I first got a chance to ride the latest iteration of the Kona Operator at Retallack Lodge in late 2016. While we only spent a day getting familiar with the new bike, perfect dirt, amazing trails and a heli drop provided best-day-ever conditions for our brief introduction. The new Operator and I were fast friends, but I'd need more time on the bike where I wasn't being wooed by hero dirt and helicopters to really see what it was made of. Would I think the same of the new Operator if it were the daily driver for a summer?
Fast forward a year, and I've now had the opportunity to spend the better part of this season on Kona's $7500 flagship model – the Supreme Operator. There's no doubt that the Operator sports the classic Kona look of a bike that's ready for punishment. Large bearings, widely spaced pivots, and a keyed-in rear axle help keep unwanted flex in check. The aluminum frame also sports integrated protection on the downtube, chainstay, and headtube. Internally routed brake and shift cables add to the sleek lines of the bike. It projects a look of strength and simplicity–a hallmark of Kona's downhill bikes throughout the years.
Updates to the geometry have retained many of the playful attributes that were so appealing about the 26-inch Operator while modernizing its long and low stance to accommodate the bigger 27.5-inch wheels. At 423 millimeters, the chainstays are just a hair longer than the 420mm length stays found on the 26-inch bike. As a result, the Operator has really quick and precise cornering characteristics, and as you would expect, is an absolute blast on machine-built bike park trials. It just begs you to bonk, jib, and jump around the trail. That being said, you might assume that the short rear end would translate into an unsettled ride when the terrain was more raw and natural, but the 460mm reach (size large), 10-millimeter bottom bracket drop, and 63-degree head angle on our size large compliment the tucked-in rear-end and give it calm, confident handling in the rough stuff.
The Novatec Demon wheels were a smart choice on the aluminum Operator. They have a compliant ride quality without sacrificing strength or reliability. If (or perhaps when) wheel damage happens, it's comforting to know that they are a relatively inexpensive package with standard spokes and lacing pattern – nothing proprietary to keep you off the trail. With DH casing Maxxis Minions mounted to them they certainly weren't the quickest combo to get rolling, but had an unwavering confidence when up to speed. The 157-millimeter rear axle spacing only added to the predictable tracking of the rear-end.
Up front, the RockShox Boxxer World Cup performed as expected – soft supple initial stroke with bottomless tokens tuning the ramp up. Conversely, the entry-level Rock Shox Kage rear shock was a puzzling choice on this high-end build, but unexpectedly it managed to hold its own without getting completely overwhelmed. Perhaps an eye towards set-it-and-forget-it, low maintenance durability rather than tunable performance can explain the choice. Regardless, the linkage had a predictable ramp up that really complimented the playful nature of the short rear-end with plenty of support to push on or slap into corners.
The Supreme Operator is piloted by some of the world's fastest racers, like Connor Fearon, but I can't help but feel as though this bike is tailor-made for a non-racer like myself. With some of the build airing on the side of simplicity and durability rather than weight savings, it's a bike that you could be confident rallying all season without giving it too much thought or concern. It's an easy bike to throw a leg over a feel at home on right away whether you're a seasoned racer or wild park rat.