Words by Ambassador Elliot Smith. Photos by Caleb Smith.

I hadn’t ridden a hardtail mountain bike since I was about 10 years old (other than my Shonky, if you want to count that). It was a little 24-inch bike, back when what quantified the best bike was which one had the most gears. This bike did have quick-release axles, disc brakes, and working suspension, but there were a few things it didn’t have. Firstly it was missing a Kona logo, not a big issue, but eight years later it has been resolved. It was also missing a whole lot of travel. I think it had an 80mm fork up front, nowhere near the 170mm of travel found on my current RockShox ZEB. Being a 24” it’s a bit of a given that it didn’t have 29” wheels, which is fair enough, I mean I was 9. Basically what I’m saying is that a lot has changed in the MTB world since I last owned a hardtail, I know I’m not exactly comparing apples to apples, but here’s my perspective on riding a hardcore hardtail for the first time.

The story goes like this. Mr. Honzo himself, Jake Hood, had recently pulled his Honzo ESD apart to build his dream Process X. I’d been curious about the new Honzo since seeing the launch video starring Jake, I really wanted to try it for myself. With a local Enduro race coming up, I thought it might be a great time to give it a test and see just how rowdy hardtails can get. Jake dropped off the frame for me to build up, and I began to swap all the parts from my Process X across. After sacrificing my X for the cause, I was left with this 170 mm monster of a hardtail.
Holy shit it blew me away! It felt (and looked) soooo aggressive. The 170 mm fork just made it feel that little bit slacker and helped it looked just a little bit more absurd, but it rode absurdly well. After letting a touch of air out of the fork it sat in its travel a bit more, just allowing a bit more suppleness in the rough stuff. This made for what seemed like a perfect mix of my Process X and my Shonky, the bike easily transferring between jumps and pumps, to steeps and roots. Compared to a full-suspension bike, it felt so much more lively in the rear end. maybe it’s just the way I run my setup, but the full suss just tends to grip everywhere, which is great, but for steep loamy twitchy lines, which are all too common in Wellington, you need that instant reactiveness from the hardtail and the ESD provides that in bucket loads.
Riding the Honzo ESD really has given me a different perspective on hardtails, and I now understand (kind of) all these purists that I’ve always associated hardtails with. I always wondered why people would opt for a bike that you could do less on (with some exceptions), but I’ve finally had the chance to understand why. They are just way too much fun! I’d compare it to the manual vs. automatic car debate, although automatic (full suspension) will more often than not be faster, manual (hardtail) just feels so much more raw and real. I’d like to thank Jake Hood for allowing me to see the light and Caleb Smith for capturing my little experiment.