Sunday was my first race on my new hardtail, the 2015 Kona Big Kahuna, affectionately referred to as “The Big K” here forward . The Big K is a full carbon hardtail sporting a Fox CTD Evolution series fork with 100mm travel and big 29er wheels. I’ll leave it up to the reader to find the full spec sheet on Kona’s website and won’t regurgitate them all here.
All that matters is that it’s light, stiff, and fast!
Right off the bat I refit the Big K with a 1×10 drivetrain. I’m running a XT Shadow+ rear mech, and a RaceFace 32T narrow-wide front ring. No chain guide at the moment, but I’ve been running 1×10 for a couple years now and haven’t had any problems during cross country races. I also pulled the tubes out and converted to tubeless (it came tubeless ready). I’m testing out a pair of Red Monkey grips, too.
My race on Sunday was only my third ride on the Big K, so there is still a bit of fit tuning that I need to do on the bike. However, despite my position being slightly sub-optimal, I can tell that this bike is something special. I set the fork to climb mode to start the race since we had a good stretch down the fire road at the beginning.
As soon as the firing gun went off, the bike leapt forward, and I immediately grabbed the wheel of the first place racer. We paced together down the fire road for quite some time, until he looked back and grew weary of me in his slipstream and pulled away. I let him go to conserve some energy for the tougher sections of the course. It wasn’t long before we caught up with the riders who had set off a minute before us. I’ve never caught up with the first group so quickly or easily before.
The race course in Ephrata was a rolling, steep, rocky, dry course. It is completely different type or riding that I’m used to on the West Side of the state. I loved the hardtail for all the climbing sections (there were many), and really loved the 29” wheels for the rocks (there were infinite). I had no complaints with my bike choice through the entire race.
During the second lap, my legs and lungs were screaming as I climbed the forever long middle hill. I kept trying the lever for another gear, but there wasn’t one there. I just had to HTFU and get up the hill. I made it up on the bike (no walking here!) but found that I had some issues keeping traction in the loose rocky soil during the climbs. I think I had too much air in my tires; considering that they are tubeless I think I could run them lower for some grip improvement.
I finished a respectable 4th in my class at the race, and very near if not in the top 10 overall Cat 2 racers. The new bike played a big part in that, efficiently converting legs to speed. I need to tweak the fit just a bit…Once the bike is totally dialed, though, I look forward to racing again and being even more competitive.