Featured Image

First Impressions: Kona Process 153

Two wheel sizes and updates all around for the first major overhaul of the Process

 

You know that thing we’ve been saying in nearly every bike review for the last few years about “modern trail geometry” and how literally all models that have come out since 2015 have been “updated with a longer toptube”? It wouldn’t be too far fetched to refer to this as ‘processing’ a bike, because Kona’s 2014 Process is kinda where all this craziness started. Since then, it’s been possible to predict with great accuracy what a mountain bike product manager is going to tell you about any new model being released.

“Let me guess, you made the front-center longer, it’ll be coming spec’d with shorter stems, you made the standover lower and seat tube shorter to accommodate longer dropper posts, you made the chainstays shorter, headtube slacker, and you steepened the seat angle, right?”

“Uh, yea, how’d you know?”

“Easy, everyone’s ‘processing’ bikes nowadays.”

Prices will range from $3,000 to $6,000 for the 27.5 and $3,000 to $3,600 for the 29er. Photo: Ryan Palmer

 

So how do you ‘process’ a Process? Easy–you  make it longer. Oh wait, no you don’t. You did that last year and it turns out 475 millimeters of reach on a size large is already long enough. You leave that shit alone, and you steepen the seat angle to an almost unheard of 76 degrees, and make it fit even longer dropper posts. A size large will let you bottom a 170-millimeter RockShox Reverb to the collar. And then you steepen the head angle. Wait, you do what now?

 

The geometry found on the 27.5-inch wheeled version of the new Process.

 

That’s right. Downhill is rad and all, but too-slack head angles make the other parts of the ride suck. Kona’s second generation Process 153 is still plenty aggressive, but by letting up on the head angle by a half-degree, making the seat angle more upright, and improving the bike’s pedaling efficiency, the new 153 feels like a shorter travel bike everywhere else. I’ve always loved descending Process 153s, but this one has me loving climbing it, too.

 

 

Even with a non-ridiculous head angle, the new Process 153 still goes down hills. Photo: Caleb Smith

 

Fear not, gravity hounds. If you happened to like the mob-ability that a 65.5-degree head angle provided on last year’s Process 153, I’d recommend you go throw a leg over the new Process 153 29. It’s got the same geometry as its small-wheel brother–including the 66-degree head angle–but the big wheels will give you all the stability a slack head angle did, without any of the pitfalls. Literally, the wheels will roll right over pits, so you don’t fall. That, and it’ll still climb super well.

 

But the Process 153 29 goes down bigger hills. Or the same hills, but less scary. Photo: Caleb Smith

 

Kona kept the geometry and travel the same between both wheel sizes specifically in order to allow the 29er to be the rowdier, more capable bike. The goal wasn’t to try to “correct” the geometry to make the two wheels sizes feel the same. Rather, the idea was to let each respective wheel size do what it does well. As it turns out, bigger wheels are good at handling bigger terrain. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait a bit longer for a carbon one. Which reminds me …

 

Process 153 29er Geometry

 

… If you couldn’t already tell from the photos, the long-awaited carbon Process is here! Now we can see why it took so long for Kona to make it: they had to find all remaining carbon fiber left on earth. I mean, at $3,100 it’s actually a bargain, considering it probably has enough carbon in it to make five $3,000 road frames. Which is just about perfect, because I’d enthusiastically trade 5 road bikes in for a new Process 153 CR.

 

That’s a lot of carbon. And a big-ass trunnion-mounted RockShox Super Deluxe, too. And gigantic 20-millimeter main pivots. Photo: Ryan Palmer

 

Joking aside, in true Kona fashion, the objective with this carbon frame was not to make it super light, it was to make it strong, stiff, and last a long time. That’s why you’ll find massive 20-millimeter axles on the main pivots articulating on big, durable bearings, and 3-piece locking hardware to prevent pivots from coming loose. All said and done, the carbon Process frame isn’t a ton lighter than the aluminum one, but it’s really, really stiff, it dampens trail noise better than aluminum, and most importantly, it’s carbon, which, you know, people want.

People also want internal routing, water bottle mounts inside the triangle, and spare derailleur hangers in the cable port on their downtubes. Well, maybe the masses aren’t clamoring for that last one, but they’ll get it anyway, on the carbon models anyway. The aluminum frames get external routing–a thing people also seem to want–but, no cable port, so no spare hanger for y’all.

 

Cable ports are cool because you can hide stuff like spare derailleur hangers in them. Photo: Ryan Palmer

 

All the gen 2 Process 153s, carbon and aluminum, get a vertically-positioned trunnion-mounted shock, which allows that room for a bottle cage, and more importantly, gives the bike way better suspension feel. Since the trunnion mount uses bearings rather than a conventional eyelet bushing, the off-the-top sensitivity is improved. It’s noticeable in small, stuttery trail noise. Plus, the mount also allows a longer-bodied shock with more stroke within the same space, so Kona is able to get higher performing suspension without affecting standover.

 

Ah shit, what size seat clamp does my bike take? Boom, cheat sheet! Photo: Ryan Palmer

 

Process 153 CD DL 27.5″  and Process 153 AL DL 29 First Ride Impressions

I’m going to come right out and say it: I like big wheels. And I cannot lie. But, the 27.5er Process 153 suits me and the terrain I normally ride really well. That’s because the 29er is so much more bike than I need for most of my riding. If a Process 134 29 existed, I could pretty much guarantee that I’d be picking it over the little-wheeled 153. But that bike doesn’t exist yet, and I don’t live up in British Columbia where 150-mil 29ers count as trail bikes.

In Squamish, at Kona’s media event, the 153 29 felt perfectly suited. It was the ideal bike for me in that type of terrain, where smaller wheels get hung up between roots, dive into holes, and generally make me feel like I’m about to go over the bars, in comparison. After experiencing this while riding the 27.5er on the second day, I was convinced the 29er was the better bike, after a couple rides on my home turf, including the lava rock tech-riddled Mackenzie River Trail, I’m not so sure anymore.

 

Big wheels, big rocks. Photo: Caleb Smith

The small-wheeled 153 feels like a perfectly balanced trail bike that both climbs and descends astoundingly well, while the 29er is more of an all-mountain machine. It’s still incredibly balanced in that it climbs as effectively as it descends, but it’s suited more for bigger, steeper terrain. The 27.5er is ideally suited for more riders in more locations, because most trail systems don’t have BC-steep rock rolls and root chutes.

Then again, the Process 153 29 is one of the best climbing long travel 29ers you’re likely to encounter, even if does give you a hernia when you lift it off your roof rack. As I mentioned earlier, the steep seat angle and more better pedaling characteristics make one hell of climbing machine. Like, really, good–something Konas aren’t especially known for doing well. It rides a lot lighter than it feels, which always sounds a bit like saying “I’m skinnier than I look,” but we’ve all been in rides where the Clydesdale dude you think is going to be off the back goes and tears everyone’s legs off. That’s the 153 AL DL 29. If you’re in the market for a long travel 29er, this one’s pretty excellent. And at $3,600, it’s a pretty sweet deal as well.

 

Big wheels, big views. Photo: Caleb Smith

There hasn’t been a single time where I’ve wanted to reach down to shut the shock off. Even out of the saddle, up punchy climbs with step-ups and log-overs, the Process never bobs too much or gets bogged down in its travel. And, even though much of the travel feels deep and supple, the bike will resist you going through every last millimeter unless you hit something real hard. And you can always add volume spacers to the shock to make it ramp up sooner.

It’s tough to make a call after having only a few rides on the two bikes, but right now, I’m pretty happy with the Process 153 CR DL 27.5″ I took home from the launch. It’ll hold me over just fine until a 134 29 comes around, assuming Kona is working on one.

Kona Process 153 AL DL 29. Photo: Caleb Smith

 

Finally, here’s a some info from the horse’s mouth, Kona Product Manager, Ian Schmitt

The All New Kona Process G2: Development Story and Technical Details from Kona Bikes on Vimeo.