Kona Operator – First ride review

Entry-level downhill bike

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0
GBP £2,550.00 RRP | USD $3,299.00

Our review

One of the best entry level downhill bikes we’ve ridden
Skip to view product specifications

The Operator looks a tad like Kona downhill bikes of the past, but designer Chris Mandell has been careful to make his mark on the relatively straight-forward four-bar linkage design. The result is a bike that’s fun and playful enough to razz at weekends, but serious enough to get racing. 


Ride & handling: Simple and effective, and we love it

After a couple of runs down Crans Montana’s Swiss Cup track, we could tell Kona have really got this bike sewn up. The 63-degree head angle and 1,191mm (46.9in) wheelbase make the Operator very stable, without being too slack, uncontrollable, or sluggish. 

The 584mm top tube feels bang-on too. It’s long enough to manoeuvre around and give enough weight transfer in the cockpit, yet short enough to throw the bike around when racing is off the agenda and fun is back in the top spot.

The suspension action on the Operator has a supple, linear feel, ramping up after about 70 percent, so although we were able to use all the travel, we never suffered from harsh bottoming-out. The simplicity of the design pays off here, making a simple shock like the Fox Van RC work well and just get on with the job in hand – it’s the best example of a Van RC controlled rear end we’ve ridden.

Frame & equipment: Supple, linear suspension and robust parts pick

The Operator is built from hydroformed 7005 aluminium tubing and has big sealed cartridge bearings at all pivots, so it certainly means business. A tapered head tube keeps things stiff up front, and the usual downhill bike 83mm width bottom bracket shell and 12x150mm rear axle keep things sturdy at the rear.

Kona have obviously thought this frame through – it even has a small ‘info box’ on the back of the seat tube, which gives bearing numbers and frame details should you ever need them. It’s a nice touch.

The Operator costs £2,550, so there’s no reason to expect anything special in the parts department, considering that some bike manufacturers’ downhill frames cost around the same as this complete bike. The spec is aimed at longevity and reliability. 

The RockShox Boxxer Race fork and Fox Van RC shock head up damping duty, with a Gravity crankset and SRAM X7/X9 shifting setup. The Kona bar feels great, even if the non-direct-mount stem confused us a bit, seeing as direct-mount stems have almost become the norm on bikes with dual-crown forks.

But if this is the only real compromise on the whole bike, we’re not too fussed. It comes with one of our favourite tyre setups too – a Maxxis Minion DHF on the front and High Roller on the back, both in the Super Tacky compound. This combination offers solid, dependable and predictable grip.

Kona operator:

This article was originally published in Mountain Biking UK magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

Product Specifications


Name Operator (12)
Brand Kona

Seatpost Kona DH
Shifters SRAM X7
Stem Kona DH
Weight (kg) 18.2
Weight (lb) 40.2
Front Wheel Formula hub on Sun MTX33 rim
Brakes Avid Code R 200/180mm rotors
Cranks Gravity GAP
Fork RockShox Boxxer Race, 200mm (7.9in) travel
Frame Material Kona DH 7005 aluminium
Handlebar Kona DH
Rear Derailleur SRAM X9
Rear Shock Fox Van RC, 200mm (7.9in) travel
Saddle WTB Speed V Sport
Rear Wheel Formula hub on Sun MTX33 rim