There are folks who believe that there is no life as charmed as that of the bike shop owner. Sometimes that notion is correct.
Last week Kona held their 2014 dealer launch in Bellingham, WA, were I learned about the 2014 bikes, rode the 2014 bikes and met many of the people responsible for the 2014 bikes. Did this suck? Absolutely not.
First off, though Bellingham is a difficult destination, it is more than worth the hassle. Situated on the Strait of Georgia approximately midway between Seattle and Vancouver, Bellingham is approximately the size of Kalamazoo with easy access to myriad outdoor activities, mountain biking not the least among them.
Kona is quite a company, half American and half Canadian, but bound by a love for mountain biking. The company has a rich history in mountain bikes, cross bikes and somewhat oddball bikes like the Paddy Wagon, the Sutra and, more recently, the Rove. What other bike company has had a successful bike named Stinky? I can think of none.
The biggest Kona news for 2014, the Process series of bikes, does not much apply to the lower peninsula of Michigan. Why? Whereas the LP is largely XC country, the Process bikes are more All Mountain and Trail. In the event that you’re not hip to the latest mtgb segmentation, the Process bikes have more travel and are heavier than this wonderful environment might require. That said, the Process bikes shed significant light on Kona, both its ethos and its employees.
Kona takes great pride in its independence and its mountain biking purpose. When introducing the Process bikes, Kona’s engineers took pains to describe the geometrical and kinematic attributes of the bikes and the benefits thereof. For instance, Kona uses a single-pivot, progressive rear suspension. While the design team tested many possible and several more complicated options, they settled on this one because it is simple, proven and predictable. While other designs may offer certain benefits in certain rarified situations, Kona’s people believe that their design works better over a broader range of travel.
Things about Kona bikes that bear mention: longer top tubes, shorter stems, slacker head tube angles and really short seat stays. Longer TT plus a shorter stem actually puts your handlebar in exactly the same place (I said “approximately” to a design guy and he said, “No. Exactly.”), but allows the rider greater freedom of movement without “over riding” the front end. The short chain stays promote quicker turning. While the Kona geometry may feel a bit vague riding around the Pedal parking lot, it feels quite normal in a corner at speed. Neat stuff.
I rode a few bikes during my stay and thought I’d comment on them.
The Wo is Kona’s foray into the emerging Fat Bike market. I liked the Wo. The drivetrain and brakes are good.. The frame is wide as is the rear hub, which has no offset. It’s aluminum so salty roads are not an issue. The semi-moustache handlebar seems fine to me, but others found it ugly. If you want a Wo, we’ll put a different bar on there for you. Regardless, I think it’ll be a cool bike.
The Super Jake is Kona’s highest-end cyclocross bike with a very supple carbon frame, hydraulic disk brakes and a SRAM Red 22-speed drivetrain. I found nothing not to like about this bike. It went forward well, stopped incredibly well and was very, very comfortable. I’m tempted.
I rode a series of Hei Heis (dual-suspension 29er) in carbon and aluminum, sweet bikes all. I’m not exactly a dual-suspension 29er expert, but I noticed that there was a pile of traction, good maneuverability and good comfort. The Hei Heis are very nice. I rode one up and down things that were well outside of my comfort zone and enjoyed doing so. Expect to find at least one demo at your Kalamazoo Kona dealer soon.
What does all of this mean for you, the discriminating west-Michigan bike connoisseur? It means that we know more about the stuff we carry. It means that we’ll have more demo mountain bikes in the shop.
Thing is: people come into the shop and say, “Doesn’t everyone make a pretty damn good hardtail 29er?” Yes. They do. Everyone also makes a pretty damn good full-suspension bike. That said, Kona makes a considered bike. Watch that Process video. While the Kona designers are fully aware of the technologies historically used by the company, they also tested the living heck out of other ideas, notably multi-link rear suspension, before settling on a progressive single-pivot design. Cool stuff. Cool people. Cool bikes. For you.