In an industry where models can change almost annually, Kona has been a very consistent player. For over ten years it has remained true to the same linkage system, and has contently watched as the rest of the mountain bike world has turned itself in knots looking for the holy grail of suspension design. Sure enough, many brands came full circle, returning to variations of the rocker based system that Kona has built its reputation on.
The release of the Magic Link caught me somewhat by surprise. Not because it wasn’t expected, just that it actually happened after so many years of the same design. Kona had been working with Brian Berthold on the braking isolation system and a deepening of that relationship resulted in the evolution of the new frame. It may seem like a simple variation of the standard faux bar linkage system but it’s much more than that. This is a truly do-anything bike. A bike that can climb and descend like it’s not the same bike––a true Jekyll and Hyde. The bike does actually change––the wheelbase becomes longer, the angles slacker, the bottom bracket lower and, importantly, the travel lengthens too. The Magic Link’s first incarnation was seen a couple of years ago on the CoilAir. It was well received as a design but dogged by reports of a flexy rear end. With the Cadabra, Kona has made some changes to how the chainstays are routed. It’s been worth the wait.
The Magic Link uses an additional linkage below the shock that can be moved by the force of the rear wheel but is more difficult to move by downward pressure on the pedals. It moves rearwards, effectively lengthening the wheelbase and the distance the shock has to travel. This in turn increases the rear travel from the climbing mode of 105 mm to a respectable 160 mm. This linkage is managed by a basic mini shock made up of a spring and an elastomer. The elastomer is interchangeable and has a couple of different mounting positions, allowing you to better tune it to your needs and weight.
The frame is Scandium tubing––another one of Kona’s commitments. Kona endured the troublesome early years to end up with a quality product: light as titanium, more durable than carbon, half the weight of steel and five times stronger than aluminium. Sounds impressive. The frame itself is impressive. It’s well made with hydroformed tubing, quality paint, tapered head tube, low standover height, replaceable rear dropouts and a Fox RP23 shock to boot. You’ll even find room to mount a bottle cage. The 150 mm travel Fox 32 Float RLs with 15 mm axle make perfect sense up front. From here though it’s a bit all over the place. It has a commendable Mavic Crossride wheelset (bladed spokes, no less), Shimano Deore shifters, SLX cranks, XT derailleur (faultless), Shimano M575 brakes (a little underpowered), a Kona branded 90 mm stem and 660 mm bars (a little long and narrow), a WTB saddle (always a winner) and Maxxis Aspen tyres (great if it’s dry, less great if it’s not).
The build confused me. Kona classes the Cadabra as all-mountain, but the specs of the bars, stem and tyres all signal more of a trail focus. If you see all-mountain as light freeride then this is at the wrong end of the spectrum. If you enjoy the ups as well as the downs, with pure versatility being key, then this is definitely your cup of tea. It’s not the plushest bike I have ever ridden, nor the fastest, but one of the most adaptable. I’ve done long rides, short rides, shuttles, epic climbs, jumps, drops, fireroads and singletrack on it, all without even changing the tyre pressure.
The forward weight position and steeper fork and seat tube angles put you almost in a cross-country position to start with. Lock out the fork and engage the pro-pedal and it climbs with a wag in its tail, but it’s still very playful and fun when the trail points downwards. The steeper angles were great for carving singletrack and darting between trees and it was awesome at pumping through trails. The Magic Link, slacker angles and six inches at the rear were welcome on rougher trails but on really rough and steep trails the bike was less composed, leading to more delicate line choices. A different parts spec (wider bars, shorter stem, different tyres, bigger brakes and longer fork) would all help with this but you run the risk of missing the intention of the Cadabra. It’s very much a trail bike that has more in reserve when required. It does make compromises but does so holistically, not trading one discipline for another.
If you want a versatile bike that does a bit of everything well, certainly check out the Cadabra. If you want something with a bit more focus on the downhills, the CoilAir may be more your steed. Either way, the new Magic Link is well worth a look. MARK DANGERFIELD
Kiran MacKinnon is a human dyno. When Santa Cruz Bicycles needs to test, experiment and validate suspension then Kiran is the one of the main people we call on to do that work. Not only is he an extremely talented bike rider and incredibly knowledgeable about suspension, but he can actually interpret and translate what he’s feeling in a way that he can communicate to the rest of the engineering team. This enables them to cross-reference the data they’ve collected with real life, on-trail experience to build better bikes and provide the right setup for our riders. We’re constantly refining our VPP™ suspension as well as the damping tunes shocks we spec on our bikes in order to make sure our bikes ride really, really good.