It took a lot of chutzpah to produce the first Kona Process. Its approach to geometry was unprecedented back in 2012. Then 27.5 happened, and more gall was thus required. The Process immediately got a complete redesign that accommodated these strange new 27.5-inch wheels, and those strange old 29-inch wheels got invited along. The big-wheeled Process 111 passed for an aggressive 29er four years ago, but things have changed. This year, with another frame redesign, came the brand-new Process 153 29.
We rode it alongside its also brand-new 27.5-inch brother, and it was a lesson in the modern approach to big wheels. The 29-inch version isn't built around shorter travel or more conservative geometry. Its wheels are bigger, so it rides like a bigger bike, which is both good and bad.
It's important here to mention that, except for one consumer-direct outlier, the Process 153 AL/DL 29 was the least-expensive bike in this year's garage. It follows that it was also the heaviest. Plus, under pedaling load, its suspension is more active than it is supportive. Unless we relied on the lockout, it got bogged down a bit on smoother climbs. But on chunky singletrack, it offered superb traction as long as we had the power to keep it moving. That power got a bit of a boost thanks to the 76-degree seat angle, which gave it an edge over the equally chunky but much more expensive Norco Range C2 29. The Process took a while to get the top, but it was comfortable the whole way.
It's no surprise it was comfortable on the way down too. It's a bit of a freight train, but as such there ain't no stoppin' it. Although the Yari fork was a little divey under load and in the steeps, the Process nestles you confidently in the middle of its rangy wheelbase, and it sits low in its travel. It's stable, but not playful, and that's not because of the wheel size. The Transition Sentinel Carbon and Orbea Rallon were no shorter and no steeper, but they were puppies on skateboards by comparison. But we're not saying it needs to be carbon. There's an aluminum Sentinel at a similar price point that's more poppy, though less burly than the Process. This bike just needs some upgrades. Maybe some lighter wheels but, most importantly, a more advanced fork.
That's simple enough. For $240, you can drop a Charger 2 damper into the fork, and it would make this bike both more responsive and even more capable. There's so much already going for the Process 153 AL/DL 29. It's worth giving it a little more.
Q&A with Ian Schmitt, product manager for Kona Bicycles
The 29-inch Process goes against the trend of brands making their 29-inch models more moderate than their 27-inch counterparts. How come?
We were aiming to provide people with a choice between wheel sizes. Not confuse them with minutiae between two different models.
Can we expect to see a 29-inch Process 165?
The Process 153 29 was designed to have short chainstays and provide a balanced feel on a variety of terrain. We sought to maintain the continuity between the 27.5- and 29-inch models. The smallest 29-inch bike only comes in a Medium frame size as you've likely noticed. This is driven by the saddle/tire conflict at bottom out. We couldn't make the 153 bike in the small size with the 425-millimeter chainstay length. If we would have gone to the 165 millimeters of rear travel, the chainstay length would have needed to increase quite a bit to allow us to make the Medium and Large frame sizes. While 12 millimeters of extra travel doesn't sound like a ton, it really wreaks havoc on the lowered saddle/bottomed out tire situation. A large part of the ride feel on the 29-inch bike is the short chainstays and as such we elected to use the 153 millimeters of rear travel. We also feel that the 29-inch wheel gives a bit of a higher speed ride and the 153 millimeters of travel was more than adequate.
Our only real complaint on the Process 153 AL/DL 29 was that there wasn't a higher-end version available. What made you pick this build as the top-end for the 29-inch Process?
Again—we wanted to maintain the symmetry between the 27.5- and 29-inch models. We're hoping our customers can just pick a wheelsize instead of dissecting minute details between comparable bikes. We selected this spec to meet the best price to value ratio we could offer and stay under the $4,000 mark. Changing to the Lyrik fork would have pushed the retail out of our target so we elected to use the spec you've tested.