Operator Goes 27.5
Kona has been on a tear of late with new bike releases. We've already reviewed their new Carbon Honzo
and profiled the aggressive version of their Hei Hei race bike--the Hei Hei DL
. Today, Kona continues the trend, rolling out several completely new models. There are some plus-sized hardtails in the mix, a Honzo-fied version of their previous fat bike, and a new 27.5-wheeled Hei Hei Trail, which rocks 140-millimeters of travel front and rear. If you were expecting completely re-designed Process models, well, no dice there, though the company has tweaked the Process formula a bit. Finally, the Operator gets an entirely new frame that's burlier than its predecessor and which rolls on 27.5 hoops.
The Changes--At a Glance
• Most models decrease slightly in price
• Operator gets 27.5 wheels and burlier frame
• Reach on Process models grows (on average) 15 millimeters
• All new, rowdier Hei Hei Trail features 140-mm of travel
• New Plus-size Honzo debuts
• There's now a Plus-size Unit for bike packing
• New Wozo model (fat bike with Honzo-esque geo)
• Kona Bikes
No more 26-inch wheeled Operators. For 2017, Kona has three Operator models sporting new aluminum frames and all of them wearing 27.5-inch wheels. The bikes range in price from $3,199 (USD) for the base level Operator to $7,499 (USD)for the Supreme Operator. In other words, the entry level price for a Kona Operator drops a little more than a thousand bucks for 2017—good news for anyone who wants to race DH, but doesn’t have a swimming pool full of money sitting at home.
Why the move to 27.5-inch wheels?
The mid-level Kona Operator DL.
I put the question to Kona's social media ninja, Caleb Smith.
“Well, it is kind of the march-of-progress thing," says Smith. "For a lot of downhillers these days, riders focused on every second on the clock, if the bike isn’t 27.5, they feel it’s a real disadvantage. The Operator is a downhill bike squarely aimed at World Cup racing. The input on the bike came from Connor [Fearon], Tegan [Molloy] and the rest of our gravity team, so that’s the direction the bike is going. We showed the bike last year in Bellingham and expected it to bring it out earlier than this, but there were some things we wanted to tweak and take further. As a result, this version is also much burlier. It’s super overbuilt....it’s just pretty cool. ”Were you guys also concerned that some riders might be leery of continuing to buy a 26-inch version of the Operator, given that a growing number of new wheels, tires and forks out there are specifically 27.5?
“Sure, that’s part of it and that matters to some riders," says Smith. "But a lot of the changes to the Operator just came down to building the bike that our World Cup riders wanted to race.”
Kona product manager, Ian Schmitt, summed up the rationale for the Operator's changes this way. "27.5” Wheels are fast. Connor is fast. 27.5” wheels and Connor are VERY fast. We also feel that the downhill bike needs to be the pinnacle of speed. The longer reach, slacker head angle and larger wheels (compared to 26” Operator) allow the bike to go faster on more severe terrain. Process Grows Longer, Slacker
It's not as if Kona invented the long top-tube and short rear end layout. Specialized had been carrying that torch for years and Gary Fisher's entire late `90s credo (Genesis Geometry) was all about the reverse mullet. And, yes, there were frame builders doing that waaay before Gary. So, no, Kona didn't dream up the long, low and slack thing, but their Process bikes did a hell of a job of embodying it and changing the way other bike companies approached their own re-designs in recent years. Well, Kona is going a bit further for 2017 on the Proces models. On average, the bikes gain about 15 millimeters in reach and lose up to a degree in head angle. Seat angles change as well, steepening by a degree on the 153 and half a degree on the 134 and 111 models.
Okay, geekery aside, what does all this re-jiggering of the geo do
to the Process' wheelbase? As you'd expect, it lengthens it by roughly an inch on each model. A 2017 size Large Process 134 features a 47.1-inch (1198-millimeter) wheelbase, whereas a Large 2016 version of the Process 134 sports a 46.1-inch (1172-millimeter) wheelbase. There are some subtle tweaks to the models as well. The Process 111, for instance, gets a longer fork in 2017 (130 millimeters of travel versus 120 millimeters for the 2016 iteration).
Kona's Schmitt had this to say about the new Process.
"We had noticed that a lot of our customers were purchasing large bikes instead of mediums, even though they were closer to a medium frame fit. We built some prototype frames that had longer reach and slacker head angles to make sure that the new longer reach wouldn’t be an issue. All of our test riders found that the longer reach and slightly slacker head angles gave the bike a roomier feel but did not make the bike feel cumbersome in tight sections. This shift is the natural progression of our bike geometry. It is also interesting to note that the current Hei Hei models have a geometry that is very close to the original Process geometry. This new geometry shift for Process helps us further define the Hei Hei as our XC Trail range and the Process as our aggressive all mountain/enduro machines."
Perhaps the biggest news is that there are three fewer Process models in 2017. For the most part, it looks like a smart culling of the herd, with less obvious replication. It's also nice to see retail price drop a bit on all the Process models. That said, the loss of the Process 167 is a drag. The 26-inch wheeled, mini park-bike has a cult-following and is undeniably cool. That said, "cult following" is also a bit of a backhanded compliment that could just as well be summarized as "We really only seem to sell this bike to riders who work at bike shops" In short, the Process 167 probably didn't set any sales records.
"The 167 left the range for this year as the sales numbers just weren’t there to keep it in the line," confirms Schmitt. "We have a lot of models and a varied range of product all the way from our Dew models to the Operator. We have to be very careful to not spread ourselves too thin with the number of models that we make and the 167 just didn’t make the cut this year."
Kind of makes you wonder, though, how Kona will go about filling that niche in the near future....
Oh, and in case you were wondering, the 2017 Process models all feature 142x12 rear ends.A Rowdier, Longer-Travel Hei Hei
The sheer numbers of Hei Hei models kind of says it all--this is a bike Kona thinks makes sense for a lot of riders, particularly since they've expanded the range from purely cross country (Hei Hei Race) to aggro cross-country (Hei Hei DL) to rowdy trail bike (the new Hei Hei Trail).
Since we've already covered the Hei Hei DL
, we'll focus on the three new Hei Hei Trail models. As with their shorter-travel predecessors, the Hei Hei Trails eschew the Rocker Independent Suspension design found on the Process models. Instead, Kona outfitted the Hei Hei Trail with the simpler and lighter Fuse Independent Suspension design. Fuse features a rear flex pivot rather than an actual seat or chainstay pivot. The big difference between this new Hei Hei Trail and the other Hei Hei models is tha it wears smaller 27.5-inch wheels and sports 140 millimeters of front and rear suspension--considerably more travel than the shorter the versions that debuted in 2016.
The Hei Hei Trail's geometry is surprisingly similar to that of the Process 134. Obviously, the rear suspension designs are entirely different, the top tube is shorter on the Hei Hei and the Hei Hei Trail frame is carbon, but the actual angles are only off by about a degree and the Hei Hei sports a lower bottom bracket and shorter chainstays. What sets the two bikes apart--in terms of actual ride quality--out on the trail?
"Well, you wouldn’t race the Hei Hei Trail in the Enduro World Series," says Kona's Caleb Smith. "In some ways the Hei Hei Trail is not the perfect Northwest bike, the way the Process is, but the Hei Hei Trail is the perfect trail bike for pretty much everywhere else: It has the right amount of travel you need, with the right fork. It’s a very versatile bike and it can handle being ridden aggressively, though we’re definitely not pitching it as a bike for doing monster hucks on. Whereas you do
see people doing double-duty with their Process bikes at the bike park and on the trail. This new Hei Hei Trail just isn’t as burly as the Process. The Process comes from an all-mountain lineage and the Hei Hei Trail still comes from a lighter, more cross-country lineage."
There are three Hei Hei Trail models for 2017. All three feature carbon frames. The Hei Hei Trail models all rock Boost 148 rear ends, as is the case with the five other Hei Hei models that were released in 2016.Honzo Line Gains Plus-Size Versions
Kona has been steadily growing the branches on the Honzo family tree. For 2017, there'll be no fewer than seven complete Honzo models and two frame-only options. A few weeks ago saw the debut of their new, lightweight carbon Honzo. Today, Kona rolls out two more aluminum Honzos. This time around, the Honzos are wearing plus-size tires. The Big Honzo DL will sell for $2,399 (also available as a $499 frame). There's also the more affordable ($1,699) Big Honzo (shown above). Both sport WTB Scraper STP i40 wheels paired with Schwalbe Nobby Nick 27.5x2.8 tires.A "Rad" Fat Bike?
And last, but not least, 2017 marks the debut of the Wozo--a cross between Kona's Honzo and their Wo fat bike. In a nutshell, the $2,399 Wozo brings some of the Honzo's long and slack geo to the fat bike world.
"It’s a more aggressive bike," explains Kona's Caleb Smith. "For starters, there's the Bluto fork, but the longer and slacker geometry also make it more trail oriented than most fat bikes, which really generally take their design cues from the touring background and have a steeper geometry that is really not that conducive to getting rad. The Wozo is definitely taking things in a different direction.”
"Wozo feels like a fat Honzo," say Schmitt. " We didn't want to just put a suspension fork on our Wo and call it the ‘trail’ version. We used the Wo frame tube set and built a new CS yoke to allow the chainstay to be as short as possible with the fat tires. We see the target customer as someone who rides a variety of terrain but wants to have a bike that still feels like a proper trail bike."
Is there a need for a radder flavor of fat bike? Having ridden precisely zero fat bike models to date, I'm the last person on earth qualified to weigh on that one, but if nothing else, it's proof that Kona continues to march to the beat of their own drum.