Alasdair’s Retro Builds: Part 5 – 1997 Kona Explosif Team Edition

My all-time favorite Kona is Roland Green’s 1997 Hei Hei in “rasta flames”. It’s the perfect race bike, ridden by a true legend. It’s been documented here, hanging proudly at Bellingham HQ.

Caleb Smith | KONA COG
Credit: Unknown

In 1997 the pro race team featured an incredible line-up of well-established and future legends such as Roland, Dave Wiens, and Lesley Tomlinson. Riding titanium Hei Hei’s rather than steel Hot’s and in part due to sponsorship commitments, there was a need to quickly create several Explosif’s for pro-team use.

Alasdair McAlley

Built deep into the 1997 season (May 1998) in Hodaka, Taiwan, made entirely from Columbus Nivacrom Max tubing, they featured all top-tube cable routing. The bare frames were probably painted by Enigma with longer flames than the Velographics design, resulting in the lower downtube Kona decal placement. The headtube decal is the 1998 design, it has original sponsorship decals and slight sun fading on the top tube where a rider’s name would have appeared.

Alasdair McAlley

It took over a year to determine the build and gather all the right parts. I wanted it to reflect its racing purpose and how it might have looked. None of the pro-team custom green painted Marzocchi Z2s are in known existence but thankfully there are pictures of Roland riding his Hei Hei with slime green Atom Bomb Z2s.

Caleb Smith | KONA COG
Caleb Smith | KONA COG
Alasdair McAlley

Race Face turbines reflect the sponsors’ decals with Shimano’s XTR M950 finishing off the drivetrain. Stopping power is provided by Avid Arch Supremes’ which, when set correctly, will stop as well as discs brakes. Super-light and strong Mavic CrossMax’s fitted with Panaracer Fire XCs accentuate the agile handling. Syncros seatpost and bars with the awesome yellow Selle Italia Flite provide the finishing touches (note, it’s worth having a few spares).

Alasdair McAlley
Alasdair McAlley
Alasdair McAlley

Light, strong, forgiving in the right spots, agile and eager where it counts. I’ve ridden it on the wide-open trails of Fairfax, California, on the technically demanding Fleckham downhill trail in Austria, on the woody single-track bliss of the Forest of Dean, Wales and all over my home trails and she’s never let me down. It’s the best bike I’ve ever ridden.

Kevin Sheldrake

Was it ridden by a pro? Perhaps the blonde shaggy bombshell, future Giro winner who broke through the ranks in 1997 threw a leg over it. I call it Ryder after all. I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s 1997 Dream Builds. If you happen to see or own a “happy go lucky green” 1997 Kapu please hit me up on Instagram, it’s my last unicorn!

Unknown Ryder (Canadian Nationals, Harewood Hills, 1997. Credit, unknown)

Thank you to everyone who’s helped feed my passion. Special thanks to Pip and retrobike.co.uk, my local bike store Bromley Bike Company, Joe Breeze and the Marin Museum of Bicycling and Jake, Dan, Gerhard and the Kona family who filled in so many of the historical blanks.