Kona Carbon Hei Hei DL - First Look

Apr 14, 2016
by Vernon Felton  




Cross-Country Gets Rowdy

Kona gave the 29'' wheeled Hei Hei a complete makeover for 2016—transforming the bike from a dedicated cross-country racer to a surprisingly capable, 100-milimeter travel trail bike that can still toe the line at XC races, but is actually fun to ride on just about any trail. What you’re looking at here is the next step in the evolutionary process—a completely carbon version of the Hei Hei. Kona’s calling the $4,699 Hei Hei DL an early 2017 release, but it should hit streets in the USA, Canada, and Europe this May. For readers in mainland Europe and the UK, expect to see this in stores for €4,999 and £3,999 respectively.

Though the name on the top tube says Hei Hei DL, if you look closely you’ll see this bike is more like a composite version of the 2016 aluminum Hei Hei DL Trail, a slightly hopped up model sporting a longer, burlier (120mm-travel Fox 34) fork, wide bars, dropper post… all the things that make riding a bike fun. Kona will also offer a slightly skinnier version (the $4,199 Hei Hei Race DL) in Europe. That bike will run a more traditional XC-flavored wardrobe that will include a 100-millimeter travel fork and lighter wheels.


Kona Hei Hei DL

Lean, Mean Machine

The new Hei Hei resembles a sort of simplified version of the Process 111, with its slack (for XC, at least) geometry, generous standover clearance, long front center, short chainstays, etc. The rear suspension on these bikes, however, is a much lighter, simpler affair than what you’ll find on Kona’s Process models. Kona calls it their Fuse Independent Suspension, but marketing nomenclature aside, it’s a rear flex pivot. The big-picture goal here was to create a lightweight 29er that’s efficient under pedaling loads, yet is based around a geometry and suspension tune that also enables the bike to be pushed hard in challenging, rugged terrain. Think of it as a more capable and versatile flavor of cross-country.

Kona Hei Hei DL

So what's actually new here? As with its aluminum cousin, the carbon Hei Hei DL sports a 120-milimeters of front suspension reverse-mulleted to 100-millimeters out back.The geometry also stays the same--you're looking at a 68-degree head angle, 74-degree seat tube angle, 429-millimeter (16.9-inch) chainstays, and (on a size large) a 1158-millimeter (45.6-inch) wheelbase. At the risk of flogging a dead horse some more, the clear and obvious upgrade here is that the Hei Hei DL sports an entirely carbon frame. Weight savings here (over an equal-sized aluminum version) is about 1.5 pounds. In other words, a good chunk lighter. Kona claims, however, that the decision to make a carbon Hei Hei didn't merely boil down to a desire to whittle weight. They were also aiming to add more stiffness to the overall package. The fact that the bike also sports a Boost 148 rear end and Boost 110 fork doesn't hurt in that regard either.


Kona Hei Hei DL

Riding the Hei Hei DL

There are two ways to tackle my local mountain--start on the side of the hill with the mellow fire road climb or start on the other side of the mountain--the side with the punchy single track climb. Since I was riding a bona fide XC bike, I broke tradition and went for the steeper, more technical single track climb. Weighing in at 12.51 kilos (27.6 pounds), you can guess how this 29er climbed--it climbed briskly. I wouldn't trot out the "like a billygoat" or "scalded monkey" cliches, but if you are struggling on this bike, it's not the Kona's doing. The Hei Hei DL doesn't squat horribly when run with the rear shock wide open, but getting into the spirit of the thing, I did futz with the blue lever a bit--I rarely felt the need to use the climb setting, the middle "Trail" compression damping setting offers a decent balance of get-up-and-go and grip and that's where I'd run it the vast majority of the time as traction suffers significantly when you've switched the Fox rear damper into its most-aggressively damped "Climb" mode.


Kona Hei Hei DL
The Hei Hei DL is shod with a 2.2'' Maxxis Ardent tire up front and a 2.2'' Ikon out back. Totally appropriate for the application, but I was quickly pushing the tires past their limits and wishing I had the 29 x 2.4 Ardents on board.
Kona Hei Hei DL
Fortunately, there's plenty of room here to move on up to the beefier treads the bike deserves.


To be honest, I'm re-reading that last paragraph, and it just feels like the obligatory kind of crap that you trot out about a cross-country bike. I mean, it's true and all, but while the Hei Hei DL climbs well enough, it absolutely shines on the descents. There are, of course, other cross-country bikes that are capable on downhills. I'm not talking about "capable", I'm talking about something more akin to "ripping" or "shredding" or whatever it is when you are making monkey sounds and you might be drooling because you are having far more fun than you expected to have at the outset.

Let's be clear--this is not an all-mountain bike by any means. It may even ramp up a bit too quickly to be a dedicated trail bike for the masses. But, man, you can push the hell out of the Hei Hei DL. In the process, you can get away with all sorts of crap that you have no right getting away with when riding a bike that harbors only four inches of rear suspension. I was soon taking the Kona on all the same trails that I normally reserve for all-mountain bikes. You have to be on your A-game, sure, because you run out of suspension quick, there's no denying the simple math there, but the Hei Hei DL is far more composed and planted than it should be.

Mainly, I was left wanting to ride the bike more. Since Kona just brought the Hei Hei DL out of it witness-protection program, I've only got a handful of rides on the thing.

How does the bike fare over the long haul? That's the real question. Stay tuned for a long-term review.


MENTIONS: @konaworld / @vernonfelton




87 Comments

  • 83 4
 A XC bike with a Trail geometry and dropper post. I always wondered why that was never the standard. Bike seems to be amazing, as I can always expect from Kona. If I had the place to store it and the money to buy it, I would have loved to add this bike to my collection.
  • 42 5
 XC bike with a trail geometry and a dropper is actually a trail bike! Just saying...
  • 6 1
 @gapos999: i think about 4 years ago it was, now trail bikes are pushing into AM category.
  • 46 1
 @gapos999: or you could just call it a mountain bike. Which is what it is.
  • 4 2
 @gapos999: usually trail bikes have about 20-30mm more suspension and are built heavier than xc bikes. It's like halfway inbetween XC and enduro.
  • 5 0
 Actially a perfect bike for Holland and arround trails!!!
  • 4 0
 This bike looks so rad.
  • 2 0
 @Mattin: yes, and this is halfway between xc and enduro (god that hurts, I just want to say AM to resist the mega-enduro hype), except it can be a full on xc rig with a fork and wheel swap.

Hold on while I figure out how to justify owning one of these, a 6inch bike and a dh bike... in addition to the bmxs, road bikes and hardtail... shit.
  • 1 0
 @gapos999: my thoughts exactly...not sure what they meant by that.
  • 2 0
 @HaydenBeck: Couldn't agree more!
  • 38 1
 Way to go Kona! Not making the bike industry wants but making the bike me and everyone else wants!
  • 22 0
 I am still over here trying to hate on 29ers but these new bike releases are making it harder and harder. 26 fo...some times?
  • 4 0
 how much more a comfortable & capable a hardtail is with 29" wheels is what won me over. I can't imagine owning another hardtail with smaller wheels.
  • 1 0
 @groghunter: It depends what you want. I will quickly correct those who hate on 29, but a 27.5 or 26 hardtail that can rip a set of fat dirt jumps, cruise the bike park and rdie xc trails is something that is much harder to find on a 29er. I've hit dirt jumps on my yelli screamy, but my 26inch 160mm spec enduro still felt better; more connected.

For this genre of bike though, 29 makes so much sense. I think it even makes sense for some people on dh bikes... but we will see how that plays out
  • 2 0
 @trialsracer: I should have made a caveat about DJs: mine is actually a 24". I'm not the tallest guy, & 26" DJs feel a little ponderous to me.
  • 1 0
 @groghunter: try a plus HT and you'll stop worrying about the diameter Big Grin
  • 1 0
 @WAKIdesigns: I've had one for over a year, & we've talked about it repeatedly. I basically had + wheels on that hardtail as soon as you could actually buy Trailblazers.
  • 1 5
flag mountaincross (Apr 14, 2016 at 15:55) (Below Threshold)
 My 24.5lb 140mm 26er...with a dropper post...will crush this Kona contraption going UP, going DOWN. Kona makes some fine trail, all mountain, and DH bikes. But a single "flex" pivot that weighs in at 27.6 lbs? That ain't XC light friends.

I'll give it the advantage on rolling fire roads....
  • 1 0
 @WAKIdesigns: Just ridden 29+ in bike park, sweet monster truck ¡¡¡ ;-)
  • 22 3
 waiting for the Process 153 DL CF
  • 3 17
flag rckon03 (Apr 14, 2016 at 4:39) (Below Threshold)
 Yeah i mean one would think a carbon process lineup would be the way to go. Instead they wasted time on a bike that well.... is just alright. A cf mid to long travel 29er process???
  • 5 1
 @rckon03: just alright? You clearly didnt hear what Vern had to say.
  • 2 2
 @johannensc: yeah! Just alright. the new cf one im sure its better but by how much?? I didnt really care for it. Personal opinion man. Vern review is also an opinion. Bikes just not for me.
  • 11 0
 @rckon03: they haven't been able to find a good reliable source for their carbon to make the process line with. They're not the type of company to rush it just to keep up with the other plastic bikes.
  • 1 0
 . . . . and the Operator 27.5 carbon
  • 5 0
 @FindDigRideRepeat: According to my local Kona dealer, they've been trying to bring a Carbon process to market for the last two years, but can't get the carbon right. He was hoping this would be the year they'd figure it out.

I was just talking with a retired Seattle manufacturing exec, who was saying that the pacific northwest is the ideal place to be making carbon. You've got all these aerospace manufacturers who have been making carbon fiber for Boeing and the aerospace industry, with talented engineers, skilled manufacturing technicians and excess capacity.

It'd be amazing to see a Bellingham company partner with a Seattle CF manufacturer to come out with a Made-in-the-USA CF frame.
  • 2 0
 @LuvAZ: let's start with a 27.5 aluminum first.
  • 13 0
 I've just finished a long term demo on the Aluminium DL Trail and can confirm, this bike is a lot of fun for an XC machine. Build is good, 34 fork is the way to go, pedaling is competent but not mind blowing. But the descending is confident, laterally stiff and actually a hell of a lot of fun! I like dividing my bikes into XC and trail, but for someone who wants a bike that's livable for everyday riding yet fast enough to race, give it a look!
  • 2 0
 you kinda touched on a point, that echos a thought I had on this: Is anybody who legitimately races going to buy this bike? & is anybody who wants a trail bike going to opt for this over one of the many options with another inch of suspension? I mean, with the Precept in their catalog, & the racier hei hei models available, I'm just not sure I know where this one fits.

Heck, most of the self described "XC Riders" I know still think dropper posts are a joke. They aren't going to look twice at this bike.
  • 6 0
 @groghunter: @groghunter: personally I would most rather only ride downhill and enduro, but since my country is extremely flat and our xc trails are fast and not very technical, both bikes are overkill for 95% of the times I ride my bike.

Since I dislike the feel of xc bikes with their steep HA, narrow bars, long stems, and normal seat posts, a bike like this would be perfect for me so that I can have a bike that pedals easily up hill, but still gives me a lot of joy when riding down the hills, instead of awkwardly being cramped up onto a normal xc bike. Not enough money and no place to store it hold me back, else I'd buy one for sure.

Long story short: the perfect bike for a gravity rider stuck on xc trails.
  • 3 1
 @Mattin: my point is, is this that perfect bike? or is a modern trailbike like the Precept, with somewhere near 120mm actually even better? This bike makes a few compromises to be an XC bike that don't make much sense to me unless you're racing XC, but I really don't see anybody buying this as an XC race bike, because of the compromises it makes to be more "trailish."

Unless you're competing for UCI points, I don't see how this bike is different enough from a precept to warrant a whole new SKU, & conversely, nobody who's taking XC racing seriously is going to buy this bike.
  • 3 1
 @groghunter: if you own an enduro bike and a downhill bike, but are stuck on riding on easy / fast xc trails, this is a more fun option than a full on racer xc bike and more suitable to the terrain than your enduro bike. Since I don't race and don't care about lap times, i would choose this over a normal xc bike to add to my fleet.
  • 2 1
 @groghunter: I race Cat 1 in lots of XC races in New England. I recenty bought the Aluminum Hei Hei DL frame and swapped the parts from my hardtail including the 100mm fork. Maybe I have the shock set up super stiff, but the bike pedals amazingly in my eyes. To me there is no reason that this cant be a full XC race bike. Maybe the 120mm fork makes the handling slower but it really shouldn't change it that much. Just my opinion though.
  • 1 0
 @johannensc: I'm totally with you on getting the frame & building it like a true XC bike. That makes sense, as the build kit would actually fit the intention, including the fork you chose.

@Mattin you haven't really addressed my point: What about this bike make you want it over a Precept? I'm not talking about an enduro bike being a replacement for this, I'm talking about a 120mm 29er. I get why you don't want to pedal a Process 153 around your flat trails, but, considering how modern 120mm bikes pedal, I'm not seeing this bike having any advantage over a Precept for anyone not counting seconds.
  • 1 0
 @groghunter: The times they are achangin...
  • 1 0
 @railin: that's... my point? Nobody is buying a 100mm bikes anymore just to get good pedaling, because modern geo & suspension makes 120mm bikes pedal basically just as good.

I'll say it again, unless you're measuring your bike's performance in UCI points, who's out there saying 120mm bikes are too slow?
  • 2 0
 @groghunter: Spencer Paxson runs a dropper post on this frame and he's about as serious as you can possibly be as an (American) XC rider. Granted he runs a 100mm fork, but your LBS might do a swap for you Smile

www.instagram.com/p/BEL4AlJHSYa/?taken-by=slaxsonmtb
  • 1 0
 @bmck: Not trying to prove you wrong or anything, but I think i read that Spencer was running a 120mm fork when he was running a Fox fork. Maybe he switched to 100mm after his switch to MRP?
  • 1 2
 My thoughts on the bike were that for the majority of riders who self describe as "Recreational XC riders" it would be a very good choice. You know the ones; the guys on an S-Works epic that weighs less than their beer gut. For people like that, a well pedaling but slightly relaxed geo XC bike with a laterally stiff frame and fork is going to be the best thing out there for them... Which is what bikes like this, the specialised camber, pivot mach 4 etc are.

As for why you'd buy this over the Precept? Because the Precept is a piece of shit. The top tube suspension mount has a propensity towards bending if you ever dare bottom out the shock, and the componentry level is aimed at the person with a budget for a mid range alloy hardtail but really really wants a full suspension because they look cool. (with the exception of the precept 200, which is a sick bike).
  • 1 0
 @johannensc: I was totally wrong--he even says it in the comments on that Instagram post. It's definitely a 120.

@BeRudeNot2: Totally WRT the Precept--I ride a Satori (same linkage, but 29er) and it's not a confidence-inspiring situation out back. That said, the Satori does throw down a comical amount of traction for climbing--I borrowed a friend's Process 111 and while it's a BEAST going down, I was diving into the suspension like crazy on the climbs and had to use the lockout way more than I do on my bike.

I haven't ridden a new Hei Hei, but Spencer has said it's a super stiff and really snappy linkage and that it's the most fun he's had on an XC bike by far (he's actually a buddy of mine; I'm hoping he lets me borrow one sometime Big Grin )
  • 1 0
 @bmck: @BeRudeNot2 I would argue that rather than making the hei hei a trailbike, what they need to be doing is making the precept a better bike, then.
  • 1 0
 @groghunter: Except the Hei Hei in this guise isn't pretending to be a trail bike. It's an XC bike that can take a lot more abuse repeatedly than your average XC bike, while still performing pretty close to a normal xc bike at the things normal xc bikes are really good at. And for the average rider who isn't going to be lapping the course at Rio this year, that's probably quite a good for for a bike. Why waste time trying to develop another similar bike on a new frame when you have one that already works pretty damn well for the same thing anyway?
  • 8 0
 People buy bikes for the rider they want to be, not the rider they are. This is the type of bike most people need. Yeah, they want a long travel this or that but in reality most riders won't even push this bike to it's limit. Digging this bike a lot!
  • 10 1
 This looks gorgeous! Would get one without hesitation.
  • 24 0
 @mate1998, it's been about 3 hours. If you don't have one by now you have certainly hesitated.
  • 5 0
 I think this 'genre' of bike is the everymans bike. It's versatile, fun, and is probably capable of more than most people's skill will allow. My Yeti SB4.5c has completely blown me away with what 114mm is capable of. Granted the yeti has more aggressive geo than the hei hei, but I bet it's an awesome bike. And I love me some carbon goodness.
  • 4 1
 I'm calling it, burly 29ers are the next big thing for MTB. We've seen Yeti and YT just punch out two incredible angry looking 29ers and the Spesh Enduro 29 has been proven to go pretty well to put it modestly. 27.5+ is like a reluctant acceptance that bigger wheels may indeed do a pretty good job!
  • 3 4
 Agree. Pole is also going that way. Check out the geometry on the EVO140
www.polebicycles.com/bicycles/enduro/evolink-140-en-29/?v=f0aa03aaca95
  • 3 0
 This bike and the Norco Optic seem a lot like my Rocky Mountain Element BC Edition from 2013. 29er XC bikes with beefier stuff bolted on. I haven't compared Geo, but spiritually they harken back to yonder years so long ago...Caveats abound though; the Rocky is a fun bike - on the right trails.
  • 2 1
 I demoed that Element BC in 2013 and found it to be surprisingly capable. Rocky was ahead of the game, for sure.
  • 5 0
 3 bike reviews AND fails of the month...no work getting done this morning...
  • 4 0
 ohhh yes super rad! kona kills it with this rig. carbon process is going to be sick as well
  • 5 0
 I hate it more than the Jeffsy.
  • 1 0
 That bike, and the Cannondale Habit SE, seem to be THE perfect bikes one really needs; I'm happy to see the pendulum swing back in favor of more "normal" bikes that are faster and better adapted to the real trails people ride in. I'm sorry, but most of the time (90%+ of the time) I simply don't need 150-160mm of travel; 120-130mm will be plenty, and I'll take the weight savings and more efficient geometry with fun factor included.
  • 1 0
 Is Kona still putting BB92s in all their bikes? Really wish they would go threaded. Tired of constantly having to replace my BB on my Process and getting the run around from Kona. Other than that I love my bike.
  • 1 0
 You should just get a Wheels Manufacturing bb92 thread-together bottom bracket. I just built up a Honzo Al/Dl and am going to spend the money on this BB when my stock one takes a crap.
  • 1 0
 @aristotlepeters: That only helps you if your shell is too big. If your shell is too tight or just out of circle you are screwed no matter what you run.
  • 1 0
 @iantmcg: It will prevent any further issues even if there aren't any to begin with. It basically makes it into a threaded BB because you actually tighten it. I'm not saying it will solve everything, just a better option than pressfit. Btw, I know that the rear end on my Honzo wouldn't be as short if it wasn't for the extra width provided by the bb92.

...and I am now realizing that it really wouldn't matter either way on the FS bikes as the chainstays are now welded to the bb shell. Smile
  • 1 1
 @aristotlepeters: Yeah maybe it gives you an extra 5 mm shorter chainstay. I think the problem comes down to crummy manufacturing tolerances.
  • 1 0
 Great article Vern! This ride has the potential to be built up very light but still capable with the right part spec. The rear end reminds me of my current bike, 2016 Orbea Occam TR 29c.
  • 2 0
 I love everything about this bike except the 29 inch wheels. I will keep riding demo's and try to have an open mind but so far nope.
  • 3 0
 Process carbon is on the way.
  • 3 0
 The only thing I'd replace my 167 with is a carbon 167!
  • 2 0
 Do I see a KOM i29? Wow ! Love the KOM rims and those will be on my next build.
  • 2 2
 It sounded hard to write a review that didn't include every cliche phrase. I guess that means the bike works but your not blown away.
  • 3 2
 Came here for the Boost and Metric comments. I've got my popcorn ready.......,,,,,,,,
  • 7 0
 Might as well start eating it before it gets cold. This bike will receive nothing but love.
  • 3 0
 @Mattin: Never even seen a Kona, but I love the look/design/idea of this, would suit our trails well
  • 3 0
 Xc just got cool
  • 2 0
 Rear flex pivot? So, no pivot on chainstay?
  • 2 0
 I've always wondered on the longevity of these suspension designs. I'd rather have that extra pivot (i.e.: 4 bar linkage), with its additional weight, than depending on frame flex to allow it's rear shock to compress.
  • 3 0
 @joncyr24: if the rotation needed from the flexing seatstay is small, I don't see it being worse than the effects of frame flex during normal riding. A rear triangle likely flexes a few degrees laterally and torsionally on any bike under regular use.
  • 1 0
 So is that one of those grey-anodized poor-people's Fox forks I only recently read about?
  • 1 0
 Looking forward to more reviews on this rig. Thanks for the honest review so far.
  • 2 1
 I bet the front triangle taste just like Granny's Apples, mmmmmh!
  • 2 0
 Frame only option?
  • 4 0
 If so they will be out of stock for ever and ever..
  • 1 0
 That little linkage is beautiful!!
  • 1 0
 The 12.51kg weight is without pedals right?
  • 2 0
 Reverse mulleted...ha
  • 1 0
 I think I just found a replacement for my Jet9 RDO...
  • 1 0
 kona process fans bummed this isn't a 153,134 or 111 for sure
  • 1 0
 But, where's my carbon process?

*sad trombone*
  • 1 0
 Whoa.. Now.. Fancy pants don't believe all the hype
  • 1 0
 Konah
  • 1 0
 Amazing bike
  • 1 0
 I love it!

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