Friday, September 29, 2017

Kona Hei Hei Trail 27.5 introductions

So I got a new bike a few weeks ago.  Getting a new bike is not something that happens without a significant amount of agonizing and paralysis by analysis. This post summarizes how I ended up with this little orange ripper and what else was under consideration.
I've been thinking about a full suspension for some time now. My bikes tend to go in a pendulum from hardtail to full suspension and back again. My last dually was a 26er Iron Horse Azure. I'd started to have continual problems with the suspension settings and maintenance. 27.5 was starting to be a viable wheel size. I went an interesting route with a custom designed frame by Waltworks and then getting it built in Ti by a ChiTi maker.
This was a fun adventure as I've always loved the custom process of talking about you needs/goals with a builder. It also scratched my itch to try a titanium mountain bike.  It was a fun bike, but I realized that a hardtail around here is tough. When all systems are firing in sync, there isn't much faster or more fun, but fatigue sets in quick and consecutive days was getting harder.  I say 'was' because I had a nagging creak that turned out to be a hairline crack at the dropout.
Even before this I had been looking hard at a duallie again.  The roots around here, especially at my closest trail, New Hartford Town Park, are starting to not be fun on a hardtail and 120mm fork. The problem was that I hadn't narrowed it down to a particular 'family' of bikes. 
I was considering three different types of full suspension bikes all in 27.5:  1) modern cross country dually. This would be something designed for XC racing but with the new trends in slacker head angles, shorter chainstay, and 120mm fork.  I'd modify a stock bike that typically might come with a 100mm fork to 120mm.  Bikes in this family include, Norco Revolver, Trek Top Fuel, Cannondale Scalpel
Next 2) is short travel trail bike. This would be marketed as a trail bike but with 120-130mm travel. This would include the Norco Optic, Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt,  Santa Cruz 5010 Evil Calling, Pivot Mach 4, Spark 120mm/120mm.  Also in this genre might be the Transition Scout, though it has a big front fork.
Finally, is the bigger trail bikes like 140mm+ such as the Orbea Occam, Rock Mountain Altitude. The Hei Hei Trail falls in this category with 140/140 but all the reviews say it is on the XC side of things.
I was going back and forth.  On one side, I have been contemplating trying to race again and an XC dually with a 120mm fork would be a good weapon. As I mentioned earlier, with the pendulum swing I was thinking why go for an XC bike when I just had hardtail.  The XC bike would give a small measure of comfort over the roots and let me pedal through them.  However, don't be fooled they will still pass trail shock and lead to fatigue compared to a trail bike. The thing is that even though I don't race still, I want to go fast. And on the weekend group rides or Thursday night rights, I still make it a competition.
I have some friends who have been going through a similar progression of bikes lately.  They come from a road, cross, mtb racing background and started out on 29er hardtails, which are still a good choice around here for a talented rider.  They made the jump to duallies with Santa Cruz 5010.  I actually rode one for a week. It was ok, but didn't jump out at me.  I didn't like the suspension as much and the geometry had too slack a seat tube.  After going to  big demo day, they recently made the jump to big trail bikes with one getting an Evil and one getting the Rocky Altitude (which I briefly rode and was very impressed. big bike  plush with nice pedaling).
In addition to travel, a key characteristic is the geometry and reach/stack values.
I've been following a fitting theory from Lee Likes bike lately. Its centered around placing the handlebars in a specific location. It has been lower and closer than traditional. The problem is that many modern bikes are getting taller and taller, especially with longer forks. Getting the bars in this ideal position is also harder as geometries are moving towards the longer/lower/slacker mantra. 
The longer part becomes a problem for those of us with short torsos.  So I had a target reach in mind of 385-388mm.  Take a look at some bikes these days. It is actually pretty hard to find a reach that small.  There were a few mostly in XS that had a reach in my range.  It was a tough choice to pick an XS bike, as I've always been on Smalls.
Another issue is that Reach is just one part of the geometry puzzle.  In concert with longer reaches, you also typically see steeper seat tubes.  Reach is the number to consider when off the saddle and has taken over Effective Top Tube (ETT) for comparing bicycles.  ETT is still an important dimension when seated in the saddle.
I was thinking that I would like the steeper seat tube, because I often have my seat pushed forward on the rails.  I was more concerned with the fact that a steeper seat tube often means shorter ETT even if the reach is in the desired range.  So I was worried about an XS being too cramped when seated.
Short chainstays are also a in favor these days.  Given my height, I think short chainstays are a plus to get my weight in the right spot in addition to making the bike more fun.
So what are the characteristics of this next dream bike?
1) Nimble w/o being too twitchy
nimble and stable can be at opposite ends of the spectrum.  I've placed a high value on skills lately, and the tight technical terrain here is a consolation for losing out on the big climbs and long downhills of Blacksburg.  I have made a commitment to improving my skills by taking some Ryan Leech video classes, and trying to be diligent on practice.  So a bike that can be moved around and driven as opposed to a plow point and shoot bike was desired.  The Thunderbolt seemed to really fit this characteristic.
My hardtail was nimble as heck. However, it was bordering on too twitchy and was getting to be handful.
2) Ability to ride in the open position as much as possible
Most rear shocks come with a 3 position lever. Names for the position include downhill, trail, climb, lockout, etc.. One acts as a defacto lockout which might allow for some movement, but for the most part it is like a hardtail. The middle position is called trail typically and on a lot of bikes this is where you leave it.  The open position is the downhill mode where you'd definitely flick there when on a long extended downhill.
This is great to have the adjustability, but I don't like it. Except for a long fire road climb where I might set it locked or to trail, I never liked having to go back and forth.  The problems include being in the wrong position when terrain changes quickly.  around here its so variable and downhills so short if the suspension is too plush, I'd be flicking back and forth all the time.

Some bikes come with thumb levers to actuate the shock setting. Scott is known for this and has a dual lock that adjust both the fork and shock.  I've heard that once you get used to it, it is the bomb, and I can see that.  But it is also one more piece of clutter and head ache.
Trail mode is a nice thing and a lot of people leave their bike there all the time.  But if I am paying for the full suspension, I want to get the most out of it.  So it can be a conundrum about a bike that can pedal well all the time open.  I heard the Yeti super bikes are meant to be ridden in the middle setting, but their simpler ASRc series is better in the open mode.
3) poppy
I am learning how to bunny hop. It's quite fun to be able to look at a trail now and consider all the places to use a mini jumps or things to hop over. My skillset here is about at curb height to 8" that I can clear at speed.  This has unlocked a whole new level of fun especially out here on our trails. 
to be poppy, the suspension needs something to push against, and needs to be progressive a little bit. Some bikes are just like pillows and designed to just roll over anything.  I can see part of the fun in this to be able to ride with reckless abandon.  But I did want something with a little bit more to push against to be able to hop
4) emphasis pedaling efficiency
I like to downhill no doubt.  But around here, everything is a pedaling grind.  Pedal pedal pedal. And, I am an XCer at heart.  I might have Pink Bike dreams but in the end I think I need to be able to pedal well.
This is a tough double edged sword.  Pedal too well and it risks being chattery, and unable to smooth out small bumps.  And you haul a heavier bike around when a smaller travel might have been what you want. 
5) easy bike to work on
this was one I had to let go on. Press fit bottom brackets are common on bikes.  Threaded is my ideal choice.  Also more and more bikes are coming with some type of internal cable routing.  It looks cool and slick. However, working on them adds hours to any task for me, like changing housing or changing  rear disc brake.
Ok, so how did this bike end up in my possession?  It was on my list, a list of many.  My hardtail died an untimely death and I was without a mountain bike.  I had to act against my nature and act faster without a whole lot of demo-ing if any.
There was an ebay auction for an XS Kona Hei Hei Trail.  It was their base model which comes in Orange, my favorite color for a bike.  The XS Hei Hei ticked most of the boxes for geometry except for a pretty tall stack.  The 140mm was on the longer side of what I was aiming for, but the reviews all talked about exceptional pedaling efficiency.
It looked like a demo bike, so was used with some scratches on the paint, fork, rear derailleur.  It was the low end spec, and the parts would not bring a whole lot on the used market, but I was more into this for the frame /shock anyway.  If you are looking at this bike, I'd say go for the mid level. It comes with this carbon wheel set WTB carbon 29mm internal with Hope hubs.  Basically a dream build for me and it is stock.  These rims retail for $500 each my goodness. 
Anyway, it was listed as a buy now/best offer.  I looked at it for a week and didn't act, but neither did anyone else.  It was relisted for a few hundred less, like $3500 to start, then $3200 I think.  I decided to just throw a token offer out.  I do this a lot, where there is something I'd like to have but not really ready to buy it.  I'll throw out an offer, that I know will be rejected more to say to myself that I acted and was going to get it but it was too expensive.
I did that here with an offer of like $2800 on a bike that retailed new for $5000 or so.  Well, guess what? ..."Honey, I bought a bike.. "  I was trying to figure out the right way to break it to management.  Let's just say the credit card company figured it out for me when they called her and asked if we made a purchase from Pro's Closet and she texted me to ask.
So I bought it, sight unseen an unridden. 
Subsequent posts will talk about many of the trials and tribulations of setting up a new bike and getting it dialed in.  And most importantly, whether I like it or not.
Discussions to follow will include, geometry bar/saddle  position,suspension setup, tires, components, wheels, fit, component selection,  and ride reviews


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