Kona Kahuna review

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Kona’s Kahuna is a bike that’s been around for decades, its formula continually refined. The geometry and design intentions of this latest iteration lean towards cross-country/trail bike efficiency, but its low-slung shape means you can chuck it about a bit, too.

Kona Kahuna frame

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The butted aluminium frame features a curvaceous down tube. Back in the 1990s, Kona’s bikes always sported compact front triangles, and, over time, the rest of the industry caught up. It’s easy to see why – the Kahuna’s sloping top tube keeps the frame out of the way when you’re standing and leaning to aid steering, or using body manoeuvres to absorb bumps and maximise trail speed. This latest version has a butted (the tubes vary in thickness along their length for the best balance of strength and weight) aluminium frame with a big, curvy down tube and a reinforcing gusset at the seat tower.

The rear stays splay out wide for good mud clearance, run in line with the top tube and feed down to a Kona-branded forged dropout area. The bike, unlike many of its rivals, has a QR rear axle. It’s less stiff and secure than a bolt-through setup, but most riders will struggle to notice.

Kona Kahuna kit details

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The 12-speed Shimano Deore drivetrain feels super-solid and smooth-shifting, with stiff cranks and a broad gear range for all types of climbs. Aside from weighing more, it’s hard to tell that you’re not on the brand’s pricier XT kit (found on bikes costing up to £10,000). Shimano supplies its budget MT410 brakes, too. These have tons of power, but not so much grab that the wheels lock up unexpectedly, and long levers that give newer riders plenty of options to position their fingers.

While the Kona handlebar looks unconventional, it puts your hands in a sweet spot, in terms of sweep. It also provides a good steering balance with the longer stem, which contributes to a more stretched-out riding stance. This puts your head further forward for a more urgent, attacking pedal position that well suits the overall Kahuna vibe. One negative kit point is the old-school, skinny (135mm) QR rear axle, plus it’s a shame that the Kona’s standover clearance isn’t maximised with a dropper post, to get the saddle right out of the way. Frame ports are provided for one, though, and you can pick up a decent aftermarket dropper for not much more than £100.

Kona Kahuna geometry

Seat angle (degrees)75757575
Head angle (degrees)68686868
Chainstay (mm)450450450450
Seat tube (mm)370420470530
Top tube (mm)576604631669
Head tube (mm)95105115125
Fork offset (mm)51515151
Bottom bracket drop (mm)60606060
Bottom bracket height (mm)315315315315
Wheelbase (mm)1,1351,1641,1921,231
Standover (mm)727733738760
Stack (mm)602611620629
Reach (mm)415440465500

Kona Kahuna ride impressions

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The Kahuna rewards you with a lively, engaging ride and there’s plentiful acceleration on tap. Jump on the Kona and it’s easy to ride, zipping about with a really lively feel. There’s excellent acceleration when cranking hard, and the alloy frame is just about smooth enough to maintain speed over the kind of bobbly surfaces with small embedded stones that are typical of mellower off-road trails. Steering is sharp but well-balanced for XC-style riding.

There are no quirks or surprises when darting through trees or teetering across tricky passages, and whether I was standing up and looking ahead on skinny singletrack or cruising on longer seated rides, I didn’t suffer any of the aches and pains that some hardtails dish out. The Kahuna climbs fast, too, even on loose dirt. The spiky Maxxis Forekaster rear tyre finds traction on grass and slime, where other bikes would start to wheelspin. Venture somewhere more adventurous and the tyres still have your back, gripping consistently on all surfaces, right up to quite muddy or churned-up earth.

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Grip from the Maxxis tyres was consistent on a variety of surfaces. This is a major bonus in the UK, and means the Kona will work well in all weather, and all without a serious dent in its rolling speed. One thing to be aware of is that because the Kahuna handles so well, it encourages you to start trucking along at GT Zaskar-like speeds, and you can get in over your head.

It does still have quite traditional geometry and a longer stem, and experienced riders will soon find its limits. This is particularly true of its 100mm RockShox Recon Silver RL fork, which smashes through all of its travel with a clunk if the wheels leave the ground for too long on drops or jumps. If you like to test your fitness on blue trails or just enjoy getting out in the great outdoors, the Kahuna looks and rides great. It’s just not that optimised for more aggressive downhill terrain or the best bike for a gung-ho teenager looking to be the next slopestyle star.

Kona Kahuna bottom line

Kona further refines the Kahuna, resulting in superb ride quality, intuitive feel and a fine-looking hardtail mountain bike. The drivetrain, fork and brakes perform admirably for the price and bar the lack of a dropper post, it’s hard to find fault with the Kahuna.


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