Emily’s Kona Hei Hei: The Evolution Continues

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From commuting to bikepacking and now more technical trail riding, Emily retired her trusty 26+ steel Jamis Dragonfly in exchange for a more trail-friendly Kona Hei Hei. Read on for her thoughts on why the new ride has been important to her skill development and our recent move to BC’s Sunshine Coast…

We originally reviewed the Jamis Dragonfly as a budget bikepacking rig for beginners, which made perfect sense for Emily at the time. I was trying to introduce her to bikepacking, she was interested in riding more, and it was about time to get something a little more reliable than her late Rocky Mountain Hammer. Over the last couple of years, Emily rode the crap out of that bike. We’ve spent over 12 of the last 24 months on the road, living and working out of a cargo van we converted for that exact purpose—riding in amazing places along the way. It’s been inspiring to see Emily tackle more and more technical terrain, riding trails she would have previously walked, and figuring out what kind of riding interests her most. The Dragonfly was great, but its 26+ tires were slow and the steel frame was heavy, and any time spent on gravel roads was never enjoyable for her.

Long story short, she’s been riding a new-to-her 2019 Kona Hei Hei CR DL for the last two months and has been loving it. I put together some questions for Emily to help share her story of transitioning from a hardtail to a full-suspension mountain bike and what it means from a bikepacking perspective. Check it out below.

Emily Kona Hei Hei
  • Emily Kona Hei Hei
  • Emily Kona Hei Hei
  • Emily Kona Hei Hei

Why did you start looking for a new bike?

I’m a pretty loyal consumer. I had my first car, a 2001 Subaru Forester, for seven years, and was reluctant to let it go. Likewise, I loved my Jamis. I felt confident with its big tires and it introduced me to a lot of riding I never would have attempted before. I think it was the perfect real mountain bike. However, I’m also kind of a chicken. I didn’t enjoy riding over chunky downhill sections. I walked, a lot. And I specifically remember breaking down into tears after a 60km day ending on a bumpy as all heck rail trail on the Chute Lake Charcuterie route. Needless to say, I wanted a bit more cushion. I was also influenced after a visit to our friends, Panthea and Skyler, a few summers ago. Panthea shared that after she got her first full-suspension bike, her confidence (especially downhill) and willingness to try new things soared. I’ve never been one to push myself too hard in any activity, but I’ll certainly take all the help I can get.

Despite all of these factors, I still wasn’t super serious about investing in a new bike. Bikes are expensive. I enjoy riding, but it’s not my main pastime. What really convinced me was riding a full-suspension mountain bike during the Powell River Sampler route. Our friend Natalie Jones kindly lent me her old Juliana Joplin to ride, which happened to be a high-end build that weighed very little. It was easy to lift during the hike-a-bike sections, it was still comfortable on some long stretches of rooty trails, and it was a beautiful blue colour. After riding the Joplin, I was obsessed.

Did you have any specific models or brands in mind?

It was hard to ride Natalie’s Juliana and not fall in love. I wanted a Juliana, and I wanted one badly. In addition to the nice aesthetics, they seem like a great company and do a good job highlighting women in the bike industry. If I’m going to be spending my teacher’s salary on a bike, I’d like to support a company doing good things. Did I mention they are beautiful bikes?

Unfortunately, they were out of my price range. I scoured online listings for used Julianas, but between COVID-19 and being confined to Vancouver Island, my options were limited. I called every bike shop between Victoria, BC, to Calgary, AB, hoping to get my hands on a 2019 or 2020 model. No luck. I reluctantly started looking at 2021 models, but in the end, couldn’t bring myself to fork out $4,000 (plus tax) on a lower-end build specced with parts that Miles would end up replacing me for anyway.

How did you land on the Kona Hei Hei?

Trying to find a full-suspension mountain bike in my budget during a global pandemic when everyone else is trying to find a bike proved difficult. At one point, I think I was checking the Pinkbike classifieds three or four times a day. I found a few other models that I was interested in, like the Norco Fluid FS1, but couldn’t find a bike close enough to me and most used options were still too expensive. I was visiting family in Ontario when I saw a size small 2019 Kona Hei Hei listed in the Okanagan’s XC section (so little views, so much opportunity). Miles kept trying to convince me to find a bike shop nearby to get on a small Kona, but there wasn’t any hope in rural Ontario. Instead, he drove down to buy it with the hopes that it would fit me well when I returned. It did!

Emily Kona Hei Hei

What was your first ride like?

It was a beautiful sunny day in BC’s interior. I had gotten off a plane from Ontario that morning, and after a month away, was excited to see the bike (and Miles). I hopped on in my rubber shoes and no helmet to rip around the parking lot, got a little cocky, went down a little path too quick, tried to brake, realized the brakes didn’t work, hit a parking medium, and wiped out. The end.

How does the Kona feel compared to your Jamis Dragonfly?

I definitely feel faster. Going from 26+ tires to 29″ was an experience and the first thing I noticed. I always felt like I was slogging away on uphills and roads, but now I’m flying. I managed to keep up with a bunch of gravel riders a few weeks ago, which never would’ve happened on the Jamis. I also feel like I’m willing to ride more than I was before. I’m still not shy to get off my bike multiple times on a ride and walk over sketchy bits (even with Miles encouragingly yelling, “You can ride that!”), but I am trying more. I still prefer shorter afternoon rides to a gruelling eight-hour day on my bike, and I still cry if I have a tumble, but I’m slowly feeling more confident.

  • Emily Kona Hei Hei
  • Emily Kona Hei Hei
Emily Kona Hei Hei

Aside from your bike, what else has helped you grow as a rider?

I’m fortunate that Miles spends a lot of time riding bikes and has some guide training on his resume. He is a great riding partner. He is encouraging, makes me laugh, challenges me just enough, and usually brings many snacks to keep it fun. That being said, I sometimes feel too comfortable riding with him. I find myself getting off my bike quicker, giving up earlier, and sometimes shedding tears sooner. I’ve been lucky to meet other riders during our road trips and riding with others can be a good motivator. I definitely don’t want to be the sour one of the bunch, so I suck a lot up and end up really enjoying myself.

I especially like riding with other women. Natalie Jones, for instance, is incredibly encouraging to ride with. She shreds hard, but is also patient and kindly has taken the time to give me a few pointers. She also didn’t start mountain biking until she was in her mid-20s and she’s badass.

Another wonderful motivator has been riding in new places. Travelling in the van on and off for the past few years, I have found myself in some beautiful places. I find I’m more willing to go for longer, more tech-y rides if there’s new sceneryto look at.

Have you thought about bikepacking on the Hei Hei yet?

Hell no. Kidding. Maybe? I consider myself a fair-weather (fair-everything) bikepacker. I like nice weather, a bunch of snacks, and not humongous days on the bike. I’m excited to get more use out of my fancy frame bag and feel faster on gravel roads. I think the 29” tires will be a game changer for bigger distances, and I’ll be giving thanks to the carbon frame during any hike-a-bike sections. For now, I’m enjoying getting more comfortable on local mountain bike trails and coming home to a warm bed.

  • Emily Kona Hei Hei
  • Emily Kona Hei Hei
Emily Kona Hei Hei

What We’ve Changed

When we purchased it, the Hei Hei was left completely stock, but there were a few things that needed addressing. Like me, Emily has become a big fan of ergonomic grips, so I picked up a fresh set of Ergon GA3s for her to run. I also put on a WTB Koda saddle, a popular option for both men and women, and some new Terrene Chunk 29 x 2.3″ rubber to replace the worn out and slightly more racy Maxxis tires it comes with. It’s a pretty well-rounded build, so I don’t expect we’ll need to change anything else this winter. Eventually, I wouldn’t mind getting Emily a new cable-actuated dropper post (maybe the new PNW Loam Dropper?) to replace the squishy Reverb that’s currently installed. Find the complete build kit below.

Emily’s Kona Hei Hei Build Kit

  • Frame 2019 Kona Race Light Carbon
  • Fork Fox 34 Float SC Performance Air 120mm
  • Shock Fox Float DPS Performance 100mm
  • Shifter SRAM GX-Eagle
  • Derailleur SRAM GX-Eagle
  • Cassette SRAM GX-Eagle 10-50T 12spd
  • Crankset SRAM GX-Eagle DUB, 32T
  • Brakes SRAM Guide R
  • Rotors SRAM Centerline 180mm (front), 160mm (rear)
  • Rims WTB KOM Light Team i29 TCS
  • Hubs Formula 110x15mm (front), 148x12mm (rear)
  • Tires Terrene Chunk 29×2.3″ Light Casing
  • Handlebar Raceface Chester
  • Stem Kona XC/BC 35
  • Saddle WTB Koda
  • Seatpost RockShox Reverb w/Plunger Lever 31.6mm
  • Grips Ergon GA3
  • Pedals Bontrager Line Elite

*Photos below show stock build, before any changes.

  • Emily Kona Hei Hei
  • Emily Kona Hei Hei
  • Emily Kona Hei Hei
  • Emily Kona Hei Hei
  • Emily Kona Hei Hei

Bags to Boot

One aspect of recent versions of the Kona Hei Hei that I really appreciate is the size of the front triangle. Whether it was done intentionally or not, even Emily’s size small can fit a pretty large bag. Being her only bike, I ordered a custom bolt-on frame bag through Rockgeist to help her carry a few more things on longer rides. I also installed my Rockgeist Spacelink and a Honeypot feedbag for easier water bottle access. Most recently, I ordered a custom Teeny Houdini saddle bag from Wizard Works for her to stash a spare tube and a few tools. The whole ensemble looks quite sharp!

Emily Kona Hei Hei
  • Emily Kona Hei Hei
  • Emily Kona Hei Hei
  • Emily Kona Hei Hei

Wrap Up

Upgrading to a lightweight full-suspension mountain bike has been a game changer for Emily. It’s easier for her to move around on the trail, she’s much faster on 29″ wheels, and the added comfort of a rear shock means longer, more technical rides. The XC-oriented geometry and spec of the Kona Hei Hei is perfect for someone of her size and weight, and although we were originally looking at more aggressive all-mountain style bikes, I’m happy we eventually landed on the Hei Hei. It’s extremely versatile and has me thinking a lot about the latest version that should be arriving soon for a review…or maybe I’m just jealous.

  • Emily Kona Hei Hei
  • Emily Kona Hei Hei

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