If you've ever ridden a cross-country bike down a rowdy and rocky descent at your limit, you might know that it's sometimes equal parts skill and luck. That's not the story with the Hei Hei, however; it feels more like a quick-handling trail bike than a sketchy Spandex speedster.
I've ridden more bikes in this travel bracket than I can count, but I don't think any of them offered the smoothness that comes from the Hei Hei's rear suspension and that RockShox Deluxe Ultimate shock. For having just 120mm, and running 25-percent sag rather than more, the Hei Hei is remarkably forgiving over rough ground. The middle portion of the travel, which is where you spend most of your time, smooths out roots and high-frequency feedback in a way that a bike like this shouldn't be able to - the bike just takes less out of you, especially if your trails are long and rough.
With rear-suspension that turns chunky to smooth, there's no doubt in my mind that the Hei Hei would be quite the stage racing weapon. That said, it does feel a touch linear when the hits come fast and hard, but adding a volume-reducing spacer to the shock is all that's needed to sort that out. At the other end of the stroke, the supple action surely helps keep the Hei Hei from sliding around too much when traction is questionable.
While the Hei Hei's rear-suspension is quite forgiving, the handling feels quick and asks for only small inputs. Don't take that as it being nervous, though, because it's not that on-edge, pointy steering that traditional cross-country rigs suffer from. Instead, let's call it responsive. What it isn't is that new-school, short-travel shredder that you ride even though all your buddies are on 150mm bikes; I'm talking about the Tallboy and other options with a similar amount of travel. While the Tallboy is really just a trail bike, the Hei Hei still has enough cross-country in its DNA that I'd prefer it if my rides were equal parts fitness and fun.
We have a lot of saucy trails here in Squamish, trails that a 120mm-travel bike isn't best suited to, and those are the places where the Hei Hei can feel a bit overwhelmed. Add in some steepness and the new Kona requires a focused, steady pair of hands to guide it through, but not nearly as much as a full-fledged race rig. Cross-country bikes can be exactly what you need in a lot of situations, but they can also spank you so damn hard if you're on a demanding trail and not paying attention.
The new Hei Hei isn't trying to be a rough and tumble short-travel shredder but, when it comes to cross-country bikes, it offers more room for error than most. Or, if you're like me, more room to ride your cross-country bike irresponsibly.