Time for another installment in my painstakingly researched overviews of bike companies, this time we’re talking about Kona. They may or may not be Canadian. They may or may not be a company that exists thanks to copying someone else’s work. But you can’t argue that they are a quintessential Vintage Retro Classic staple, and they made some very nice bikes in their time.
Also, you can’t argue that they weren’t at the forefront of the DH and freeride movement that – I think anyway – was instrumental to today’s modern trail bikes. They still exist, with a very wide-ranging lineup, but today, let’s look at how they started;
Kona was a little late to the game, compared to the other vintage companies I’ve talked about, starting up in 1988. By 1990 they had a full lineup of bikes with some Hawaiian themed names that they’ve maintained right though today.
Their first bikes had fantastic splatter paint jobs, unusual graphics, and the sloping top tubes made popular by Paul Brodie at Rocky Mountain. Early Kona brochures show Joe Murray – racer and future product designer at Kona – on a Brodie Catalyst. It’s been well established that Brodie built sloping top tube bikes in 1983. So clearly, Murray just copied Brodie.
But then Brodie must have copied Chris Chance, who built a sloping top tube bike in 1981. Chance though, was clearly copying the design pioneered by Charlie Cunningham in the late 70’s, who himself was stealing the design of the Dursley Pedersen from 1893.
If you’ve learned just one thing from me, please let it be that no matter what feature you think that your most beloved vintage company invented in 1991, some guy did it one hundred years before. Also, you simply should not take things too seriously.
Anyway, other things you should know about Kona; they got on the Ti train early. The Kona Hei Hei was made by Sandvik as early as 1990, and there was a Merlin bike by virtue of their connections through The Bicycle Group. If you ever come across a bike with old Kona and Merlin decals on it, you might be looking at something very special.
Joe Murray was pretty innovative too. He brought out toe clips that used two straps, little extensions for your brake levers you could reach them when your hands were on the bar ends, probably the first set of front and rear-specific tires, and my favorite; the Combo cage. It had attachments on it that took a pair of tire levers and a patch kit. I have one of these myself, but I haven’t yet found a patch kit and levers that will fit it as the original ones are long gone.
Kona has a very big following on the UK vintage site, and they’re popular here too. To me though, they were always the younger brother to Rocky, Brodie, and Dekerf. I’ve always liked them, but I never understood why you’d get all excited over one.
Titanium is titanium, but the Hot and Explosif just never had the pull on me like the Altitude and Blizzard do. What is nice about that though is that you’re more likely to score one for $250 like I did a few years ago.
You also don’t feel too bad about letting it go.