Downhill Bikes

Kona Operator

Check up on a much loved gravity bike

By Ieuan Williams

Kona’s flagship downhill bike, the Operator, first appeared in 2011 but featured significant revisions in 2014 which gave it the image it has today. Over the years Kona has been successful at world level with Fabien Barel winning back to back rainbow titles on 04/05. We rode the 26” wheel version of the bike in the Seattle when it first arrived but believed it wouldn’t be too long before the 27.5” would become part of the package.

Well it took longer than expected but here it is. The 2017 Operator is constructed from aluminum throughout the range and this is no bad thing and even though the bike weighs in at 37lb we don’t really find this to be an issue. Up close it’s a tough cookie. Weight can be overrated on a gravity bike.

There are three sizes, ranging from medium to extra large and three build options. In relation to other bikes the Operator is up there with some of the longest bikes, however the chainstay ranks as one of the shortest which will surely have an affect on the bike’s balance, but more of that later.

There’s some nice detail and there has been some serious time and effort spent in making the Operator as quiet as possible with some very well covered chain stays and cable routing passing cleanly through the frame with no rattles.

Suspension and chassis

The new Kona Operator has the same Kona Beamer Independent Suspension design as the older previous 26” version clearly feeling no need to change a proven design. Damping wise you will find a RockShox Kage RC present on all of the models. Yes it’s slightly odd having a lower end damper on the top end bike and we questioned why there was no RockShox Vivid for the Supreme Operator.

All three builds come equipped with RockShox Boxxer forks with the RC coil on the two lower models and the World Cup Solo air on the Supreme. Other changes include the 157mm rear hub spacing for better chassis stiffness a slacker head angle at 63 degrees and a 345mm bottom bracket height.


Kona are doing three specifications of the Operator and a frame only option for those riders that like a custom build. The base complete model starts at £3,300 that includes the Boxxer RC fork, Kage rear damper, Formula hubs laced to Sun MTX 33, SRAM Guide R brakes and Sram gearing with a lower specification X5 shifter and X7 rear derailleur. A super reliable MRP G3 steel chain guide with Race Face Chester crankset rounds the drive system nicely. There is an array of in house Kona parts from bar and direct mount stem to seat, seatpost and clamp that come along to finish the bike off.

The flagship Supreme Operator still features the same chassis but has the aforementioned World Cup Boxxer fork and the Kage RC damper. Kona say part of the large price increase over the DL and base models comes in the Connor Fearon style build including NovaTec wheels that look and sound really good. SRAM deliver the drive via X01 DH, a product that has been one of our favourites for some time now with the X0 Carbon crank to match. With the slick looking MRP G4 mini chain guide to accompany this it’s looking good particularly with the Guide Ultimate brakes. The cockpit has been taken care of by ODI on this bike although the bar does have a slightly weird shape to it. All in all it’s a good build but at £7,899 it’s hard to fathom how this bike is £4,000 more than the DL model at £3799. It simply doesn’t add up. This is what Kona had to say:-

“The Supreme compared to the DL, features some big product jumps. The brakes go from Guide R’s to Guide Ultimates, the drivetrain goes from Sram GX to XO DH and the fork from an RC to WC. The bar and stem again go from house parts to Connors exact ODI choice and the Novatec wheels are the same wheels Connor and Aggy race World Cups and ride Rampage in respectively.  The whole way through the bike there are big product jumps. It would be rad if the bike was a bit cheaper but we tried to make an almost exact replica of what Connor races, with the exception of the rear shock, we have pretty much achieved this and the all these high end parts are added up, they equate to a price that reflects that pro build.”


Straight away just sitting on the bike it didn’t feel like an XL in size but this all changed when getting out of the seat and getting on the cranks it seemed to open the bike out. The sizing is similar to the Canyon Sender, a bike that has been praised for its sizing, however the seat tube angle is steeper than the Sender at 76 degrees as opposed to 74 so it gives the feel the bike is smaller and more importantly the super short chainstay. It seems that whatever the reach and wheelbase of a bike, if the chainstay is real short it affects the rider balance massively. The proportions are not quite correct on the larger sized bikes.

Having said that, one of the main things that stands out about the Operator is the suspension platform. The RockShox Kage rear shock together with the suspension system is a real gem of a paring – smooth, supple over harsh high frequency terrain but also has a progressive curve to help deal with big hits without blowing through the travel. We totally love it


Not so much, except maybe it would have been nice to see a flip chip system to allow for adjustments to the chainstay.


The chassis on the Kona Operator really is on the money even if the retail price on the top end Supreme version is on Mars. And if you opted for one of the lower spec models at £3,300 or £3,800 it’s not out of the way price wise and with some modifications to the parts list it would make a great bike that would be tough, fast and reliable. We actually switched to some cheaper parts on our test bike and didn’t find it wanting.

We rate this bike highly and the ride characteristic offers superb traction together with a silent ride. Its interesting that Connor Fearon is currently running revised chassis with Metric shock fitted so clearly changes might well be in pipeline again. For now however the Operator DL would be the bike of choice here, for Kona are dreaming with the price of the Supreme version with so many top end spec aluminum bikes available at half that price.

Operator £2899

Operator DL  £3799

Supreme Operator £7899

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