Kona 2012: Entourage, Operator, Honzo 29er (with pics!) and more…

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While the Singletrack crew were busy at various bike shows, we sent Faye from GirlMTNBiker off to the small but stunning Swiss resort of Crans-Montana to check out the 2012 Kona bikes lineup. They’ve been busy…

When you’re met at Geneva airport by three blokes from Kona with beers in their hand and then promptly handed one yourself, you know that it’s going to be a good week – and luckily first impressions weren’t wrong.

Faye soaks up the scenery of the Valais Alps...

The snow capped mountains of Crans-Montana, Switzerland were the location for the Kona 2012 launch. Releasing their new 2012 mini DH gravity bike, the Entourage, along with the Honzo cromoly 29er hardtail. They also introduced updates to the Operator DH rig and the Tanuki 130mm, all-mountain bike. The varied alpine trails of Crans-Montana were the perfect place to test these new bikes.

Kona say the focus of the 2012 range is on ‘performance durability’, giving you the confidence that your bike will perform consistently to a high standard, ride in, ride out. This focus can be seen in the new Entourage and Operator models, which have larger bearings which should allow for better lubrication, stiffness and longer term durability. This has been matched with durable oversized axle pivots.

Another addition for the 2012 gravity range is the technical data box, located on the back of the seat tube this little nugget of information is designed to save time, hassle and eliminates the need to dismantle your bike to work out the spec. The ‘tech box’ tells you what the bottom bracket standard is, the rear axle dimensions, the ISCG standard and the number of bearings, along with their bearing codes – helping to make life a lot easier when it comes to bike fixing time.

Entourage (£2,350) and Entourage Deluxe (£3,800)

The 170mm travel Kona Operator is made for parks, mini DH and general gravity bike fun

Joining the Kona gravity family for 2012 is the Entourage, a 170mm, mini DH, ‘do-it-all’ gravity bike. Developed with the help of Kona sponsored riders, the bike aims to be one of the nimblest DH rigs around, with a super-short chainstay and a compact rear

Gravity bikes use bearings held in a double shear arrangement on the seatstay to keep them stiff

triangle designed to be whipped and flipped. This bike is made for gravity fun; from bike parks to slopestyle, freeride to mini-dh, the Entourage is proclaimed to be the ‘do-it-all’ gravity rig, though in essence the Entourage is a smaller travel Operator. Both bikes share the same pivot hardware, rear axle and derailleur hanger, which means they also share the same 83mm bottom bracket, 12/150 back end, ISCG-05 and tapered headtubes.

The compact 415mm chainstay allows the bike to negotiate tight, twisty singletrack sections, corner aggressively and be easy to jump and trick. On the smoother freeride bits of track the slack 65 degree head angle, ‘modern’ rider position and relatively light weight (15.4-15.9kg) felt more efficient than the 8inch Operator and was a fun, responsive bike to ride. The basic Entourage comes with a custom 170mm RockShox Domain R CL fork, Avid Code R brakes, SRAM X-7 rear derailleur and a Fox Van R rear shock.

The Entourage also comes in a Deluxe model, a featuring a 170mm RockShox Lyrik DH RC2 Solo Air fork, SRAM X-9 drivetrain, Easton Havoc cockpit and Mavic EX729 rims. However, after riding both models, I’d be more inclined to save the quite considerable £1,450 price difference and spend the money on getting the bike out to long alpine descents and bike parks where the Entourage excels.

Operator (£2,550)

The Operator DH bike stays slack and low but the back end gets shorter; smooth.

The 2012 Operator also gets its chainstay length reduced by 12mm to 427mm, a change made based on feedback from Kona athletes and product testers. The 64 degree head angle and 13.8 inch bottom bracket height gives the bike a lot of stability but reducing the overall wheelbase the bike didn’t lose stability at speed. The short rear end has enabled it to be considerably more manoeuvrable in tighter, slower, more technical situations.

This bike also uses oversized bearings, large pivot axles, shot-peened finish for extra frame strength and round tubing, which Kona say improves it’s resistance to rock strikes and improves dent deflection.

Kitted up with RockShox Boxxer Race fork, SRAM drivetrain, Fox Van RC rear shock and Avid Code R brakes this bike feels slick and smooth straight out the box. The Operator tackled the DH tracks a treat, plush suspension kept the runs smooth and fun, the slack head angle and low standover height gave a confidence-inspiring rider position and the bike manoeuvred through tricky rooty sections and tight switchbacks with ease. A brilliantly fun bike to ride, confidence inspiring and makes you want to go bigger, better and faster. (As I discovered after somersaulting over the bars into a bush completely over shooting a berm. It didn’t help that I was singing ‘smooth operator’ at the time!)

Tanuki (£1,200), Tanuki Deluxe (£1,900) and Tanuki Supreme (£2,800)

The Tanuki Deluxe; 130mm travel of all mountain fun...

The Tanuki is named after a mythical Japanese raccoon dog, known for it’s ginormous bollocks, which apparently give you good fortune. As the only female at the launch I can’t really comment on the huge balls equalling good fortune scenario, so I’ll have to take Kona’s word for it!

Launched last year, Kona call it one of their best performing, entry-level dual suspension bikes. A 130mm XC bike, designed to be an all-day ride up, descend, repeat, kind of bike. The steep seat tube angle is pedalling friendly and the seatpost designed to be compatible with an adjustable seatpost too.

The Tanuki gets a redesigned rocker link for 2012

The 2012 Tanuki range sees a redesign to the linkage to improve suspension performance and the introduction of the ‘Scandium 69 Tanuki Supreme’ model. Scandium 6069 is a new material on Kona bikes for 2012, a rare metal that when added to aluminium alloy straightens out the grains, increasing the tube strength without having to increase the amount of metal used. It has a 40% higher yield strength than previous Scandium alloys with has good corrosion resistance and excellent fatigue strength.

We took the Tanuki Deluxe model for a lunch-time spin around the local trails surrounding Kona HQ. Fast singletrack that winds alongside a river, with techy, rooty sections to keep you on your toes, through picturesque villages that straddle the French/Swiss border to tracks at the foot of the Jura mountains with stunning views of Mont Blanc, it really is the perfect lunch-time ride! The bike was great on these tracks with the own-brand Kona/Fastrax AF2 rear shock soaking up the trail well without being a hindrance when it came to the track and road sections. A bike that I’d definitely like to put to the test on an all day enduro ride!

Honzo (£1,600)

The Kona Entourage; Faye reckons it deserves a good following

Another new addition to the gravity range is the Honzo Cromoly 29er hardtail. Chris Mandell (Honzo designer) explained how the ‘Steely‘ hardtail was the genesis for the Honzo and after having so much fun on the Steely they decided to see what it would be like with 29inch wheels.

They had to make some compromises to get the geometry where they wanted it, as Chris explains: “The chainstays on these bikes are 415mm which are extremely short for a 29er, we actually had to remove the front derailleur compatibility for this bike to accommodate the size of tyre that you’d want to have on an all-mountain 29er and the chainstay length that we felt we needed. So that’s why this bike comes with ISCG tabs and you’ll always see it run with a singlespeed at the front, with a 9 or 10 speed cassette at the back. The bike comes specced with a 12-36 cassette so it has a really wide range good for pedalling and good for getting up hills. It also uses the Kona CC hanger, which is a replaceable sliding dropout, so if you want to run it singlespeed you’re able to.”

Other features of the Honzo are the zero-stack internal headset with tapered steerer, RockShox Revelation RL Dual Air 29er fork, Avid Elixir 1 brakes and the new WTB Volt low profile saddle.

A hardcore big wheel hardtail? Yes sir!

And thanks again to Faye, we have some pics of the Honzo:

Rad enough?
This one's a bit blurry as it's a grab from a video, but you can see the chunky tyres and kinked seattube, along with the chain device.

Chris admits that it’s definitely the bike he’s riding the most right now and to ride it you can see why. The slack 68 degree head tube angle, low bottom bracket and short chainstay make this burly hardtail the perfect steed for British winter trail riding.

All the bikes on test certainly lived up to Kona’s reputation for building high quality, well engineered bikes, as for the ‘performance durability’ and their striving for ‘The Long Sweet Ride’, only time will tell.

Thanks to Jimbo, Chris, Mitchell and Ben from Kona and all the other guys for putting on a great launch, Crans-Montana for the excellent trails and hospitality and Ale Di Lullo and Joonas Vinnari for the superb photography.

Faye Sanders, GirlMTNbiker.com

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