The Good: Solid and versatile with a good overall component spec. Easy to maintain. Predictable and flick-able.
The Bad: One of my best friends wants to beat me up and take mine from me. Otherwise, just little nit-picky things that are just my biased opinion.
I purchased mine a little over a couple of months ago, although I was originally planning on getting their Supreme Operator model. I had demoed their standard Operator and was impressed, but then I demoed/raced the Entourage and I had big decisions to make - as in, 8" big or 7" big. This guy, weighing in at a burly 145lbs soaking wet, didn't really need a FULL full-squish since I race an average of two races a year - nor am I an aspiring WCer. I do a ton of hike-a-bike, shuttle and even lift-access and tend to not shy away from too many jumps - I'm less concerned about my times than I am about styling the jumps. It just seemed to make sense (and saved a ton of cents) to go with the Entourage DLX.
My first ride was an all-mountain type of shuttle with some sloppy trails and some trails oozing with hero-dirt...mostly downhill with a few mellow-and-brief climbs along the way. LOTS of tight, bermed switchbacks and no shortage of root networks made for a perfect maiden voyage. Almost instantly, I was amazed with how well it railed around corners...I had to be careful to not look too far ahead in some corners for fear of over-cornering. By the second run, I felt like I had been riding this bike for years.
The next ride was a local hike-a-bike trail network with some varying terrain. Fast and flowy all the way to steep and technical with roots and tight handling situations at every corner. Being a sup-40lb bike, it was much easier to get up the hill than my beloved '05 DHR - both in weight and being easy to negotiate. Once pointed down the hill, this bike delivered early and often. Again, the cornering was aggressive (in a good way) and when I DID send jumps (hadn't ridden these trails in a while), I was pleasantly surprised with how smooth the bike was touching down. This is NOT the Kona from 3+ years ago that you hear 5 miles up the hill clattering away. Even on some of the near huck-to-flat type landings, it was nothing but quiet plushness beneath me. I think that was the point that any buyer's remorse that remained in me disappeared.
Alas, lift-accessed bike-park goodness was up next in the form of Stevens Pass Bike Park. In its infantile stage, there are but two trails on the mountain. Both are unique from each other. One a flowy jump line and the other a semi-technical single-track-based trail with varying features. Long story short...I put down about 20 runs that day. My hands were sore, my legs were dead and my stoke was thru the roof. Going back to the aggressive cornering this bike allows, there are some tight, flat corners with rocks scattered throughout them that I would have had a harder time on a full dh-rig for sure. I was able to snake these corners pretty good, but the bike is capable of way more than what I can currently dish out.
This is the part where "the bad" makes a cameo...
After my death-grip subsided in my hands, I did my usual look-over on the bike only to notice my fork was sitting at 140mm. The compression/rebound still felt great, but the increase from the standard 65-degree head-angle to 66-67deg wasn't a desired effect. Thanks to the folks at SRAM, they warrantied the fork and I was back in the saddle in just over a week. It turned out to be the air-cartridge, which got me to wondering why Kona chose the air design over the coil design for this particular platform. Don't get me wrong, this fork is burly and I have video to prove it but, for me, it's kind of a head-scratcher.
That aside, it is a pretty solid spec. Code brakes are Code brakes - you're stopping. X9 drive-train is much better than the last time I used it. All the same, I swapped that for my barely-used Saint. Gravity cranks aren't my personal-preference, but they are better than I recall from a several years back. I'll switch those out as well...not decided on what just yet. RC2 shock is adequate for this rig...not as progressive as some designs out there, so you don't need an overly-tech shock. The Easton bar/stem/seat-post are a nice touch as well, although I'm going to slap my 777 bars on it this weekend to see if it makes any difference. If so, my slope-style bike might get an upgrade! :) Formula hubs are sufficient and the EX729 rims with a rear High Roller and a Minion F up front let it hook up nicely.
Back to the riding...
Returned to Stevens Pass for the NW Cup/USGP race earlier this month and I had zero problems with the bike this time around...even with a decent crash in my race run I did switch the stock 2.5 tires for a set of 2.35 High Rollers since the course I was racing was essentially a 5+min jump-line with a few hard-pedal sections. Nothing the entire weekend was the fault of the bike.
Just this past weekend, I hit up another hike-a-bike trail network that was lots of uphills followed by some downhills and then more uphills and then LOTS of downhills with jumps all over the place. The uphills are mostly pedal-able with this bike in this situation, although a dropper-post would obviously be prime for more of an all-mtn application. I did leave the 2.35 tires on, which definitely made a difference. I pedaled more than I walked, aside from the several steeper pitches we encountered. As always, once pointed down the hill I just gripped and ripped. Most jumps I saw...I hit. It was like I was living in a video game at times the way I could put the bike into something dodgy and just glide thru/over it. It likes to hop and jump, but it also stays down when you want it to and plows like a champ. It rides stiff and solid to boot. Bottom-line...this is MY bike. Get your own, although I'll let you touch it if you see me out there and ask me kindly.
Overall, this bike meets and exceeds any expectations I've placed on it. I foresee a dual-crown fork on it by early-spring since I plan on going back up to Cat 1. It's a departure from my DHR, yet it's more what I've been looking for in my "big" bike.
I would suggest it to the lighter shredders out there and the smoother big guys/gals that want something that is DH-capable but isn't full-sized DH (otherwise, get the Operator OR try something like the TR250 from Transition Bikes). Possibly a good first-DH bike - especially if it's shuttle/lift riding...and lots of it. Or, just for that person that wants a bike that can handle what you ask of it, yet it's not so complicated to dial-up and keep running.
Like any bike out there, there are better and there are worse. For this guy, this bike feels like it was tailored to his every need at this point in his riding "career". It's where I'm at and it's capable of taking me beyond that if I dare. With that being said, I plan on having this bike in my stable for a while...just in case I do dare.
Whether-or-not you like Kona, it's hard to deny that they did something very right with the Entourage/Operator. Try one if you get a chance. It may not wow you, but it will not disappoint.