First ride: 2021 Kona Honzo ESD RIB



The hardtail has been declared dead countless times over the years since the very first full suspension mountain bikes hit the market. Despite these rumors, the hardtail is alive and well, and in recent years, a growing crop of extra-long and loose options have emerged. These hardtails are not featherweight XC machines with sharp handling; instead, they have a geometry that mirrors that of long-travel enduro bikes, with matching building kits.

Kona threw his hat in the ring with the new chromoly Honzo ESD, which sports a 63-degree head tube angle with a 150mm fork, 490mm reach on a large size, and chainstay length that can be adjusted from 417 mm to 432 mm thanks to the sliding legs of the frame. The angle of the seat tube is 77.5 degrees.

Kona Honzo ESD

• Wheel size: 29 in.
• Chromoly frame
• 150 mm fork
• 63 degree head angle
• 490 mm reach (size L)
• 417 – 432 mm bases
• Weight: 32.8 lbs / 14.9 kg (size L without pedals)
• Price: $ 2,699, frame only: $ 665

There must be something about the rainwater of the Pacific Northwest, as the geometry contemporaries closest to ESD are the Chromag Doctahawk, Norco Torrent, and Rocky Mountain Growler, corporate models. all located a short drive from the Kona headquarters.

There is only one complete model of the Honzo ESD, which costs US $ 2,699. Key pieces include a Marzocchi Bomber Z1 fork, Shimano SLX rear derailleur and cassette paired with an XT shifter, Deore 4-piston brakes and a Maxxis Assegai / DHR II tire combo. Want to build your own boneshaker from the frame? The Honzo ESD frame costs US $ 665.

Not quite ready for a hardtail with downhill bike geometry? Kona also updated the ‘regular’ Honzo giving it a 140mm fork, 66-degree head angle, and 475mm reach for a sizable size, numbers close to those of the full-suspension Process 134.

Frame details

The Honzo ESD’s glistening red paint job is eye-catching, especially when shining in the blazing summer sun. The main features of the frame are all in place – there are water bottle holders inside the front triangle, as well as on the underside of the down tube, and all cables are routed to the outside for a easy maintenance.

ISCG 05 tabs accommodate a bash guard or chain guide, and the threaded bottom bracket shell will be a hit with the anti-pressfit crowd. The Honzo 2021 have shorter seat tubes than before so riders can use the longest dropper post possible – the large size I was on had a 200mm Trans-X RAD post that came with spacers to fine-tune the amount of drop.

It is possible to operate the ESD in singlespeed or adjust the length of the base thanks to its sliding legs. Two bolts on each side hold the 12x148mm rear wheel in place, and a threaded bolt and nut help prevent slippage.


Trip impressions

Granted, the whole “hardcore hardtail” movement baffles me a bit – if I was going to ride rough tracks most of the time a hardtail wouldn’t be my weapon of choice. Apparently there are a lot of riders who disagree, so I put my prejudices aside and headed over to the Honzo ESD to see what that red sled could handle.

The tall frame’s sit-up position was comfortable for my 5’11 “height, which makes sense, as the reach and seat tube angle matches that of the last batch of full suspension bikes I have. The steel frame and beefy build kit keep the Honzo from really rocketing, but like any hardtail, the efficiency that comes from the lack of rear suspension gives it a bit more speed compared to a sled. long-travel enduro.

Handling isn’t too slow (remember, on a hardtail, the head angle gets steeper as soon as you sit down on the bike), but the zippered, dirt-invaded ways of the Honzo d ‘origin have been mitigated. ESD is more moderate and it takes more effort to get around tight laces; I found myself weighing the rear wheel and lifting and rotating the front end of the bike to get through those tight turns. On straighter, rougher sections of track, that extra length and relaxed handling is a plus – it’s easy to stay on track, and the meaty tires provide traction to keep turning upward.

When gravity takes over the Honzo ESD is in its element, and at times I found myself forgetting that I was on a hardtail … stretch of trail. Having that 150mm Marzocchi Z1 up front is a big help when things get hectic – it helps ease those bigger hits a bit. Once it’s in focus, the ESD is much easier to handle, with a lot of stability; it’s the opposite of a nervous XC whippet. My rides were with the chainstays at 425mm, and while I don’t think I would like to go any shorter, especially given the front center length, I could see the wheel pulling into the longest position for a bit. better front / rear balance.

If you’re a hardtail enthusiast who’s lucky enough to live in a location with easy access to steep trails, the Honzo ESD might be the ticket. The standard Honzo will be the way to go for riders looking for something more versatile, something more maneuverable and engaging on softer terrain.


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