If you’ve never been to Crans Montana before, we’d heartily recommend it. Nestled above the vineyards of the Valais region of Switzerland, Crans Montana has geography firmly on its side. Only two hours from Geneva, and even closer to the Portes du Soleil, Verbier and Zermatt, it’s ideally placed for a stop off on any Alpine road trip.
There are three principle runs on the mountain, the Black, Red and Blue, all serviced by a two man gondola. The red run is fast, flowing and manfactured; typical bike park fare, albeit with amazing views across to the Matterhorn and the Grand Combin. Watch the headcam below for an idea of what the Red DH is like aboard the new Entourage. By contrast the Black DH is littered with natural obstacles. Bedrock erupts from the dirt, roots weave across the trail and there’s ample opportunity to sample the clean, fresh, Swiss air. It’s a brilliant mix of terrain with excellent flow, the highlight of which must surely be a tight, rocky canyon through which you are fired at about 25mph.
Terrain, you’d be correct in presuming, that yodels out for a capable steed. Thankfully, in the new Kona Entourage, we had just that. The 170mm travel Entourage share much of its genetics with the Operator downhill bike launched last year and piloted by Joe Smith in 2010 and Mitch Delfs in 2011.
Kona Entourage Deluxe £3800
Both bikes share the classic Kona single-pivot design with the shock being actuated by a rocker link. As befits a company with a reputation for durability, all of the pivots are huge and many are shared throughout the frame and between the two bikes, making sourcing replacements easier and cheaper. The seatstay to rocker link pivots are all in double shear, reducing stress and there’s even a chart on the back of the seat tube detailing sizes of bearings, dropout standards (12mm x 150mm) and bottom bracket width (83mm).
Beyond the massive junction between the top tube and down tube you’ll find a tapered head tube. Unlike many contemporary designs, Kona has stuck with round tubes for the Entourage and Operator, citing that rocks bounce off round tubes better. It’s also the case that wall-thicknesses can be more carefully controlled using good old mandrel-drawn tubing. Unfortunately we don’t feel the overall effect is as pretty as some of the more heavily styled, heavily shaped framesets out there.
While the manufacturing is quite traditional, the geometry is far from conservative. Kona’s Freeride Product Manager, Chris Mandell has signed off on a long, low chassis with an ultra-short back end. Specifically the medium Entourage we rode has a 65 degree head angle, a 13.5in (343mm) bottom bracket height, a 26.2in (665mm) down tube and 16.3in (416mm) chainstays. In other words it’s more like a Specialized than a Specialized.
In size medium, as a bike designed for having fun in a bike park – hitting jumps and railing berms – the short back end works. It’s malleable and rewarding. Go beyond the machine-built features or should you be tall enough to need a large, you might feel like you’re always riding off the back wheel.
Suspension on the Entourage is handled by a Fox DHX RC2 at the back and a RockShox Lyrik DH RC2 Solo Air at the front. While neither end is class-leading in terms outright grip and suppleness, the Entourage never held us back. There was good support and progression from the rear. Only the Lyrik fork disappointed, transmitting too much trail buzz for our liking.
Both the Entourage Deluxe at £3800 and Entourage at £2350 come with a well-dialled spec. Wide bars (750mm Easton Havoc and 780mm Kona DH respectively), short stems, chain guides (E13 SRS + and Freechucker respectively), decent flat pedals (Kona Wah-Wah and Jackshit) and grippy tyres (Maxxis Minion DHF and High Roller rear mean that whatever your wallet, the Entourage is ready to shred. Simply put, there’s nothing we’d change about either bike save for chopping a few mil off the bars on the cheaper model.
Kona Tanuki Deluxe £1900
Lurking in the shadows of the Magic-Link is Kona’s less elaborate trail-offering; the Tanuki. Meaning a mythical Japanese hound with big balls, the Tanuki sticks to Kona’s suspension lineage with a single-pivot and rocker link actuated shock.
Both the top and down tube are curved, the former to increase standover and the latter for greater crown clearance. The head tube is tapered, there’s room for a water bottle and cage and the 30.9 seat tube will accept most ejector seatposts.
Kona has always built its bikes in a comprehensive range of sizes, and the Tanuki is no different in this respect. Available in 15in, 16in, 17in, 18in, 19in, 20in and 22in something is very wrong if you can’t get comfortable on a Tanuki.
We rode an 18in, which had plenty of standover height, but also benefited from a very long wheelbase; something we were really glad of bombing down a Swiss mountain at 30mph. Kona claims a 68 degree head angle for the Tanuki, and we measured the 18in bike as having 16.8in (427mm) chainstays, a 26.5in (673mm) down tube and the aforementioned massive 45.5in (1156mm) wheelbase. Only the lofty 13.9in (355mm) bottom bracket spoiled the party. Kona could easily dump the Tanuki a good 10mm and look down on some of its competitors.
The shock might look like a Fox Float RP2, but it is in fact an own brand shock, built by the factory that makes the frame. According to Kona it has a larger oil volume than an RP2, and has had considerable work over the last year tuning it to the frame.
With thin-wall, shallow-treaded Maxxis Ardent tyres, a narrow bar, an unknown shock and only 130mm of travel available, a run of the Black trail felt like a pretty stupid thing to do. But, we figured, if it could survive the jagged rocks, high speed washboard, big jumps and deep compressions it could handle anything. By the second corner the Tanuki had surpassed all of my expectations in spectacular fashion. I was keeping up with riders on downhill bikes, hitting all the jumps and drops and effectively abusing a trail bike like it should never be treated.
While the head angle isn’t especially slack, the long wheelbase meant stability was never a problem. Only under braking into tight corners did the trail-friendly head angle become a problem. Wrestling the front end through slower speed rock gardens revealed some chassis flex, but only in situations most cross-country bikes would rarely encounter.
The final surprise came from the rear shock. Despite being pounded for upwards of five minutes, the damping never faded and I was able to hit high-speed jumps without fear of getting bucked.
It’s often the small dogs that have the biggest balls, fearing little and never backing away from a fight no matter how big the challenge. With the Tanuki it’s a similar story. To look at it’s nothing special, but in action it packs a surprising punch.