Kona launched two big platforms at this year's Sea Otter Classic: a new Carbon Operator composite downhill bike and a new Super Jake disc brake-equipped 'cross bike. The aim of both bikes is simple: go faster.
Kona's DH platform tightens up
Kona's existing aluminum Operator Supreme is already a popular race chassis, but according to industrial designer Jack Russell, the company was looking to take its flagship gravity machine into a new direction.
"We really weren't trying to iterate that bike. We threw that bike away and were like, let's start with a whole new thing and try to make the raddest bike we can – a totally blank sheet of paper," he told BikeRadar. "When we started, we actually looked at a lot of different suspension designs and stuff like that. We really wanted to make a really responsive, jumpy downhill bike, not a 'plow' bike."
Kona says the Operator Supreme is 300g lighter and twice as stiff as the aluminum model
As a result the new Operator Supreme sports a substantially modified geometry that includes 420mm chain stays (7mm shorter than the aluminum bike) for more agility, just 3.5mm of bottom bracket rise (9mm lower) for a more planted feel at high speed and through corners, and a lower main pivot for less chain growth through the 200mm of travel.
While Kona set out to create a new personality for the Carbon Operator, the new bike carries on with the company's familiar modified four-bar linkage architecture. The leverage ratio has been tweaked, however, with less of a falling rate initially so the bike will tend to sit up a little higher in the travel.
"Our original ideation sketches had a lot of crazy linkages and stuff like that but when we were looking at linkage designs, we really found that doing an evolution of the four-bar walking link we've had forever really gave us the best balance between all these factors," said Russell. "The aluminum Operator was like an updated Stab, which were crazy plow bikes. This one's a lot more responsive. You really know where your rear wheel is and you know what it's doing."
Not surprisingly, the move to carbon fiber construction has also yielded big improvements in stiffness and weight. Russell claims a rigidity jump of 200 percent overall and a frame weight that has decreased from 3.6kg (7.94lb) to 3.3kg (7.28lb).
Massive tube sections, large-diameter pivots and the monstrous upper link contribute to the stiffness
Other technical features include oversized cartridge bearings throughout, a new preloaded 157x12mm rear thru-axle with double pinch bolts to reduce axle twist under load, an enormous aluminum upper link with a massive hollow carbon fiber bridge, a tapered head tube, molded-in ISCG05 tabs on the 104.5mm-wide bottom bracket shell with press-fit cups (uses the same spindle length as standard 83mm-wide threaded shells), and built-in stanchion bumpers on the head tube.
Kona has also made good use of that ultra-wide bottom bracket shell with enormous down tube and seat tube widths to match, plus main pivot bearings that are pushed as far apart as possible for rear-end stiffness.
Plus, the new bike's aesthetics are distinctly cleaner and sleeker than previous editions.
"I was really going for an understated, subtle look," Russell said. "I wanted it to look like a downhill bike that you would ride fast and not look like some feature on the bike is 'the thing' that's more important about it – a subtle, simple, clean look."
Overall, Russell says he and Mandell got what they wanted – a gravity rig that perhaps required a little more skill and attention than a so-called 'couch' bike but one that also holds bigger rewards for a rider who can extract that potential.
The thru-axle threads into one dropout, then is clamped into place with pinch bolts
"When I first rode my proto at Whistler, we rode about half the run and were like, holy shit, I'm not riding this bike fast enough," he said. "My first impression was like, I suck too much. We wanted a bike where the rider would work with the bike to be fast and we got it."
Kona will offer the new Carbon Operator frame in two complete versions: the 'Supreme' flagship with a Shimano Saint group, Fox's latest DHX RC4 rear shock and air-sprung 40 fork, and custom-built wheels with Mavic 729EX rims built on Hope hubs for $7,000; and the standard model with RockShox suspension, a Shimano Zee/SRAM X9 mixed drivetrain, Avid Code brakes, and Sun-Ringlé MTX 33 wheels for around $4,000. UK pricing has yet to be determined. Kona will offer the Carbon Operator as a frame-only as well with pricing TBD.
Carbon fiber Super Jake 'cross racer gets a new carbon frame and disc brakes for MY2014
Meanwhile, Kona's carbon cyclocross platform gets a wholesale revamp with a carbon fiber frameset designed for disc brakes. By mounting the rear caliper inside the rear triangle, Kona was able to pare down the seat stay diameter to just 10mm for a smoother ride while beefing up the chain stays for a snappier feel under power.
Up front is a tapered head tube and new monocoque carbon fiber fork with post-mount caliper tabs, while the PressFit 30 bottom bracket shell will allow for both geared and singlespeed drivetrains depending on the crank and bottom bracket configuration used.
The Super Jake is racy, but it also has fender mounts for more practical purposes
While Kona intends the Super Jake to be a flagship race bike, the company also expects it to be used for everyday riding, too. As a result, the frame is also equipped with removable fender mounts front and rear plus dual bottle mounts. Geometry is middle-of-the-road as well with a 62mm bottom bracket drop, 425mm-long chain stays, head tube angles between 71.2 and 72.5 degrees.
The top-end model will come with SRAM's latest Red/Force 22 hydraulic disc group, Stan's NoTubes Iron Cross tubeless wheels, and a Zipp aluminum cockpit. Pricing is still to be determined.