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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.