emickelson_221003_1528
Long Term Review

Kona Honzo DL

Words Mike Ferrentino
Photos Eric Mickelson
Date Oct 12, 2022
Reading time

A Smurf For All Seasons

This baby blue bruiser showed up back in February, and enjoyed a pile of early rides in my local xc-ish terrain before getting swapped into rotation with other bikes. Rather than cut and paste all the detail and spec info, my first impressions of the Honzo DL can be found here. The one sentence précis? Burly, long, stable, decent value, let’s give it a shake and see how things go.

So we did. In a perfect world, I would have spent a dedicated 8 months riding nothing but the Honzo. But that might have crippled me. As it was, we managed to rack up several hundred miles in conditions ranging from moderate XC to chunky and steep, coastal to alpine, mostly dry as a bone. I came away impressed by both the versatility and the capability of the bike, and began rethinking some of my priorities when it comes to “components I would ride daily” and “the minimum amount of suspension necessary to have a good time.”

emickelson_221003_1273

Eric Mickelson is a mighty decent bike rider, a solid human being and a helluva photographer. Poor dude was tasked with trying to make me look like I knew how to ride. All ride photos here are courtesy of him. Thanks Eric!

Expectations Vs Reality

Going into this, I fully expected that I would nitpick the hell out of the componentry, and at some point would decide that the bike hated me, or that I hated the bike, and would vow to never ride a rigid aluminum bike ever again.

I was wrong on both counts. The Honzo was one of the most refreshingly “shut up and ride” bikes that I’ve swung a leg over in a very long time. Quiet, chunky, rugged, sweet handling, no need to futz around wondering if sag was right for the day, a riding position that is easy to get along with, tires that work mighty well in a whole lot of different places, and mid-spec parts that on the whole just did the job without complaint. So let’s start there, with those mid-spec parts that came bolted to the Kona, and what I swapped out, and why.

Spinning Wrenches For The Sake Of It

Early on, I complained that the Shimano remote dropper lever spec’d to operate the Tranz-X dropper was jamming on the grip whenever I tried to operate it. Eagle eyed readers here pointed out that the lever was bent. Probably happened in shipping. Kona sent out a replacement, but I had jumped on the opportunity to slap on a 180mm travel OneUp V2 dropper and V3 remote. Was this absolutely necessary? Not at all, but OneUp stuff is super nice, and I justified the changes by saying that in addition to having a hair more travel and a lower stack height than stock, the OneUp saved a massive 80 grams over the stock setup (sarcasm, folks. That’s sarcasm). Since I was swapping things out, I had a WTB Silverado saddle with Ti rails laying around, so I slapped that on as well for a 106 gram weight chop. By that point chopping almost a quarter pound between dropper and saddle from high up on the bike might have been justifiable, but if I was spending my own hard earned coin it would be very questionable reasoning.

The handlebars also got swapped out after a few rides for a pair of 20mm rise OneUp carbon fiber bars. The 150 gram weight savings was nice, but I also wanted to see if there was a noticeable difference in vibration damping between the stock aluminum bars and the ovalized carbon fiber OneUp bars. Initially, I absolutely noticed a difference. However, after a summer of clattering over ledgy square edge braking bumps and pinging off nuggety tree roots and getting pinballed through rock gardens, there were days where the overwhelming hardtailness of the Honzo left me feeling generally beaten down to a point where I couldn’t really tell one end of the bike from the other. So, yes, they make a difference. But no, they didn’t turn the bike into a magic carpet (nor did anyone claim they would). Would I swap them out again, and was this a more tangible improvement than the seatpost? Yes.

Then there were the brakes. Ahhh, yes. The good ol’ Shimano MT410 caliper and RT54 “RESIN PAD ONLY” rotor. People love to bag on these, and they have plenty of reasons. However, I’ll say this for the stock brake setup – it sure was quiet. Yes, the lever feel is a bit dead, and the brakes don’t feel very aggressive, and if you go down anything really steep and fast that gets them hot they will fade worse than a cheap paint job in the desert sun. But to be fair, until that point, they are surprisingly easy to live with. The usual swap here would be to slap some metallic pads in and call it done. Unfortunately, that is not so easily done with these brakes, thanks to the rotors. Out of curiosity, I bought some Galfer “PRO” compound pads (the green ones) that work with resin-only rotors and decided to see how they did. Result! Much more bite, better lever feel, more aggressive deceleration, but also a bit more noise until they got up to a nice operating temperature. They seemed to be less fadey than the stockers, but I didn’t get the chance to really try and cook them until the rotors turned color, so I can’t vouch for how well they work at that end of the spectrum. But still, out of the above changes, this was the most noticeable and best value for money improvement I made to the bike.

Otherwise, I just rode it. I had to adjust the headset twice, turn the barrel adjuster for the derailleur a few times, and I needed to tension the wheels up once. That’s it. Everything worked otherwise without complaint. The shifting was always a bit less crispy clean than you’d get from XT or XTR, but it worked fine. The RockShox Revelation fork was an unobtrusive superstar, sucking up bumps without complaint. The wheels were a bit hefty and the rear hub felt a teeny bit crunchy by the end, but the freehub was blissfully quiet the whole time and the Maxx Terra compound Minion DHF/Dissector tires worked fine everywhere (because it never really got snotty or cold the whole time I had the bike I couldn’t vouch for the difference between these and some grippier Maxx Grip compound meats). Going into this test, I was convinced something would fall apart thanks to price-point downspec, but nothing did.

emickelson_221003_1653

Hard to say what is worse here, the fact that my visor is warped or that my eyes seem to be closed. Ah well, my mother always said I had a perfect face for radio work. The Honzo, meanwhile, may as well be a honey badger. It doesn't give a shit. And it always looks the business.

IMG_0204

Slammed all the way forward, these are 417mm chainstays. That's mighty damn short. I have lately been considering myself more of a long chainstay kinda guy, but this is where I felt happiest with the Honzo.

The Harder They Come

Yeah, but how did it ride? This is where we get into expectations and preconceived notions, and in the case of the Honzo I expected that the beefy aluminum frame would beat me to paste and that the bike would be a handful in the rough. While that is true to some extent, it was nowhere near the rough ride that I thought it would be. If anything, the Honzo was insanely planted and stable. The 66-degree head angle, while steeper than the current crop of mega-trail bikes, was matched with a 48-ish inch wheelbase and the overall ride of the bike would best be considered surprisingly calm. By comparison, even without rear suspension, it deflected less and felt more solid in rocky going than my similar geometry but shorter wheelbase Specialized Epic Evo. It wasn’t quite as plank stable as the Rocky Element I just tested, but it was close. And it’s a hardtail. Trippy. It was totally at home and happy dropping into snaggly root bombs and baby-head rock gardens.

On the flip side of that coin, it was definitely not a spry little switchback hound. It didn’t snap to attention when stomping on the pedals, and it climbed about as enthusiastically as you’d expect from a 31-pound bike with heavy wheels and meaty tires. That is to say, “with dignity if not alacrity.” I experimented with sliding the dropouts back and forth between long and short settings, and at the longest, the Honzo was admirably composed and unflappable in the rough. It was also a bit dead feeling in tight corners, and took a fair bit of effort to muscle around in the janky spots. Pulling the rear axle as far forward as it would go – shortening the stays and wheelbase as much as possible – sharpened the responsiveness without really sacrificing stability, and made the bike more friendly in terms of bending it through the pinch points. This also made it easier to float the rear and pull up off lips, but that came at the cost of increased trail chatter and more of a rough ride when bouncing through the chunder.

Speed was important. Riding slow and just trying to follow a line, the Honzo felt lazy and unresponsive. Start feeding some more speed into things though, pump the downside of rollers, pedal into sections instead of just coasting in, and it would reward that effort with predictable response and that same battleship calm composure that I mentioned earlier, and that is something I really didn’t expect to find in a bike with no rear suspension. As mentioned already, it’s a surprisingly stable bike that’ll let you get away with a ton of poor decision making, provided you can keep on top of it.

Of course, riding like that demands physical effort. Time after time I found myself wishing I was stronger and fitter. Not because there was a deficiency in the bike, but more because I much preferred to ride the Kona assertively than feel like a passenger. At a certain threshold, though, I would run out of steam. On shorter rides, like one to two hours, everything was peachy. On some longer treks, however, by the end I often felt like I had been beaten up. This is not a dig at the Kona, mind you. More a reflection of my own discontent with my physical reality. The rougher the terrain, the more this became noticeable. No surprise there really; that’s basically stating the obvious in terms of hardtails.

emickelson_221003_1247

Kind of hard to tell here if I'm wincing in pain or just having a quiet little cry to myself as I ride...

Verdicts And Bitter Pills

The Honzo, in the end, was a tough reality check for me. I found myself often in that metaphorical wasteland of my mind writing checks that my body couldn’t cash – loving the way the bike handled but wishing I had some more wattage and more upper body strength to really take advantage of that glorious stability. When I would back off and ride it softly on more gentle terrain, I found myself frustrated by the weight, the indifferent responsiveness, and wishing for a slacker seat angle and a more forgiving ride. Which made me feel like a hypocrite, because the Honzo isn’t nearly as harsh a ride as I was expecting, nor is it as punishing as some other hardtails out there.

In all other respects, it’s a solid deal and a well thought out bike that, for the money, lacks nothing aside from a willing rider and a set of brake pads in terms of being able to handle just about any terrain, anywhere, anytime.

If I was a young hard charger who wanted a durable bomber that wouldn’t try to bite me in the ass when the going got sketchy but didn’t have the coin for a full squish bike that I could trust, I would be giving the 2699 USD Honzo very serious consideration (or the 599 USD frameset. By comparison the frame alone for my steel Falconer cost more than this entire bike). As it is right now, I’d still consider it a keeper but my aging body might opt for lighter wheels with some fatter tires and a pair of inserts. I know, that makes no sense, but it might take just enough edge off to cushion my bruised ego…

emickelson_221003_1490

Speaking of bruised egos, I coulda sworn this drop was bigger and the runout way steeper...

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Comments

andrewc
andrewc
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+4 Niels van Kampenhout JVP bushtrucker Zero-cool

In my mind, these are the bikes that really matter... You can ride most things, pretty quickly and for a decent price.

Reply

MarcusBrody
MarcusBrody
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+1 Mike Ferrentino

I like it, but for $2700 with Deore and a Revelation you're getting into "not so cheap" territory. It's basically the same price as the full suspension Marin Rift Zone's and Alpine Trails with similar spec and not far below what you can pick up a Ripmo AF for these days. I suspect that  I'm not sure  "young ripper without coin for a full suspension" makes much sense when decent full suspensions are pretty close to this range.

Reply

woofer2609
woofer2609
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+3 FlipSide Andy Eunson Cam McRae

I kinda think hardtails are for experienced riders who want "New Skin for the Old Ceremony"; a way to experience familiar trails in a new way (that and they can look so good.) I'll be getting my son an FS for his first "real" bike as they are far more forgiving, and an easier introduction to the sport. 

Starting out on a hardtail is like teaching someone how to build a house, and giving them a handsaw instead of a skilsaw.

Reply

FlipSide
FlipSide
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+3 Cam McRae Raymond Epstein DadStillRides

Well said about the New Skin for the Old Ceremony. 

I built a Honzo ESD as a backup bike this year and I really enjoy riding it at a "mellower" trail center we have around here. I used to find this trail center a bit boring on my big 180/165 Enduro bike, but with the hardtail, all the trails there are now super fun (both up and down). 

Basically, riding a hardtail (ideally with current new school geometry) is a great way to enjoy trails that may be underwhelming on a big bike for an experienced rider.

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andrewc
andrewc
3 months, 3 weeks ago
0

Admittedly I goofed on the pricing with this one... Was seeing USD and thinking of CAD in my head. 

$3499 CAD is definitely a bit steep... Certainly a bike you could have a ton of fun on and not be held back by but At $3499... you're getting into Minimum Viable FS territory.

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mikeferrentino
Mike Ferrentino
3 months, 3 weeks ago
0

Agreed to all of the above. It's a fine line on the value proposition. I like that Kona didn't go super-cheesy on components in order to hit a price point, but you are right, it's a few hundred bucks more than several very competitively targeted hardtails, and only a few hundred bucks less than a few similar spec screaming deal FS bikes.

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mnihiser
mnihiser
3 months, 3 weeks ago
0

I bought a San Quentin 3 (comparable spec to Honzo) in March for $2400 US. Today Marin's website has it for $2240. Overstock problem?

Reply

ElBrendo
ElBrendo
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+3 Niels van Kampenhout 4Runner1 bushtrucker

The second picture in the article is amazing. Great review.

Reply

kos
Kos
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+3 Mike Ferrentino bushtrucker Grant Blankenship

Good review. Seems like a great do-it-all HT. Every time I ride my HT in a real mtb setting it reminds me that my youth is WAY back there in the rearview mirror.

Reply

Timer
Timer
3 months, 3 weeks ago
0

Interesting how different the impressions one can take away from the review.

To me, the Honzo DL sounds like a very niche bike. Too uncomfortable for long days, big descents or other Enduro-type use. But also not nimble enough for a jump/trick/play-bike or quick enough for XC or light trail riding.

Reply

Crabbypants
Crabbypants
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+2 bushtrucker Zero-cool

Why do I feel like all HT reviews on NSMB should be a double blind with one review by @andrewmajor?

Reply

Tadpoledancer
Tadpoledancer
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+1 Mike Ferrentino

Great review and photos! Would be nice to have a proper picture of the bike as well. 

Interesting how the bike feels so stable, bike geometries works in mysterious ways.

Reply

mikeferrentino
Mike Ferrentino
3 months, 3 weeks ago
0

In addition to being a lazy and poor photographer, I didn't want to seem repetitive. The linked preview piece had a drive side profile shot of the bike, as did my last column. Noted for future reference - there is no such thing as too many drive side photos!

The geometry was a trip for me as well, and I should have prefaced the entire piece with a relativity of the kind of terrain I am riding vs the kind of terrain local to the hometurf readers of this site. I'm guessing the Honzo would still be on the steep side for shore riding. That said, I was very impressed with the bike's overall composure and stability. I'd chalk that up to a combination of wheelbase and mass (although the natives here would probably also consider it a flyweight compared to a dedicated shore rig, and would run screaming from any bike shod with Maxx Terra compound tires...).

Reply

smoothjazzlines
smoothjazzlines
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+2 Mike Ferrentino bushtrucker

I built one of these up from a frame with a 150 fork and 1.5 degree angleset... and proceeded to ride it all over my local steep trails around Seattle. It's kind of shocking what it can get away with, provided I'm riding with good technique and not totally gassed.

Reply

craw
Cr4w
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+1 Deniz Merdano

Could you include one clear drive side photo?

Reply

mikeferrentino
Mike Ferrentino
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+1 Deniz Merdano

I felt like I covered that in the linked preview, as well as including one in my last column. But apologies for the oversight here - was trying to avoid being what I thought would be unnecessary repetition. Noted for any future reference; Moar Drive Side Profile Images!

Reply

denomerdano
Deniz Merdano
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+3 Mike Ferrentino Mammal Cr4w

By popular demand...

Reply

Dogl0rd
Dogl0rd
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+1 Cam McRae

I'm a fan of the stock Kona grips, they last for years

Reply

kcy4130
kcy4130
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+1 Mike Ferrentino

Dammit, now you got me wondering if I'd enjoy a stouter hardtail than my current flexy skinny steel tubed hardtail. Great read. Have you (or anyone) ridden the st version? Not the slacker esd, just the regular steel version. How's it compare? Not that I'm wed to steel, just more st versions available used.

Reply

mikeferrentino
Mike Ferrentino
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+1 kcy4130

Your comment made me scratch my head and wonder why I hadn't tested the steel version, so I went to their site and gave it a squint. It's running a 68/74.5 head/seat angle with a 120 fork, and I think I wanted to try something more progressive/modern. Wheelbase on a size large is almost two inches shorter, so it's likely a MUCH different experience. I suspect I would feel like I had landed too far on the traditional side of the geo if I had chosen the steel, but I dunno, I may have loved it. My steel Falconer is a degree slacker in the head angle and has longer chainstays than the steel Honzo, but is otherwise pretty similar in reach and , and I loooove that bike. 

As for flex, I seem to notice it along the top tube, in terms of fore/aft "yaw" more than anywhere else. A lighter/thinner/flexier build feels - to me - a little more forgiving in this regard but also a little less precise. Rear triangles are still triangles regardless what they are made off and I am not sure how much they flex.

Reply

kcy4130
kcy4130
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+2 Mike Ferrentino bushtrucker

You must have been looking at the Honzo (without any letters after), which is the base model complete build. The Honzo st has identical geo as the DL you tested, but available as frame only on their website, perhaps why you got the DL. Yeah, I like the ride feel while seated, but the fore/aft flex I can feel on fairly small drops and rock gardens doesn't have me searching out larger drops or flatter landings on it. But I couldn't tell you if it's from the fork (only a Mar Z2) or the frame. Rear end will get tire rub in certain situations, and a stronger wheel didn't change that so probably frame. But I'm nearly 240 lbs so one rider's ideal compliance is a fat guy's too flexy. I'm curious about a stouter hardtail.

Reply

mikeferrentino
Mike Ferrentino
3 months, 3 weeks ago
0

Yep, I was looking at completes, and had not noticed that about the frame only geo. Good to know!

Reply

Cydwhit
Cy Whitling
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+1 kcy4130

I don't know what hardtail you're on right now, but my Honzo ST is the stiffest hardtail I've owned. It was preceded by a an OnOne 4650B and a Ragley Big Wig and it's noticeably stiffer than either. I'm 215ish lbs geared up, and I have no undue flexing to report, even after a couple of stupid bike park days on it. And no rear tire rub ever, which I did have with both the OnOne and the Big Wig when cornering hard.

Reply

zigak
ZigaK
3 months, 3 weeks ago
0

I'm thinking of building Honzo ST with a Rohloff, any problems that you could see?

Reply

kcy4130
kcy4130
3 months, 3 weeks ago
0

Sounds plenty burly. Thanks for the info.

Reply

woofer2609
woofer2609
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+1 Mike Ferrentino

Did you run Cushcore in the rear wheel? Any issues with the rims? 

Add my name to the list of disgruntled riders when a bike comes oem with resin pads/rotors, especially on a bike brand based in the (usually) wet PNW.

Interesting how Kona seems to be so hit and miss with their bold colour choices; you either love 'em or hate 'em.

I bought a 2021 Growler 20 (mostly because it was a great base to build up a gnarly hardtail), and have been happy with it (after a few mandatory swap outs.) Any thoughts on how this bike stacks up against the Kobain or RMB Growler?

Reply

mikeferrentino
Mike Ferrentino
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+1 woofer2609

Didn't install Cushcore, and wouldn't until I had some nicer wheels on there to offset the weight. YMMV on that. I ride pretty soft, so didn't have any issues with the rims. Can't vouch for how well they hold up under heavy abuse, but they stayed pretty true and the retensioning I mentioned is (I think) par for the course with many wheelsets.

The Growler looks pretty rad. Haven't ridden it, but I like the head/seat/reach numbers. On paper it definitely occupies similar territory to the Honzo - lacks the dropout adjustability, not as nice a fork, I have no ride time to have an opinion on Clark's brakes. Sunrace cassette also has me raising an eyebrow with suspicion. But it also has nicer shifter/derr bits, and costs about 500USD less.

Reply

woofer2609
woofer2609
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+1 Mike Ferrentino

Good to know. The fork sucks (I mean it might ride nice as it is an oil 'n coil fork, but it weighs....weight(!) for it 7.3 pounds!!!!!

There are lots of good take off forks around, and it is well suited to the 150mm Pike to keep the Axle to crown the same.

The adjustable dropouts are a nice touch on the Kona, Especially in that you can run a 1 speed to get even more back to basics.

Growler geometry is excellent, base rear wheel was poorly built (many spokes came loose), and paint quality is nothing to write home about (chips easily). 

The size large accepts a 200mm Brand X, so would probably take a 240 oneup if one was tall enough. I have a '21 so it has Tektro brakes (decent) and Deore 10spd with the 11-46t Sunrace cassette. The cassette is fantastic. They nailed the gear ratio spread and it shifts flawlessly (this is my first attempt with Sunrace.) I have a Microshift Advent X setup waiting for another bike, and am curious as to it's quality and functionality. The 2022 Growler 20 has the same 11-48t AdventX which is pretty highly regarded.

In regards to the Kobain,  it SHOULD cost 13% less to bike store owners due to lack of import duties (if Devinci passes this on), so could represent good value. One oddity about the Kobain is the 2 different models use different offset forks (44 vs. 51) on the spec sheet, but Devinci isn't quick to update their specs.

The 12spd model looks like a real ripper without changing many (if any) parts.

Reply

hbelly13
Raymond Epstein
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+1 Lynx .

Great review and may help others to think twice before dismissing alloy hardtails as being too harsh. The original '12 Honzo was a game changer for me as it was first 29er I ever rode after years of hating them that I liked. I had a '15 Honzo that ran as a local trail basher and built up a million different ways. On the alloy hardtail note, I have to say the sleeper is the Banshee Paradox V3. I picked up one of those frames this summer on a whim from the rave reviews it has garnered. I first built it up with parts bin stuff, but ended up liking it so much I put a nice kit on it. The hype is real and their designed flex points do as reported making it an insanely comfortable ride, smoother in fact than the Honzo it replaced. Lastly as Mike mentioned hardtails can make you write checks your body cannot cash. I have a Zeb 150 on my Banshee and it basically will do just about anything I could do on my big bike, but the tail will slap you if you get sloppy through fast chunk. So much fun though.

Reply

DaveSmith
Dave Smith
3 months, 3 weeks ago
0

Eric's all that and he also got you to remove those coke bottle goggles!

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mikeferrentino
Mike Ferrentino
3 months, 3 weeks ago
0

Ouch. The coke bottles got surgically removed last year, can't give Eric credit for that...

Reply

DaveSmith
Dave Smith
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+1 Mike Ferrentino

I wouldn't put it past him...he has hidden talents but wow - End of a horn-rimmed era. 

Recently I had to start throwing readers in my camera packs so I can check focus on the teenee tiny screen on the back.

Reply

GiveitsomeWelly
Karl Fitzpatrick
3 months, 3 weeks ago
0

A mate's built the newest honzo st frame into banging rig. 

The changes they've made to the geo, fork length allowance and that ghastly seat tube gusset are *chefs kiss*.

Reply

Lynx
Lynx .
3 months, 3 weeks ago
0

Good, honest review Mike, well done. Yeah, I think like the a lot of alloy HTs, this bike would definitely benefit from a mullet setup, 650Bx2.8" in the rear and 29x2.5-2.6" upfront - it'll slacken the HTA out by about 1.5 degrees as well as the STA, so win/win I'd say.

Feel ya on the lack of fitness and strength to really enjoy a HT/Rigid, you definitely need to have a decent amount of that if you really want to enjoy yourself on one. Once you've got that decentish enough fitness and strength though, I've always found that at the end of the day, rather than feeling beat up you feel more like you've had an overall, full body workout and the biggest surprise, my back never feels so as the rest of the body.

Reply

PeaBro
PeaBro
3 months, 2 weeks ago
0

Built up a small 2022 Honzo ST (mullet) with Lyrik 150, as an upgrade to my 2015 Honzo ST version.

‘22 feels stiffer overall (less supple) but really planted and confidence inspiring even in rough terrain. I do find it climbs as well with the updated geo even over technical sections.

Looked at Chromag, Knolly and Naked frames but really pleased with the build quality and price for the Honzo St frame.

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