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Kristien Achten Wins Transvesubienne on Her Kona Hei Hei

Kristien Achten of Swooth MTB Shop in Belgium has found redemption on the course at Transvesubienne. Kristien found herself in 2nd place at the end of the 2016 race and, setting Transvesubienne as a main target for 2017, took her Kona Hei Hei to victory in both the Prologue and the main race. While XC races are usually won on the climbs, Kristien notes that her carbon Hei Hei also lets her ride away from her competitors on the descents. For the rest of us, that stacks up to a competition-ready bike that is a lot of fun on the trail! Congrats Kristien!

Photos courtesy Art Reflex Photography.

Spencer Paxson Waxes About his 2-3 Finish with Kerry Werner at the Pisgah Stage Race!

Spencer Paxson and Kerry Werner went 2-3 at the Pisgah Stage Race on their Hei Heis. As usual, Spencer’s trip report is super thoughtful and interesting! Here goes…

Words by Spencer Paxson. Photos courtesy Blue Ridge Adventures and Icon Media Asheville.

If the Bible had been written in the Pacific Northwest, the expression “shake the dust off your feet” would go something like “scrape the moss off…” At least that was my thought as I hummed out of town in my moss-covered truck early one April morning for my first race trip of the 2017 season. It had been a long and wet winter in Bellingham. The longest in recorded history. I had let the legs go good and fallow since my last race in November, and then spent all of December off of the bike (on account of the snow). For the past three months I had been riding the magic carpet of loam on the trails around town to get back in shape. Now it was time to put it to the test and wake the senses from hibernation with a trip to the Pisgah Stage Race in North Carolina.

Needless to say, I was keen to get out and stretch my legs in the old crumbly Blue Ridge Mountains and rhododendron groves of western North Carolina. The objective was the Pisgah Stage Race, a 5-day humdinger of a mountain bike stage race based out of the town of Brevard. This would be the 9th edition of the famous event and my first time racing it. Along the way I’d link up with new teammate and North Carolina native Kerry Werner and the good folks at Tennessee Valley Bikes (TVB) in Knoxville.

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There was no lacking in fine Southern hospitality as soon as I landed in Knoxville. In no time I had tossed my bag into the back of a big truck and was driving down the highway with a Nikki Lane song twanging on the radio as the sun set over the Smoky Mountains. A big dinner of hole-in-the-wall Mexican food with Scott and Eric from TVB and the road warriors from Kona Bicycles Demo Tour had me feeling fat as a tick. With a happy post-travel coma fast approaching, I passed out that night to the sound of the local crickets and katydids.

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We shook our legs out at the Kona Demo Day at the new Knoxville Urban Wilderness trail system, followed that evening my some official pre-fueling at TVB’s new shop grand opening. Kerry and I were elected as chief judges for a “guac-off”. We sampled 14 different kinds of guacamole scoring on 8 criteria each, then topped off on street corn and sausages before bidding farewell to Knoxville and caravanning down the Blue Ridge Highway to Brevard. We weathered a flat tire on the RV and made it to the Pine Ridge campground and my first night in the Pisgah Forest. Just before midnight I had pitched a tent on a little grassy nook next the Davidson River with the blue light of the moon shining so bright I could read a book without a flashlight.

Coffee, pancakes, and NPR News in the morning would begin the routine for the coming week as Kerry whipped up a mighty fine breakfast before our first day pre-riding some of the Pisgah trails. The weather was looking prime, with sun and short-sleeve temperatures forecasted for the week, maybe a frogwash or two along the way, but otherwise uncharacteristically dry for spring. Despite the warm temperatures, the trees had not bloomed yet, and the only green in the woods was the dark evergreen of rhododendron groves. The absence of leaves gave the forest a brisk and flinty appearance. I kept an eye out for the famous white squirrels of Pisgah and imagined old-time Civil War era history as we rolled out to the trails.

“This one’ll get a little loose,” noted Kerry before we dropped into the first descent of the day. I had expected Pisgah to be rough based on the stories I had heard, but that said, I was caught off guard after four months of riding the luxurious loam carpets of Cascadia. Yes, our trails in Bellingham can get rough and wild, but there’s a nuance to everything. The trails of Pisgah are refreshingly raw, rocky and rooty, ungroomed and unapologetic. Riding fast here requires a smoothness akin to the prolonged vowels of the Southern drawl. Managing traction and speed are as different here as the accent. Fundamentals are the same, but the expressions don’t work without the subtleties. I felt like I couldn’t carry my speed if I had a bucket with a lid on it! Let’s say my Yankee rigidity would hold me back through the first half of the stage race, but I eventually adopted a smoother Southern style.

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Racing arrived soon enough, and on the morning of Stage 1 the air was abuzz as the crowd of 200 racers from 11 countries lined up for the 5-day, 140-mile journey. We plunged through an icy stream and into the rhododendron forests. A group of four, including Kerry, a local elite rider named Tristan Cowie, one Mystery European and myself, quickly separated from the masses and soon we were all seeing double as we navigated our way up and away into the forest. The battle was on.

Kerry was the defending champion of Pisgah and bringing the thunder after a career best cyclocross season in 2016, not to mention a long history as one of the top MTBrs in the country. Tristan Cowie was no stranger to the top-level of mountain bike racing himself, having been a regular on the US National Team in the 2007-2009 period. And as a local, he knew each of the trails like a tree knows its roots. The Mystery European turned out to be from Spain and was an ex-World Cup dominator. With fast conditions and good legs, we blazed through the stage setting a course record a whopping 20 minutes faster than the year before! Midway through, Tristan launched a perfect attack into a long descent, placing the Spaniard between him and myself. Spaniard’s skill going down was not as good as it was going up, and Tristan began to float away. I eventually snuck around Spaniard, but I wasn’t riding very smooth either, and though I was reeling Tristan in, there wasn’t enough of the day left to close the gap. I came in second on Day 1 by 19 seconds, a gap that would ebb and flow through the week. Kerry rolled in third.

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Meanwhile, Kona Grassroots rider Jena Greaser was dominating the Open Women’s category, and would go on to do so through the week. Jena is beginning to rack up impressive results, with a top-3 finish a few week’s prior at the TransRockies Moab Rocks stage race in Utah. Desert to Appalachia, she is a Canadian force to be reckoned with. In the Open Men’s field and just a possum’s tail behind us was Super Grassroots rider Cory Rimmer, a young and rising star from North Carolina. Cory put the hustle to the enduro sections like a fart in a fan factory and would go on to take second overall in the Enduro portion of the race.

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At the front end of the field, the days at Pisgah are relatively short at around 2-2.5hrs each. The upside is that the fatigue doesn’t stack up the way it does in longer death-march style races where each day is over 4 hours. The flip side is that the short days make for very intense and fast racing. The pace each day is faster than green grass through a goose. Course records fell left and right as we stormed through the hills, beating times set by previous legends of the sport Jeremiah Bishop, Thomas Turner, Sam Koerber and Adam Craig. Was it the trail conditions, the modern equipment, the legs, or all combined?

Whatever it was, it made for a tight battle between Tristan and me. It turns out we were well-matched. I won three stages and chopped the gap down to as little as 9 seconds, while he won the other two stages. My advantage early on was in going uphill, a metabolically expensive option. Tristan was already strong as an ox on acid on the climbs, yet his advantage was in going downhill, a much more energy-efficient option. Each day we logged at least 10 minutes worth of sustained 6 watts-per-kilogram efforts, interspersed with plenty of digs so hard they could make a preacher cuss, and long descents that left the arms feeling like a pair of arthritic snakes full of hot sauce. By day 4, I was going downhill on pace, but just couldn’t close the gap. Despite my best efforts, I finished my now customary 2nd place by less than 0.2% after five days of racing. That’s tighter than a pair of pants on a bloated elephant, and something like my 6th consecutive stage race that I’ve finished as bridesmaid.

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Kerry wrapped up the week in third overall, and took the win in the Enduro, the race within the race, comprised of a timed segment of downhill trail on each stage. Kerry rode over those rocks, ruts and roots faster than a one-legged man in a butt-kicking competition, and was still there with a cheery smile to make breakfast for us every morning. When it was all said and done we basked in glory and downed several beers, sprawled under the sun in a grassy field at the after party listening to Nikki Lane live in concert serenade the crowd, grinnin’ like possums eatin’ sweet taters. It was a damn fine week.

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Check Spencer’s blog for the full article, and follow him on Instagram !

Jena Greaser on the Podium at the Moab Rocks Stage Race

Canadian Kona Grassroots rider Jena Greaser killed it with a time of 6:52:12.4 at the TransRockies Moab Rocks Stage race! Here’s her recap of three days of XC racing with her Hei Hei Race Supreme.

Words by Jena Greaser. Photos courtesy TransRockies / Moab Rocks.

Moab Rocks 3-day stage race successfully fulfilled my goal for racing this season: to find the best mountain bike races in North America! This was my first stage race. I gained mental, technical and tactical strength and experience that will go a long way into this season and beyond. Moab Rocks is certainly on the race calendar for 2018. It was an excellent, well organized event with tons of great people, trails and prizes.

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Day 1: Porcupine Rim
Distance: 25.3 miles. Elevation: 4200 feet.

After 15 miles of CONSISTENT climbing, myself and female competitor, Marlee Dixon, had maintained a steady pace to break away from 2016 bronze medal Olympian, Catharine Pendrel, in the last few miles of the ascent.

On this first day, I suffered from lack of “terrain knowledge”; chunky, technical rock, with multiple drops and various lines to take. Mechanically, I made the error of riding with too high of tire pressure as well, which didn’t help on the rough descent. I learned a lesson on climbing up into thin air this stage. Oops!

Take note, this is one stage that riding on a more “trail” style bike is certainly advantageous: The time you lose on the climb can be made up on the long downhill. Overall, it was a super long, dirt road/pavement climb, followed by an hour of some of the wildest, best descending you’ll ever do in a cross country race.

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Day 2: Klondike Bluffs
Distance: 25.8 miles. Elevation: 2800 feet.

This stage was the most “cross country” type layout of the three days. After a fast 3 miles of dirt road, it was a mass sprint up the first short slick-rock climb. At this point, I made my move on the rest of the women’s field. I knew that I needed to take advantage of my motivation and increase my lead. Lead I did; across the finish line to own an impressive stage win. Overall, this was the most exciting and best performance day in the saddle!

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Day 3: Magnificent 7
Distance: 28.6 miles. Elevation: 3600 feet.

Stage three had a mix of everything. Some steep climbs, some smooth flowy singletrack and of course, more slickrock! I had my most challenging day in the saddle, mentally and physically. Despite my legs not responding the way I had hoped and a few tactical errors early on in the race, I was able to keep a steady pace. In the final 8 miles of the race, I had a sketchy endo that luckily, did not leave me toothless or end my race! After feeling like my mouth was disconnected from my face and seeing stars, I somehow “found another gear” and charged onward to the finish; leaving everything I had on the Moab dirt.

At the end of the day, the rough terrain had worn me out, as any good race should. However, after taking on such an endeavor together with my teammate and partner, Dylan Bailey, we were all smiles; full of happiness, learned valuable lessons, and got to ride some of the best, most challenging trails we’d ever raced. Three days at Moab Rocks served as a great catalyst to stage racing, and prepared us well for the next event: the 5 day Pisgah Stage Race in North Carolina April 11th – 15th.

Jena is raising funds to keep her US race travel going this spring. You can donate through this link. And in any case, follow Jena on Instagram!

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The Advantages of Riding at Altitude in Guatemala

To be one of the most accomplished marathon mountain bike racers in the world, you have to put in the work. Kona Endurance and Adventure Team rider Cory Wallace, well, he puts in the work. Year after year. After a good experience last year’s early season training at elevation in Nepal and India, Cory chose to head to Guatemala this spring. Below are a few excerpts, but there are lots of gems in the longer version, which you can go to Cory’s blog to read

Words and photos by Cory Wallace.

Marathon mountain bike racing is similar to being a smart investor as it requires a pile of time invested into training during the off-season to prepare for the payoff later in the season when the big races come around. It can be easy to lose your focus in the middle of winter when the weather is challenging and there’s no real immediate payoff for the hard work, but this is when seasons are made and lost. It’s common to be putting in 25+ hours per week on the bike so it’s nice to have accommodating weather!

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This winter Guatemala was chosen, partly to take part in the El Reto de Quetzal race, partly to study Spanish, and partly to try out an experiment and to see how training at altitude would payoff. Having good success riding at altitude in India and Nepal last fall and the amazing feeling of having 3 lungs after returning to lower altitudes it gave me the inspiration to explore this avenue a little further.

Doing a bit of research and with past experiences I’ve come to my own conclusions about what should work and it seems living and training at altitudes between 2200 m and 2600 m seems ideal. Anything lower and the concentration of oxygen in the air is still high enough that it may limit adaptations, while any higher and there is not enough oxygen to be able to push yourself hard enoughto keep your muscles strong.

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The idea is that the body will increase the volume of oxygen-carrying red blood cells, become more efficient at using oxygen, and due to the lack of oxygen both the lungs and heart will have to work at an elevated intensity. It also seems to be important to break up the altitude training with retreats to lower elevations to help with recovery to put in some strong efforts in oxygen-rich air, and once you return to altitude the body re-kickstarts the adaptations. Time will tell but things are on track right now with the body showing nice improvements every week.

Check out a few more photos below, and read the full story on Cory’s blog

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Ti Tuesday: Alex’s Custom Hei Hei

Photos by Caleb Smith.

Alex’s Ti Hei Hei is a great example of how a seemingly simple project can spin its way into complexity very quickly. Alex’s first mountain bike back when he was a teenager was a Kona Lava Dome, which his family still has to this day – though it’s on the small side these days. The Kona hardtail fire continued to burn for him, though, and last year, looking for a fun cruiser project, Alex started the hunt for a Ti frame from the same era.

He found the Hei Hei frame basically as you see it here, a blank slate on which to lay his own brush strokes, and the beginning of a search for just the right pieces to finish the build to perfection. The mango Chris King hubs and headset started a landslide of orange, including the King bottom bracket and the Salsa seat clamp that we’re seeing pop up on many a modern Ti Kona build.

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The orange theme continues with the Chromag cockpit and orange cable housing, leading to a 9-speed XTR group. The XTR parallelogram brakes are, to many, the pinnacle of v-brakes, and Alex was able to separately source an XTR drivetrain with the requisite titanium cassette. Add to that a Chromag single chainring, Paul Component brake levers, and skinwall Maxxis DTH tires, and Alex’s vintage Hei Hei build has just a bit of modern flair.

With the build being so fresh, Alex’s Hei Hei drew an audience when he dropped by our office to show it off. We pored over the details, but because the bike doesn’t have its original decals, we were unable to exactly pinpoint the year of the bike. With its signature bullet dropouts we do know that it was made at Ti Sports in Pasco, WA, between 1996-1999. While it took Alex about 6 months to put the build together, the result is clearly worth the effort.

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For more Ti Kona goodness, check out the Ti Tuesday archives and #TiTuesdaysWithKona on Instagram. If you’ve got a Ti Kona bike, please do get in touch!

Bike Magazine on the Kona Hei Hei DL: “Astonishingly Fun.”

Another review of the Hei Hei DL and yet another affirmation that its progressive geometry and balanced pedaling platform is exceeding riders’ expectations. Bike Mag‘s Ryan Palmer tends to favor a 29er that shreds over one more focused on going uphill, but the Hei Hei DL solidly ticked both of those boxes for him.

“In a sport in which a new niche develops every 30 seconds, it comes as no surprise to see a new one emerging out of the cross-country bike category. This still-unnamed sub group is basically an XC platform with a pinch of all-natural trail flavoring. What also comes as no surprise is that Kona, of all brands, would be among the first few to help form this particular niche.”

Read the full review online or in high res PDF and head to Bike Mag to see their subscription options.

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You can also view Bike Magazine’s first look at the Hei Hei DL in the video below:

Bike Rumor Raves About the Kona Hei Hei DL: “This bike is proof positive of XC evolution.”

Here’s yet another review lauding the 2017 Hei Hei platform, this time from Zach Overholt at Bike Rumor. Zach was a big fan of the Hei Hei DL’s 120mm Fox 34 fork and dropper post bringing the bike “from podium to play”, though he noted that the true evolution that has occurred with this bike its long reach and progressive geometry.

“Just because the bike is only 100/120mm travel, that doesn’t mean you have to give up on the fun, playful natures of the bike. There are so many bikes that either excel at the up or the down, but the Hei Hei DL finds balance between the two. It’s still a bike that you could easily use to compete in local XC races, but this is the bike you want for the rest of the year when it’s all about fun.”

Read Zach’s full review over at Bike Rumor!

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Dirt Rag Magazine on the Kona Hei Hei Race DL: “It’s sexy, fast, and handles brilliantly.”

Katherine Fuller of Dirt Rag has just published her review of our Hei Hei Race DL. With its 29″ wheels and 100mm of travel front and rear you may mistake this bike for a pure XC racer, but Katherine was quick to note that the progressive geometry makes the newly revamped Hei Hei much more than the numbers may suggest:

“The Hei Hei Race DL is for people who might race, but who don’t maintain a regular USAC license and who have ridden un-ironically in cutoff jean shorts. It’s for people who don’t need or want a heavy all-mountain rig but who want some rear suspension and enjoy exploring trail nuances. It’s for people who want a racy bike that allows them to relish descents, not just survive them. It’s for people who want to have fun.”

“In many ways, this bike reminds me of a European sports car: it’s sexy, fast, handles brilliantly and gives you tingly feelings in your bits when you really ramp it up on smooth trails and push it around bermy corners.”

Head over to Dirt Rag to read Katherine’s full review of the Hei Hei Race DL.

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Kona Hei Hei DL Features in Singletrack Magazine’s Fresh Goods Friday

The Hei Hei DL is on the trail-focused side of our Hei Hei 29er platform, with notable spec choices to up your fun on the trail. Singletrack gets it:

“It’s a short travel XC 29er bike, but Kona has added a little drop of radness into this lightweight carbon beast, with a 68-degree head angle and a 120mm travel Fox 34 fork up front.”

Head over to Singletrack to see a selection of photos and commentary on the Hei Hei DL.

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Ti Tuesday: 1997 Retro Ti Hei Hei King Kahuna Commuter

Some of you out there are going to think turning a beautiful bike like this 1997 Ti Hei Hei King Kahuna into a commuter is sacrilege. Bear in mind, that although this seriously tidy hard tail is currently in commuter guise, it only really requires the addition of some 1.9″ knobby tires and the removal of the rack and front fender (that’s just so you don’t have to gouge your eyes out) to bring it back to its glory days.

Ti tuesday dan-2548The frame is a 1997 Kona Hei Hei King Kahuna made by Sandvik. It has a Thomson seat post, Race Face stem, Cook Bros cranks, Cane Creek headset, Mavic Cross Ride wheels and Rock Shox Sid Race fork. All pretty high end parts in their day. Heck, World Champion Cindy Devine and future World champ Steve Peat raced DH on these frames. And of course Joe Murray (the bikes designer) and a lot of other top racers raced XC on them.

Ti tuesday dan-2571They were/are pretty damn versatile, indestructible and forgiving bikes. We made them from 1990 until 2000 at Sandvik in WA. We figure maybe we produced around 4000 over that time period. Most of these are still around.

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Sandvik 3-2.5 Titanium. Nuff’ said.

Ti tuesday dan-2554Bit of a mixed big up front. Top mounted cable routing, a classic 1-1/8th Cane Creek Aheadset and short(ish) Race Face Prodigy Stem.

Ti tuesday dan-255280mm travel Rock Shox Race SID’s from 2000 look after the ride up front. Stopping (slowing down) is taken care of by the always classic (and a little bit squeaky) 1998 Shimano XTR BR-M950 V-brakes.

Ti tuesday dan-2550Oh boy, thank goodness for the Marsh Guard and Mucky Nutz fenders, imagine if we were still running these things. I have to admit I never put one of these Toby Henderson fenders on my bike but a lot people certainly did. You’d have to agree that a commuter bike is probably the best place one of these heinous fenders can be up-cycled to.

Ti tuesday dan-2568Radial spoked Mavic Cross Ride wheels from the same year as the fork add another splash of colour.

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Ti tuesday dan-2569Probably the most desirable item on this bike apart from the frame would be these Cook Brothers E Cranks. I’d trade a whole bunch of carbon bits and pieces for these bad boys. I do highly doubt that there are many people out there willing to even think about selling them though. Call me…

Ti tuesday dan-2567Easton Monkey Lite GT2 carbon bars and Avid Single Digit levers (with adjustable reach) keep the cockpit tidy. Oh and the all important Kona commuter horn.

Ti tuesday dan-2562Looks like somebody misplaced the rear set of XTR brakes for the build so it’s a step down to the slightly louder XT versions.

Ti tuesday dan-2564It’s the little details.

Ti tuesday dan-2561Bullet Proof.

Ti tuesday dan-2555There you have it. What’s your favorite bit about this retro Ti build?