The Up Side
The 76-degree seat tube angle really helps here. The Process 153 29 CR/DL isn't paltry—it's significant, but it climbs in a manner indifferent to suspension wallow, and while its sturdy nature is irrefutable, ascending isn't perceived as an insufferable life sentence.
The Process 153 29's reactive, mindreading and intuitive handling created an instinctual and instantaneous feel during any line-choice moment. While some testers pointed to more evolved and sophisticated suspension designs found on a few other bikes, all agreed that the centered stance and unflappable countenance of the 153 far outweighed any fathomable nitpick.
Dollar for Dollar
In a world of consumer-direct sales upheaving notions of value, the 153 29 CR/DL is not a bad value, even when pitted against mail-order competitors. This is because of its smart spec—preferential, replaceable components like the cockpit are mid-level while suspension, drivetrain and dropper are superb and the wheelset is exactly where it should be on a top-notch bike where a prospective buyer wants something light, but may eventually want carbon wheels down the line. Six thousand is a lot, and you get a lot, without room for complaint.
Our long-travel loop involved a shuttle. Now, before you write us off as lazy—warranted or not—we had plenty of climbing, hoisting and huffing over ledges and around switchbacks atop the sometimes-not-gently undulating mesa where we started. But, back to shuttling.
The tester-turned-shuttle-lackey on a run would wait tailgate-bound, seemingly forever, for the arrival of small dots peppering the cliff band's final descent—packs of three slanting downward—jostling at differing speeds of elation or contempt. Disdain or euphoria became easily identifiable—poise over bike, power over terrain and relation to other riders.
The Process 153 rider was invariably easy to spot. While others would yo-yo along—constricting through technical bouts, exhaling through open relief—the Kona rider would follow a linear line of speed progression: gaining, gaining, gaining. From across a canyon, apathetic shuttle drivers could feel emotion. Doldrums erupting in life.
We tried exhaustively to describe it, and we all failed. "Innate, intuitive, connected, instinctual," were tossed about, but each tester struggled to unearth an unused phrase. Our go-tos had gone stale, tastelessly sputtering compared to the horsepower needed. It's a unique enough feel that it needs its own phrase.
Perhaps we need to resort to Yiddish and steal yet another pre-owned but factory-condition phrase: hutzpah. The Process 153 29 has hutzpah, plenty of hutzpah. It's noticeable as soon as you throw a leg over it.
For starters, it's easy to throw a leg over. There's plenty of standover to the low-slung swoopy carbon frame, which may lead to the do-what-you-want feel descending. Each size boasts deep seatpost insertion, lending to long-travel droppers. Testers appreciated the 170-millimeter RockShox Reverb on our size-large test bike. It's amazing to think that 150 millimeters of drop is now deemed short on a large, but yep, it's short.
Fit and positioning on the Process are remarkable, and remark we did. The bike combines a 76-degree seat tube angle with a 66-degree headtube, a 425-millimeter chainstay connects to a 346-millimeter-high bottom bracket and 475 millimeters of reach spans the size large cockpit. Not mind-erasing numbers of never been done before. The large has a manageable 1,218-millimeter wheelbase. Almost grown-up-level sensibility. But whatever it is—mature, irresponsible or otherwise—it works in an undeniably complete fashion. The Process 153 CR/DL 29 completes us.
Maybe it doesn't complete us, but it certainly understands us. It listens, perhaps too well. The aforementioned numbers add up to reactive handling—think about doing something, poof! You've already done it. You can almost cross out the 'think' part, it just happens.
Which is great for descending. With 153 millimeters meeting 160 up front, it's not pretending to be something it's not while ascending, and that's just fine. The Process climbs well, it's not light, it's not heavy. At 31.8 pounds, it's solid. It doesn't bog down within its suspension—perhaps the 76-degree seat angle is to thank—it also doesn't hover above the ground like 'Wunderbikes,' it does just fine. We noticed the connected-to-terrain feel descending as well, which again didn't elicit any complaints and the mind-reading handling outweighed anything we could have criticized.
In terms of value, the Kona Process 153 CR/DL 29 comes with a very smart spec—top-notch suspension, close attention to important details like 200-millimeter rotors, front and rear (all sizes) with Code RSC brakes, fairly lightweight wheels and carbon everywhere on the frame except where alloy durability prevails—the chainstay. At $6,000, it's a good deal.
Perhaps riding the 153 is like listening to "Wooly Bully." Nobody understands what's going on, but it punches along, beat and melody infectious, particularly if beer is consumed. Before you've thought about it, you're punching along too, regardless of if it's a good idea. And that might be the Process 153 29: contagious once witnessed, near-indescribable as to why or how, but we know we want to be part of it.
Q&A With Ian Schmitt, product manager for the Process range
This bike's 425-millimeter chainstays might be the shortest we've ever seen on a long-travel 29er. They're the same length as those of the 27.5-inch Process 153. Instead of building a more forgiving rear triangle around the more forgiving wheels, why did Kona opt to keep it so tight?
Kona is known for making 'fun' bikes. We didn't want the 153 29'er models to be specific to straight lines or the absolutely rowdiest trails around. It was very important that this model struck a balance between overall speed, cornering ability and optional line choice. The fastest line isn't always the most fun and we wanted our customers and riders to have the most fun possible and to us that is the balance we've achieved with the long front center, moderate 66-degree headtube angle and short chainstays.
Those short chainstays came at the cost of tire clearance. Why was room for, say, 2.5-inch tires not a high priority in this bike's design?
I'd think that the answer above sort of compiles what our thoughts are on the tire clearance. We prioritized the ride characteristics of the short chainstays over tire clearance. 2.4 WT tires from Maxxis fit and in a 29-inch diameter have a ton of grip, which we felt was an acceptable tire volume for the application.
The majority of 29ers we tested in this year's Bible ran reduced-offset forks. Why has Kona resisted the trend so far? Would you discourage buyers from running a reduced-offset fork if they wanted to get on the bandwagon?
We've tested both the reduced-offset and standard-offset forks by using angle-adjust headsets in our current frame. To be honest, both offsets have positives and negatives, and we didn't feel like we had to just follow along in order to make a fantastic bike. That being said, users can run reduced-offset forks on these frames with or without an angleset. There are tons of options out there for riders, and we felt that allowing people to tailor the bike to their own preference was the best course.
Something seems a little un-Kona-like about running a press-fit bottom bracket. They're perceived as less durable, while durability has long been part of Kona's mantra. What's their appeal to your designers?
The PF92 BB has been used on our bikes since 2014. We haven't really had issues with the "standard." Using it gives us more material around the BB shell and main-pivot bearing housing which helps increase durability and frame stiffness and that is what drove the decision to continue with PF92.