- Kona King Kikapu
The King Kikapu is Kona’s top of the range XCish full suspension bike, sitting about the basic Kikapu and the Kikapu Deluxe. The King promises 24lb weight, 3.5in travel and wish-list spec. Three thousand quid’s a lot of money, though, so how’s the Kona stack up?
The entry-level Kikapu is made from fairly generic 7005 tubing – perfectly competent but on a three grand bike you expect a little more. And Kona deliver – the King Kikapu is built from Easton’s flagship Ultralite tubeset and has the stamps on the tubes to prove it. The key difference is weight. Ultralite has been around for a few years now and over that time the Easton engineers have been constantly revising the butting profiles to get as much material out of the areas where it’s not needed.
The top-notch tubes are arranged in a characteristically Kona profile, with a longish head tube, short seat tube and dramatically-sloping top tube. It’s not as unique a look as it was at the turn of the 90s but a Kona’s still distinctively a Kona. The extended seat tube pokes above the top tube a little way and carries a mud-friendly forward-facing seat clamp slot.
Out back the Kikapu carries the latest incarnation of Kona’s rear suspension system. It’s what various industry wags would term a “faux bar linkage” – it looks at a glance like an FSR-style rear suspension but the location of the rear pivots on the seatstay rather than the chainstay means that this is effectively a single pivot design with a rocker-actuated shock. We’ll come on to whether this makes the blindest bit of difference in a minute, but there are certainly some structural advantages in not having tidgy little bushings sat in the load path between rear axle and bottom bracket.
Holding the back end up is a safe pair of hands in the form of a Fox Float RL air shock packing adjustable rebound and a lockout lever. A little niggle here was the proximity of the air valve to the rocker arm – the Bikemagic shock pump wouldn’t actually fit on it without unbolting the top of the shock, although we’d like to think that buyers would get a suitable shock pump with the bike…
The frame’s finished in a two-tone polished back half/matt silver front half to coordinate with the Fox fork – the whole bike is certainly one of the best looking we’ve encountered recently.
The appearance on the market of Shimano’s top of the tree XTR group has made speccing out that top of he range bike almost a no-brainer for the product managers. But there’s still all the finishing kit to think about…
Kona haven’t gone for a full-on XC race spec here. Other manufacturers make a conscious decision to kit out full sussers in this price bracket as World Cup XC ready – full XTR, carbon Black Box SIDS, tubeless tyres and all. But, with perhaps a nod towards the strengths and weaknesses of the King Kikapu frame, Kona have settled on a slightly more all-rounder configuration.
The most obvious manifestation of this is the Fox F80RLT fork gracing the front end. Short travel air fork it may be, but this is the short travel air fork for those who value tracking and durability over ultimate light weight. Which isn’t to say it’s heavy, but you’re not looking at SID-level svelteness here.
The full XTR group is present and correct, however. Unlike Specialized, Kona have embraced the whole thing, Rapid Rise – er, sorry, Low Normal – rear mech and all. Much has been written on the subject of XTR, so we shan’t repeat it here. We’re definitely finding that the Dual Control levers are growing on us, though, even if we’re not quite ready to do without the optional thumb levers just yet.
The XTR hubs are laced to Mavic X317 disc-specific rims and shod with Tioga tyres. They’re fairly skinny but pleasingly knobbly treads. Finishing kit is largely from the Easton stable, with seatpost, stem and bars all from the same home as the frame tubes. We were initially disappointed to see EA50 aluminium bars and post, having vaguely expected some carbon loveliness on a bike of this stature. But a brief perusal of the competition reveals that you have to spend even more money to get the carbon trinkets so we didn’t fell too hard done by.
The ensemble is topped off with an SDG saddle. The whole package sits neatly into the lightweight all-rounder category – not much mass but enough beef to take the bike beyond pure race duties.
Kona’s choice of not-to-racey spec for the King Kikapu extends to the riding position. Long and low, yes, but the short stem and sweepy bars promise more than just flat-out climbing efficiency. That’s the first thing you notice upon climbing aboard. The first thing you notice when you start riding is a distinct absence of weight.
OK, there are lighter bikes out there. But the Kikapu rides the fine lime between light weight and nervous fragility with aplomb. It’s light enough to flatter your efforts but sufficiently solid feeling to keep you from reaching for the ejector handle at rocky sections and small drops.
The other attribute that sets the Kona apart from other lightweights is the plushness of the suspension. This isn’t a big-hit only, super-stiff setup. As effectively a low-pivot swingarm, the Kikapu sucks up small undulations and pattery bumps without them ever troubling the rider. And the linkage-driven shock allows Kona to tune the progressiveness of the suspension, with small-bump plushness combined with a controlled feel on the bigger stuff.
There is a downside. Try any out of the saddle work like big-gear climbing or a sprint, and that supple suspension works against you. The big vertical weight shifts associated with pushing bigger gears at lower revs get the back end compressing, giving a rather mushy feel. Fortunately, the rising rate of the rear suspension keeps things within limits and the low weight of the whole bike certainly mitigates the mush.
There’s an easy solution, of course – just don’t ride like that. Shifting down, pedalling smoothly and getting a spin going brings out the best in he Kona. It’s a question of expectation – somehow you feel that you ought to be able to sprint a lightweight, expensive bike like this. Obviously the lockout’s there but that’s something of a crutch. All of this somewhat diminishes the appeal of the Kikapu for the race purist, but as we’ve already seen it’s not really pitched at the race purist.
Every cliche has a silver lining, of course, and a quick visit to the twisty, lumpy singletrack reveals the Kona’s strengths. The oft-talked about Kona handling is present and correct, offering sharp and nimble behaviour without a side order of squirrelliness. And the handling is flattered by the direct Fox fork and plush suspension at both ends – roots, rocks and hollows aren’t things you need to worry too much about, just concentrate on the line… There’s very little chain growth, which means pleasing cat-like landings without much in the way of pedal kickback.
Climbing is pretty respectable too. What the Kona lacks in sprightliness under power it makes up for in traction-finding terrain following. Keeping the power smooth and letting the suspension do its thing yielded good results on loose ascents despite a somewhat weary back tyre.
Not as good as a “proper” linkage system? You’d be hard pushed to tell. It’s a pretty short travel bike (3.5in claimed rear travel) and over that distance the rear axle path stays very close to that of a Horst link bike. Don’t sweat over it…
All in all, we feel that the King Kikapu’s natural home is the lightweight epic ride market – fast enduros, 24 hour racing or any situation that makes you value comfort and control in a lightweight package but not be too interested in eking out fractions of a second in the sprint. As is the case with most XTR-equipped bikes, the next bike down in the range (the £1,900 Kikapu Deluxe) will offer better value for most riders, though.