Kona has had a long colorful history with the mountain bike history. Many older riders will know the brand from to the iconic Stinky freeride bike which freeride legends rode through the most ridiculous terrain throughout the heyday of freeride films. Today, our review is about the Kona Blast.
The decline in freeride and crazy mountain movies has seen Kona fade from the limelight but they have nonetheless stuck to their guns and still stand for the same principals they always have, simplicity, practicality, and dependability.
This philosophy is evident throughout their entire range and, thankfully, on their entry level mountain bikes as well.
The Kona Blast is one of the most exciting entries into this niche. It comes with a bulletproof component choice, smooth yet masculine looking frame, and modern geometry.
The best thing about this bike is that it delivers a bike that can strongly rival other $1000 bikes at an MSRP of just $850.
What kind of components can you expect on a bike that undercuts the $1000 price range by $150? Oddly enough, many of the components match, if not exceed, those of the competition in the price bracket.
The build itself is actually quite straightforward and uses component groups from Shimano, WTB and Kona’s own in-house components.
The bike is supported up front by a Rock Shox 30 Silver TK Solo Air 100mm. This is RockShox’s entry-level cross country and trail fork that features a matured air spring design that is easily adjustable and serviceable.
The fork is quite supple among air forks but it doesn’t quite soak up the chatter like a coil. Unfortunately, the chassis uses the flexy 9mm QR axle standard.
The drivetrain is as good as it gets for this price bracket. It uses a complete Shimano Deore 1×10 speed drivetrain, except for the one weakness in the component group, the cranks. Here, Kona has spec’d an FSA Alpha Drive 1x, a superior crankset to Deore’s, in its place.
The brakes are also from Shimano which make the best entry level hydraulic brakes on the market. While they are usually more expensive than other entry level hydraulic brakes, Kona’s investment with this model on this build and with a stock 7″ front rotor is a testament to the kind of riding this bike is built to excel at.
The wheels are another highlight on this bike’s already star-studded component spec. They’re built from Shimano hubs laced to wide WTB i29 rims and knobby WTB Trail Boss tires.
The combination of a wide rim, that stances the tire in a squarer profile and the knobby Trail Boss tires just add to the competence of this bike in loose or muddy conditions – the kind you would expect to find on technical trails.
While the wheelset leans toward aggressive riding, distance riding will take a bit more effort due to the rims coming in fairly hefty at almost 600g per piece and the knobby tires trading rolling resistance for traction.
The cockpit, seat post, and other components are Kona in-house branded components. While they aren’t flashy, they work just fine and does not have an awkwardly long stem or a handlebar that is unusually short.
The Kona XC saddle didn’t agree with me though, but saddle comfort can vary drastically from person to person.
|RockShox 30 Silver TK Solo Air 100mm||Excellent|
|Shimano Deore Shadow||Excellent|
|Shimano CS-HG500, 10 speed, 11-42 teeth||Good|
|FSA Alpha Drive 1x||Good|
|Shimano M315 Hydro, 7” Front Rotor, 6” Rear Rotor||Good|
|WTB i29 TCS||Good|
|Shimano Centerlock Quick Release||Good|
|WTB Trail Bos 28.5×2.25”||Good|
Frame Build Quality and Geometry
The initial impression of the Kona Blast is that it sure doesn’t look like a generic hardtail. The hydroformed low slung top tube, which continues seamlessly to the seat stay, and the low-key seat mast makes the Blast look like a modern mountain bike that would fit right in with bikes several times more expensive than itself.
The simple yet stylish “Matte Desert Tan” paint job with earth colored decals sits well with me and agrees with Kona’s roots as a bike company that was always into low-key down to earth styling.
The geometry of the Kona Blast is flawless. It conforms with modern reach sizing and it covers a huge range of space with the small having a 14.6″ of reach while the XL has proper 20.9″ of reach.
This does mean that there are large gaps in the sizing. Being stuck in between sizes can be frustrating but that can be fixed with a longer or shorter stem.
The head angle is a comfortable 68.5° that is just within trail bike territory for an entry level hard trail. The seat tube angle is also very steep at 74° which pushes you forward and makes riding a longer frame much more comfortable.
The aggressive geometry, solid componentry and sleek build of the frame make the initial impression of the bike almost like that of a purpose-built four-cross bike. It doesn’t even have to pretend, with a beefier fork, this bike could absolutely stand in for a slalom machine.
The 27.5″ wheels make this bike nimbler than the 29’ers that are more dominant in the thousand-dollar bike market. The beefy rims make the bike quite capable of running larger volume tires while still maintaining a healthy square profile.
The nimble attitude and capable wheels give this bike a lot of potential for aggressive riding well beyond that of the reach of a beginner.
The fork does hold the bike back a little bit though. It is light and it is the right tool for the job for the cross country and mild trail riding conditions but the 30mm stanchions and the lack of a thru-axle make it noticeably flexy in the rough.
While it doesn’t stop the bike from easily excelling at its purpose, the fork does hold the Blast back from going above and beyond what it was intended for.
Despite this, the aptly named bike is a blast to ride on flowy trails. The modern geometry and beefy tires inspire confidence to let go of the brakes a little bit longer and push yourself on the descents.
The bike is no slouch on the accents either. While there is some bias to descending when compared to similar cross-country bikes, the geometry is still designed to be focused on distance and climbing.
The 28t front ring also makes the drivetrain better build for climbing with gear ratios more suited for climbing. Its lowest gear makes it perfect for surviving long brutal ascents and gives the bike a proper “granny gear” for spinning.
While this also makes the bike lacking in the high gears, it can actually make the bike more fun to ride. It encourages you to pump and use the trail once you get up to speeds above what the highest gears can push you to. The geometry and build allow and encourages you to do just that.
I think the Kona Blast is a very good investment for a new mountain biker. It is versatile on the trails and is great to look at. It also has the potential to fit into many more riding styles than just cross country and light trail riding.
Even if a new rider were to outgrow this bike and its purpose, an upgrade to a beefier fork could easily justify this bike’s permanent spot in a bike stable as an aggressive play bike.
Overall Value for Money
The Kona Blast’s Competition
The Kona Blast is a bit of a gem in any thousand-dollar mountain bike shootout. Nothing quite delivers the ride the Kona does at this value. But aggressive hardtails are beginning to be more and more numerous at this price range. Here are a few that give the Kona a run for its money.
The Kona Blast vs the Cannondale Trail 5
In spite of how different the Cannondale Trail frame looks from the Kona Blast; the geometries are almost identical. The main difference is the wheel size with the Blast being a 27.5″ and the Cannondale is a 29’er.
The build on Trail 5 has few components that are actually downgraded from compared to their equivalents on the Kona Blast. Even with the superior components, the Kona Blast comes in at $150 cheaper than the Cannondale Trail 5 making the latter difficult to consider, even if you are after a 29’er.
The Kona Blast vs the Salsa Timberjack NX1 29
The Timberjack NX1 29 is a great 29’er alternative to the Kona Blast. The Timberjack frame is designed with aggressive geometry and modern sizing, but on top of this, it also comes with bike rack mounts that make it very easy to make ready for a long multi-day ride.
While the Timberjack comes with a more modern SRAM NX drivetrain that has been the result of more progressive product development, a longer fork and a nice saddle as a bonus, it also makes compromises with a lower end brake system.
It can’t quite match the Kona Blast’s $850 price tag, but its larger wheels and additional features may just make it worth it to the right rider.
Kona Blast vs Giant Fathom 2
The Giant Fathom 2 occupies the exact same niche as the Kona Blast in terms of riding style with its aggressive trail bike-oriented geometry and build on a 27.5″ wheel chassis.
It actually does many of these to a more extreme degree than the Kona Blast as it comes with a slacker head angle, longer sizes, a more specialized build with a dropper post and wide bars, but also at a completely different price point.
Although both bikes are at the edge of the $1000 price point, the Kona Blast occupies the lower end with a price of $850 and the Giant Fathom 2 is all the way on the other end with a price of $1,155.
This price does come with a lot of bonuses, namely a dropper post, wide 780mm bars, a nice wheelset, high volume Maxxis Ardent tires and more aggressive geometry, which may make it worth for someone willing to pay to play.
The Kona Blast does a lot of things right, but most important among them is something every customer looks for but many manufacturers will shy away from, fantastic value.
The Kona Blast would rival many of the $1000 mountain bikes even if it had glaring flaws because it comes up at $150 cheaper. But the thing is, it doesn’t and in many cases, it exceeds the competition.
This makes one of my top picks if you’re looking for a bike in the $1000 range. Save some money or splurge on a few upgrades to patch up a few of the small weaknesses in the bikes build. Or better yet, spend it on a trip to a nearby trail center to get some miles under your new Kona Blast!
Pros vs Cons of the Kona Blast
Image Source: Kona World