Neil built this Kona Honzo up with a Rohloff SPEEDHUB 500/14 internal gear hub and Gates Carbon Drive belt to test whether a short chainstay 29'er felt markedly different than one with longer stays. There is a lot of discussion among mountain bike riders and journalists about the merits of shorter chainstays, with "shorter is better" seeming to be a common theme and bikes having shorter stays almost always getting more favorable reviews than bikes with longer stays. Claims are made that these bikes are easier to corner, more fun and playful to ride, and easier to maneuver, manual, and jump. These claims seemed to be in direct conflict with the claims that companies like Vassago make about longer stays being preferred, like on their Jabberwocky model. Having ridden a variety of bikes and generally having had fun on all of them, Neil was curious why bikes with shorter stays generally gained better reviews and whether there was any marketing hype involved.
The starting point of this project was a Kona Honzo frame, which is an affordable steel frame built to handle a lot of abuse. The Honzo's geometry caters to more aggressive trail riding with a fairly slack head angle, longer top tube, and steeper seat tube angle that you typically only see on full suspension trail bikes. It has sliding dropouts that give chainstay lengths between 415-430mm (we ended up at about 427mm with 46/20 belt sprockets), giving it the shortest stays of any production bike save for Trek's recently released elevated chain stay Stache. There are bikes with similar geometry available from smaller companies like CroMag and Canfield, but this geometry is unique among larger bike brands and has earned the Honzo an almost cult-like following.
Large-diameter chromoly steel tubes give this frame plenty of stiffness but also push the weight up to the upper end of the weight spectrum for a hardtail. At 7.5 lbs, this XL frame weighs more than many full suspension frames. However, being steel also means that it can be easily modified, so we got to work re-configuring it to suit our needs, including:
- Replacing the sliding dropout inserts. The frame comes stock with 12x142mm through axle dropouts but Kona offers 10x135mm vertical dropouts aftermarket, which allowed us to install a Rohloff SPEEDHUB 500/14.
- Removing the stock cable guides.
- Installing new cable guides along the down tube and left chainstay to route the SPEEDHUB shift cables, rear brake hose, and dropper seatpost line.
- Installing a reinforced hole in the seat tube for a Stealth dropper post control cable.
- Installing a set of water bottle bosses under the down tube, so two bottles could be carried on longer rides.
- Installing a tube splitter in the right seat stay to allow a belt to fit into the rear triangle.
- Getting the frame repainted.
Here are some photos of the frame directly after modications: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=859713814070614&id=304...
Here are some photos of the frame after getting repainted: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=859715174070478&id=304...
The build consists of a mix of new and used parts that were well suited to the intended use of the bike. MRP's Stage fork handles suspension duties up front, while Thomson's dropper post gets the seat out of the way on descents and Shimano's Deore XT brakes handle stopping duties with extra long levers (and leverage) courtesy of the "touring" version of this brake model. Wide bars and a short stem round out the trail-oriented setup.
The wheels were built with 35mm wide imported carbon rims laced to a DT Swiss 240s front hub and Rohloff Speedhub 500/14 in the back. Sapim's thin double butted Laser spokes were used with aluminum nipples to keep the wheels light and help offset the heavier tires - WTB's TrailBoss model with dual ply TCS Tough casing.
Riding the Honzo is definitely a lot of fun. The steel frame feels stout, going exactly where you point it and not waivering from that line choice. Coming straight from a bike with ~25mm longer chainstays, the Honzo feels like a wheelie machine. A simply tug on the handlebars lifts the front end into the air, which makes it easier to get the front wheel over obstacles. The slacker head angle makes the bike feel more stable on steeper, rougher descents but also requires a little more balance and finesse to get it around tight slow speed corners.
The combination of short chain stays and slacker head angle that makes the Honzo easier to maneuver down hills also makes the front end want to lift more easily on steeper climbs. It takes more focus to keep this bike on course going up steeper, more technical climbs but it will get there if you stay on it. The steeper seat tube angle helps offset this to some degree by biasing your weight more forward to keep the front wheel planted.
So, what's the verdict? Did the Honzo feel dramatically different on the trail? Is its geometry better than more traditional hard tail geometry? Maybe - but it depends on where you ride and your riding style.
Overall, the Honzo feels like a well-mannered trail bike and gives the feeling that it is capable of handling much more technical terrain at higher speeds compared to most hardtails. It does have a more playful feeling if you are looking for it and like to hop around on the trail. The differences in handling are certainly noticeable and will appeal to some riders more than others, but they are not night and day different and do not make this bike a clear winner for all riders in our mind.
If you are a more aggressive trail rider who favors the downhill and are looking for a hardtail or are a rider that likes to find jumps that others can't see, the Honzo should be a no brainer. If you ride on rolling terrain with sweeping corners, then you may not have a preference. Same thing if you're a wheels on the ground rider and are more concerned with the fitness aspect of riding and like to take it easy on the descents. If you are more concerned about making it up technical climbs, then you might find that a bike with a steeper head angle, shorter top tube, and longer chain stays helps you clean difficult sections more easily and more often.
If you want to discuss a Rohloff/belt drive mountain bike build, get in touch with us to discuss options. If you're in the Bay Area and want to test ride this Honzo, give us a call schedule a demo.
• Frame: Kona Honzo
• Fork: Custom Fork
• Headset: Custom HeadSet
• Stem: Thomson
• Handlebar: Salsa Whammy
• Shifter: Custom Shifters
• Saddle: Awesome Saddle
• Front Hub: Custom Hub
• Rear hub: Rohloff SPEEDHUB 500/14
• Spokes: Racing Spokes
• Nipples: Great Nipples
• Rims: Racing Hoops
• Tires: WTB Trail Boss 2.4
• Cranks: RaceFace Cranks
• Pedals: Shimano SPD
• Bottom Bracket: Shimano BB
• Belt Drive: Gates Carbon Drive System
• Rear Sprocket: Rohloff
• Brakes : Shimano XT