2016 Kona Hei Hei DL Trail
Speak softly and carry a big stick: the 2016 Kona Hei Hei DL Trail tested on an 8 day, 325 mile Oregon bikepacking trip.
I’ll admit, I was initially lusting after the Kona Process. It was, after all, the rowdy 27.5″ trail bike everyone said re-defined Kona’s line. But after realizing we were about to embark on a 325 mile bikepacking journey, with 27,000′ of climbing, I listened to my riding buddies (and my remaining shreds of common sense) and went with the softer-spoken Kona Hei Hei DL Trail.
I wasn’t expecting it to de-throne my Carver Gnarvester as my go-to bikepacking rig so soundly, but hot damn it’s a lot of fun. My friends know that I’m not interested in staring at my front tire, watt output, or whatever KOM stands for. They know that I shirk the baggy jersey crowd as well as the lycra one. I like bikes that can pedal all day, and then lean back as they ricochet me down a steep line I’ve never ridden before. The Hei Hei is just that.
Marketed as an aluminum XC race bike in a world of plastic frames, my first surprise was just how light and nimble it was. Constructed from Race Light 6061 Aluminum, the pared-down frame design really is quite light, and pedals fantastically well locked out—or even in the 100mm Fox Float shock’s trail mode (the middle position in the Climb, Trail, and Descend mode dial). For a 29er, it sports relatively short chainstays, a slack headtube and really poppy geometry. I found myself pumping into turns, and floating over root gnarls, in a way I wasn’t used to on my previous full sus or ‘plus’ bikes. With a Shimano XT 1×11 system and Race Face Aeffect cranks, the build kit is way nicer than I’d expect straight out of the box. The subtle graphics are done tastefully too, with clean gray logo fades and sharp green striping, both accentuating the frame’s svelte geometry.
I couldn’t leave it as-is though: I had to futz with it and make a few modifications to bring out its wilder side. Primarily, I wanted wider rims with a SP dynamo hub for night riding and USB charging, so had a new wheelset built by Sugar here in Portland. Jude laced Spank Oozy 30mm rims to the Dynamo and an XT rear hub, and we threw on some more aggressive Maxxis High Roller II 2.3″ tires. To be honest, I would have loved to get even fatter tires in there but that’s about the max with this rear triangle.
I still haven’t found a better light and USB charger than the B&M Luxos U, but its fork crown mount doesn’t really work with mountain bikes or handlebar rolls. After spending the better part of the day fudging old component scraps in my bench vice, I finally managed to hack some plate steel and a canti hanger (thanks to Velo Cult for this suggestion!) into a respectable looking light mount – keeping it tucked and centered right in front of the stem’s faceplate.
I also swapped in a smaller 30t chainring, a short Easton 35mm stem in, Straightline Amp platform pedals, Ergon grips and saddle, and of course a Reverb dropper. Apart from my ass not liking the SME3 saddle (but it looks so dang good!), and wanting to experiment with wider bars now that I have a short stem, the bike felt quite dialed. My only other curiosity is trying out is a little more travel up front. Over the course of the ride, I found the Float getting gobbled up on some of the steeper, rougher drops, and would have appreciated the travel adjust of the Talas on the tighter, steeper climbs.
But let’s be honest, I got this bike to load up, and take me on my most ambitious MTB adventure yet: Limberlost’s inaugural Three Sisters Three Rivers route. In short, it links Oregon’s most lauded mountain bike trail systems over eight days and 325 miles in distance, crisscrossing the Cascades in the process. The route is packed with dedicated singletrack (60%!), and I knew I wanted something more playful and more forgiving than my 29+ titanium hardtail – the Carver Gnarvester.
Full suspension bikepacking bikes come with a penalty though: namely, the swooping top tube and pivot design eliminates the main triangle’s capacity for anything but a small custom framebag. In addition, the rear suspension paired with large wheels leaves little room for a seatbag, and the handlebar roll needs to clear the fork crown as well.
Luckily Kona’s suspension design lends itself to a framebag quite nicely, leaving plenty of room for Porcelain Rocket’s handiwork – even fully compressed, the rear triangle and shock don’t interfere. For a seat bag I have an early Porcelain Rocket Mr. Fusion prototype; it’s slimmer, better suited to the extra clearance needed with a dropper post. Obviously running a seatbag with a dropper post presents its own challenge, but I had Joshua Bryant make a better version of my aux seatpost hack. It’s pretty darn slick, too: just an old seatpost with some metal removed to make room on the saddle rails.
The handlebar roll is also my own concoction, a simple attachment system with some straps and buckles run through flexible plastic sheeting and PVC standoffs (DIY tutorial forthcoming). Once loaded down, the suspension definitely demanded some tuning attention too, but after adding 20–30% more pressure in the front and rear, and tweaking it to my liking, the bike rode just as nimbly as it did stock.
- Lightweight race bike – with sassy enduro geometry inherited from its big brother the Kona Process
- Suspension design leaves ample room for frame bag
- One of the better specs (mostly Shimano XT) I’ve seen on a bike of this value
- While not in vogue, 29″ wheels are great for long days of pedaling
- Rear is a tad tight and maxes out at 2.3″ tires on 30mm rims
- 120mm fork is underpowered for my style, though I haven’t tried a beefier fork yet
- Nitpicky – bottle bosses on bottom of downtube would be handy
- FRAME Kona Hei Hei DL Trail (L)
- FORK Fox Float 34 Performance 120mm QR15 Tapered
- SHOCK Fox Float Performance
- HEADSET FSA No.57B
- STEM Easton Havoc 35mm
- HANDLEBAR Kona XC/BC 35 Riser
- GRIPS Ergon GA1 Evo
- BRAKES Shimano XT
- SHIFTER Shimano XT
- REAR DERAILLEUR Shimano XT Shadow Plus
- CRANKS & CHAINRINGS RaceFace Aeffect cinch 1.x with 30t ring
- CASSETTE Shimano XT 11–42t 11spd
- CHAIN KMC X11
- FRONT HUB SP PL-8X Dynamo Hub
- REAR HUB Shimano XT
- SPOKES Sapim Race
- RIMS Spank Oozy 30mm
- TIRES Maxxis High Roller II 3C EXO 2.3″
- SEATPOST Rock Shox Reverb, short travel
- SADDLE Ergon SME3 Large
- PEDALS Straightline Amp platforms
- SHOES Giro Jacket
- LIGHTING B&M Luxos U
- BAGS DIY & Porcelain Rocket
Built up as above, the Hei Hei weighs in at 30.5lbs—pretty darn respectable for a dynamo-equipped-full-suspension-dropper-post-bikepacking rig! Add in another 17.3lbs of dry weight (bags and camping gear), and we’re still below the 50 lbs mark – minus water, food, and camera equipment, that is. Which is pretty good going for a rainy/cold season trip. Distribution-wise, it worked out to about 30% backpack (mostly water, clothes, and camera gear, 25% handlebar roll (ground sheet, tent, pad, down bag), 25% framebag (tools, cook kit, snacks), and 20% seatbag (first aid, food, fuel, bourbon) – but of course the weights depended on how much water, food, and fuel I was carrying each day.
Like I mentioned, not only does the Hei Hei DL Trail come with a really fantastic XT build, but it’s priced quite reasonably at $3,299. I know, I know, that’s more than I’ve ever spent on a mountain bike too, but you get much more bike for your money than just about any other comparable model on the market.
The misguided assumption that a loaded bike has to be boring needs to be smashed. The Hei Hei was catching air in every jeep trail ditch, and begged to be pointed down every lava rock jumble I could find. My advice? Pack less crap, lose the kitchen sink, don’t even think about panniers or other rigid mount systems… and then, when you’re all loaded up, throw more stuff back on the shelves. You’d be surprised how simple your packlist can be – but that’s a topic for another time.
In short, the Kona Hei Hei DL Trail is well designed, well spec’d, well priced, and now very well tested – thanks to the unforgiving terrain of Bend, Sisters, Mckenzie River, Oakridge, and the North Umpqua Trail on our Three Sisters Three Rivers route. Without doubt, it’s a serious cross country bike that plays rough, yet is eagerly tameable as a bikepacking rig.
- Size Tested Large
- Weight (as tested with mods) 30.5lbs/13.83kg
- Price $3,299
- Recommended Uses Fast technical singletrack, climbing, lightweight bikepacking
New in bikes
- Sep 22, 2016Interbike 2016 Outdoor Demo: Lucky 7
- Sep 14, 2016Salsa Woodsmoke Review (29+ GX): Space Oddity
- Sep 8, 2016Specialized Diverge Review: Asphalt Revisited.
- Aug 30, 2016Trek 920 Review: What’s an adventure bike?
- Jul 27, 2016First Look: Salsa Timberjack, Fargo 27.5+ & the New Mukluk