The Bike List

Kona KULA LISA 2011

Tested by Claire Maxted


This bike really is a dream to ride. The Kula Lisa is the kind of bike that loves cornering on built-up berms and gliding up and down steep tracks. I've been testing this bike out on my local trails and I don't want to give it back!

The frame is available in 14", 16", 17" and 18" sizes and is made of aluminium Kona Race Light 7005, which Kona say is a, "more performance orientated fabrication of our 7005 Aluminium tubing." Higher performance comes from the weight saving Kona make from their custom butting; the tubing all over is generally thinner but thickness increases at weld areas and key stress sections to increase the frame's strength.

The Kula Lisa definitely benefits from the lighter, stronger butting. It is a very reasonable 12.45kg / 27.45 lbs (17" frame) which made a significant difference to the ride. I have also been riding the Ghost Miss 7000 which is 330g heavier and although the weight difference is not massive, you can definitely feel yourself working harder. I would describe riding the Kona Kula Lisa as like 'floating' round the bends and over humps with hardly any extra effort. It's easier to pick up and dump over the other side of gates and fences too.

The toptube's sloping design means that it is longer and absorbs more shock than triangular frames with horizontal toptubes. You can feel this as you melt fluidly over humps and bumps on the track. The sloping toptube also gives you more clearance when you stand astride the bike.

Cornering, the bike felt very responsive, I could nip into tight turns with a good feeling of control and accelerate out of them with ease. It also feels nice and stable when you are out of the saddle pushing hard up rock-cobbled dirt tracks.

Along with feeling fluid and responsive, the Kula Lisa frame also looks great. The slightly boxy, slim top and downtubes look as light and smooth as they feel when you ride and you'd be proud to wheel this bike on to any trail - so as with any good-looking bike there's also that added pressure to ride it well if anyone's watching!

The headset bearings are located inside the headtube rather than protruding from either end which reduces play and wear. It also makes the front end slightly stiffer for more confident riding and reduces the stack height so you can make more adjustments to the stem and bars to make your fit even better if you need to. I didn't need to adjust this area but it is useful to know it is possible.

The forks are RockShox Recon 100mm travel Solo Air fork with a lock-out. The lockout placement on the top of the right fork is the only downside to this otherwise excellent bike. If you are going to have a lock-out, it may as well be remote and situated on the handlebars so you can make the most use out of it. It's easy enough to reach down and turn the dial to lock the forks when you're on smooth ground, but as soon as you come across a surprise knobbly downhill section, there is no way you're able to reach down and turn off the lockout without slowing down considerably and massively interupting your flow.

I just found myself resigned not to use the lockout as frequently as I wanted to, which was quite frustrating really seeing as its all there, ready to save your teeth and arms from a good old downhill rattling. The Ghost Miss 7000 Recon uses very similar RockShox Recon Silver 100mm travel forks with a very useful remote lock-out on the handlebars, so I'd definitely like to see this from Kona on their next model.

The Shimano chainset has a 9-speed cassette with 44/32/22 chainrings - more than sufficient for tackling steep, rugged trails. The Maxxis Aspen 26x2.1 front and rear tyres were also great for digging into the muddier sections and gave good traction on all but the slippiest terrain. The Avid Elixir 5 hydraulic disc brakes were very responsive, strong and worked well at all times.

The price of this bike is very good at £1000. It rides superbly with a light, well-performing frame and quality components. The only thing that stops this bike being absolutely perfect in my opinion is the lack of remote lock out. I find it frustrating to have it located on the forks rather than on the handlebar as it is difficult to reach and use at times when you need it most. If there was a remote lockout this bike would get 5 stars for performance.

At a glance

Verdict An excellent performer – a well balanced trail bike that feels fluid and responsive, only let down by lack of remote lock out.

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