Kona Honzo CR Trail DL Reviewed

Words Todd Hellinga
Photos Sarah McQueen & Jeremy Schaab
Date Jul 24, 2016
Kona Honzo CR

Long, stable, responsive, fast. The Kona Honzo CR is a trail weapon.

Kona hardtails have featured prominently in my stable since I started mountain biking. My first real mountain bike was a Lava Dome, in a sweet metallic green. A very XC-oriented steel Kilauea replaced it and ended up as a slicked-tired townie when its age outlasted its technology and geometry. I ended my Kona hardtail experience on an army green Stuff which I rode for a couple of years before moving to full suspension bikes.

Kona Honzo CR

Trying not to get blown off Ridge-O-Rama in heavy winds, the 26lb bike felt like it was going to get ripped out of my hands at times, but made 2-3 hour climbs with hike-a-bikes a lot less painful.

My trusty Chromag Samurai65 has seen me through the last few seasons, and while I haven’t ridden many 29ers I was pretty excited to try the Honzo in carbon form. I’ve talked with friends who’ve owned the metal versions, read the accolades about the Honzo platform, and its ahead-of-the-curve geometry piqued my curiosity. I received a pre-production bike in early May and have had the opportunity to push the bike in a variety of conditions and situations around southwestern B.C. This allowed my body to slowly adapt to a radical geometry shift from my go-to setup. Over the course of the test period, I rode it on quick lunch laps, toonie races, the Nimby Fifty, multiple South Chilcotins rides and over 90km and 3500m of climbing in WORCA’s 52-card pick up trail riding event. There were actually very few times I rode my other bikes in the past couple of months.

Kona Honzo CR

Long, low, big wheels, with a reach way beyond my normal geometry, the Kona Honzo CR was a departure from many parts of my standard hardtail setup but it began to prove its versatility more and more as I adapted to it.

For a refresh on this new Carbon Honzo line up, or for a memory refresh, have a look at my first look for a full scoop on all of the models, specs, and pricing. The pertinent details, however, remain the 2.95lb carbon frame, featuring a very long in class, 450mm reach in size medium (my test size). The short 420mm seat tube provides a ridiculous amount of standover clearance, while the 75° seat tube angle does its best to keep a bit of weight on the long front end. The wheelbase is an enormous 1140mm (44.9) inches, but the short 415mm chainstays help the Honzo retain some pretty snappy handling characteristics. While a small group of those that like sliding dropouts are not so impressed to see that feature dropped from the carbon design, I believe most riders will appreciate the stout, stiff, through axle design and the low profile derailleur mount.

Kona Honzo CR

The big wheels and short chainstays made quick work of technical singletrack.

A mid-range 68° degree head angle paired with a 120mm fork results in a bike with a pretty quick steering response. The bike I received featured a Rock Shox Yuri fork, though the production model will receive a Pike RSC. I believe the decision to go with a shorter travel fork actually holds this bike back somewhat. As a pure race bike it’s definitely a smart spec and results in a quick-handling machine, as a trail bike, though, where riders will invariably find themselves in steeper and more technical terrain, 120mm really doesn’t cut the mustard. It takes a solid rider to keep things from getting out of hand when speeds pick up and the hits come faster and bigger. I know not everyone is a fan of dual position forks, though I would love to try this bike with that option to open up its capability without sacrificing the lower front end for climbing.

Kona Honzo CR

Even with the short travel fork and a moderate 68° head angle, the Honzo loved airing into rolls and manualing or doubling up sections. The short chainstays result in a bike that loves to have the front end in the air when dips and rollers are present.

The Honzo features a short 40mm Kona-branded stem and a 35mm Race Face Atlas bar that comes plenty wide. I chopped it back to 760mm for a better fit. About 3/4 of the way through the test period I decided to try a shorter stem. After a ride and chat with Ian Ritz of Chromag about all things modern hard tail geometry, he lent me the new 31mm Ranger stem. Raiding the old spare handlebar bin in the storage yielded a bar that featured a bit more backsweep, further helping me shift my weight back.

Kona Honzo CR

The shorter 31mm Chromag Ranger stem helped me get my weight back a bit more and made me feel a bit more comfortable rolling into steeper sections of trail.

The Kona Honzo CR comes adorned with a fairly stock group set. Featuring a SRAM XO1 11-speed drivetrain, including cranks, Guide RSC brakes, and the 150mm-travel KS Lev Integra dropper seat post. These components performed flawlessly through the test period. The 32t front ring is an ambitious choice for those who live in big mountain areas. That’s a stiff gear for most mortals on a 29’er. For bigger vertical days the fine folks at Chromag hooked me up with a 30t x-sync ring, although the 6mm offset, versus the 3mm stock, didn’t leave much room for error in the chainstay area, but it wasn’t ever a problem. While the wheelset featured some very nice Hope hubs, the retail rigs will feature SRAM XO. The wheels were shod with Maxxis EXO tires. The Minion F on the front was a welcome sight, the Ardent out back, less so. The Ardent was decent on harder pack, and really scary on wet roots and rocks or steep loose descents. It wasn’t terrible in the right conditions, but in the wrong ones, things got loose fast. Set up tubeless they proved relatively durable, although I gashed the Ardent sidewall a couple of days ago.

Kona Honzo CR

Fast, open, curvy singletrack is where the Kona Honzo CR really excelled. The long front end was able to steer outside of obstacles while the short chainstays helped get the long bike swiftly through the corners. With so much rear bias the bike really loved to have the back wheel stuffed into corners for quick direction changes.

The first thing I noticed when I went out for my first ride was how much it wanted to go fast. There was no hanging about; it takes your power and puts it directly into forward momentum, quickly and efficiently. This is a bike that absolutely excels in cross country singletrack riding. It doesn’t want to lolly gag; it wants to go fast and seems to gain speed just coasting. The frame is super stiff laterally and there is little hint of any unwanted flex when you’re putting the power down. Thankfully that stiffness doesn’t result in diminished ride quality or cause any unwanted harshness transmitted to the rider.

Kona Honzo CR

The only thing that really let the Kona Honzo CR down on long descents was the total lack of traction from the Ardent. The long wheelbase and short stem made for an entirely enjoyable experience riding down trails featuring wildly varying terrain with mixed conditions. Even if you got a bit rowdy, the bike generally kept you going in the right direction and responded quickly to steering or body english inputs.

The long front centre and short chainstays add up to a bike that gets through tight switchbacks with ease. I expected it to be a bear on climbs like Nimby in Pemberton, with its steep, tight switchbacks, but I was able to steer around obstacles midline and have the rear end pretty much just pivot in place and stay inside of the obstruction. A very nice attribute. That being said, there was no getting around how long this bike was when trails got narrow and twisty. While the Kona Honzo CR absolutely blasted flowing more open singletrack where it was easier to carry momentum, it could occasionally get bogged down when it got slower and tighter with more turns. On more open trails the Honzo really shines. The big wheels track fast and smoothly over rough surfaces, and the short rear end loves to be pushed hard into the corners.

Kona Honzo CR

Long rides in rolling terrain were a treat, especially places like Lone Valley in the Southern Chilcotin.

There were a couple of situations where the Kona Honzo CR let me down, and unfortunately, my body physiology and science had more to do with it than anything. The long reach/wheelbase characteristics that made it such a fun singletrack slayer also meant that on steep, sustained climbs attempting to wrestle the front end became a massive chore. The front end didn’t want to stay down and tended to wander back and forth across the trail. This is especially challenging 2 hours into a South Chilcotin climb where the trail gets steep, off-camber and narrow. Looping out and steering into cutbanks gets old. On the backside of the Nimby course, I struggled on the short punchy climbs where I didn’t have enough torso or arm length to keep a nice balanced position between keeping the front end planted and maintaining weight on the rear wheel for traction.

Kona Honzo CR

The short chainstays paired with a short stem made quick work of square transitions at the bottom of rock rolls, a handling trait I quickly learned to love.

There is nothing more I can do to fix it this problem other than drop down to a size small, but I’m not sure I really need another 5cm in standover to go with the shorter reach. While the shorter stem helped alleviate the problem, I began to wonder to wonder if it’s just too long for me.

Kona Honzo CR

Mossy singletrack never gets old, on any bike.

In the end, while I wish it had met a few more of my expectations on longer days with steeper and longer climbs, I’m trying to find a way to justify this bike in my life. Maybe with a longer travel fork, and some beefier rubber out back it would be more practical. I don’t necessarily feel that it’s as good as my 27.5 Samurai in tight fast turning terrain, or in steep gnarlier situations, but everywhere else it’s a total gas, and has helped me find an extra gear or two in events this year where I’ve exceeded some personal goals by a good margin.

Kona Honzo CR

Into the loamy, mossy sunset, another fairy tale ending.

While some riders may have a hard time coming to grips with the long reach, I have no doubt that just as many riders will find this bike to be exactly what they’ve been waiting for. I already know a few friends have placed orders for theirs after hearing my experience. If Kona gave me back that 15mm of extended reach, they’d probably have an immediate sale. In the meantime, I’ll just have to try and figure out a way to convince my self, and my wife, that we can find room for another bike somewhere in our already packed apartment…

Kona Honzo CR

Do you have a spot on the wall for a carbon hardtail?

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Comments

adamgnewman
0
adamgnewman  - Aug. 8, 2016, 3:30 p.m.

Everyone time some review calls a bike a "weapon" someone somewhere gets a flat tire.

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0
49%  - July 25, 2016, 11:55 a.m.

Dropper forks have literally changed my climbs from fiery death slogs in hell to high speed elevator lifts with air conditioning and bassanova music.

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grinder
0
Grinder  - July 25, 2016, 9:20 a.m.

Very helpful review. I plan to check out the CR Honzo but will definitely consider going down a size.

Wouldn't a longer fork just exacerbate the problem of front wheel wander?

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D_C_
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DMVancouver  - July 25, 2016, 8:23 a.m.

I can't help but feel like Kona messed up a good thing by going so long. Their previous geometry was pretty much ideal. The good news is that many other manufacturers have released bikes now with geometry/length similar to the original Honzo and Process, so choices are out there. However, I only know of one other aggressive carbon hardtail frame, so options are more limited there.

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awesterner
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awesterner  - July 25, 2016, 9:18 a.m.

Ideal for some, but not others. That being said, personally (6'1 long torso, short legs), I welcome a bit more length, but it depends on the model. On the large 111, I like the 460 reach, and the seating position is perfect, for me with a 40mm stem. For the 153, I'm wanting more room because the terrain, and speed I ride it with is different. The new large Process will bring it in line with some XLs of other brands (Bronson for instance [a lot more room than the Nomad though]). I think the longer bikes will give taller riders more appropriate roominess, while still riding the bike within the intended design --with a 40mm stem. Different strokes for different folks though. Curious what next next year will bring;-)

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tehllama42
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Tehllama42  - July 25, 2016, 9:57 a.m.

I'm thinking they went the right direction on front center length, but should have gone a bit longer on the chainstays (430mm for L/XL, 425 in S/M perhaps?), so that it excelled more in fast, open, flowy terrain as well as climbing.

Longer rear centres make taller A2C forks a lot more viable on climbs without going to a dual air system, and provide a bit more stability in rough stuff. The obvious downside would be that it's even more wheelbase getting added onto already long bikes, but to me a super-lightweight carbon 29er hardtail on the long side is going to really excel at big mileage in tough terrain, so just bang that drum harder and let it be an exceptional climber… but it sounds like being snappy and maneuverable, and making it easier to place the rear wheel in loose terrain is the priority (and very easily picking up the front is a benefit as well).

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fartymarty
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fartymarty  - Dec. 26, 2017, 11:26 a.m.

This is an interesting read 1 1/2 years on from the original review.  I think the short CS length is the real issue with the climbing even with the steep ST.

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