This new bike might make it look like I don’t like the Blur. And the Blur might make it seem like I don’t like the Epic. None of that is quite true. I love riding mountain bikes, and I love learning more about how they work and feel. I also enjoy a good project.
I’m very interested in the evolution of cross country race bikes these days. Have you seen the modern UCI courses? Yikes! Some of those features would definitely leave a mark if you botched it. As a result, the bikes are changing to better handle more significant technical riding. Yes, they still have to be light. Yes, they still have to climb well. But they’ve gotta be able to handle the technical bits. I cannot say enough about how this benefits me, the average mountain biker, and perhaps you.
It is as an interested observer of this progression that the most recent iteration of Kona’s Hei Hei really caught my eye.
This new bike is a 2020 Kona Carbon Hei Hei. This one is a little bit one-of-a-kind because I built it up from a frame, which I undertook because Kona sold out of complete bikes in my size before I could work up sufficient commitment. We talk about this pretty regularly at the shop, but a frame-up build is definitely the more expensive way to get a bike. The upside is that you get exactly the bike you want.
I’ve liked the Hei Hei for years, but never enough to drop my cash on one. Were they XC enough? Were they trail enough? I loved riding them in the PNW, but would the Hei Hei translate to Kalamazoo County?
Starting with the last generation of Hei Hei, Kona dispatched the axle pivot on the rear triangle and made flex part of the suspension equation. It worked great and it definitely saved some weight. It might be worth noting that Specialized did the same thing with the Epic rear suspension a year later.
The video embedded in this link tells the story succinctly, but for 2020, the carbon Hei Hei has modified geometry, 120mm of travel at each end and revised suspension characteristics. These are the features that lured me in.
I was really nervous about the frame color, but quite pleasantly surprised when it arrived. Kalyn can routinely turn a phrase and said, “Is that your new frame? I love it. It says, ‘I like to party!'” For sure, it’s distinctive.
Of what value is a custom build if you don’t sweat a lot of the details? Here they are:
- Wheels – Bontrager Kovee XXX whatevers. Crazy light. Very nice.
- Seatpost – Bontrager Line Elite dropper.
- Handlebar – Truvative Jerome Clementz Descendent. Love it.
- Drivetrain – Shimano 12-speed XT, which I purchased as a whole package including 170mm crank arms, 32T ring and 4-piston calipers. More on this shortly.
- Headset – Cane Creek 40. Great value.
- Tires – Specialized Fast Trak in front, Maxxis Aspen in rear.
- Fork – Sweet heavens it’s the new 120mm travel, 35mm stanchion SID.
- Pedal – Time ATAC
- Saddle – Some take-off Kona-branded WTB I found at the shop. It’s actually very comfortable.
Everything went together pretty well. Cable routing is different; it goes through the down tube, exits above the bottom bracket and enters the top of the rear triangle. I was warned that routing the dropper would suck, and it did, but I prevailed.
While building this thing — the first 12-speed Shimano bike I’ve built — it occurred to me how thoroughly SRAM has taken hold of the mountain bike drivetrain market. We deal with XD drivers all day long, but this was the first time I messed with micro spline. From a putting-the-bike-together perspective, I found micro spline way fussier than XD. There’s also the fact that you can get an XD driver for darn near any hub, while micro spline availability is a bit more limited. This is a small, but real, complaint. Once it’s all together, it matters not at all.
All together with pedals and bottle cage, this thing weighs 25lbs, 2 oz.
On the first ride at Maple Hill I had two complains: the bike made all kinds of noises like cables slapping around inside the frame when I landed hard, and the XT drivetrain shifted poorly. These issues were “fixed” by (ahem) engaging the clutch on the derailleur and (super ahem) tightening the rear axle. It’s now appropriately quiet, and the shifting is perfect.
This thing likes to party.
- XT drivetrain – Fantastic. No complaints at all.
- Four-piston brakes – Fantastic. I’ve been riding with SRAM brakes for the last few years, and a very high compliment I can give these is that they feel as good as SRAM’s Guide and Level brakes. Instant engagement. Very progressive. Terrific feel.
- SID Ultimate – Killer. I hooked a ShockWiz up to this thing and rode DTE one day. It was the only time ShockWiz told me that my setup didn’t need to be changed. I agree.
- Frame – Awesome. I’ve had this thing at all the local trails, and I have nothing but great things to say about it. It feels super confident and capable. Is it as “fast” as the Epic or Blur? I have no idea, but it sure doesn’t feel slower.
I’ll write more impressions as the miles increase, but, dang. This thing is great.