Kona Hei Hei revisited

It was mid ‘93 and I’d just stepped out of the tube at Angel Islington and heading to the bike shop up on Essex road. I’d been saving for a while and had finally put enough aside to purchase a new Kona Cinder cone. I still remember my first ride home that late afternoon. 

My partner had a ‘91 Kona Fire Mountain. With its Joe Murray-inspired Chromoly geometry, adapted sloping top tube, short bars and double-butted Project two forks. Everything about it said it possessed ‘the minimals’. I wanted a Kona and this was my chance. Never a hardcore off-roader, I was more your urban assault racer, taking my chances and using up a fair number of lives chasing inner-city London traffic. That bike served me well and continued to do so as we travelled from London to Europe (mainly Spain), before an eventual return to Aotearoa. And I kept it (and Laureen kept hers) for all their better qualities.

It was also my constant companion when I emigrated to México City some twenty-odd years later. 

The fastest way to get anywhere in a city of 22 million was most likely on two wheels. That seemed obvious. What wasn’t quite as obvious, was that meant me being faster than most things in a city of 22 million! As a result, we shared many more memorable misadventures, hold-ups and inevitable accidents over those few years. 

The inevitable. After years of faithful service (and tireless abuse), things were wearing thin. Its teeth were grinding and the cantilevers were cutting to the quick. It was time to either buy a new bike or overhaul the Kona. 

I chose to do both.

I indeed bought a Specialised Sirius hybrid (thank you People for bikes). An all-out aluminium racer with an upright ‘can do’ position and a straight bar. No doubt it was quick (way quicker than the Kona), but I’m unsure aluminium and México City paving are a good pairing. My bones need more give than it gave. I missed the Kona. As they say ‘steel is real’.

Brooding somewhere in Hamstead Heath

I got to work, stripping back components to the point the frame could be sanded and resprayed. That old Cinderkone became somewhat of a Kona special. Modelled on a test bike of the era, the livery was hand-painted by Be.spoke cyclery CDMX. Beyond the frame and forks, the majority of the worn were replaced and it was soon back on the road. Weaving its way through traffic faster than Jimmy Doyle in the French connection!

I’d owned that bike (frame) for 25 years. It has served me well, but when I returned home, that old Kona didn’t. It’s still living out its days in México (Bacalar to be precise). Preloved and now re-loved. I wish them both well.

So this brings me to here… 

I love old-school Konas. Fully rigid rigs with short steering and teeth clenching brakes. So as the genre of the 26” MTB begins to fade, along with the generation who broke them (and themselves) in, I am determined to claim my slice of history and an even bigger slice of my misspent youth. I imported the frame of a pre-loved (titanium) ‘91 Kona Hei Hei.

Raising the titanium

But that’s all there is… the frame of a pre-loved (titanium) ‘91 Kona Hei Hei. The rest I need to acquire. So I need a few simple rules to guide the rebuild:

  1. A bicycle is a machine, and machines are made of ‘metal’. Therefore the first rule is no plastic and no pretend black anodised bits. It’s an all-metal bike (besides the frame is unpainted titanium.)
  2. This is more build than rebuild, so I need new parts for an old frame which means new old parts, not used old parts, or new parts. It has to be as near to the original spec’ as possible, eg: cantilevers, not discs, thumbs not triggers, narrow not fat, you get the idea.
  3. Form follows function is a design principle dictating that ‘the intended shape of an artefact should primarily relate to its intended function’. This may be a stylish retro-rebuild, but it has to work as a functional mountain bike. It’s no show pony, this thing’s a bronco. It needs to work a downhill hard out, as god intended it should. (Remember, God created gravity, especially for mountain-bikers!).

Now it is complete. I’d really like to thank Andrew and the crew at the Cycle centre in Upper Hutt, who really got behind the spirit of the build.

The ride

The ride can best be described as brutal. Responsive, it’s fleet-of-foot and slow to stop. A grinder built for a climb and a crawl. A perfect blend of old and bold.