Kona was one of the most popular brands for MTB bikes in the early 21th century. Many have delightful memories riding their excellent rigs on XC, dirt and even more extreme mountain biking trails. In recent years Kona bikes were not available in Hungarian shops, but the brand hasn’t vanished, it’s alive and well, producing world-class equipment for the dedicated mountain bikers. This year signs the reappearance of the Kona brand in our country, so we swiftly took the opportunity to ride on of their well-equipped mid-range 29er model in astonishingly striking green exterior, the brand new Kona Mahuna 2019.
The Mahuna’s frame is constructed from 6061 aluminum alloy, the up-to-date geometry favors comfort over outright performance, lending a well-mannered character to the handling. There are no great technical feats to report on: the cables all run under the top tube, much to the delight of shop servicemen. The bottom bracket is the tried and trusted threaded type and both wheels utilize the conventional quick release mechanism. On the other hand, the Mahuna was made to accept internal dropper post cable routing, and the head tube is the new tapered variety enhancing stability and durability. The customer also gets a lifetime warranty for the frame, which is an indication that this bike can handle actual trail use.
From the specs we assume that the Mahuna signifies a deliberate return to the roots of mountain biking, albeit with a 29er platform some up-to-date technical details to enhance the ride experience. It’s a durable construction for certain, also providing great handling and lot of enjoyment along the way for the rider. The quality of workmanship is evident: the welds are precise and the designers made sure that there are plenty of structural reinforcements in the frame. The design is quite conservative, there are very few logos by modern standard, but the bright green color is something to be experienced. I truly embrace this type of bike design.
The equipment choice for the Mahuna is predominantly mid-range. There are both cheaper and much more expensive alternatives on the market, but I would advise those embarking on serious mountain bike riding to consider the Mahuna’s spec to be the starting point. Otherwise the experience might be hampered by the poor quality of the parts. Here we get 1×10 speed Shimano Deore shifting paired with a conventional square taped FSA Alpha Drive crankset, Shimano MT400 hydraulic brakes and an apt Rock Shox XC30 suspension fork. The wheels are based on the WTB ST i29 rims and WTB rubber, the renowned Trail Boss 29×2.25”. All well-performing, trustworthy pieces, ideal for general XC leisure riding. Since the equipment is far from space-age, their simplicity guarantees a level of durability: there is less to go wrong as in the case of more technologically advanced devices, the equipment should survive more abuse and require less maintenance. This is not to say that maintenance should be neglected, but if it does happen, the repercussions are less severe. For hobby and leisure use this design strategy is much more realistic.
As I mentioned the Mahuna gets a XC30 fork, which is a model from the lower end of the Rock Shox range. It employs tried and trusted technologies, the left leg houses the air spring, the right the rebound damping and the lockout. There is no remote lever for locking out the travel, but in casual riding there is little need to constantly operate such a mechanism for the sake of efficiency. We should be glad that Kona made such an equipment choice, avoiding putting a lesser quality fork in order to save some expense. Maybe the fork travel (100mm) is a bid on the conservative side: I believe this frame could have benefited from a little longer travel. The rebound damping can be altered in infinite steps from “rabbit with antlers” to the “turtle” extreme setting. I tend to prefer slower return, which by the way comes with a distinctive snuffling sound.
Sensitivity of the fork is adequate out of the box, but a general service after the first few hundred kilometers should improve the performance. For most of the budget forks the manufacturing tolerances are not as good as with the premium models, hence the debris after the initial run-in should be cleaned out, and good quality lubricant added for a smooth operation. Neglecting this step tend to cause accolated wear to the internals, worst performance and a shorter service life.
Shifting duties are carried out precisely by a Shadow Plus Deore rear derailleur with active chain stabilizer system. It’s paired with a Deore 10-speed shifter, but instead of front shifting, the Mahuna provides a 28T narrow-wide FSA Megatooth chainring which effectively keeps the chain on even in bumpy MTB riding. This is a very popular and user-friendly setup, and the 11-42T rear cassette provides adequate gear range for most type of recreational trail riding. The owner might miss the high end gears for fast paced efforts on downhills, otherwise there is little reason to complain about such gearing.
The wheelset lends welcome agility and trail-worthy nature to the bike. The tires are truly excellent, one that I would happily ride them on my own rig. The wide rims also help to maximize their traction and comfort, they perform well on even the most demanding terrain. Kona deserves praise for the wheel package, it’s a well though-out concept, should give confidence to the beginner riders and satisfy even the more advanced mountain bikers. The only gripe might be the added weight of its overbuilt construction, hampering somewhat the bikes climbing prowess. On the other hand, the great tire tread and the stables wheels pay their dividends for the lost calories when the trail points downward.
The bike’s accessory parts are in-house pieces with the Kona logo as we have come to expect with most manufacturers nowdays. This marketing strategy is very useful for keeping the cost at bay as long as the quality of the equipment is fine. In this case we have no reason to doubt the choices as the accessories are perfectly fine even at a quick glance. The saddle not only looks the part, but proved to be quite comfortable during the test ride – it fitted by backside perfectly.
Due to the sloping frame geometry, the size “M” entailed a 42cm set tube length. When shopping for a bike you should always double check the fit, since the Mahuna falls on the small side of each frame size. For my 175cm statue it turned out to be a little crammed, and the seat post was fully extended to achieve my standard seat height. Otherwise handling was spot on, very natural, just jump aboard and you immediately fell at home. Of course the handlebar position, the brake lever angle has to be set up for the body proportions and the personal preference, but that’s really all that’s needed for a great ride experience.
Since I wasn’t aware of the retail price previous to the test ride, when putting this review on the computer I was pleasantly surprised to find out that a much esteemed brand’s mid-level MTB offering could be purchased for less than the average monthly salary of a Hungarian worker. I would have guessed that the Mahuna costs upwards of HUF 300.000, but it’s actually lower, though the performance it offers could warrant even the a higher figure. The stability, handling and comfort is as good as it gets in the mid-range, these qualities are well-balanced with seeming no major shortcomings. Riding uphill is not a great chore, and the bike’s downhill performance is really something special. It displays exemplary agility and control with excellent weight distribution. You can easily lift either wheel over obstacles, providing plenty of trail fun. At this price you cannot ask for much more, and the distinctive color of the Mahuna sets it apart both on the trail and at the ice cream shop.
Riding the Mahuna brought back childhood memories of The Lion King’s well-known wisdom: Hakuna Matata. This is what I would first associate with the bike and its funny sounding name, to me it was made to enjoy life while out riding. You hop onto its saddle and immediately switch off from the worries in your daily life, being engaged in the only thing that matters in that moment, the ride experience. I had zero niggles with the bike itself, I could concentrate solely on the trail. It’s not hard to accept the few shortcomings due to the strict price constraints. Of course, I would have preferred to ride rims with double eyelets at the spoke nipples for added durability, pedal a stiffer crankset with integrated bearings, a longer travel fork, but the Mahuna’s modest budget clearly doesn’t allow these part choices. On the other hand, I was more than happy to see cost-cutting in the form of running the cables outside the frame, since it makes servicing much easier while not effecting the actual performance. Some ma frown at such things, but for me this is all and well.
All in all, the Mahuna rider gets a great bike which can provide the same mountain biking experience that got me hooked originally back in days when Kona was the hottest bike brand. It’s perfect for leisure MTB riding on cross country type terrain, training for greater exploits, developing our MTB skills. It will be a trustworthy companion for the years to come backed by a lifetime frame warranty. The new 2020 model has some added features like a Yoke chain stay construction and shallower head angle which will likely to turn it into a proper trail bike, one that can take your riding prowess even further.
We received the Mahuna test bike from Biciklikk.hu. You can find this exact bike (Kona Mahuna 2019) by following the link. More information can be found on the manufacturer’s international website. It’s worth checking out the Biciklikk.hu Facebook site as well as they are putting out a sweepstake to win a fantastic Kona bike!