Traction ring from OneUp Components (see review on the ring here) with a standard rear cassette with a 36t low.
Brakes. In comparison to other brands, Shimano brakes last for years with regular service, and are the easiest to maintain. I began with the XTR M988 Trail brakes; however, although they offer lightweight stopping power, I recently swapped them out for the newer M-8000 XT models that feature the textured levers and more of the old XT feel and power.
Fork & Wheels. I elected to go with X-fusion for suspension. You’ll need to look hard to find a better performing fork for the money. Although its basic damper is limited to lockout and rebound, when you compare it to comparatively priced models, it comes out ahead. The basic internals are also extremely easy to service – when you actually get around to needing to do it. I don’t find I need as much tuning with a hardtail anyway- there’s no rear suspension tune to match, and I’m generally not riding as aggressively- it’s a hardtail for laying down miles. The guys at X-fusion know I’m not a fan of full lockouts, so the locked out mode is actually more of a stiff compression setting.
I initially chose the Trace as the travel can easily be changed (provided you have the knowledge) without the need to purchase additional parts. I wanted to log some miles on the Raijin with a fork set at 100mm before changing it too 120mm, which was easily performed. (I had to get creative as I didn’t have the correct tools, but I do have them now)
With 34mm stanchions, the Trace weighs a bit more than the 32mm XC specific models, which admittedly is a bit weird considering I’m pairing it with Sun Ringle’s XC specific Black Flag Pro SL Wheels.
The Black Flags are also a standout in the XC category weighing in at 1600 grams for the wheelset, and a fraction of the price you’d pay for carbon. The hubs feature a number of wheel axle options, making them extremely versatile. With an internal width of 19mm, they’re on the narrow side for aggressive trail riding, but they’re quick and pair well with gravel tires. The minimal heft doesn’t encourage rowdy riding, but I’m mostly using the bike to hit urban parks and laying down considerable miles on mixed surface rides.
One of the fun aspects of building up a frame like the Raijin is the ability to blur the lines. Ideally I’ll be picking up a rigid carbon fork for cross season down the road. I also can’t wait to try mounting the extra wide Ibis 938 wheels or 650b+ wheels. It could be a total game changer on how she rides.
Seatpost. When it came to the post, I didn’t mess around, choosing the Rockshox Reverb with 6″ of adjustability. I’ve been using the Reverb, Fox Transfer and 9point8 posts, and while it isn’t my favorite, (that honor goes to the Fox) when they work, they work quite well. For the saddle, I went with the carbon railed Circuit from SDG Components to save a bit of heft.
I’m also running carbon bars to save weight, from a brand called Level Nine. I did some freelance marketing and content work for them a while back; they appear to have backed out of the US market, but the bars and stems are wicked light and test extremely well for durability and strength.
Headset. I’ve been happily running Cane Creek models for the last few years, but elected to give local brand Chris King another shot to support local business and jobs. The new split compression ring on the Inset 7 headset is a huge upgrade that eliminates the prior issues I’ve had with their product and it has performed reliably. (and looks pretty slick.)
On the trail
The Raijin has short short stays for an XC specific hardtail, making it far easier to lift the front end and hop over obstacles. With the wheels slammed, the stays measured about 16.75″ which is not shabby at all. There wasn’t a lot of room in terms of tire clearance, so I pushed them back a tad to end up at 17″ to ensure clearance in winter riding. I’ve been running fast rolling tires in the back to aid in clearance, and the Raijin is my rig of choice for fast groomed trails and rides starting from my front door.
I also adjusted the fork travel to 120mm to raise the fun factor. It was a huge improvement. I’ve also gone back and forth between a 60 and 70mm stem; part of me wishes I had gone with the 19″ frame, but I really wanted the clearance for the 6″ dropper post. As you can see from the images, there would have been plenty of room thanks to the sloping top tube. That’s my only regret. I’m accustomed to a shorter reach than what is currently trending though, so I’m not too bummed.
The ride is spot on with what I had been hoping for – an XC capable steed with a bit of that pedigree found in the all mountain hardtail category. Minus the overbuilt tubes and construction. Although I might rail some turns here and there on the Raijin, I have plenty of other bikes to choose from if I want to get super aggro or get my huck on.
Since the initial build, I’ve swapped the 34mm Trace fork out for the more XC specific 32mm model from X-fusion, (also set at 120mm) as its a better match for the Black Flag wheels. I do miss the damper from the Trace though, and am not at all a fan of the remote lockout as it really clutters up the cockpit.
I mostly utilize the Raijin for days when the weather’s lousy, or for long distance mixed surface exploration. I even lined up at the starting gate of an XC race last summer, finishing midpack; the only change I’d make for next time would be swapping from a 60mm to a 70mm stem.
The geometry of the Raijin isn’t that far off from the more aggressive Honzo from Kona. The head tube angle is a degree steeper, and the stays are a bit longer, but its still a blast riding trail. I’m planning to try swapping the wheels and fork out for more trail oriented selections to see how much her personality changes.
The Raijin frameset lists for $1999. Check it out at Konaworld.com.