2010 Kona Kahuna: A Review


So yeah, can't trust commercial media these days to do a proper review of a bike. They only seem to rate stuff on a scale of awesome to mind-boggling so. Internet reviews are almost as worthless, but in this case you get some context.  You've got a year's worth of ride stories here to see if I have the same kind of bike dork values you do. 

And this year, I decided I really wanted a geared 29er. Mostly for bikepacking duty, but maybe also something a little more XC race friendly than the trusty Hoss.  I've broken enough stuff over the years that I had a fair idea of what I wanted.  Aluminum frame. Eyeletted rims. Name brand spokes. Loose bearing hubs. Mechanical disc brakes. Usually, the traditional selling points don't do it for me. I don't care if it's LX or XTR or SLX or whatever. Shimano MTB components, no matter how cheap, just plain work. Wheels and other rotational stuff like headsets and bottom brackets are far more important to me. And more expensive doesn't necessarily mean better.

Because I get sponsorship from our local shop- a couple of brands got priority: Norco, Marin, Kona, Scott, and Jamis.  I also had a budget cap of "about a thousand bucks". Plus or minus however much it took to buy the bike I actually wanted.  ;) 

One thing became clear from the get-go, my budget cap instantly put me in Dart 3 fork territory. This was actually OK with me.  The Dart 3 is one of the last remaining coil sprung 29er forks on the market and I've never really clicked with any of the air forks I've ridden. I've also got a coil sprung Tora fork on my Hoss that just plain works well. 

One bike instantly rose to the top- the Kona Kahuna.  I have 3 other Kona bikes that I just love, the Kahuna met all my requirements, and the only real drawback was that it was 9 speed. I was very much hoping for 8 speed given how well that's worked out on the Jake.  So I did something I've never done before and ordered the bike sight-unseen.  It was a long, anxious wait- be warned Kona shipping is slow.  

When it finally arrived, I took it out on my local trails and was extremely happy to find it just plain worked. And it was fast too!  Now that I've got some miles in on it (not just trails- commuting, road racing (?!), endurance racing), I feel qualified to nitpick it.  

So let's start with the one thing that makes a Kona a Kona- the frame. I'm very happy with this. It's almost exactly what I wanted. Well built where it needs to be (I'm trying desperately to get through a bike review without using the word "beefy").  It has what I consider to be the most ideal cable routing- along the bottom of the top tube. Even has a nod to practicality with provisions for fender mounting with eyelets at the rear axle and mounts at the chain and seat stay bridges.  I really only have two gripes- one is minor, the lack of rack mounting holes on the seat stays.   The other is more significant- there's very limited tire clearance with a front derailer. I realize this is probably moreso a problem with 29er geometry than the Kahuna itself. It looks like switching to a 1×9 setup will fix this problem and let me run something bigger than 29×2.1s.


As expected, the Shimano drivetrain parts just work.  Even if it's not 8 speed, I'm pretty happy. I'm getting some creaking from the bottom bracket. I suspect a grease job will cure that for a bit, but I can make pretty much any bottom bracket cry for mercy so I'm not surprised by this. One thing that really surprised me were the hydraulic disc brakes.  I figured I'd end up ditching these for a set of my beloved BB7s, but hey- these things rule. Better modulation than the mechanicals and so far none of the stupid futzing with bleeding that I see way too many people doing.  Only complaint so far is the front brake's continual march out of alignment. It just never, ever stays put. I always have to adjust that thing.  

I'm pretty disappointed by the fork though.  I guess it works as well as can be expected but it's very, very flimsy.  The front axle can basically be anywhere within a couple of square inches while riding.  The final nail in it's coffin was when the right fork seal spontaneously migrated to the top of the stanchion while riding last week.  Surprisingly, no oil escaped and after pressing it back in with the proper tools (my car keys and a stick), it seems to functioning just as well as always.  I guess this is why I love cheap bike parts though. If a $700  Fox did this to me, I'd be freaking out.  I'm thinking this is going to get upgraded soon. The RST M-29 looks like a nice option, but I wish I could find the coil spring version in the US. I'm also considering going rigid as well- those Niner carbon forks just look damn cool even if they're way too nice for a bike like this.  

Wheels are always a problem with me, but I'm happy to note these are holding up well.  They were slightly out of whack after the Cheq 100, but a quick truing jobs got them back in line. As for the stock tires....  well, I really like them but damn, I've had more flats this year than I've ever had. All with these tires. In fact, after rolling through a briar patch, I've pretty much written them off as untrustworthy as I'm not sure I've managed to pick out all the thorns.  

One minor note, and something that really pissed me off.  What drunken monkey is putting the rim tape on these bikes? Seriously, they barely managed to cover the spoke nipples. Attention to details such as this kind of says a lot about the overall quality of a bike.  It worries me a bit.   

The thing that does it for me overall on this bike though is those freakin' giant 710mm handlebars.  Sitting up high over those big wheels with all the leverage at my disposal just feels right. And you can't beat just grabbing those suckers and cranking up hills. Big wheels need big bars.  Sure it's a little tight weaving through trees sometimes, but it's a tradeoff I'll gladly take.  Plus it's just cool to try and touch down a bar end in high speed bermed corners.

Overall, I got what I wanted- a good frame, a reasonable set of wheels, and a good collection of parts.  My gamble on going for the cheaper fork didn't pay off as I had hoped, but now I get to pick what I want. It's hardly a perfect bike, but it has no glaring faults and I can fix what I don't like over time as money allows.   


Thanks for your review of the Kahuna. I appreciate the honest appraisal. Any more words of wisdom as the months have passed?

My only MTB for the past year was a Kona Hei Hei 2-9, then I got a new Kona Unit 2-9 and I love riding the rigid 29er! So much so that I'm going to sell the Hei Hei, but I need a hard tailed with suspension fork and probably a 1x9 setup.

Thanks for any more info you have!


Great review. I'm thinking about getting a Kahuna and presence of this brand at my bike shop is a big factor. You sound like a more serious off-road rider than I am, so I think that it should be good for me if it can work for you.

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