There was a time when Kona, that Pacific Northwest company famous for their tongue in cheek humor, was better known for their, well, tongue in cheek humor than bikes that people really lusted after. But then a funny thing happened in 2013: Kona made the forward-thinking call to apply the long front end, short rear end, short stem, slack head angle geometry paradigm to their brand new Process range.
Talk about a U-turn.
Sure, Kona wasn't the first brand to add length and subtract degrees from their head angles, but they were the first major North American company to do so, and their new Process lineup immediately became known as some of the best handling, most fun bikes on the market. No, they weren't light or sexy or even remotely well-rounded, but those first Process 153s, 134s, and 111s blew minds when it came to the primary reason that most do this whole mountain biking thing: F. U. N.
Four years on from testing the 111 (pictured at right) and I still think it's one of the best handling hooligans of a bike that I've ever ridden, and its longer-travel brothers received similar praise from many other reviewers as well.
RIP, Process 111, you legend.
But things have moved on now, and countless other brands are doing the same thing with their geometry, making it the norm rather than something special. Those original Process bikes are still a blast to ride, but Kona needed to do a refresh - no, a complete redesign - for 2018, and that's exactly what you see here.
Below, we'll go over the changes, why Kona made those changes, and what those changes mean on the trail. And instead of doing a silly "first ride review" that carries about as much weight as a wet paper bag, I'll talk about how the 29'' Process 153 AL/DL 29 compares to its smaller wheeled bro, the 27.5'' Process 153 CR/DL.
The old Process bikes were fine, so why the redesign?
Those original Process bikes were, and still are, very good machines. In my mind, all Kona needed to do was shed some weight from them, maybe by going carbon, but that wasn't in the cards for those first generation Process designs. Kona was working on it, we know that much, but Ian Schmitt, Kona Product Manager, was coy when it came to why they never came to fruition.
Instead, they went for a complete redesign, which begs the question: Are these new bikes new just for newness' sake? Or is there a real reason for the fresh look?
The big wheeled Process 153 AL/DL 29.
''The original Process had all the tenants that we normally attribute to a modern trail, enduro, I don't really care what category you want to describe it as,'' Schmitt explained. ''A bike that's really fun, slack, long reach, low bottom bracket, short chainstays, easy setup, low standover, progressive suspension. Something that was very intuitive, like an old friend,'' he said of those first Process bikes. But he also said that Kona wanted them to pedal better, to be more progressive and, lo behold, be able to fit a water bottle inside the front triangle. I feel kinda vindicated for all my bitching and moaning about not being able to carry a bottle on the bike.
So the new Process bikes see a raised main pivot compared to their predecessors in order to up anti-squat characteristics for better on-power feel, and a leverage curve that's more progressive overall while also getting an almost regressive hump near the top of the travel. ''At 30% sag, you sit at the top of the progressive component of the leverage curve,'' Schmitt says before going on to say that this provides traction without that annoying wallow-y feeling. The new leverage curve is designed around metric trunion-mount shocks, but it will also play nice with coil-sprung shocks to boot.
We wanted a bike that pedaled in the 'open' position very well; we wanted a bike with a progressive leverage curve that was able to use coil shocks; we wanted to maintain that standover height. In order to get all those three things, we went ahead and changed to a vertically oriented, trunion-mount shock, which looks more like our Operator design.—Ian Schmitt, Kona Product Manager, on the Process redesign.
That sounds great and all, but couldn't they accomplish all of the above with the old design, I asked Schmitt. ''That's a great question. Yes, we could have done those things with the old Process design, but what's the biggest thing that you don't want to carry on your back?'' he replied, referring to packs.
''We switched to this design specifically because, one, it falls in line with all the other bikes we see in this room [referencing the rest of their MTB range w/ vertical shocks], and because a water bottle fits in the front triangle, which is a huge selling feature for us. That was the driving factor, but it also allowed us to increase the frame stiffness.''
Good news: you don't need to wear a backpack to keep from getting dehydrated anymore.
I'm more likely to use the Bing search engine than don a backpack, so I can get behind Kona's train of thought.
Hit Me With the Tech Details
Depending on what you're into, the new tech that comes part and parcel with an all-new design is either going to get you excited or maybe have you writing a novel in the comments section. Kona's new Process series does sport some nifty features, but they're definitely not looking to reinvent the wheel with these new bikes. Instead, they've included useable ingredients and focused on reliability and rigidity.
Kona has always favored beef over extreme weight savings, and that theme continues for 2018. All of the new bikes make use of large 20mm ID sealed bearings at the rocker and main pivots, bearings that add grams but should also add dependability. There are smaller sealed bearings at the other pivot locations, and new three-piece locking pivot axles are used to keep stuff from rattling loose over time. Yes, I know you check your pivot hardware all the time and follow a rigorous maintenance schedule, but I guess this is for the very few riders who don't do that.
Massive 20mm ID bearings at the two main pivots and locking hardware should keep things running smooth and rattle-free.
All of the bikes, carbon or not, see aluminum chainstays used for durability's sake, and I also suspect that it doesn't make sense cost-wise to build them out of carbon fiber. There's room for a 2.5'' wide tire on a 35mm (internal) wide rim back there, too, so there shouldn't be any concern about clearance.
Cable routing is a facet of bike design that's often deserving of criticism, but Kona looks to have things sorted, with the aluminum Process range seeing external bosses and tailgate-friendly routing on the top side of the downtube. Carbon Process' get internal routing that's borrowed from Kona's Hei Hei frame, and the port on the downtube is also home to a spare derailleur hanger. Tricky.
Internal cable routing only for the carbon frames, while alloy models are external only.
Dropper posts are getting more travel but our legs aren't getting any longer, so many bikes are coming with shorter seat tubes to compensate until human evolution can catch up. Kona has gone down this road, too, with the large and extra-large sizes fitting a 170mm travel post, the medium taking a 150mm, and the small a 125mm (but most riders should be able to use a 150mm dropper on the small, Kona says). All of the posts, regardless of travel, can be slammed in the frame just so long as it's not a Reverb that uses a Connectamajig - it sticks out a bit at the bottom and gets in the way.
If you're going to use a dropper, you may as well have as much travel as you can.
If you're into fun and being a hooligan on a bike, Kona's original Process range was right up your alley. With short rear ends, long reaches, and slack-ish head angles, the bikes put a focus on laughs rather than KOMs, and that approach was a hit with many riders. ''We value playfulness. We come from Bellingham, Washington," Schmitt said of what they want when it comes to handling. ''The trails require a bike that's fun and playful,'' he continued, so it's no surprise that it's much the same with these new rigs, thankfully, with Kona applying that same M.O. across the 2018 Process range.
Much more interesting, however, are the similarities between the 27.5'' and 29'' wheeled bikes: both sport 425mm rear ends, the same 66-degree head tube angle, the same reach numbers (475mm on a large), and stack that's only a handful of millimeters apart (621mm on the 29er, 616mm on the 27.5'' bike). Just as important, especially on long-travel bikes like these, all of them have 76-degree seat tube angles.
Geometry for the 29er Process.
The bottom bracket drops are obviously different between the 29'' and 27.5'' bikes, though, with the former sporting 29mm and the latter having 19mm less. The other number that has to be different is the fork offset; it's 51mm on the 29er and 42mm on the 27.5'' bike. Another thing worth noting is that Kona's 29er Process bikes might have the shortest headtubes in history; they're just 100mm long in order to keep handlebar height similar between them and the 27.5'' wheeled rigs. That's so short that there isn't even room for OneUp's new EDC tool to fit down there!
The New Process Lineup
There are seven new Process models that span two wheel sizes, three different frames, and two materials, and all of them fall into the same 'I want to pedal up most of the time and send it all of the time' category to varying degrees. Let's start with the four 27.5'' wheeled bikes first, though.
The top of the line 153 CR/DL 27.5 costs $5,999 USD.
The carbon fiber 153 CR/DL 27.5 sits at the top of the range and has a 160mm-travel Lyrik RCT3 Solo Air up front to go with its 153mm of rear-wheel travel via a Super Deluxe RCT shock. There's Eagle drivetrain bits, WTB rims, and proper Maxxis Minion DHF EXO TR 3C 2.5'' and 2.35'' rubber. All that adds up to $5,999 USD. Oh, and I hope you like baby blue...
$4,799 USD will get you the 153 CR 27.5.
The 153 AL/DL 27.5 (left) costs $3,599 USD, while the 153 AL 27.5 (right) goes for $2,999 USD.
One down is the all-black, carbon fiber 153 CR 27.5. There's a Lyrik Solo Air up front, a Deluxe non-Super shock out back, and more Eagle gearing. This one costs $4,799 USD. The aluminum bikes are next up, with the $3,599 USD 153 AL/DL 27.5 and $2,999 USD 153 AL 27.5 sporting the same geometry but in a more cost-effective package.
My Squamish test bike was the 153 AL/DL 29 that costs $3,599 USD.
Those who prefer big wheels have two bikes to choose from, both of them being aluminum. There will be carbon versions down the road, Schmitt said, but they're still a ways out. The top tier (for now) alloy 153 AL/DL 29 is the bike I rode in Squamish, and it has a 160mm Yari fork and Deluxe RT shock combo, 2.3'' Maxxis Minnion DFH EXO TR tires, and a 12-speed Eagle drivetrain. $3,599 USD will get you that one. I'd expect the top, top tier carbon version to have a similar spec to the high-end CR/DL 27.5 bike when it's released, so keep your eyes peeled for that one.
The $2,999 USD 153 AL 29 includes cost-saving details like a Trans-X dropper post, an NX 11-speed drivetrain, and WTB's STP i29 rims, but it's all hung off the same frame (with the same geometry) as the pricier 153 AL/DL 29.
The big bike is the $3,999 USD Process 165.
Last but not least, especially if you like to go big, is the $3,999 USD Process 165. As the name tells you, the aluminum bike has 165mm of travel, and it's paired with a 170mm stroke Lyrik RC Solo Air. This rig is 1-degree slacker up front (65 compared to 66-degrees on the other bikes), and rolls on 27.5'' wheels. I didn't get a chance to ride the gray beast, but it'd definitely be happy in the park. That said, it features the same suspension kinematics so it should pedal relatively well given its travel.
Sadly, the Process 111 is no longer, although I can understand why given that the market for that fun oddball was probably quite small. There are still two Process bikes of the old design in the catalog, though, with the 153 SE costing $2,199 USD and the 134 SE going for $2,099 USD.
I know, so many freakin' numbers. Probably too many if you're more interested in how the second generation Process' ride, so let's get on to that part. Finally.
I spent a few days down the road in Squamish, B.C., to ride the 153 AL/DL 29 on some pretty hairy trails; picture long, steep, scary rock slabs and singletrack covered in wet spaghetti monster roots that want to put you on your ass. Typical Squamish-ness that made me wish I had brought my knee pads, and not the kind of place that you'd expect big wheels to excel, at least up until the last year or two.
It's only recently that 29'' wheels, a lot of forgiving travel, and slack head angles have been combined, and the results of that are often (but not always) a bike that is happy to go over anything from a nasty rock garden to a small car, usually without much fuss. The trick, however, is to make a bike that's happy to eat a family hatchback but also willing to dance with you when some finesse is required. After all, plowing is fun but every trail is full of corners and opportunities to play around.
Sometimes just holding on and riding out is enough to make you smile.
I rode a large-sized 153 AL/DL 29 and, surprise surprise, it's pretty happy to carry speed over anything you point it at, but it's also a bike that can dance. Now, that is a surprise. The aluminum bike never felt like it had a big footprint to me, likely due to that tiny rear end and what looks like an overbuilt frame that's surely quite torsionally rigid. It's not a lightweight, clearly, but it doesn't ride heavy, and also doesn't feel like it's stuck down in its travel like some of these all-mountain sleds tend to be. When you want to leave the ground, it'll do so; when you want to stay stuck, it'll do that as well. Neat trick, Kona.
It's also remarkably easy to get the bike's front end up, be it just to pop over something at a slow speed or for a grin-inducing manual through the trees. I found myself grinning quite often on the AL/DL 29, actually, which has to be a good sign.
Big wheels be dammed, the AL/DL 29 loves to be gooned.
The AL/DL 29 is happy to dive in and out of corners, too, even more so than many 27.5'' bike of similar travel. That's a welcome trait, and one that I wasn't expecting given that some big wheelers like to spend more of their time upright than leaned over.
And how does feel when you're on the gas? Well, it has over 150mm out back and heavy rubber, so it pedals like it has 150mm out back and heavy rubber, but it's relatively efficient. It still isn't going to be my choice for a five or six-hour monster, but that's not really what Kona was aiming for with this thing. The shock, when left open to do its job, does stay quite calm when you turning the cranks over with some skill, but I'd still reach down for that cheater switch if I'm going to be trucking up anything smooth-ish, and that's more than fine for a bike like this.
The big wheeler can go through anything, as you'd expect, but it can also be as playful as you want it to be.
After my time in Squamish, I got my hands on the baby blue 153 CR/DL 27.5 to ride on my home trails, trails that are, unfortunately, less technically demanding than the goods Squamish has to offer. The speeds on my trails are much higher, however, and the 27.5'' wheeled bike was more and more at home as things got quicker. It doesn't feel quite as nimble as the big wheeled AL/DL 29, which is unexpected, but this could easily be down to me putting a lot more time on 29ers lately. One thing is for sure, though: this baby blue bomber is extremely secure and stiff feeling; it's probably the most flex-free, solid bike that I can recall, which is confidence inspiring, to say the least.
Again, the pedaling is decent and, if you're on singletrack, there's no reason to firm the shock up. Fire roads, yes, but I wouldn't bother on a proper singletrack climb, just like with the 29er.
There are plenty of steep rolls in Squamish for you to pucker up on.
Which bike would I choose? The carbon fiber 153 CR/DL 27.5 costs $5,999 USD and comparing it the aluminum 153 AL/DL 29 that goes for $3,599 USD hardly seems fair, but life isn't fair. Life is also surprising, though, and I'd choose the less expensive big wheeler, parts spec and frame material be dammed. The 153 AL/DL 29's big wheels go over and through everything and, since my riding style seems to suit 29'' wheels lately, I'd happily reach for the heavier bike with the cost-conscious build.