Kona's office in Ferndale, Washington, is about as nondescript as it gets. There's no sign or billboard announcing the company's presence, just a blue warehouse situated in a small industrial park. Step inside the front door and the low key image remains – vintage photos, race memorabilia, and old catalog photos are scattered about the walls, forming a random collage of all things Kona. The warehouse space is vast and well lit, full of towering stacks of cardboard boxes containing bikes ready to be shipped out, and various bikes are on display, hanging from the bright orange walls, artifacts from bygone eras of mountain bike history. There's even the first Stinky prototype, circa 1997, a 1995 special edition HumuHumu singlespeed, and a 1992 Fire Mountain hardtail, complete with the ill-fated Kona Z-link fork.
Kona's history dates back to 1988, but the origins go back even further than that, to the formative years company founders Jacob Heilbron and Dan Gerhard spent working in bike shops, years that inspired their decision to try running their own bike company. The two met in Vancouver, BC, during the early days of mountain biking on the North Shore, and they eventually decided to start Kona with Joe Murray onboard as a designer. As luck would have it, mountain biking was enjoying a growth in popularity, and the North Shore was on the cutting edge of technical mountain biking at the time as riders began to seek out more and more difficult trails. Kona's first bikes were steel hardtails, but as riding evolved on the Shore they were there to meet the demand, introducing long travel, full suspension bikes with three chainrings that were meant to be pedalled up and then ridden hard and fast down the trails, the first “freeride” bikes to hit the market. Kona's reputation as a “freeride” brand stuck around a little longer than the term itself, but the last few years have seen Kona broaden their product lineup, introducing carbon fiber into the mountain bike line, and making bikes more in tune with what today's mountain bikers are looking for.
We sat down with Kona's owners and a core group of long-term employees that have been with the company for over twenty years to find out more about the company's history, as well as its future. The group included Jake Heilbron and Dan Gerhard, Kona's founders; Doug Lafavor (Dr. Dew), industrial designer; Paddy White, head bicycle product manager; and Maurey Olsten, production manager.
|• Founded in 1988 by Dan Gerhard and Jacob Heilbron. Joe Murray is the first designer / product manager.|
• Doug Lafavor, "Dr. Dew" joins Kona in July 1990.
• 1994: Steve Peat races DH in the UK on a Kona Hei Hei Ti frame.
• 1995: Kona Europe is founded by Jimbo Holmstrom. It's now the largest division of Kona.
• 1998: The Stinky Dee-Lux is introduced, the first production freeride bike, with 5" of travel and a triple front chainring.
• 2000: Stab Primo DH bike with 8-inches of rear wheel travel is produced.
• 2005: Fabien Barel wins the DH World Championships aboard his Stab Supreme.
•2008: Graham Agassiz joins the Kona Clump.
• 2011: The first carbon Konas are released - a 26' hardtail and a cyclocross bike.
• 2013: The Carbon Operator makes its debut.
|Being in this region put us in the right place to know what these bikes were all about. The North Shore trails started getting more and more extreme, and the riders started doing more and more, and we happened to be making the bikes that worked ideally for that type of riding. It's never been our goal to be a big outfit... We're constantly throttling back the number of models, keeping it at something we can manage, focus on, and do really well.|
|After a while it change and seemed like Kona was just supplying rental bikes - we were the Ford Taurus of the mountain, and we didn't want to be that. We wanted people to bring our bikes to the mountain, not go to the mountain and ride our bikes. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but we stopped being the core bike because of that. When we introduced the Operator we decided we didn't want that to be the rental bike, so we backed off a little bit.|
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