Retro Kona

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.

Alasdair’s Retro Builds: Part 4 – 1997 Kona Hot

The Kona Hot was the ultimate steel hardtail. Introduced in 1991, through to the start of 1996 it was built by Tom Teesdale, a true pioneer, and master of steel frame design and manufacturer. A made to order frame, you could choose from specific tube sizing variations, different cable routing options, and any color combination or design you desired. Sandor’s 1993 Hot dream-build is a great example.

For the 1997 season, production shifted to Altitude Cycles based in Chico, California who were contracted to produce the Hot, Caldera and Ku. The paint was applied by VeloGraphics in Bellingham, Washington.

Caleb Smith | KONA COG

Built in November 1996, number 34 in the first batch of 50, the original owner of this example asked to combine the “stars and bars” colors with the then-new “rasta flames” design. They also asked for 1996 decals instead of the 1997 jungle graphics. It’s truly one of a kind!

Alasdair McAlley
Alasdair McAlley
Alasdair McAlley

Like the Caldera, Mountain Goat drop-outs are used. No-one is sure what the rear triangle is made from but powers of deduction favor Reynolds 725.

Alasdair McAlley

The frame’s main tubes are Reynolds 853 and remain among the lightest and strongest tubing around. Back then they were new to the market and hard to work with. Coupled with more extreme riding conditions, rumors of frame failures surfaced. Altitude production ended after 6 months with the following seasons Hot and Ku produced by Enigma.

Alasdair McAlley

This frame had seen a lot of action, proving the frame design and workmanship was second to none. I wanted to combine some of the very best durable period-correct components to leave the frame do the talking. Shimano’s XTR M950 provides a butter smooth shifting with Race Face turbine cranks completing the racing drive-train. Iconic Syncros seat post and bars nod to Kona’s Canadian heritage with Avid Titanium V-brakes provide supreme featherweight stopping power.

Alasdair McAlley
Alasdair McAlley

The frame’s red front-end meant the logical choice of fork had to be the game-changing first generation Marzocchi Z2 complete with double disc mounts. Mavic CrossMax wheels help keep the total weight to around 24lbs.

Alasdair McAlley

As a result, it absolutely flies. As the most recent build I’ve not had the pleasure of riding it for long durations but early indications show, it has the rapid point and go you expect from a quality steel frame with a little more flex than an aluminum counterpart.

Alasdair McAlley

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s final instalment of this weeks’ special 1997 retro dream-build celebration.

Alasdair’s Retro Builds: Part 3 – 1997 Kona Caldera

The story surrounding the 1997 Kona Caldera provides insight into the mountain bike design changes and riding trends at that time. The concept was simple. Over the years riders had fed-back that they wanted a hand-built, affordable steel framed hardtail. Working with Altitude Cycles, Kona created the Caldera, a made to order custom US built bike costing around $1,000. But when it was launched no-one bought it.

Alasdair McAlley
Alasdair McAlley

In less than 12 months high-end steel XC hardtails dropped out of fashion, replaced with full-suspension aluminium bikes and the birth of freeride of which Kona would be at the forefront. It meant Caldera production lasted just 6 months with no more than 150 built and far fewer sold.

Excluding the catalogue, until 3 years ago there wasn’t a single picture on the internet of a 1997 Caldera. But after an early production model was unearthed on retrobike.co.uk I found a genuine Caldera on a local US eBay listing.

Alasdair McAlley

This example was made in September 1996, number 46 of the first batch of 50 and is the only 20” version in known existence. The frame is unique to Kona with Mountain Goat drop-outs (Altitude Cycles was a new company set up by Mountain Goat founder Jeff Lyndsay) and is made from a mysterious tube-set known as “Altitude Chromoly”. Opinions range from plain gauge 4130 chromoly (unlikely) to Reynolds 853 (it isn’t) to whatever was in the workshop (it’s probably Tange, Prestige or Ultralight).

Alasdair McAlley
Alasdair McAlley

Finished in “Popsy Blue” unlike any Kona ever made, it’s powder coated to allow the owner to change the decals easily.

Alasdair McAlley

Slightly heavier than the high-end steel Kona models, the build creates an assured, reliable and dependable ride thanks to the Shimano XT M739 drivetrain, super-smooth Marzocchi Z2s, Panaracer Smoke and Dart tires and the classic Selle Italia Flite (Kevlar version).

Alasdair McAlley
Alasdair McAlley

Not an ounce of power is lost when you put your foot down thanks to the short stays and like all Kona’s, the sloping top tube enables you to shift the bike around with confidence.

Alasdair McAlley

To date, six 1997 Calderas have been identified including one in the optional color “Molotov Red”. After 1997 the Caldera continued in a mass-produced version but the original Caldera will remain a classic Kona unicorn.

Alasdair McAlley

Alasdair’s Retro Builds: Part 2 – 1997 Kona Manomano

In 1996, the Atlanta Olympic Games featured XC mountain biking as a sport for the first time. Internationally, teams were shifting to a full-time time basis as the race calendar intensified. Downhill and XC courses became more and more technical so bikes needed to withstand the new terrain and rider limits. Everyone was pushing for more speed, more fun and more challenges.

Kona was tasting success on the downhill circuit with Tomi Misser, Steve Peat and more. At the same time manufacturers were experimenting to find the most effective suspension design: single linkage/swing arms, Horst links, Unified Rear Triangles (URTs), Softrides, and so on.

Alasdair McAlley
Alasdair McAlley

The Manomano, first introduced in the 1997 range, means “great” or “four thousand”, a nod to the 4-bar linkage system that became Kona’s suspension template for the next 10 years. It brought huge success and ushered in the Stab followed by the Stinky.

Alasdair McAlley
Alasdair McAlley

I wanted to take the original Manomano to the next level. When it launched at the start of the season no-one knew the impact Marzocchi would make with the introduction of the Z1 and Z2 forks. Taking motocross technology, Marzocchi wiped the floor clean of 63mm travel elastomer forks with over 80mm progressive travel coil and oil suspension. Even today, this early model dual disc mount Z1 fork is very capable and transforms the overall ride experience.

Alasdair McAlley

The bulletproof Shimano XT M739 drivetrain features throughout with super-strong Mavic 221 rims fitted with the 90’s classic tire combo (re-issued) Panaracer Smoke and Darts.

Alasdair McAlley

I like mountain bikes to look how they ride and this looks like a beast so it’s my trail center machine of choice. The Z1s and original Fox Vanilla shock still provide reassuring little air squeaks over the rough stuff. The bike feels planted, steady and always puts a smile on my face.

Alasdair McAlley

The rear linkage pivot points are very slender by today’s standards, so trips to Whistler, Winrock and the North Shore aren’t recommended. But on any normal day, it will keep up with modern trail bikes thanks to the progressive gear ratios, sub 29lb weight and a strong pair of legs.

Alasdair McAlley
Caleb Smith | KONA COG

This is a piece of history and the sport will continue to evolve, just like it did back in 1996. With that in mind, this season I fitted a period correct Azonic stem and riser bars to help better navigate the gnarly stuff.

Alasdair McAlley

Alasdair’s Retro Builds: Part 1 – 1997 Kona A’ha

Hello, my name is Alasdair. I grew up in the late 80s and 90s when mountain biking exploded into a global phenomenon. Riding a Raleigh, I spent my early teens pouring over Ordnance Survey maps looking for new singletrack, trying to emulate the stars in Mountain Biking UK magazine. In 1995 I spent my university student loan on the turquoise Cinder Cone and since then Kona’s have been the only bikes in my garage.

It’s my pleasure to present some of my bikes this week, all from the 1997 range. Why 1997? I love the combinations of the colors, jungle decal designs and the amazing selection of bikes that were available to purchase.

Looking at the catalog, every single bike looks superb and the range is diverse with steel, aluminum, titanium, hardtails, full suspension, cruisers, road bikes, for racing experts through to casual first-time shredders.

Alasdair McAlley

The A’ha was first introduced in 1995 to the North American market alongside its twin, the famously named Humuhumunukunukuapua’a. The 1997 A’ha featured a curved top tube as a throwback to the 1950s cruisers that mountain biking’s forefathers rode down Mount Tam on in the late 1970s.

Alasdair McAlley

First used as a color scheme on the custom built Hot, the A’ha features the iconic “stars and bars” livery.

Alasdair McAlley
Alasdair McAlley

Building up any bike presents new learning experiences and this build presented many challenges not least the wheels. Finding the right sized hub with the right period-correct rims was a mind-bender. The solution was a brand new Shimano DXR (BMX) hub laced to a pair of new-old-stock Sun rims that my local bike store found tucked away in their basement. The red and blue nipples echo the livery which continues with the classic Chris King patriot headset.

Alasdair McAlley
Alasdair McAlley
Alasdair McAlley

The A’ha cruises like a dream and can handle classic single-track with ease. It’s a miniature fat-bike with the wide Slick Rick tires providing maximum comfort for the frame’s geometry. The legendary P2 forks keep the steering agile and direct with a surprising amount of give on the bumps.

Alasdair McAlley

The original Cyclone BMX cranks and bottom bracket configuration mean the crank bolts screw the same peddling clockwise direction, so you need a lot of thread-lock to stop them falling off. No 19” A’ha frames were produced so this 18” creates a much more upright position than the longer, stretched out retro ride. Perhaps this bike was ahead of its time.

Alasdair McAlley

Future changes will include a different saddle and SPD pedals and longer term a conventional bottom bracket conversion. Stay tuned for more Retro Dream Builds tomorrow and the rest of the week.

Alasdair McAlley

Kona Dream Builds: Sandor’s 1993 Tom Teesdale Built Kona Hot

This bike belongs to Sándor Ambrus in the UK, it completes a trio of amazing retro Kona hardtails, his original 91 Kona Explosif that he’s had since new, and a recently completed Kona Hei Hei (more on that one later). As with all Tom Teesdale TET frames, it features its own unique serial number.

The bike was found for sale in the USA on one of the bike forums. I remember waking up, one early Sunday morning, checking my phone and staring at the two-tone frame from 1993 in disbelief. Then, after messaging the seller, getting up and running into the garage to see if the reported dimensions checked out with my 19” Explosif (since the seller had no idea of the exact size) then running back in before the sale passed. It was 19”.

It arrived in the UK with a variety of later 94 parts, including the velocity stem, fork (suspension corrected) and control center headset. The rear triangle was badly damaged. I knew the value of a Tom Teesdale frame was in it’s custom paint. After T-cutting the frame, a lot of the scratches came away, and I weighed up the decision whether to clear gloss coat lacquer over the badly chipped rear triangle to have the paint expertly filled in.

Reservations were that the red was not a normal fire-engine red but a pink-red with a lot of vibrancy. Upon advice, I took it to Ooey Customs in Hampshire, who paint a lot of team road race bikes. The match was spot on. I later found an old Cindercone and had the forks and stem repainted as well which is within the pics.

The components, I knew exactly what I wanted, which was the deliberate mix of Deore XT and M900 XTR parts in homage to the 93 Explosif. I love the Araya RM400 XC PRO, which match the frame, the Joe Murray Horseshoe and the Racelite Ti Bar which just adds further to the build. The hardest part was finding the factory spec Sugino Mighty XP Cranks completed with NOS Supershifter chainrings.

Since taking these photos, the build has developed further and now has new old stock Deore XT thumb shifters fitted, together with an original 93’ P2 fork and an original chrome velocity stem that the US Edition Kona Hots came with.

Frame: 1993 Kona Hot Tange Prestige with Ultrastrong Ribbed downtube
Handlebar: Kona 150 Titanium Racelight
Stem: Vetta Titanium SL
Headset: Kona Impact Headset
Cantilevered Brakes: Dia Compe 987s with Kool Stop pads
Brake levers: Ritchey Logic
Fork: Kona TB P2
Crankset: Sugino Mighty XP
Chainring: Sugino Supershifter
Front Derailleur: Shimano XT
Rear Derailleur: Shimano XTR M900
Brake Booster: Joe Murray Horse Shoe
Bottom Bracket: Shimano
Front wheel: XTR hub on Araya RM400 XC Pro, XTR Q/R
Rear wheel: XTR hub on Araya Rm400 XC Pro, XTR Q/R
Tires: Kona Mr Dirt / The Cleaner
Seatpost: 27.2 Shimano XTR
Seat: Vetta SL Ti
Pedals: Shimano M737s
Grips: Grab On Mountain 2