Evolution, Not Revolution: Withstanding the test of time is Kona's strongpoint. How many other mountain bike manufacturers have stuck with the same proven suspension design for the past 15 years? What began in 1996 as Kona's Walking Beam 4-Bar Linkage system has undergone vast technical refinements since the design's inception, but the bikes have always had the same ol' look, until now. Love it or hate it, the new appearance is minor compared to the advanced ride characteristics found in Kona's 2012 gravity lineup. Kona has gone new school with a sleek, low-slung, gravity getter that is aimed at charging the steeps and annihilating the bike park. The Entourage isn't a long-travel adventurer. Heck, it hardly even fits into the freeride category. Kona has positioned the Entourage as a short-travel downhill bike aimed to do one thing well: have a good time.
Some call the round tube old fashioned, but Kona claims it to be less susceptible to damage from impacts than a lot of the fancy new super-thin and highly-shaped framesets available today. And with the reputation in durability that we've come to expect from Kona's Stinky and Stab series, it's no wonder their claim is supported by a limited lifetime warranty that Kona prides itself on. The S-bend down tube is the distinguishable feature for the Entourage and its bigger brother, the Operator. Rest assured it's purposeful though, adding structual rigidity while knocking grams off its predecessor.
Kudos for the subtle frame spec detail on the bottom of the seat tube. Oversized bearings throughout the frame with huge tire clearance - a Kona standard.
The Entourage frame includes the stout construction featured in Kona's flagship Operator DH bike. A tapered head tube increases weld surface area up front. Massive 40mm main pivot bearings ride on 17mm axles for added rear end stiffness, while 30mm secondary rocker pivot bearings aligned in double shear prevent side loading. A downhill-specific 83mm bottom bracket shell and 12x150mm rear hub keep things sturdy under foot. Although specced with more than capable 2.5 Maxxis tires, the Entourage has plenty of tire clearance for bigger rubber, or it can be considered exceptional spacing in the mud shedding department. A brilliant bonus feature to the Entourage is a frame spec guide on the lower seat tube, informing its owner of required component and bearing sizes throughout the frame (we'd love to see this on more bikes). When you're finally ready to replace bearings or upgrade components, research, phone calls, or buying the wrong part is a thing of the past - there's your information, in writing, on the frame.
Entourage Component Check
For a sub three thousand dollar bike, the base model Entourage is relatively stacked. This thing is so solid that it feels like a giant BMX bike whose black and chrome finish left us riding like outlaw biker trash. Seriously though, it just feels so... tough. Tipping the scales at 39.74 lbs with a slight crusting of northwest dirt, our large sized Entourage offered a sense of security scarcely found in bikes double its price.
Kona value-packed the Entourage based on the rigors of DH punishment. Avid's Code R brakes are high on the list for best DH-level brakeset, offering superb modulation and power in the grittiest of conditions. Maxxis 2.5 rubber mounted to MTX rims make for a bomber wheelset. A well-proven Fox Van R rear shock offers reliability and easy setup with its simple rebound-only adjustment. Up front is a RockShox Domain R with 170mm travel and 20mm thru-axle. Call it simple, but the suspension on the Entourage is a no-brainer for setup, as well as for maintenance.
TOP: Kona's in-house 50mm stem and 780mm DH bar. MID: Gravity Gap cranks with e.thirteen guide. ABOVE: Avid's Code R max-power stoppers.
Shockingly Simple Spec: Kona's base-model Entourage features some pretty basic equipment in the shock-absorbing department. Without multiple complex bells and whistles like high and low speed compression, or boost valves with air pressure and volume adjustments, the Entourage's Fox Van R rear shock is primed from the factory to be at a happy medium for the average user. The same can be said for the RockShox Domain R fork, which is a good, rigid match for the Entourage frame. Bike manufacturers do a pretty good job of selecting the appropriate spring rate for the average person who will be riding a particular size of bike, so the Entourage will be ready to go right out of the box for most riders. Dial the rebound to where you don't bounce too much when riding off a curb, and you're set. This isn't a race bike, and it's not for techno-savvy geeks either. For those looking for the latest and greatest in gadgetry, look elsewhere - the Entourage is made for pure fun. This is the go-to steed for when the last thing you want to be thinking about is your bike. Grab bike, ride hard, hang it up wet, and it's ready for more. The simplicity of the bike is what made it such an enjoyable test bike for us.
Fox Van R
Rock Shox Domain R CL 160mm w/20mm TA
FSA Orbit 1.5B ZS
SRAM PG 950 11-32 9 spd
FSA Moto FR
Kona Jackshit Primo
Avid Code R
Sandvik Stainless 14g
Sun MTX 33
Maxxis Minion DHF 26x2.5 (front), Maxxis High Roller 26x2.5 (rear)
Low Slung High Roller: The Entourage is really set apart from its kin by its progressive geometry. It can really be summed up in one word: Low. The low center of gravity is felt immediately and lends an ease of use uncommon to bikes of less than strictly DH proportions. If you're accustomed to that 'in the bike feel', the Entourage offers a new definition to the term. Especially when combined with its relatively tall front end. The distance between rider foot and hand is the farthest apart on the Entourage of any bike tested. This lends to an especially comfortable Cadillac feel with hang-on-and-go intuition.
Newcomers will quickly welcome the Entourage's ability to effectively plow rough terrain with its back-seat geometry, but it comes at the price of pedal strikes during the adaptation phase. When lending out the bike for a test run, one rider was able to successfully remove all of the pins from one side of the pedal, and bend the other pedal's axle so badly that it would no longer turn. As stated, the lowness takes some getting used to. For this reason, the Entourage performs best airing out bike parks or on steep tracks where pedaling through rocky or rutted terrain is at a minimum.
Kevin Hall becomes a part of the Entourage on some off-piste rock scrambling.
Long And Stable: For having such short chainstays, the Entourage has a massive wheelbase. Some of this comes from the stability inducing 65° head angle, which rakes the front axle far out front. Some of it also comes from the fact that the large sized test bike is pretty long in the top tube area. We expected a more playful feel to the Entourage and felt it was slightly limited in maneuverability due to its very long front end which renders the bike a bit lazy. On the contrary, the bike definitely holds a line when pointed down a hill, which was largely Kona's goal with both the Entourage and Operator frames. Turning at snail speeds on technical features feels a bit floppy with the tall, raked front end, but once up to cruising pace the bike nearly stands on its own.
Entourage handles the steeps well thanks to its slack and low geo.
When it comes to cornering, really digging deep in the corners, the Entourage stays completely railed as long as you can keep the front end down by utilizing a counter intuitive aggressive riding position. The tall front end, while offering sublime comfort and confidence in nearly all aspects of intended use, is capable of washing out without enough forward weight over the bike. Dropping stem spacers helps some, but a lot of this characteristic is due to the backseat nature of the bike achieved with super short chainstays. What you really get out of the bike's defining characteristics - short stays, low BB, and slack front end - is a machine that is very stable at speed, in rough terrain, and on steeps.
Airtime: This bike has pop, for certain, and with such a big, sturdy chassis it flies straight in the air and lands confidently without any harshness. However, it's not as quick to maneuver in the air as expected. Again, we felt this trait was due to the long and tall front end. While the bike's geo does provide a good body position for maintaining a straight line, it's almost too relaxed for taking control in the air. This is one person's opinion however, and it's quite obvious that Kona's Graham Agassiz, who the Entourage was designed around, has absolutely no problem throwing down some huge aerial maneuvers aboard the bike. We simply felt that the size large Entourage was just a bit larger than most other size large bikes in its category, pushing it more towards DH ripper than airtime sender.
Entourage takes a whipping. Photo by Javi Vega.
Suspension Performance: The only riders who the Entourage's 170mm of balanced travel won't be enough for is full out DH racers. We felt the bike to be more than capable of descending most any trail confidently. Out of the box, sag was nearly perfect both front and rear for a 200lb rider. Rear suspension ramps up nicely and proved to be supple enough to handle rough downhill, even with the inexpensive Fox Van R shock. We never noted a harsh bottom out, and would even go so far as to say that the Van R is a perfect match to this frame. The Entourage remained stiff in the corners under any location in its travel.
The RockShox Domain fork is structurally very stiff and does a good job of smoothing out the big hits. It's not the smoothest fork in the world, nor is it the most supple, although it does feel very good when new and we expect that with regular service intervals the Domain could maintain good performance for quite a while.
Pedalling And Brake Jack: Okay, so the defining characteristic of a freeride bike, its versatility, is a bit hampered with the interrupted seat tube design of the Entourage. Kona admits that the bike is intended as a mini-DH bike, not a supercharged all-mountain machine. Nicknamed "The Stairmaster" by our riding cohorts, the Entourage pedals incredibly well for such a big bike that requires a standing position to climb. Without gobs of rear travel, the rider isn't sinking to the ground with every pedal stroke, which is important since the low bottom bracket height gets the feet awfully close to the ground when pedalling. Combined with the tall handlebar height, Kona's backseat geometry with the long front end is very comfortable to climb while standing. Steep fire road climbs are no big deal for the Entourage. Longer trail climbs will leave you wanting some sit and spin time in the saddle, though.
Brake jack is a term often synonymous with non-Horst link suspension. As common of a complaint as brake jack is in 4-bar designs, it was virtually non-existant in the Entourage. It could probably be measured with a periscope or whatever you would use to completely nerd out about the subject of brake jack, but we simply didn't notice any type of brake induced feedback in the Entourage suspension.
Spec standouts: The in-house components worked flawlessly as well. A 780mm handlebar is a rare find on a stock bike these days and, after some getting used to the drastically shaped 10° back sweep, the bar worked well for holding stability in rough terrain. FSA's Gap cranks felt solid and the bottom bracket bearings spin freely despite weeks of muddy abuse. The drivetrain spec was well suited to the intended capabilities of the Entourage, with a 11-32 cassette on a 34-tooth ring. Our 9 speed drivetrain never skipped a beat thanks to e.thirteen's chain guide.
While it's a tricky balance between the 'price is right' and the right spec, the Entourage is pretty well thought out in terms of performance per dollar. It wasn't all sunshine and unicorns, though. Our Sram X5 shifter died randomly on the first ride, without a crash or bump. A bottom of the barrel shifter doesn't seem like the place for a bike meant to handle repeated abuse. And the Domain fork became progressively more progressive over time, leading us to believe there could be oil migration issues. And lastly, the handlebar is kinda funky with it's 10° of back sweep. A great deal often comes with compromise, and for seasoned veteran riders, the Entourage Deluxe model adds piece of mind over the long haul with upgrades in every department. From the entry level rider to the advanced intermediate, the base model Entourage we tested delivers a shred-ready package like few others for the money.
Who says you can't teach a new dog old tricks? Note the very relaxed, upright riding position of the Entourage.
The Entourage is definitively Kona: simple, sturdy, affordable. Its outlaw looks and rockstar performance pin the base model Entourage at the top of the list for beginner and intermediate riders looking for DH performance in a smaller, slightly more versatile package. This is perhaps the easiest to ride 'big bike' that we've ever thrown a leg over. Comfortable and relaxed like a walk in the park, but built trail tough for an awesome ride in the bike park. If a blindfold test was possible, this is the one bike that feels unique enough to differentiate from the herd. For gravity fed fun factor on a budget, the Kona Entourage takes the cake.- Brad Walton