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Kona Mahuna review: does this XC-oriented hardtail have what it takes?

The Kona Mahuna is an impressively smooth and naturally fast 29er, but like most bikes at this price it’ll benefit from upgrades

Kona Mahuna
(Image: © Guy Kesteven)

Our Verdict

Impressively smooth riding XC/distance bike at a reasonable price but deserves a better chainset and fork. Nervous on more challenging trails too.

For

  • - Very smooth and responsive-feeling frame
  • - Easy rolling 29er wheels
  • - Internal cable routing
  • - Deore 11-speed gears
  • - Smooth fork on tamer terrain

Against

  • - Short, twisty struggles on tech terrain
  • - QR axles front and rear
  • - Heavy, flexy square-taper BB
  • - Numb brakes
  • - Size jump between L and XL

The Kona Mahuna sits right in the super-competitive three- to four-figure price category where you’ll find all sorts of tricks being pulled by manufacturers to get you to buy. Kona has based its pitch around a sweet-riding and versatile frame rolling on a decent rim and tire set up. The result is a naturally swift and comfortable XC ride that compares favorably with the best hardtail mountain bikes but like a lot of MTBs at this price, it deserves a better fork and there are other upgrades on the wish list too.

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Kona Mahuna

The Kona Mahuna has quick release axles front and rear, rather than through-axles (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)
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Kona Mahuna

The 100mm travel RockShox Judy fork indicates that is a clear sign that Kona intends the Mahuna to be mostly about flat and climbing trails (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Design and geometry

While Kona use the same frame aesthetic right through their trail hardtail range from the £1699 Kahuna DL to the £699 Lana’i, the Mahuna and Cinder Cone use a slightly heavier frame than the Kahuna and Kahuna DL. It’s a decent frame, though, with curved and shaped butted alloy tubes, a tapered head tube, internal cable routing (including dropper post), twin bottle cages and rack and mudguard mounts. A forged drive-side chainstay plate gives room for up to 2.6in 29er tires or 2.8in if you’re running a 27.5 wheel (the Kona Cinder Cone is effectively a 27.5in Mahuna). It’s got old school 135mm QR rear dropouts, though, not a wider through axle, and there’s no chainstay protection against chain slap. The back end is also very long at 450mm on all four sizes.

Otherwise the geom is what we’d call progressive XC with a 68 degree head angle at the end of a 465mm reach on the large we tested. The 470mm seat tube is at 75 degrees with a 60mm BB drop giving a 315mm BB height. With a 500mm reach and 530mm seat tube the jump to the XL is huge, though, and we’d really like to see an extra size in the gap for non-XL sized riders who want a bit more reach.

Kona Mahuna

The Mahuna has a small 28-tooth chainset and Samox cranks (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Components and build 

The 100mm travel RockShox Judy fork is a clear sign that Kona intends the Mahuna to be mostly about flat and climbing trails (the Honzo gets a 120mm fork). It’s got a smooth, adjustable air-sprung action with basic rebound adjustment and a low speed compression/lockout lever. Again, it’s QR axle not bolt-through though, and while the frame has a tapered head tube, the fork has a straight 1.125in steerer tube and skinny 30mm legs. The Formula front hub is non-convertible and the cup and cone bearings are covered by a basic rubber seal, so be prepared to grease it regularly. The rear hub is a sturdy Shimano unit, though, and the WTB 27mm internal rims are a decent hoop and easy to turn tubeless. The Maxxis Forekaster tires are some of our favorite fast-but-versatile treads and work well even in the basic version Kona have fitted.

Kona’s website suggests the Mahuna can come with either a Shimano Deore 11-51 tooth cassette or the Microshift 11-46 tooth block our bike had. It shifted fine, though, and we actually like the ratio range better, especially as Kona has specced a small 28-tooth chainset on the Samox cranks. The chunky arms bolt onto a spindly silver, square taper bottom bracket axle that adds significant weight and flex to the powertrain. On the plus side, it’s got an Eturnity branded BB which we thought was quite a good pun.

That leaves money in the budget for the 11-speed Shimano Deore rear mech and shifter. While they’re very numb in feel, the Tektro brake levers are relatively neat and a 180mm front rotor means stopping power is acceptable. The 760mm wide bar suits the Mahuna’s angles and the 55mm stem makes for fast and responsive steering. The stick-on grips are comfy too, but liable to start sliding if they get wet underneath, so put lock-ons on the upgrade list too. The fixed seatpost obviously needs to be swapped for a dropper if you’re likely to get lairy as well, but it’s par for the course for the money.

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Kona Mahuna

Our test bike came with a Microshift 11-46 tooth block (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)
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Kona Mahuna

There’s very little tactile feel from the brakes (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)
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Kona Mahuna

(Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Ride, handling and performance

While 14.28kg is heavier than some bikes at this price and there’s definitely more flex through the skinny axle BB when you’re really cranking hard, the Mahuna still feels naturally quick and responsive. You also get an easily extended roll from the 2.3in Forekaster 29er tires compared to fatter, stickier or smaller diameter rubber. 

The middling reach and long rear end means the 75-degree seat angle actually feels steeper than that dynamically, with a lot of weight over the short 115mm head tube. As long as you’re not stressing it with hard turns, bigger hits and/or braking the Judy fork is supple and acceptably controlled. Those long rear stays give a really smooth and cultured feel that could easily be mistaken for a decent steel frame too. In fact, the whole vibe is ferrous rather than alloy. 

In other words on flat or climbing trails the Mahuna feels enjoyably spirited, smooth and aspirational rather than affordable in price. Add the two bottle mounts and the Mahuna loves a good long ride on less challenging, classic XC (“aggro gravel?”) straight from the shop.

Kona Mahuna bike

The jump between Large (pictured) and the XL feels like a yawning chasm when it comes to the reach (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Once you start pushing harder the literal shortcomings of the Judy fork start to become obvious. With the steep seat and long rear geometry already pushing you more heavily onto the front of the bike and twist creeping in from the straight gauge steerer, 30mm legs and QR rather than bolt-through fork, it has a nervous rather than “no problem” feel when trying to turn aggressively too. 

While it adds power the 180mm rotor also increases stress and potential twang at the end of the fork when trying to control descending speed, which often coincides with the point where the simple Turn Key damper starts to panic. There’s very little tactile feel from the brakes and the fact they come on very early in the pull doesn’t help either.

Verdict

If you’re after a surprisingly smooth and cultured ride with an easy speed XC vibe then the quality frame and decent wheelset of the Mahuna get you off to a great start and guarantee a fresher finish than a slacker, sturdier trail-style hardtail. Even with a weighty square taper bottom bracket, the Kona’s value doesn’t compare too badly to other shop bought bikes either, especially as most of the actual prices we saw online were significantly reduced.

Even stood still the Mahuna looks like the fork is too short in proportion to the rest of the bike, though, and that’s exactly how it feels on more challenging trails. Add obvious twist from the fork and the front wheel connection, lack of a dropper, potentially slippery grips and the “missing” size in terms of reach options and you’ll need to save up for the $2,199 (£1,595) Honzo if you want a Kona that’s got the confidence for more technical riding.

Test conditions

  • Temperature: 6-10 degrees
  • Surface: Blue/red trail center runs and natural woodsy singletrack

Tech Specs: Kona Mahuna

  • Model name: Kona Mahuna
  • Discipline: XC/Trail
  • Price: $1,199 (US) / £985 (UK)
  • Head angle: 68-degree
  • Frame material: 6061 Aluminum Butted
  • Sizes: S, M, L (tested), XL
  • Weight: 14.28kg
  • Wheel size: 29in x 2.3in
  • Suspension: RockShox Judy Silver TK Solo Air 100mm travel 51mm offset fork
  • Drivetrain: Shimano Deore 11-speed gearing and shifter
  • Cranks: Samox 28T chainset; Eturnity ETN52 square taper BB
  • Brakes: Tektro HDM275 hydraulic disc brakes with 180/160mm rotors
  • Cockpit: Kona XC/BC 800mm bar and 55mm stem
  • Wheelset: WTB ST i27 TCS 2.0 rims with Formula front and Shimano rear QR hubs
  • Tires: Maxxis Forekaster 29in x 2.35in tires
  • Seatpost: Kona Thumb fixed post
  • Saddle: Kona XC saddle

Guy Kesteven is Bike Perfect and Cyclingnews’ contributing tech editor. Hatched in Yorkshire he's been hardened by riding round it in all weathers since he was a kid. He spent a few years working in bike shops and warehouses before starting writing and testing for bike mags in 1996. Since then he’s written several million words about several thousand test bikes and a ridiculous amount of riding gear. To make sure he rarely sleeps and to fund his custom tandem habit, he’s also penned a handful of bike-related books and talks to a GoPro for YouTube, too.


Rides: Pace RC295, Cotic FlareMax, Specialized Chisel, Vielo V+1 gravel bike, Nicolai FS Enduro, Landescape custom gravel tandem

Height: 180cm

Weight: 69kg