Kona Kula Deluxe review

Confident technical racer

BikeRadar score4/5

We still remember the revolutionary race framed Kona Kula from 1998. Eleven years on it’s still a distinctive speed machine for dynamic riders and climbing freaks.

Ride & handling: Outstanding altitude thief and sharp but confident technical descender

The Kula has a distinct ride character compared to most 100mm hardtails, with great technical tenacity. Most of this is down to a slack 68.5-degree head angle, which with a long stem and wide bars makes an unshakeable front end. Control is centred firmly in your hands. 

A low hand position gives the Kula an aggressive feel, particularly on technical climbs or when accelerating hard. There’s no wander or lift, just a desire to race to the top first.

The low bike weight plus direct power transfer make it a gift for climbers. It’s equally quick and committed on straights and fast descents, without feeling sketchy.

The stiff scandium frame and short-travel forks result in a rougher ride than many other, less race-orientated hardtails at this pricepoint. The Kula is well balanced but you have to plan your path through tighter sections.

It won’t snap react, manual or launch off drops like some of its burlier rivals, although it’s got more zeal for the dodgy overtaking line than most of its race-weight opposition.

Kona kula deluxe: kona kula deluxe
Kona kula deluxe: kona kula deluxe

Frame: Signature scandium tubes and sloped top tube show it's a Kona

The light yet stiff Kula chassis is a great example of Kona’s experience with scandium frames. Square headed, hydroformed main tubes are flared for maximum wrap on the externally shaved head tube, while chunky stays carry rear power straight to stout rear dropouts.

The typically steeply sloped Kona top tube with extended seat tube gives plenty of shock-soaking post length as well as a forward facing seat slot. The neat bolted clamp is anodised gunmetal to match Kona’s smart new finishing kit.

Equipment: Well balanced spec – if you can afford it

With a premium frame you’re always going to either pay more or get worse kit. As the name suggests, the Deluxe keeps the kit and takes the cash. The good news is it’s a well balanced spec if you can afford it. 

The 100mm (4in) stroke of the dual spring RockShox Reba SL fork is fully tuneable. Shimano's XT transmission is a crisp shifting benchmark and we prefer the company's SLX brakes to XT in feel and function.

The Mavic Crosstrail wheels look great, feel tight and are tubeless ready with a slop of Latex sealant if you fancy it. Maxxis Ignitor tyres are good all-rounders and the low, wide Kona bar is well suited to the bike.

Kona’s signature scandium tubes: kona’s signature scandium tubes
Kona’s signature scandium tubes: kona’s signature scandium tubes

Guy Kesteven

Freelance Writer, UK
Guy started filling his brain with cycle stats and steaming up bike shop windows back in 1980. He worked the other side of those windows from '89 while getting a degree in “describing broken things covered in mud" (archaeology). Dug historical holes in the ground through the early '90s, then became a pro bike tester in '97. Guy has ridden thousands of bikes and even more components the world over since then and can remember them all in vivid, haunting detail. Can't remember where the car keys are, though.
  • Age: 45
  • Height: 180cm / 5' 11"
  • Weight: 68kg / 150lb
  • Waist: 76cm / 30in
  • Chest: 91cm / 36in
  • Discipline: Strict sadomasochist
  • Preferred Terrain: Technical off-piste singletrack and twisted back roads. Up, down, along — so long as it's faster than the last time he did it he's happy.
  • Current Bikes: An ever changing herd of test machines from Tri bikes to fat bikes and everything in between.
  • Dream Bike: His Nicolai Helius AM custom tandem
  • Beer of Choice: Theakston's Old Peculier (not Peculiar)
  • Location: Yorkshire, UK

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