It's my belief that history is a wheel. 'Inconstancy is my very essence,' says the wheel. Rise up on my spokes if you like but don't complain when you're cast back down into the depths. Good times pass away, but then so do the bad. Mutability is our tragedy, but it's also our hope. The worst of times, like the best, are always passing away.
Anicius Manlius Severinus Boëthius
You’d be hard pressed to find a mountain biker who hasn’t, at some point, owned a Kona. The sight of one of Pacific Northwest’s finest will stir up a warm glow in anybody who got plastered in mud on the back of one of their legendary hardtails, or threw themselves down a hill on a Stinky.
Everybody has fallen off of, clung on to, came first on, came last on, had a laugh on, a Kona. Not a company of suits, the owners are still Dan Gerhard and Jacob ‘Jake-the-Snake’ Helibron. Both hardened MTB competitors, the later is a ‘Mountain Bike Hall of Fame’ inductee. They didn’t just make the bikes, they rode them, and rode them hard.
Mountain bike design is a minefield of mathematics translated into riding emotion and it’s not uncommon for companies to fall foul of a flick of a designer’s wrist. A slight change on a head angle, a subtle tweak to suspension, or a change to the stays can all see an established bestselling model drop of the wheel into MTB obscurity.
“80 degree and head angles and 23” wheels are the future.”
The Marmite Years.
Kona launched its Magic Link suspension in 2008 on the Coil Air and by 2011 it was a largely available on most of its dual suspension bikes of a certain travel. Its adaption of an auxiliary shock in addition to an air shock changed the geometry of the bike when hits and speeds big enough to bring the second shock into play were encountered. Bigger speeds and hits gave a slacker bike and more stability. It was a real Marmite addition to mountain biking, some loved its ability to steady the rider and give an intuitive suspension without the need for flicking switches.
It was either the perfect suspension system or a perfectly good waste of metal depending on who you asked.
Others found that they were constantly setting up their suspension to find an elusive sweet spot where it worked, this alongside the fact that a metal spring and bar had just added extra weight to the bike where other manufacturers seemed to do a decent job without saw Kona slip. You can’t please all the people all the time but if you want to sell bikes you had better be sure you’re at least doing it at 85%. Kona staked its reputation on tech that nobody could agree on and paid the price of becoming an also ran instead of a contender.
Kona in 2014/15: No magic, just science.
Fast forward to 2014/15 and the Magic has gone and been replaced instead by a honing of geometries. The Enduro bike of choice, the Process, has short stays, longer top tubes, and short stubby stems have revolutionised Kona’s handling on the slopes.
No magic, just science: the 2015 Kona Process 153
Their 29er big hitter offerings have also impressed. Recently, I had the chance to motor about on the Satori 29er. Instead of a lugging heap of springs, its steering felt extremely spritely. I’ll admit to wincing on the way into some tight turns only to open my eyes when out of them to find it had gone through with a minimum of fuss. With 140mm of Fox CTD upfront there’s more than enough suspension to tackle any UK trail or singletrack and it soaks up the lumps beautifully. For the record it climbs surprisingly well, but the fun is in pointing it down hill and it’s all done with one shock in the back, not two.
The Kona Satori 29er, described by BikeRadar as “ideal for the UK gravity enduro racer”
By ditching the trickery, Kona have put the magic back into riding their bikes and find themselves climbing back into contention with the mountain biking press and public, and long may it continue. In a world dominated by the latest tech and gimmicks, it’s good to have a company around that really just want to have fun and make bikes that you fall off, cling to, win on, lose on, and, more importantly than anything else, have a laugh on.