2017 Kona Operator DL

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Tested: 2017 Kona Operator DL - Park Friendly, World Cup Approved

Kona's updated Operator DL is a solid downhill bike with a build that strikes a nice balance between performance and budget.

Rating: Vital Review
Tested: 2017 Kona Operator DL - Park Friendly, World Cup Approved

With their roots first sprouting in Vancouver, BC, and now hailing from Ferndale, WA, Kona has a reputation for building burly, durable bikes intended to be pushed hard over the often adverse conditions throughout the Pacific Northwest region. With a goal of redesigning the Operator to be both a bike park slayer as well as a capable World Cup race bike, Kona went back to the drawing board as the market shifted from 26-inch steeds to the modern 27.5 standards. Development began in 2014 with Connor Fearon and his mechanic, Mathieu Dupelle, with a modified rear triangle to swap over from 26-inch wheels to 27.5, leaving the front triangle Read More »

With their roots first sprouting in Vancouver, BC, and now hailing from Ferndale, WA, Kona has a reputation for building burly, durable bikes intended to be pushed hard over the often adverse conditions throughout the Pacific Northwest region. With a goal of redesigning the Operator to be both a bike park slayer as well as a capable World Cup race bike, Kona went back to the drawing board as the market shifted from 26-inch steeds to the modern 27.5 standards. Development began in 2014 with Connor Fearon and his mechanic, Mathieu Dupelle, with a modified rear triangle to swap over from 26-inch wheels to 27.5, leaving the front triangle unchanged. Not completely satisfied with the performance of the franken-bike, an all new Operator was called for. With a focus on keeping key elements like short stays, a low bottom bracket, widely spaced pivots, and a slack head angle, the new Kona Operator was born. Updates to the bike include increased reach, a more progressive suspension curve, and a slacker head angle.

Highlights

  • 27.5-inch wheels
  • 6061 alloy frame with 200mm (7.87-inches) of rear travel
  • Beamer Suspension Platform
  • Integrated chainstay, seatstay, and downtube protection
  • Integrated fork bumpers
  • Oversized bearings
  • 110x20mm front and 157x12mm rear hub spacing
  • ISCG05 tabs
  • Internal cable routing
  • Measured weight (size large, no pedals): 40.88 pounds (18.54kg)
  • MSRP $3,999 USD

Kona uses four different suspension platforms throughout their line, with each different platform specifically tuned to that particular bike's intended use. For the Operator, Kona uses what they call the Beamer Independent Suspension, which is a single-pivot design built to be "off-the-top progressive.” Being that this platform was designed specifically for World Cup downhill racing, in addition to bike park riding, the leverage curve is slightly more progressive than the previous iteration. Kona also built the Operator with durability in mind by using widely spaced pivots and oversized bearings, as well as two bearings on the upper shock mount. This all amounts to a bike that should provide increased small bump sensitivity along with reducing any side-load that can accelerate wear on the shock and pivots.

Notice the main pivot placement, which is slightly higher on the current Operator (right) compared to the previous frame (left).

Kona also reworked both the main and rear pivot locations. By moving the main pivot slightly higher, it now lines up with a 36-tooth chainring and should improve the pedaling performance of the Operator. In addition, by moving the rear pivot a bit forward on theseatstay, the rear brake can be mountedbehindthe rear pivot which should, in theory, make the bike more neutral during heavy rear braking. The ultimate goal behind much of the redesign was to make a bike that’s both capable on the fast, rough and steep tracks seen at the World Cup level, as well as make a bike that’s snappy and still fun to ride in the bike park.

Continuing with the theme of stiffness and durability, Kona went with the stout 157x12mm spacing for the rear hub and uses a keyed-in rear axle. Even when we first pulled the Operator out of the box, it was evident this was going to be one stiff bike. To say it’s overbuilt may just be an understatement, and the bike’s weight reflects that at nearly 41-pounds.

Other highlights include ISCG05 tabs (a staple for any downhill bike), integrated rubberized protection on the chainstay and downtube, as well integrated fork bumpers. The rear brake and derailleur cable routing are internal, which some will appreciate the clean look and protection it adds while shuttling, but some will be frustrated due to the increase in difficulty when swapping out brakes and cables. Lastly, the Operator uses an internal 1.5" tapered headset, which is not compatible with forks that utilize a tapered steerer. This means you’re out of luck if you want to use a DVO Emerald or SR Suntour RUX, for example.

Geometry

As you may have noticed in the chart above, Kona was quite generous in regards to the Operator’s reach measurement, which is 460mm for the size large bike we tested. That’s as long as some current XL downhill bikes, and even longer than a few that haven’t caught up with modern geometry. As for the rear-center, Kona went the opposite way with relatively short chainstays measuring 223mm across all sizes. While we’re on the topic of sizes, it’s worth noting that Kona doesn’t produce a size small Operator, only offering the bike in medium, large, and extra large. So, if you’re vertically challenged, we’d suggest trying to test ride an Operator before pulling the trigger.

At 63-degrees, the current Operator’s head angle is one-degree slacker than the previous iteration, bringing it in-line with the modern trend of downhill geometry. Keeping things straightforward, the Operator doesn’t offer any adjustable geometry out of the box.

Suspension Analysis

Using the bike industry's leading linkage analysis software, André Santos, the Youtube suspension whiz, was able to determine a close approximation of the Operator's kinematics for the purpose of this review. These charts provide great insight into several key factors that impact how it rides. Those unfamiliar with these types of graphs should watch André's excellent series of suspension fundamentals videos. The results of his analysis are as follows:



Observations:

  • The Kona Operator has a moderately progressive leverage ratio with a total frame progressivity of 35%.
  • Great pedaling efficiency with 90-95% anti-squat values on all rear cogs for a 36-tooth chainring. This happens because the Operator uses a swing-arm 4-bar design with the main pivot placed right on top of the chainring.
  • The amount of chain-growth and pedal kickback are within normal values considering that the bike has a good pedaling efficiency.
  • The anti-rise value is 100%, meaning that the geometry is fully preserved under rear braking. When using the rear brake, the rear suspension neither extends nor squats.
  • Overall, the Operator is a moderately progressive downhill bike with a good pedaling efficiency (for a DH bike).

Connor Fearon showing us what the Kona Operator is capable of.

On The Trail

We put the Kona Operator DL to work predominantly at our local trails located in Southern California. With a good mix of sustained rough, some flow, steep bits and flatter sections, we were able to get a feel for where this bike excels and where it can be a little cumbersome to ride. Conditions were what you'd expect for the region: dry and dusty, with mostly hardpack dirt and the occasional sandpit thrown in to keep things diverse. But, thanks to an unusually wet winter (well, for SoCal anyway), we were also able to log-in some laps with hero conditions, and even got to manual a few mud puddles.

Being 6'1" and mostly torso, our test rider immediately appreciated the generous reach on the large frame. Feeling at home on the bike meant we could get right down to business. Pedaling into our first lap at our local hill we noted that it does take some effort to get the Operator rolling, but once up to speed quick sprints were definitely rewarded with additional speed. This was also true when it came to pumping backsides and pushing hard into corners - put in some effort and instantly feel the reward. With that in mind, we chalk the slow acceleration up to the stout wheels and burly frame. When comparing weights with a similar set of DH wheels (alloy rims / 30mm wide / DH tires / 200mm rotors), the Operator DL's wheels were over two pounds heavier, which is a fair amount of extra weight to get spinning. That said, the wheels are solid, and we appreciate their stiffness when bashing through rocks and squaring off corners.


We found ourselves picking the front-end up, hopping from line to line, or popping off this or that quite often.

Speaking of corners, thanks to a stiff chassis, supple suspension, and Maxxis Minion rubber, we found the Operator to track excellently; even on those tricky chattery corners where pushing hard into the turn can feel a little unnerving. The mid-stroke support is definitely there, which helps keep the bike predictable and poised. Overall, we were very happy with the cornering abilities the bike. As we mentioned above, the Operator has some pretty short stays, which give this bike a super playful character. We found ourselves picking the front-end up, hopping from line to line, or popping off this-and-that quite often.

But, that short rear-end does come at a cost, specifically when the speeds pick up. There’s a few particularly fast and choppy sections on our local track: one that’s straight and wide-open before dumping you into a flat righthand corner (braking bumps galore), and one that’s slightly off-camber (but still fast) before it spits you into the lip of a small road gap, making being on-line extra important. In both of these situations, we found ourselves riding a bit more cautiously to keep the rear-end from getting too rowdy. It was also in these situations, as well as in sustained rock sections, that we felt the Boxxer RC was a bit overwhelmed at times, providing the occasional jolt to our hands during successive hits. That said, we were impressed by the performance of the Kage RC rear shock. While it does lack some of the tune-ability featured on the more expensive Vivid R2C, we never felt like it held the bike back.

In regard to whether or not the Operator is a quiet bike, the first thing we always check on a frame with internal cable routing is if the cables rattle inside the frame. While they do make some noise when we checked my jiggling the cables by hand, on-trail they made no discernable racket. The bike passed our static dead-drop parking lot test with flying colors.

Build Kit

As product testers we often get sent the cream-of-the-crop when it comes to components and bikes that are up for review. Brands want their flagship products to go through the testing gauntlet, which is understandable. But, we were refreshed to receive the Kona Operator in its mid-level attire. Not everyone can plop down the cash for a blinged-out build, and at $3,999 you still get a capable build with the Operator DL. With that in mind, when it comes to a more budget friendly complete bike, there will always be compromises.

The Operator DL comes with RockShox’s Kage RC and Boxxer RC, both of which are coil sprung. Interestingly, the Kage shock is spec’d throughout the Operator line, including the highest-end Supreme Operator, which retails for $7,499.

Not everyone can plop down the cash for a blinged out-build, and at $3,999 you still get a capable build with the Operator DL.

The drivetrain, which is mostly composed of SRAM products, utilizes a GX 10-speed shifter and derailleur, a PG1030 11-28t cassette, with the odd products out being the Shimano Zee crankset and Shimano press-fit bottom bracket (PF107). While this is SRAM’s more budget friendly drivetrain, over our testing period we noted its good performance, positive shifts, and absence of any ghost shifting and any other mishaps. Chain retention is handled by MRP’s G3 steel back-plated chainguide, which did its job flawlessly throughout the test, adding no noise or noticeable friction while keeping the chain exactly where it's supposed to be.

Braking duties are handled by a set of SRAM Guide R stoppers. Kona’s spec sheet indicates the Operator comes with an 180mm rear rotor, which we feel would be a mistake for a downhill specific bike, but our test sled came with 200mm rotors front and rear. Whether or not Kona changed the spec and forgot to update their website, or we just lucky, we don't know. While the Guide R brakes don't quite have as much bite or power as SRAM’s downhill-dedicated Code brakes (especially the new versions), the Guide R’s adequately slowed down our biggest brake dragger, though getting on the stoppers a little earlier than normal was sometimes necessary.

In the wheel and rubber department, we were happy to see the tried-and-true Mavic EX729 rims and always welcomed Maxxis Minion DHF tires. Mavic EX729 rims may not be the lightest 29mm wide rim on the market, but they’ve proven durable, reliable, and plenty stiff in years past, and they should play well with the current crop of wider rim specific tires out there. Maxxis Minion DHF tires are one of the most widely used tires in the gravity world and have been one of our go-to tires for loose over hardpack conditions, which was predominantly the terrain we tested the Operator on. Rounding out the wheel setup is a set of unbranded Formula hubs. Befuddled after counting the points of engagement multiple times, the hubs feature only 20-points of engagement. While a quickly engaging hub is less important on a downhill bike, 20-points is still quite low.

In the wheel and rubber department, we were happy to see the tried-and-true Mavic EX729 rims and always welcomed Maxxis Minion DHF tires.

As for the cockpit, Kona sped’d their in-house brand 50mm direct mount stem, a 780mm wide downhill handlebar, as well as a set of Kona S-LOG grips. Even with the long reach, we got along fine with the 50mm stem. While 780mm is plenty wide for the vast majority of riders, we’re now used to seeing 800mm (or wider) bars becoming standard fare on downhill bikes.

Long Term Durability

Durability is one thing we never had a second thought about with the Operator. All pivots and hardware remained smooth and tight throughout the test. And, this is one of the stiffest rides we’ve thrown a leg over, so hardware life expectancy should be pretty good. The overbuilt nature of the bike falls in-line with Kona’s intent of building bikes that can be ridden hard for a number of seasons. Should anything go awry, Kona offers a lifetime limited warranty on all of their aluminum frames, as well as a one-year limited warranty on complete bicycles.

Being a privateer or a weekend warrior in this sport is still an expensive habit, and that’s where we feel the Operator DL comes to light.

Fearon whipping it out in Lourdes.

What’s The Bottom Line?

Sometimes it’s hard going into a test without any preconceived notions. Sure, it’s not constructed of fancy plastic, the spec might not be what you’d pick in a “Build Your Dream Bike” forum thread, and its weight is pretty porky when compared to modern downhill bikes. But, despite those follies, the most important question we asked ourselves was did the bike put a smile on our face? It did. Being a privateer or a weekend warrior in this sport is still an expensive habit, and that’s where we feel the Operator DL comes to light. Sure, $4,000 is still a chunk of change to spend on a bicycle, but the meat of the Operator is the same throughout the line. Whether you spend $3,200 on the baseline model or $7,500 on their highest end build, you still get a durable, well-thought-out machine with good geometry, a solid suspension platform, all in a mega-stout package that should take a beating for many seasons to come. For the weekend park rider or the privateer racer that doesn't want to take out a second mortgage, the Kona DL is a solid bike to consider that should be in it for the long haul.

Visit www.konaworld.com for more details.

Vital MTB Rating

  • Pedaling: 3 stars - Good
  • Descending: 4 stars - Excellent
  • Fun Factor: 4 stars - Excellent
  • Value: 3 stars - Good
  • Overall Impression: 3.5 stars - Very Good

About The Reviewer

Fred Robinson - Age: 32 // Years Riding MTB: 14 // Height: 6'1" (1.85m) // Weight: 244.6-pounds (110.95kg)

"Drop my heels and go." Fred has been on two wheels since he was two-years-old, is deceptively quick for a bigger guy, and likes steep, fast trails where he can hang it off the back of the bike. Several years of shop experience means he's not afraid to tinker. He's very particular when it comes to a bike's suspension performance and stiffness traits.

Rate review: 0 Up Down
Vital MTB member FredLikesTrikes
18548 FredLikesTrikes https://p.vitalmtb.com/photos/users/18548/avatar/c50_IMG_0045_1428943983.jpg?1428943532 https://www.vitalmtb.com/community/FredLikesTrikes,18548/all 09/14/12 7 789 63 https://www.vitalmtb.com/community/FredLikesTrikes,18548/setup 33 238 74 61 1

Kona Operator 27.5

Rating:
The Good:

Playfully fun park bike, Capable race machine, progressive linkage system.

The Bad:

Weight, pedal efficiency

Overall Review:

Kona as a company has been around for a long time and has been known to build a quality bike. This year they took a turn from carbon and went aluminum across their whole DH line. The differences to note are the 27.5 wheel size with a frame built around the 27.5 platform, as well as a more progressive linkage system. Right off the bat I noticed that pointing the operator downhill or toward anything resembling technical steep and rocky sections was easy. The 27.5 operator rolls through rough downhill better then the 26 inch model of previous. I also noticed that the more progressive linkage system made the bike more lively and playful then Read More »

Overall Review:

Kona as a company has been around for a long time and has been known to build a quality bike. This year they took a turn from carbon and went aluminum across their whole DH line. The differences to note are the 27.5 wheel size with a frame built around the 27.5 platform, as well as a more progressive linkage system. Right off the bat I noticed that pointing the operator downhill or toward anything resembling technical steep and rocky sections was easy. The 27.5 operator rolls through rough downhill better then the 26 inch model of previous. I also noticed that the more progressive linkage system made the bike more lively and playful then before, especially in a park setting. Although I loved the feel of the operator on the descents, I noticed the bits of flat sections were sluggish because of the weight and the linkage design of the bike. Its very smooth in the first portion of the stroke volume, however it also causes for pedal bob when you decide you need to sprint.

Final take: Love this bike for casual downhill riding and park riding! It is built tough and the thick welds are apparent. However, I would not choose this bike as my first choice for a race bike because of the weight and the pedal efficiency.   

Rate review: +3 Up Down
Vital MTB member MTBcanuck
44563 MTBcanuck https://p.vitalmtb.com/photos/users/44563/avatar/c50_IMG_0250_1498002252.jpg?1498002176 https://www.vitalmtb.com/community/MTBcanuck,44563/all 06/06/17 3 11

Specifications

Product Kona Operator DL
Model Year 2017
Riding Type Downhill, Freeride
Rider Unisex
Sizes and Geometry
M, L, XL View Geometry
Size M L XL
Top Tube Length 584 611 641
Head Tube Angle 63° 63° 63°
Head Tube Length 120 125 135
Seat Tube Angle 76.5 76.5 76
Seat Tube Length 410 410 410
Bottom Bracket Height 349 349 349
Chainstay Length 423 423 423
Wheelbase 1220 1248 1277
Standover 720 720 720
Reach 435 460 485
Stack 615 620 629
* Additional Info Geo based on 581mm long fork with 48mm offset
Frame Material Aluminum
Frame Material Details Kona DH 6061 Aluminum Butted
Rear Travel 200mm
Rear Shock RockShox Kage RC
Fork RockShox Boxxer RC, Coil Spring
Fork Travel 200mm
Head Tube Diameter Tapered 1.5" (does not accept tapered steerers)
Headset FSA Orbit 1.5ZS SC
Handlebar Kona DH, 780mm wide
Stem Kona Direct Mount
Grips Kona S-LOG
Brakes SRAM Guide R
Brake Levers SRAM Guide R
Drivetrain 1x
Shifters SRAM GX
Front Derailleur N/A
Rear Derailleur SRAM GX
ISCG Tabs ISCG05
Chainguide MRP G3 Steel
Cranks Shimano Zee
Chainrings 36t
Bottom Bracket Shimano PF107
Pedals N/A
Chain KMC X10
Cassette SRAM PG1030 11-28t, 10spd
Wheel Size 27.5" (650b)
Rims Mavic EX729
Hubs Formula
Spokes Formula
Tires Maxxis Minion DHF DH 3C 27.5x2.5"
Saddle WTB Volt Sport SE 250
Seatpost Kona OB
Seatpost Diameter 34.9mm
Seatpost Clamp Kona Clamp
Rear Dropout / Hub Dimensions 157x20mm
Max. Tire Size Not specified
Bottle Cage Mounts N/A
Colors Matt Orange / Black / White / Black
Warranty Lifetime Limited on Frame // 1yr on Complete Bike
Weight 40 lb 14 oz (18541 g)
Miscellaneous Oversized bearings
Integrated chainstay and downtube
Integrated fork bumpers
Internal cable routing
Price $3,999
More Info

www.konaworld.com