The 29er mountain bike platform has proven itself in the world of cross-country mountain bike racing and these days the bigger wheels are slowly making their way deeper into all-mountain territory. The Kona Hei Hei 2-9 (pronounced “hey hey”) is the company’s first and only full suspension 29er that’s dripping with XC race cred while dipping its big fat toe into AM waters.
Frame & Geometry
First introduced in 2008, the Hei Hei 2-9 features hydroformed Scandium tubing for a strong, lightweight, and durable frame that looks like a work of art. Scandium tubing is made from an aluminum alloy that’s had its grains aligned by adding scandium to the mix (so no, bike frames aren’t made from elemental scandium – not even close). The upshot is increased strength which allows Kona’s designers to use less material (read: lighter frame) than if they were using regular old 7005 aluminum. All built up my XL test bike weighs in just under 29 lbs. with pedals – not bad for a 22″ frame with big wheels and 4-inches of travel!
The Hei Hei 2-9 frame tubes are hydroformed, a process in which the tubes are precision shaped by blasting hot metal with liquid. This allows the designers to create the beautifully sloped top-tube you see without introducing points of weakness since the metal grains remain seamlessly aligned. At points where the tubes are welded, hydroforming is used to create stronger surfaces for the connections. The 2010 Hei Hei 2-9 also sports a tapered headtube which increases strength and durability of both the frame and headset bearings.
Since 1996, Kona has been honing their 4-bar linkage suspension design and the 2010 Hei Hei 2-9 takes full advantage of this versatile rear suspension set-up. Magnesium rocker plates keep the whole assembly lightweight and extremely stiff with zero noticeable side-to-side movement. On the trail this kept the rear end laser focused on bouncy descents and quick to accelerate coming out of sharp turns.
On trails with short and fast elevation changes (think gully dips) the 4-bar linkage allows the bike to respond quickly, going from full compression back to efficient climbing in the blink of an eye. Of course much of the credit goes to the properly tuned Fox Float RP23 which comes standard on every Hei Hei 2-9 but I gotta say the match between shock and frame is impressive.
While the Hei Hei 2-9 isn’t a true all-mountain bike, it offers just the right amount of suspension to take the edge off all-day epic rides and to smooth out the rough spots on fast courses. I personally like to pedal hard and ride fast and the Hei Hei 2-9 let me do that without needing to slow down for short rock gardens or sharp, rooty patches. As a full-time hardtail rider I have to admit I noticed a bit of pedal bob on the climbs but when I remembered to engage pro-pedal most of the bounce disappeared.
The Kona Hei Hei 2-9 features fairly aggressive head and seat tube angles that are just right for XC racing, yet slack enough to enjoy the flow going downhill. As a point of reference, the Hei Hei 2-9 angles are just slightly more slack than the regular Hei Hei (26-inch wheels) but not nearly as laid back as the Kona Dawg. This turns out to be a nice compromise between climbing efficiency with sharp handling (high angles) and high speed, downhill crushing (lower angles).
Speaking of sharp handling, I was blown away by just how well the Hei Hei 2-9 handled on tight, sinuous singletrack. The wide, 710mm handlebars took some getting used to at first but I soon found the responsiveness of the bike allowed me to quickly juggle the bars through tight spaces without losing the back end. Accelerating out of tight spaces was also a treat thanks to the stiff rear end.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, the Hei Hei 2-9 is a 29er mountain bike which means the wheels are 29-inches in diameter (traditional mountain bike wheels are 26-inches). I won’t go into all the advantages and disadvantages of 29ers here but I will say despite the big wheels, this bike handles very well. As an aggressive XC bike with all-mountain leanings, the big wheels help the Hei Hei 2-9 roll over obstacles more easily than its older, 26-inch wheeled brother while remaining nimble enough to worm through zig zag courses.
When I first opened the shipping box I was pleasantly surprised to see a raft of familiar components on the Hei Hei 2-9: Fox suspension, Easton XC Two wheels, Shimano XT and SLX components and brakes, Kenda Small Block 8 tires, and a WTB saddle (with Kona markings of course).
The Hei Hei 2-9 features a Fox 32 F29 fork with 100mm of travel and 15mm through bolt dropouts which gives you a much stiffer axle than a traditional quick release set-up. While through axles have been around a while on DH rigs, including them on XC bikes is a fairly new development (though they’re becoming more common thanks to a push by Fox and Shimano). The upside is improved wheel retention, strength, and rigidity, though you’ll need an adapter to attach the bike to your standard fork-mount car rack.
Easton XC Two wheels and Kenda Small Block 8 put the Hei Hei 2-9 into solid XC territory so you may want to steer clear of the upper end of all-mountain riding with these components. During my testing I got my front wheel turned sideways after hitting some loose stuff on a descent, throwing me off the bike and bending the rim pretty badly. Admittedly the accident was caused by user-error but you may want to consider a beefier wheel set if you plan on riding all-mountain terrain aggressively. Ditto for the Small Block 8 tires – these are low rolling resistance tires with thin sidewalls and are at their best on buff, fast trails.
The Shimano components performed as expected and the shifting was as crisp on day 60 as it was on day 1. The brakes needed zero adjustment throughout testing despite hitting wet and muddy conditions along the way.
Frame Finish and Details
The Kona Hei Hei 2-9 came out of the box looking shiny and slick, almost as if it had been dipped in oil before it left the factory. The smooth lines and shiny finish made it easy to clean after muddy romps and I haven’t noticed any nicks or scratches despite riding through thick brush and pebbled trails. I have to say the black frame looks hot on the trail – reminds me of Knight Rider cruising the scene – and the blue lettering complements in a subtle way.
Kona likes to leave their mark on every bike that rolls out the door and the Hei Hei 2-9 is no exception. I love the artwork on the chainstay protector, though I quickly covered it up with a piece of inner tube to protect this masterpiece. The Kona logo is stamped on the stem and head cap, woven into the WTB seat covering, and blinged out at the front of the head tube. It’s these discovery details that make me believe Kona has gone over this bike with a fine tooth comb, giving attention to every piece, part, and detail.
As a lightweight, 4-inch travel 29er mountain bike, the Kona Hei Hei 2-9 ($3499 MSRP) is tough to beat. With lightweight, hydroformed scandium tubing, race-ready geometry, and a solid XC component mix, this bike will let you rocket down the trail for hours on end. If you’re looking for a modern mountain bike that can tackle most terrain, the Hei Hei 2-9 is a good investment for sure.