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Long Term Steel Time

2021 Kona Honzo ESD - Full Review

Words Cam McRae
Photos Deniz Merdano
Date Mar 5, 2021
Reading time

On the terrain I generally ride, and among the some of the usual suspects who congregate at the base of Mount Seymour here in North Vancouver, a hardtail almost seems like a novelty. And it's not that difficult to understand why. For most riders, there's no need to make the trails we ride any harder, and generally most of us are looking for anything that will give us a little more control, traction and speed; criteria that don't point to ditching rear suspension. I'd bought into this ethos so completely, I wasn't sure I could ride our usual menu of trails without the ground hugging goodness of 150mm or more of well-damped suspension. I was however, pretty certain it wouldn't be enjoyable much of the time. As it turns out the performance gap between a hardtail with progressive geometry, like the Kona Honzo ESD, and a cutting edge enduro bike isn't as wide as I assumed.

*If you missed the First Impressions Review, which focuses more on parts and and less on ride, you can find it here...

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The Honzo was surprisingly nimble in the twisty bits

You might see where this is going. As I rode the Honzo ESD more and more, while making a few refinements to help my 55-year-old bones deal with the bumps that were now shooting almost directly through my spine and legs, it got better and better. I was less winded after short sections of rough singletrack, I began linking lines together and committing to drops, gaps and rock faces I never imagined sending on early 90s technology, despite the very modern shape. And while I can't see riding a hardtail full time, particularly considering my current occupation,* I can easily imagine riding the Honzo weekly, as part of my regular rotation. I giggled a lot on the ride today, possibly less intensely than usual, for reasons that are no fault of the ESD which I'll lay out below, but it was an altogether excellent outing.

*I did discover however that if I could only ride a hardtail, I would almost certainly remain as enamoured with mountain biking as ever

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North Shore hazards at their coldest.

The missing link was comrades riding similarly constrained technology. Who likes getting moved back on the grid? Despite keeping up much better than I feared, and even better than my riding buddies expected, I wasn't able to challenge the fastest riders on today's ride. Which means, the only thing keeping me from riding a hardtail full time, besides my age and my vocation, is my ego.

I guess it's not only ego, although my competitive nature always lurks just below the surface. Another issue is that we weren't 'feeding off each other' while riding close to our limit, because I was generally a little slower. And sometimes quite bit slower. Despite the cliché, the boost that comes from that symbiotic gravity train might be my favourite mountain biking sensation. I am instead feeding off some hardtail cred, which is worth nothing in my skewed circle. Well, nothing but your buddy stealing your beer and threatening to throw your steel steed into the hollow stump that's filled with beer cans. So slightly less than nothing actually. And come on, it's not even made of aluminum FFS.

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The Honzo liked speed and wasn't averse to rough terrain, but when the two joined forces, it was clear I was providing every inch of rear suspension.

As I was saying earlier, I assumed I'd pick my battles with the 4130 beauty, taking on more sedate lines or riding mostly solo, but recently I committed to the ESD for every ride, no matter how much the trail itinerary or the roster intimidated my aforementioned fragile ego. Earlier in the process I crossed off certain moves before the ride even began, and avoided some trails and areas altogether, but as I stumbled along the learning curve, the capabilities of the modern geometry and well-curated parts spec. began to reveal themselves. I started knocking off moves I hadn't even attempted on full enduro sleds until a year ago or so, leading to intense feelings of half rigid satisfaction. On my last ride, which was also the most challenging I'd signed up for on the ESD, I walked away from a couple of moves, but they weren't every time features for me on even the latest technology. And I may even attempt them when the trails are a little drier.

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On rough and rooty ascents I missed the traction and compliance of rear suspension, but in many situations I revelled in the more direct power transmission.

The Platform

Obviously I'm not sharing an experience that could be extended to any old hardtail; this is a particularly capable arrangement of tubes. Everything about the geo feels just right. It does now that is, after the rocky start. Cables got twisted and I received an XL, which felt pretty sweet on the way down, except in tight switchbacks, but was too long for me to pedal comfortably. I put the XL in the short position (417mm chain stays) at the rear dropout, to detune the length a little, but I've been riding the large in the long position, (433mm) exclusively, for a little more stability at speed. I didn't swap it back however, so I can't claim to know how different the two feel. Snap is there in the corners though, and I've never felt any lack of stability that couldn't be explained by rider inability or error. The spacious cockpit and medium-long rear end allowed me to feel like I was in the bike rather than on top of it, which seems even more helpful without rear suspension.

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Geo numbers provided by Kona

The BB occasionally feels a little low but normally it clears most obstacles I expect to be able to avoid. Crank drag at bottom out hasn't been a problem either, even with a longer fork (more on that below), although I have noticed the extra width of the Kona WahWah 2 pedals I've been a little more since front travel went up. I have more to say about the seat angle below, but for me, before the fork swap, the ESD felt a little too steep in some situations.

Once I got on the large, I was able to harness the agility of the ESD in tight terrain. Many of the trails I expected to appreciate the least, ended up being some of the best. Trails on Fromme, like the tight tech of both Bookwus and Grannies, which require precision in low speed situations and composure during medium to high impacts, were an excellent match for the Honzo. I expected to hate Bookwus in particular, but I'm eager to get back there once the snow melts.

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Going down? I was a little terrified toward the bottom of the first few larger rock faces I rode, but once I got my weight placement figured out it was just fine.

Inserts and a 170mm Fork

I made the ESD even more capable by swapping out the excellent 150mm Marzocchi Z1 and installing a 170mm Fox 36. I had no complaints about the Z1 and would have been just as happy popping in a longer air spring to achieve a similar result, but getting things like that done is more complicated on this bike-crazy COVID-19 timeline so I pulled a 36 off another bike instead. I've also been riding inserts on the Honzo almost since the beginning, starting with Rimpacts, then moving to a much more damped and pleasant experience on Cushcore. Most recently I've been riding some high volume Octa Mousse inserts from Spain, and I've been very impressed. They are very light and seem to tick most of the boxes, but I'll need more time before rendering a final verdict. I can say with some certainty however that you won't catch me riding the ESD without inserts, because it's way more fun this way.

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My most recent ride on the Honzo with the 170mm Fox Float 36 installed. Photo - Mike Wallace

Over-forking the front end by 20mm was obviously a big deal in terms of bike shape, but the Honzo was up for it. The original, un-sagged head tube angle is 63.5º (or 63 according to the chart above), and it looks to be a hair under 62º now, according to my dodgy analog angle finder,* but once the fork settles into its travel it feels just fine. Extra fine even. I enjoyed the bike with the 150mm front end, but in this neighbourhood, that extra 20mm comes in handy, particularly when you consider hardtails get steeper as they move into their travel.

*hardtail riders prefer to avoid digital tools

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Grip was at an all time high on the day we shot these photos. Cold and dry conditions are a treat on the Shore.

In terms of climbing position, I prefer the slightly slacker seat tube angle and raised bars delivered by the longer fork while the reach still feels fine. A steep seat tube angle suits my proportions very well, but there were times when I felt like I was getting pitched a little forward when pedalling seated, albeit with the saddle in a neutral position. 77º is indeed very steep and once you sag into the fork's travel it gets even steeper. It's possible there might be some negative outcomes for some terrain with the extra front travel, but not for the terrain this bike is designed for. I can't imagine wanting to go back to 150mm at this point, but before I swapped the fork I didn't have a single complaint.

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What's less than a table top? A card table? Must get that left knee in.

The Ride

Learning to ride the Honzo ESD has been an invigorating experience that requires full commitment. The long and slack front end, made longer and slacker with the 170mm fork, doesn't sing until you get your weight on the front end. I realized this early on but this tendency is even more pronounced than I initially thought. I haven't yet reached the point where I've felt I've surpassed the sweet spot and the further forward I position my bones, extending my legs to compensate for the absence of rear cushion, the better the bike performs. This was particularly true as speeds increased and I was bombarded with more high intensity impacts.

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Riding moderate slabs is now in play.

Virtually the entire North Shore was logged beginning around 1860 and the legacy of that activity includes massive cedar stumps* and skid roads scattered across all three mountains. Teams of horses would navigate these primitive avenues pulling log sections as big as school buses, either to mills or to trains for further transport. These roads were made by laying cedar planks perpendicular to the direction of travels in order keep the horses out of the mud and to allow the logs to slide. Today, trail builders frequently use these roads as access points and connectors between trails and they are a great example of situations that are not particularly hardtail friendly. The skids are no longer nicely aligned and they make for a potent combination of momentum-sucking square-edged hits and high velocity situations. Keeping up to my dually-riding buddies in these conditions was not fun and had me wishing for 200mm of big squishy travel.

*others species rotted to nothing long ago

That was the only situation where I found the Honzo a chore to ride. In the early days, on less challenging trails, I felt pretty good about the bike on the roughest trails I'd ridden up until that point, but skidders at speed and similar conditions made by rocks and roots, challenge my hardtail prowess. The bike's nimble nature allowed me to dodge bumps when speeds were lower, steep terrain was welcome because most of the weight is on the slack front end, and it was a blast on corners and undulating terrain, so I'll take that minor trade-off and try to improve my technique to smooth out the fast and rough.

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I'm a guy with large feet who prefers smaller platforms. I don't like my foot to be able to touch the spindle area between the pins, particularly on pedals like these that lack central pins, because it reduces the pressure I can apply to the outer pins.

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If you are a fan of large platforms you'll likely be a fan of the Wah Wah 2s. Lots of grip, a high quality finish, and a thoughtful design. Kona will sell you a rebuild kit and/or a set of replacement pins, but extra pins weren't included in the box.More info on the Wah Wah 2s, in both aluminum and composite (for 60 USD!) here.

Components

In my First Impressions piece I couldn't find much to fault about the well-chosen component mix on the Honzo ESD. After six months of riding, the only minor gripe I have is that the Trans X seat post has become a little grouchy recently, getting stuck during extension. It improved some after I cranked the air pressure and applied some lube, but it remains less than perfect.

The shifting and braking, provided by a mix of Shimano Deore, an XT shifter (an excellent touch), and an SLX cassette, never let me down for an instant. The tire selection was seemingly taken from my wish list, and while I'd take a MaxxGrip up front and a little more volume, I never found them wanting. The wheels were good, although protected by inserts, I really liked the WTB saddle, and even the grips were to my liking. It's rare that a selection of components suits my needs and wants so well. I could make some upgrades but, aside from fork travel, I can't see any reason to. Assuming I get the post up to perfect health that is.

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This is a good looking bike. I like the paint so much I've begun applying Ride Wrap's generic 'covered' package for Hardtails.

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Roll Credits

In case it wasn't obvious already, my reviewing powers are somewhat compromised here, because I don't have recent experience on any bikes that might be considered direct competitors. I haven't ridden anything from Chromag for a couple of years, and that was the last time I rode a hardtail off road. I can tell you about the Honzo ESD's capabilities as I see them, but only in isolation and in comparison to what I'm capable of on bikes like the Santa Cruz Nomad, Trek Slash, and Yeti SB150. If you're looking for head to head conclusions about the Doctahawk or Norco's Torrent, I'm afraid I'm not much use.

I can tell you that riding the Honzo ESD has made me a better rider and I can't wait until my next ride on a long travel dually, when I will saddle up and feel like I have super powers. That sensation of being able to push your rear wheel through anything and to launch every root and rock, a byproduct of experiencing the more direct connection you get with the trail on a hardtail, doesn't last when returning to a dually because we get used to it, but I'm pretty clear that every hardtail ride makes me a little better. It's remarkable how much more trail contour I notice when I get back on a big bike, allowing me to find free momentum and better lines and to roll faster. I also genuinely enjoy riding the Honzo independent of the riding clinic it provides and at this point I hope to use it as a second bike in the stable and as a test platform; in the near term for a budget coil fork and for more experiments with inserts.

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Nice sleek lines and generous top tube clearance as well. When I exchanged my XL frame the parts were swapped to the large, leaving the lines and cables a little long, but I'll get to that eventually.

Looking around lately I've started to wonder if hardtails are becoming heirloom pieces brought out for special occasions. The lure of technology, comfort and speed has filtered dual suspension mountain bikes down to every price level. There was a time when riders would start on a hardtail and work their way up to more sophisticated platforms, but riders of almost all ages and levels now seem to be riding full squish bikes out of the gate.

I was at Rampage in 2003 when Russ Morrell launched his ill-fated attempt at riding a hardtail in the competition. He crashed hard and knocked himself out cold and out of the competition, but he had no option but to compete on the lines chosen by riders on full DH bikes. When 29ers arrived in DH Loic Bruni complained that riders look too static racing on big hoops. Reverse engineering that complaint, it's amazing to see a skilled rider charging on a hardtail.* They are by necessity much more active and mobile on the bike. For the same reason I often prefer edits of riders like Finn Iles on an enduro bike, like the one launched yesterday. To me it looks faster and more dynamic, further revealing the incredible skill of top level riders.

*Kona's launch video for the Honzo is a great example of this or if this one of Connor Fearon riding the aluminum Honzo

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At the highest level, only dirt jumpers remain devoted to the hardtail, and to smaller wheels. Hardtails are becoming more rare in XC racing and virtually unheard of in Enduro and DH, or they were when racing was last allowed to happen. I have to wonder if we're missing something in this headlong march toward advanced technology. It used to be that top level riders would spend time on hardtails during winter months around the North Shore. These days they're more likely to ride e-bikes.

All of this makes me glad there are companies like Kona, where management is willing to make bikes like this that go against the grain. It's paid off as well. You may find an ESD at your local shop, but Kona has long since sold them all for 2021 from what I've heard, so perhaps a revival is afoot.

Hopefully I can convince some of my riding buddies to consider adding a moderately-priced (or Gucci - I don't care) hardtail for both back-up and for the simple pleasure of a less-complicated yet more-demanding trail conveyance. I also need to convince those who already own one to saddle it up for more than special occasions. A weekly hardtail ride would be a welcome addition to my riding schedule.

If you can find a Honzo ESD, it will set you back 3700 CAD or 2800 USD

More from Konaworld here...

cam@nsmb.com
Cam McRae

Age - 55

Height - 6'/183cm (mostly legs)

Weight - 165lbs/74.5kg

Ape Index - 0.986

Inseam - 34"/86cm

Trail I've been stoked on lately - Fifth Horseman

Bar Width - 760mm

Preferred Reach - 485-500mm (longer with 27.5 wheels than 29)

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Comments

pete@nsmb.com
+11 Cr4w mrbrett Michael Klein ManInSteel boomforeal Vik Banerjee Vincent Edwards Karl Fitzpatrick goose8 thaaad Derek Baker
Pete Roggeman  - March 5, 2021, 8:34 a.m.

Called out right at the end. Ok, ok, I'll dust off the Primer. Only question is what day becomes weekly hardtail ride day and can we make t-shirts?

Reply

Masacrejoe
+3 Pete Roggeman Matt Lee Niels
Michael Klein  - March 5, 2021, 9:44 a.m.

I think you owe us a review of that Primer with 29” wheels, if I’m correct?

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
+1 Michael Klein
Pete Roggeman  - March 5, 2021, 2:44 p.m.

I do. At least I can make two of you happy in one go.

Reply

craw
+9 Sanesh Iyer mrbrett Cam McRae ManInSteel Pete Roggeman LewisQC Vik Banerjee Andy Eunson Tremeer023
Cr4w  - March 5, 2021, 8:48 a.m.

It's interesting to finally get to a too-steep ESTA. For me that was 78' on a hardtail. It just felt weird. But my current hardtail is 76.5 and that's just right. As long as I've got inserts I can do anything on my hardtail I can with my FS bike, even at similar speeds but the margin for error goes down and soreness goes way up. Good times. There's something something primal riding roots about a good hardtail.

Reply

Vikb
+2 goose8 bushtrucker
Vik Banerjee  - March 5, 2021, 3:06 p.m.

Yeah I find ~74 deg STA great on a ~140mm forked HT.

Reply

tehllama42
0
Tehllama42  - March 6, 2021, 8:17 a.m.

That's the spot I have found as well - it's brilliant, and hilariously flexible.

Reply

rnayel
+8 Sanesh Iyer Cr4w mrbrett ManInSteel Pete Roggeman Mammal Karl Fitzpatrick goose8
RNAYEL  - March 5, 2021, 8:58 a.m.

@Pete, as a fellow Primer rider, if NSMB were to make a punny "NSMB hardtail" T-shirt, I'm in for 1. I'm sure that many of the people commenting on the hardtail thread in the forum would pick one up too.

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
+1 Andrew Major
Pete Roggeman  - March 5, 2021, 11:44 a.m.

Thanks, Rachid.

We're overdue to make some swag. That's good to know, and maybe a good place to start!

Reply

AverageAdventurer
0
AverageAdventurer  - March 7, 2021, 6:40 p.m.

Yep; sign me up. Toss a "steel is real" or "Truelove fan club" and I'll get a hat too. Just make sure Mike gets hooked up. My samurai has been relentlessly fun and recklessly complimented.

Reply

sanesh-iyer
+9 Cr4w mrbrett Cam McRae Pete Roggeman Andrew Major Vincent Edwards DadStillRides goose8 Tremeer023
Sanesh Iyer  - March 5, 2021, 9:04 a.m.

Those are some gnarly lines on the hardtail Cam! Glad to hear you had so much fun on the bike. 

I'm with Alex here, my speeds on a hardtail and FS are similar, as are my smiles. The margin for error does go way down, but that's one reason I like it. It keeps you really engaged. And night rides in the snow on hard tails are next level fun, even on easy trails. I find my limit is t-ing up new gnarly lines and jumping into things with blown out landings. My number one hardtail detonation mechanism is stuffing the back wheel into a blown out hole in a landing or runout and getting launched.

I fully agree, I think hardtails (and even short travel duallies) are underappreciated.  I progressed more riding on my hardtail and short travel bikes than any of the long travel bikes I've owned. There's a lot to be said for the simplicity of an HT. While a fully might save your ass, a hardtail is going to prevent you from getting into those situations and allow you to build your skills. 

Long live the steel hardtail. Too bad I'm not in the market for one, buy it right once and keep it forever.

Reply

craw
+2 Sanesh Iyer Pete Roggeman
Cr4w  - March 5, 2021, 9:24 a.m.

Once I'm comfortable on my HT I tend to smash stuff with the same level of impunity as on my FS. Mine is super long/low/slack and Ti, which might have something to do with it. Long tubes and Ti combined with a long leverage heavy rider means the bike bends, a lot. That bike is like a ski. Just arc into the corner and it splays popping back out the other side.

Reply

sanesh-iyer
+2 Pete Roggeman goose8
Sanesh Iyer  - March 5, 2021, 9:59 a.m.

What is it? 

I'm with you on corners. On my fully I cant pump the same way. Not that it's slower, it's just... A fully. 

I've not ridden a Ti bike, or done any testing. One day... I think that's the only hardtail upgrade I will do.

Reply

andy-eunson
+9 Sanesh Iyer Michael Klein Cr4w ManInSteel Pete Roggeman Vincent Edwards goose8 Tremeer023 Muesliman
Andy Eunson  - March 5, 2021, 9:27 a.m.

In a philosophical way, what are we looking for when we ride? A degree of thrill on the descents. With a hardtail you get the same thrill but at (arguably) a slower speed on less steep (maybe) less jumpy trails. It’s human nature to an extent to want more. More car, more house, more toys etc.  But it’s similar with our bikes. Bikes and trails evolved together where we kept asking for more capable bikes to ride more challenging trails but I think to a certain extent we forgot what we were all really wanting. We called it progress but was it really? I ride both and I enjoy both. Certainly some trails are more enjoyable with full suspension as those trails are rocky and rough. To the cynical the marketing people are telling us what we want and we all suck it up. And there is a grain of truth to that. 

Good review though. Kind of shows that geometry is more important than amount of travel.

Reply

craw
+9 Allen Lloyd Pete Roggeman Mammal LewisQC jaydubmah Sanesh Iyer Andy Eunson goose8 Tremeer023
Cr4w  - March 5, 2021, 9:57 a.m.

Getting a hardtail isn't necessarily a case of N+1itis. It's nice to experience familiar rides through the lens of a different machine. There's something sort of permanent about a great hardtail. Maybe you don't ride it all the time but it's always there, an heirloom. I love how a HT makes easier trails exciting again.

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
+5 Cr4w Sanesh Iyer goose8 Cam McRae Tremeer023
Pete Roggeman  - March 5, 2021, 2:47 p.m.

I like your use of the word heirloom, Alex. For us old geezers there's a nostalgic element that works with that - steel hardtails (and Ti *drool*) will always have a special place in my heart even if it's not going to be the first bike I reach for most of the time. And it always reminds me of my early days of riding when bikes were simpler and I held on to them longer (and let's face it, I also spent more hours per week on a bike back then: riding the shore, commuting, urban rides...)

Reply

mammal
+1 Andy Eunson
Mammal  - March 5, 2021, 2:47 p.m.

Very well said!

Reply

velocipedestrian
+6 Michael Klein Sanesh Iyer goose8 Andy Eunson Tremeer023 Muesliman
Velocipedestrian  - March 5, 2021, 2:55 p.m.

All about this. A bigger bike means going faster / steeper / higher to get same thrill. This also ups the consequences of failure.

Unless you're racing (and f*ck strava, life is not a race) then smiles per hour is the winning metric.

Reply

rigidjunkie
+4 Cam McRae Pete Roggeman Andy Eunson goose8
Allen Lloyd  - March 5, 2021, 10:15 a.m.

I love the predictability of a hardtail with the right geometry.  To this day I am more comfortable dropping off anything for the first time on my (now sold:( ) Nimble 9 than my Hightower.  The Hightower eats things up and very fun, BUT it doesn't feel right to me when riding a new line.  My Nimble 9 was a trustworthy companion that I hope my Hightower will become one day. Or I might just buy one of these or another Nimble 9, if they do simple paint jobs again.  

There is nothing like the feeling of riding up behind a younger person riding a burly bike when you are on a hardtail.  Especially if you can launch off a drop that they stop to look at while you soar off into the distance.

Reply

vincentaedwards
+1 LewisQC
Vincent Edwards  - March 5, 2021, 6:58 p.m.

They have simple paint jobs on the new N9 now! ... and chrome is back, too.

Reply

RideEverything
+7 Andy Eunson ManInSteel Cam McRae Pete Roggeman Velocipedestrian Sanesh Iyer Muesliman
RideEverything  - March 5, 2021, 11:07 a.m.

Nice write-up!

It's disappointing to hear that Kona is sold out of the ESD. I was practically throwing money at the bike shops that carry Kona in the S2S to get me a frame. No one ever got back to me. Now I am disappoint.

I've been on the original HonzoST from the get-go (2012) and over-forked it not long after. Rode that bike/frame into the ground! So much fun! I managed to crack the frame after 7 years and Kona did me a solid with getting me a 2019 HonzoST frame as "warranty". I've always been a fan of Kona and because of them helping me out I'm a fan for life!

I'm really interested in the ESD because in my pursuit of over-forking and putting an angleset in my Honzos I've been going about it the hard way in trying to make a DIY ESD! My newest change on my Honzo is running Plus tires. It's so good! The Plus tires along with inserts has added more to my HT riding experience in ways I'm not sure how to express.

In the last 4 to 5 years I start and finish my season on my HT. I find it makes my skillset sharper going into the season and it helps me wind down to close out the season. Through the middle of the season the HT gets pulled out when I'm looking for a different ride feel on the same trails that I always ride. I enjoy the challenge of trying to ride the bigger lines that I don't really think hard about on my fully on my HT.

I don't understand flat pedals paired with HTs. I've tried it a few times and always put the clipless pedals back on. When the speeds go up and the trail gets gnarly I like not having to worry that my feet are going to suddenly bounce off the pedals. I run flats on all my FS bikes but the HT will always have clipless pedals.

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
+1 Paul Stuart
Cam McRae  - March 5, 2021, 1:26 p.m.

I have had trouble with some pedal/shoe combos on the Honzo, but mostly I don't find it much different than riding a dually. That said, my ability to stick to the pedals has improved massively since working more on technique and beginning to figure out stance with help from Joel Harwood of Blueprint Athlete Development in Squamish. 

I was riding with my knees too bent and without enough weight on my hands. Standing up in the pedals and pushing my heels down has really helped me stick to the pedals more reliably on any bike. It's something I no longer worry about with a pedal and shoe interface that works for me. 

Here's that article if you are interested.

Reply

RideEverything
+1 Cam McRae
RideEverything  - March 5, 2021, 9:48 p.m.

I did read that article when it was first posted. It has some good info in there.

I have been getting paid to coach mtb for quite a few years now and am aware (and use) the dropping of the heels. I use it on the regular even while clipped in on my HT. Maybe it's just years if riding clipped in and not having any desire to change that on my HT? I have tried flats a few times and really gave it a chance but could never get rid of the bouncy feet.

As an aside it's interesting to see changes in what/how technique is being taught over the years. For a long time the mantra was 'stay low and aggressive'. In the last few years the 'stand taller on the bike' is the new mantra. Neither is bad I just find it interesting that the focus changes for coaching/instructing as things progress. Maybe it's the equipment that plays into that? Because bikes are longer and more stable now it's easier to stand taller more often?

One technique that I feel transfers very well from the HT riding is braking less because that makes the ride smoother on an HT. However, that does lead to some exciting moments at times! As you stated the margin for error is much smaller on an HT which makes the commitment to lines full on!

I really want to get a hold of an ESD frame and build it up so I can find out if I got anywhere close to the same ride feel with my current HonzoST build.

I do think that I will always have a hardtail in the stable. Specifically a steel hardtail. It's fun to ride the same lines as I do on an FS bike but you need to change how you do it on an HT.

Reply

ManInSteel
+4 Cam McRae Pete Roggeman Deniz Merdano werewolflotion
ManInSteel  - March 5, 2021, 11:24 a.m.

Nice write up!

The photos are also amazing too, beautiful North Shore shoot after shoot. Only those who tried understand how difficult to have a perfect image in the cold winter forest.

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
+1 Deniz Merdano
Cam McRae  - March 5, 2021, 1:27 p.m.

We had a good day out on one of the coldest days of the year - and Deniz killed it.

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werewolflotion
+1 Cam McRae
werewolflotion  - March 6, 2021, 8:57 a.m.

Really great shots, I love the frozen pool crossing and my fav is the one with the "twisty bits" caption.

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Vikb
+4 Cam McRae Pete Roggeman goose8 Tremeer023
Vik Banerjee  - March 5, 2021, 11:59 a.m.

Yeah for a sweet hardtail review. Stick with it and you will lure at least some friends to the dark side!

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a.funks
+2 Pete Roggeman Tremeer023
a.funks  - March 5, 2021, 2:51 p.m.

I’ve had my current hardtail for five years now, which is a record for me! It was meant to be a test bed for a custom frame but I’ve kept on messing about with fork lengths and anglesets and am rather attached to it now. A 29er would be faster and better on the rough but 27.5 is fine and suits a pump track or riding with my kids better - it currently has a toddler seat on about half the time!

It’s a Bird Zero AM ~64/74.5 static angles, 150mm fork, moderate reach (long when I got it but I’m on the top end of the height range for a medium), short stays, low BB (almost 50mm drop on 27.5x2.3 tyre). Super light because it’s alloy!

Love the rise of these gnarly hardtails that are properly slack - hopefully they might make the seat angles a bit less steep on future models (my Zero is plenty steep enough, sags to about 76 deg) but I’m sure they winch and plummet well.

I swap between the hardtail and a Levo, the latter often ridden with the motor off on group rides. Amazes me how easily I can switch bike, says a lot about this hardtail that it can be treated rather like a 6” travel 29” ebike downhill!

Only ever ridden flats - heels down and relax!

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UFO
+3 Pete Roggeman Cam McRae JVP
UFO  - March 5, 2021, 6:58 p.m.

See you at Top of the World this summer aboard your hardtail Cam ;)

I'm sure you picked up new skills and flow aboard the ht that will transfer over to your squishy bike. For me though, it usually takes a few rides for anything like that to show up. I find FS bikes just 'move' differently, and how I move within the bike also has to adapt based on that.

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Skeen
+1 Cam McRae
Skeen  - March 5, 2021, 9:23 p.m.

Interesting to hear your perspective, especially going to a 170 fork! I live on front range of Colorado so not quite as much winch&plummet style but lots of chunk. My first ride on the ESD beat me up real good, next few rides going fast as possible smoothed things out, then I learned to smooth my style at a slower pace. Great review, thanks for posting!

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Jaymack
0
Jaymack  - March 5, 2021, 11 p.m.

How is the paint holding up long term before the Ride Wrap? I’ve got a Torrent and it’s paint is quite brittle, at least one solid chip per ride. At least it has an ED coat and solid primer.

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cam@nsmb.com
0
Cam McRae  - March 7, 2021, 11:34 a.m.

I have the odd chip but it seems the paint is pretty good. No complaints. And it looks beautiful in person with the high gloss and subtle flake.

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tehllama42
+2 Sanesh Iyer Cam McRae
Tehllama42  - March 6, 2021, 8:19 a.m.

I think this nails the N=2 answer that probably makes the most sense for most of us (with the bonus 2+2=4 angle).

I ride my hardtail to flatter my fitness (or lack thereof), and have a great time doing that.  It still lets me do gravel, and even pavement stuff efficiently enough that I can log miles on a dirt bike.
I ride my FS rig to flatter my skill level (lack thereof), because it does everything remarkably well, but it's only conditionally more fun than my hardtail, and I feel like that's actually appropriate.

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Shoreloamer
+2 Cr4w Cam McRae
Greg Bly  - March 6, 2021, 9:27 a.m.

A hard tail reminds you that the rider does most of the action . Sounds like the hard tail also helps you progress your confidence on challenging sections. It's great that we have sophisticated technology to make our bikes refined couches. It's awesome that we have the choice of what we want to ride. On teck gnar like BookWus or Skull a hardtail works just as well as full squish.  Which reminds me . I need to ride Skull , maybe get off the bike and fix( block off) the braids. But I digress. 

Sounds like your having a blast on the Honzo.

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Keoke
+2 Bikeryder85 Cr4w
Jeff Bordignon  - March 6, 2021, 9:31 p.m.

I think a good steel or ti hardtail is like watching a campfire. The feeling of a connection thats ingrained in your soul.

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cam@nsmb.com
0
Cam McRae  - March 7, 2021, 11:36 a.m.

A great analogy.

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ridestuff
0
Derek Baker  - March 8, 2021, 9:44 a.m.

Loving my Canfield Nimble9 so much that I got rid of my full squish bike :)

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TheodorCargill
0
Michael Scott  - March 12, 2021, 5:15 a.m.

Thanks for this wonderful review. This is my favorite hobby and I love everything related to it. It’s a pity that there isn’t enough time for this at the moment due to the high workload in college. I'm preparing a term paper, here is a review of the company that helps me https://www.topwritersreview.com/reviews/essaybox/ But despite this, the time is still not enough. But I hope to finish all this quickly, and then I can pay enough attention to what I love.

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Ddean
+1 Cam McRae
Ddean  - March 12, 2021, 7:57 a.m.

I dont think that my modern geo Naked 29+ (long front) is overall as capable as my Slayer but I can say that until speeds get medium to high, its probably as good but its certainly more rewarding.

I think that 29rs are breathing life back into hardtails and my decision for a 29+ was to take that to the next level. Unbelievable traction. Lower pressures soften out the rear a bit more (especially with CC)....sweet set up (Fox36 upfront).

I think how encumbered you feel on a hardtail depends upon what trails you want to ride. I dont enjoy the fast and rough stuff on any bike and 90% of the time its just me and my doggo out there so I dont have to consider what anyone else wants to ride either.

A sweet hardtail is off the charts cool to anyone whos opinion matters :)

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Shinook
0
Shinook  - April 12, 2021, 10:19 a.m.

I've only recently started riding some of the newer modern HTs and it makes me wonder what is taking these brands so long to adopt better geometry for these "entry level" bikes. We've had a really diverse series of geometry categories for FS bikes for years (xc, trail, enduro, dh, am, etc), yet it seems like geo for hardtails has traditionally been....XC and Chromag, if you weren't going custom.

Now, it seems brands are adopting better, more balanced, thoughtful geometry in their hardtails and the result from what I've ridden tells me that outside of outright speed and tracking in really rough terrain, a lack of rear suspension in HTs wasn't the "problem" with them, it was the crap geometry from 10 years ago. I think is great for the industry, and I hope that a lot of the 'budget' hardtails from big brands like Trek and Specialized will start to take notes from Kona and others, it'll do the industry a lot of good for beginners to have more balanced, capable bikes that they are comfortable on.

The ESD was tempting for me when I was building a new SS, but I have a bit of local loyalty to REEB and am waiting on my now fifth REEB frame to arrive this week, so I'll have a HT again. I find riding these bikes tends to help me engage with the experience more than my Enduro does, which is refreshing given all we've experienced in the last year.

As an aside, can I tell you how refreshing it is to hear experienced riders talk about features that are "not everytime"? I feel like in the mtb media, especially reviewers from a competing site, there is a certain level of hubris and a lack of recognition that not everyone does everything all the time. It's always really refreshing to hear experienced riders talk about how they aren't up for everything all the time and make that choice, it's one of the reasons I value content from you folks more than any other site on the interwebs, even if the scale of this in BC is more significant than in our part of the world. It feels less like I'm reading a review by someone who thinks they are superman and more by someone I just had a beer with.

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matt-s
0
matthew shroyer  - July 16, 2021, 10:32 a.m.

Did you find that climbing, and low speed technical handling suffered noticeably with the 170mm travel fox?
Thanks!

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