Tested: Kona Wozo
Have you looked at fat bike geometry lately? Even new bikes like Salsa's Beargrease and Pivot's Les Fat seem to be straight from Obama's first term: short reaches, steep head angles, limo-length chainstays.
Leave it to Kona to disrupt the status quo. Since the Bellingham brand already had an adventure-focused fat bike—the Wo—it went full-on sex, drugs and rock n' roll for its second fat machine. So here it is, the Wozo. Progeny of a coked-up tour-bus fling between the Wo and the Honzo.
It’s hard to avoid staring at the tires that came out of that metal-on-metal foray, but if you can peel your eyes away, you’ll see that everything else has Honzo all over it. The spacious reach. The sliding dropouts that can crop the rear as short as 420 millimeters. And the slack-for-a-fat-bike head angle of 68.5 degrees. Gone is the Wo’s rigid fork and its pimply cargo braze-ons and front-derailleur provisions. Instead, you get a 100-millimeter-travel Manitou Mastodon Comp and a couple extra braze-ons along the downtube for dropper routing (the Wozo comes with a rigid post, though). And now let’s take another look at those tires: 27.5-by-3.8-inch Minion FBF and FBRs. That’s right. Minions.
If you’ve ever ridden a fat bike, you know they’ve got more oversteer than a professional cow jumper. And the bigger the tires and the lower the pressure, the worse it gets. The barely-fat 3.8 Minions go a long way toward reducing that wacky handling, though, and the modern-length reach makes the Wozo easy to “get on with,” as the Brits would say.
Riding the Wozo
My first Wozo session was early in the season, on an ungroomed mix of partially packed snow, crust-over-dust and ice. It didn't take long to find the limit of the “narrow” Minions. My friends on bikes with 5-inch-wide tires chugged through the unpacked slurry with ease, while I enjoyed a bit of what some call “type two fun.”
Plenty of clearance out back for the 3.8 Minion FBR, even with the dropouts slammed forward. According to Kona, the Wozo can fit up to a 27.5-by-4.0 tire “without wrecking the geo” or a 26-by-4.5 with the dropouts pulled back a little.
Soon winter began in earnest, and thus began the type-one fun. The Wozo floated along groomed tracks without breaking through, tire pressures in the low single digits. I was able to pedal anywhere I needed without spinning the rear. When the trail got steep the back tire would hook up so long as I stayed seated or delicately perched with enough weight over the back. So while the narrow tires weren’t causing any problems, I expected to discover the downsides of the modern geometry on uphill switchbacks. But they were handled easily, which should really come as no surprise given the shortness of the Wozo's rear end and the steepness of its head angle.
SRAM’s Level Ts served up as much stopping power as I could put to use on snow, but I might want something more powerful for dry-season duties.
I freak out a little when I see seat-tube angles below 75 degrees, but the Wozo’s 74.5 makes for a comfortable climbing position. It’s a hardtail, after all, so it doesn’t get slacker as soon as you sit down.
The aluminum frame left me wondering why anyone would use steel for a fat bike: The chassis never felt harsh (there’s a lot of tire between it and the ground) and I didn’t have to worry about it gathering rust every time I put it on the back of my car. Plus, the stiffness of the frame helps the Kona feel…dare I say…sprightly? I expected sprint efforts to feel like running in sand, but the Kona is surprisingly quick to gather speed. The key word there is “surprisingly.” I expected it to climb like a salted slug, but on balance I’d say it’s more of a caterpillar. Translated to bike terms, the Wozo greets standing pedal efforts with about the same efficiency as a gushy 6-inch bike.
That’s a press fit 121 bottom bracket, which means that the Wozo has all the Q-factors. I wasn’t bothered by the stance, though.
I wasn’t sure if the suspension fork would prove useful, but the Mastodon pulled its weight, especially on rough boot and snowshoe-packed trails. The imposing fork stayed plush and rebound-y in temperatures ranging from the mid-40s down into polar-vortex conditions, which is more than can be said for some other fat bike forks.
I ran the low-speed compression in the middle on groomed singletrack, delegating tiny-bump compliance to the tires in exchange for a little less bob and dive. It wasn’t hard to get through the travel on drops, but since most of them are filled in with snow, I opted for plushness instead of tinkering with the Mastodon’s volume adjust system to get more ramp-up. Just for fun, I would have liked to try bumping up the Mastodon’s travel to 120. Unfortunately, due to leg length the 100-millimeter version can only adjust down to 80 millimeters. Manitou’s 120-millimeter model only adjusts up to 140, though, so I can see why Kona went with the shorter version.
Cornering on snow is often a delicate dance of weight distribution and well-timed braking, but the Wozo turns what is otherwise an amateur contra dance into a frisky salsa. The more I rode it, the more it coaxed me to enter corners at ever-greater speeds. It likes to lock into nice, consistent arcs, but it’s also easy to make quick turns by sliding the short rear end. The feedback transmitted through the short chainstays and steep front end practically screams at you when on the edge of traction, which makes it clear how to adjust your weight balance in order to stay upright.
When I decided to throw my weight around in a major way, the Wozo responded without hassle. It'll scandi-flick almost just like a trail bike, which is urgently important when there's a big pile of snow to slap on the inside of every corner entrance. Getting the front end into a manual is considerably harder than on a trail bike, but I'm going to say that this has more to do with fat bikes in general than with the Wozo specifically. Getting in the air, on the other hand, was not a problem, and landings—what really worried me—were handled without excessive tire roll or rebound.
My favorite moments on the Wozo came on high-speed sections of trail where the snow became thin so that roots and rocks poked through like mountain peaks puncturing clouds. The chassis feels simultaneously unflappable and yet still gets bounced around in the endearing way that hardtails do. And in the end, that’s what makes the Wozo so good for a rider who’s used to modern trail bikes: it feels normal, and that’s how it should be ridden.