Last week we returned to Bellingham, Washington and to Kona’s headquarters to demo their 2015 line-up and enjoy West Coast life for a few days. One thing’s for sure, the Kona crew treats you right!
Day 1: Our groggy faces were greeted by a room full of shiny new bikes, sweet schwag bags and (several) cold ones from Portland’s Fort George Brewery.
Day 2: An in depth overview of 2015’s models – emcee’d by Mitch and his extreme Canadian accent. Think ‘PRO-cess’ (not ‘pra-cess’) and ‘shi-MAN-o’ (not ‘shuh-mon-oh’) – what now, you say it’s ‘mah-veek’ not ‘mah-vick’? Fun times. Last year Kona introduced a ton of new bikes, and this year they really finessed their newer models and improved their skinny tire line-up, while bringing back some old classics (like the Kapu and Humuhumu!).
Next up, the fun stuff, riding bikes at Lake Padden! This year some good trail loops were well-marked, and they had lots of people helping with shock and pedal set-up, so testing out a bunch of bikes was a breeze. Steve rode: the Big Rove, Humuhumu, Esatto, Process 111, Honzo, Wo, and Hei Hei. His highlights were the Big Rove (an awesome do-it-all/burly/adventure/commuter), the Esatto (a more comfort-oriented road bike, new this year), and the Process 111 (which has 29″ tires and rides a lot like the Satori, Steve’s fave).
Sara rode: the Process 134 SE, Hei Hei Deluxe, Big Kahuna, Zone One, and the Super Jake. The Process 134 SE was awesome — built for shorter riders (like me!) the frame has great standover and control, being able to get weight over the front. They even were able to make it slightly lighter than the other Processes. The best part, however, is the xsmall frame’s ability to accept a dropper-post (which comes stock) with not-ridiculous cable routing. It makes climbing on a relatively heavier bike like the Process (compared to the hardtail I usually ride), so much less painful. Dropper post = get one!
Day 2 wrapped up with another lovely picnic on the waterfront, watching the sun set and playing corn hole. Let it be known, the Canadian crew is very competitive — maybe it’s all the curling they do over there…
Day 3: Q&A about the 2015 bikes, which included a long conversation about Kona’s offerings for shorter riders/women. Often bikes are sold to shorter riders by wheel size (shorter rider, 26″ wheel) but Kona is committed to selling bikes for their intended use (a shorter rider should be able to ride a 29er if they want). While I agree somewhat, I will say that the 29ers I rode, on the terrain I rode them in, did feel slightly unwieldy. I was infinitely more comfortable on 27.5″, and though there are no 26″ models really, for the type of riding I like to do, and my skill level as a relatively new mountain biker, I just kept wishing I was on a 26″! (More about that specifically later).
After the heated Q&A, we took a longer guided ride on the Galbraith trails. We chose to do a slower XC ride and Steve’s bike of choice was the Explosif, Sara’s was the Kula. Both were great on Galbraith’s singletrack — gaggles of roots, ledges, and awesome views. Steve loves the Explosif and the Kula is a super solid bike, seems like it should get more cred, it became my fave of the trip!
Wrapped up Day 3 at Kona’s HQ. Steve shredded in the re-vamped pump track, and lost a round of the goofy Humuhumu dirt crit — not to his rider skills, but due to his powdered-doughnut-eating /washingitdownwithtequila-skills. Got a tour of their frame “museum” from founder Jake — 90s mountain bikes are funny…
The next few days we side-tripped to Vancouver, BC. We took two bikes from Kona with us on the train — a Blast and a Mohala. Both were awesome for commuting all around Vancouver on their extensive network of bike lanes and public park trails. We probably averaged 40 miles of city riding each day cramming lots of sightseeing, swimming in the ocean, and tasting as much as possible at all the yummy breweries, coffee shops, and restaurants in Vancouver!
We also were able to get a local’s advice and check out some of the North Shore trails north of Vancouver. Public buses all take bikes, but there was still some serious road climbing to get to the trailhead that makes Route 20 seem like an anthill. Then even more climbing, which made us grateful for the hardtails we were riding. But then you get on the trails, which are all pretty technical and aggressive — relentless roots, rocks, gaps, huge drops, and and you wish you had a full-suspension bike with 6″+ of travel like everyone else up there. However, the Blast and the Mohala held up pretty well considering. The North Shore sure is beautiful!
Now here comes the beef with a small-framed 29er. No matter how small you make the frame, there are still giant wheels to account for. For city riding, I couldn’t get proper leg extension, because if I put the seat up to where I wanted it to be, with the high bottom bracket/wheels, I was hovering 2″ above the ground, unable to put a foot down. Additionally, standover still isn’t that great. While yes, I could stand over the bike, I had better standover on Steve’s 19″ Blast (with 27.5″ wheels) vs. my 16″ Mohala. Guess that’s testament to how Kona’s frame geometry allows for maximum standover.
On trails, ended up doing a lot of walking since I found handling switchbacks on the 29er nearly impossible (again probably due to my skill level) — but just couldn’t get comfortable and distribute my weight either over the back wheel or front. Also, not the right bikes for the more enduro/downhill trails of the North Shore. To each his own though — at least I finally learned that 29ers are not my jam (and yes I’m grouping them all by wheel size)!
All in all a great trip! What a lovely location, and a caring Kona crew. Check out more pics on our Facebook and all the new 2015 bikes trickling into the shop!