The hardtail has been declared dead countless times over the years, ever since the very first full-suspension mountain bikes hit the market. Despite those rumors, the hardtail is alive and well, and in recent years a growing crop of extra-long and slack options has emerged. These hardtails aren't featherweight XC machines with razor sharp handling; instead, they have geometry that mirrors that of long-travel enduro bikes, with build kits to match.
Kona have tossed their hat into the ring with the new chromoly Honzo ESD, which sports a 63-degree head tube angle with a 150mm fork, a 490mm reach on a size large, and a chainstay length that can be adjusted from 417mm to 432mm thanks to the frame's sliding dropouts. The seat tube angle is a steep 77.5-degrees.
Kona Honzo ESD
• Wheelsize: 29"
• Chromoly frame
• 150mm fork
• 63-degree head angle
• 490mm reach (size L)
• 417 - 432mm chainstays
• Weight: 32.8 lb / 14.9 kg (size L w/o pedals)
• Price: $2,699 USD, frame only: $665 USD
There must be something in the Pacific Northwest rain water, because the ESD's closest geometry contemporaries are the Chromag Doctahawk, the Norco Torrent, and the Rocky Mountain Growler, models from companies that all located within a few hours drive from Kona's headquarters.
There's only only one complete model of the Honzo ESD, which retails for $2,699 USD. Parts highlights include a Marzocchi Bomber Z1 fork, a Shimano SLX rear derailleur and cassette paired with an XT shifter, Deore 4-piston brakes, and a Maxxis Assegai / DHR II tire combo. Want to build up your own boneshaker from the frame up? The Honzo ESD frame is $665 USD.
Not quite ready for a hardtail with downhill bike geometry? Kona also updated the 'regular' Honzo, giving it a 140mm fork, a 66-degree head angle, and a 475mm reach for a size large, numbers that are close to those of the full suspension Process 134.Frame Details
The Honzo ESD's sparkly red paint job is eye-catching, especially when it's gleaming in the bright summer sun. The key frame features are all in place - there are water bottle mounts inside the front triangle, as well as on the underside of the downtube, and all of the cables are externally routed for easy maintenance.
ISCG 05 tabs make it possible to run a bash guard or chain guide, and the threaded bottom bracket shell will please the anti-pressfit crowd. The 2021 Honzos have shorter seat tubes than before so that riders can take run the longest dropper post possible - the size large I was on had a 200mm Trans-X RAD post that comes with spacers for fine-tuning the amount of drop.
It's possible to run the ESD as a singlespeed or to adjust the chainstay length thanks to its sliding dropouts. Two bolts on each side hold the 12x148mm rear wheel in place, and a threaded bolt and nut helps prevent any slippage. GeometryRide Impressions
I'll admit, the whole 'hardcore hardtail' movement baffles me a little bit - if I was planning on riding rough, DH trails most of the time a hardtail wouldn't be my weapon of choice. Apparently there are plenty of riders who don't agree, so I put my biases aside and headed out on the Honzo ESD to see just what this red sled could handle.
The seated climbing position of the large frame was comfortable for my 5'11" height, which makes sense, since the reach and seat tube angle match those of the latest batch of full-suspension bikes I've been testing. The steel frame and beefy build kit do prevent the Honzo from really rocketing up the climbs, but, as with any hardtail, the efficiency that comes from the lack of rear suspension does give it a little extra quickness compared to a long-travel enduro sled.
The handling isn't overly sluggish (remember, on a hardtail the head angle steepens up as soon as you sit on the bike), but the zippy, overgrown dirt jumper manners of the original Honzo have been muted. The ESD is more subdued, and it does take more effort to get it around tight switchbacks; I found myself weighting the back wheel and sort of lifting and pivoting the front end of the bike to get through those sharp turns. On straighter, rougher sections of trail that extra length and relaxed handling is a benefit – it's easy to stay on track, and the meaty tires provide traction to keep on churning upwards.
When gravity takes over the Honzo ESD is in its element, and at times I found myself forgetting I was on a hardtail... that is, until I was reminded by the vibrations coursing through my bones as I carried too much speed into a rocky section of trail. Having that 150mm Marzocchi Z1 up front is a big help when things get hectic – it helps take some of the sting off those bigger hits. Once it's up to speed, the ESD is much easier to handle, with loads of stability; it's the opposite of a twitchy XC whippet. My rides took place with the chainstays at 425mm, and while I don't think I'd want to go any shorter, especially considering the front center length, I could see pulling the wheel back to the longest position for a little better front / back balance.
If you're hardtail aficionado who's lucky enough to live somewhere with easy access to steep trails, the Honzo ESD might be the ticket. The standard-issue Honzo is going to be the way to go for riders looking for more of an all-rounder, something that's more manageable and engaging on mellower terrain.