As part of Kona’s interview process, prospective career candidates saddle up and go for a ride with the crew. You’d think this was the norm for the bike industry but it’s less common than you’d think. Whether it’s for a job or a new bike design, the proving grounds is on the trail for Kona. It’s this mentality and company ethos that helps push their designs forward.
Back in 2014 the Bellingham-based company released a complete line of Process bikes, some of which ushered in new trends and categories. Aggressive short-travel 29er? They pretty much pioneered it with the Process 111. The Process 153 was also well respected for its downhill prowess.
Today they are stoked to usher in a new, more modern generation of Process bikes with three frames, two materials, two wheel sizes, and a total of seven models. There’s a fresh Process 153 in both 27.5 and 29-inch versions, and the new Process 165 is ready to tackle any bike park. For those jonesing for that fantastic plastic, you’ll be pleased to finally see a carbon version of the Process 153 27.5.
- All-new Process 153 27.5 and 153 29 with 153mm rear travel and 160mm fork
- All-new Process 165 27.5 with 165mm rear travel and 170mm fork
- 6061 aluminum frames for all models // Carbon version of the 153 27.5
- Beamer Independent Suspension design
- Large 20mm ID bearings in main and rocker pivots
- Trunnion mount Metric shock
- Three-piece locking pivot axles
- Water bottle mount inside front triangle
- 1X drivetrain specific
- ISCG05 tabs
- PF92 bottom bracket
- 12x148mm Boost rear axle
- Direct 180mm rear brake mount
- Increased seatpost insertion depth
- Clearance for 2.5-inch tire on 35mm inner width rim
- Lifetime alloy frame warranty // Three year carbon frame warranty
- Weight: 3.8kg (8.4-pounds) for medium 27.5 alloy frame without shock // 3.0kg (6.6-pounds) for medium 27.5 carbon frame
Meeting Key Goals Though a New Suspension Design
When Kona set out to redesign the Process line, they had a few big goals in mind surrounding the suspension. First, they wanted to keep the leverage curve so there was enough progression to work well with both coil or air rear shocks. Second, they wanted to improve pedaling performance. Third, they wanted to maintain low standover heights so their bikes could suit a wide range of riders. Oh, and we’re pretty sure the addition of a water bottle mount was a big consideration. Turns out that’s a big factor for many riders these days.
The solution? Beamer Independent Suspension, as they call it. Similar to the recently released Hei Hei Trail, the new Process bikes use a single-pivot design with a rocker-actuated shock in a vertical orientation.
An all-new carbon frame is at the heart of the Process G2 project. We used a vertically-oriented, trunnion-mounted metric shock to achieve the ride characteristics we desired while accommodating a water bottle inside the front triangle.
“As you’d expect, all Process bikes use bearings at all pivots, including big 20mm ID bearings at the main and rocker pivots and a new three-piece locking pivot axle design.”
The main pivot has been raised a substantial amount to improve anti-squat, and the first third of the travel is slightly regressive to help create a bit of a platform for pedaling. Kona says they could have achieved a similar result with their previous Rocker Independent Suspension design, but not with the addition of a bottle mount. During the last two thirds of the travel the leverage curve looks very similar to the old model.
Designing around the new Metric trunnion shock sizing from the get-go allowed them to keep standover heights very low, and the use of bearings in the upper shock mount improves suspension sensitivity.
Kona purposefully tuned the suspension in the middle of the range with two Bottomless Tokens and medium rebound/compression tunes, allowing riders some room to play with things in either direction.
Exceeding Standards for Strength and Durability
“We’re focused on making bikes that pass really stringent testing,” Kona told Vital. “These frames pass testing above and beyond what the factory we work with requires for other companies. That’s what we aim for. They need to be sturdy, they need to be stiff.”
Based on real-world data acquired through extensive field testing by an internal development team, Kona engineers created several lab tests that go “way beyond” any of the “normal” tests. They claim frames are lasting over 100,000 cycles at higher loads than normal. “The test that we’re doing on the Process bikes exceed the standards that many other companies’ downhill bikes are being tested to.”
The new carbon rocker is subjected to a test that replicates forces seen during a harsh bottom-out plus a safety factor of eight. They’ve also backed up their lab test with hundreds of hours of trail testing.
“We didn’t set out to build the lightest bike,” they told us. “We built it to last.” Even so, Kona managed to drop an impressive 200 grams off their previous design, and they back up their statements with a lifetime warranty on aluminum frames.
“All models feature an aluminum chainstay for durability. We worked hard to improve the platform’s ride characteristics without sacrificing the durability and playfulness the Process has come to be known for.”
Interestingly, the aluminum chainstay actually costs Kona more to make than a carbon version due to the custom mechanical and hydroform tooling required – a conscious choice to protect against rock strikes and inevitable impacts.
By nixing the front derailleur mount and using a Press Fit 92 bottom bracket they were also able to widen the main pivot to improve lateral stiffness. “We wanted to replicate what we have in the 26 and 27.5-inch Operators in terms of stiffness. We wanted something really planted that doesn’t flex under load. We wanted something that you could smash into a corner and square up with.”
Geometry Similarities Between 153 Models
The Process 153 27.5 and 29 share many fit characteristics and geometry numbers. Considering the fact that those big wheels add a bit of capability, this means the 29-inch version is the all-out brawler of the two. It also means that it’s possible to hop on either bike and quickly feel at home. Much shorter head tubes on the 29er are meant to provide the same stack height.
Kona says the shared 66-degree head angle “strikes the best combo of all traits.” Compared to the previous 153 this is actually 0.5-degrees steeper, which was a decision based on rider feedback. Those wanting to go slacker can use an Angleset if needed.
“Playfulness” was a driving theme, and short 425mm chainstays are evidence they mean it. Kona also wanted to bolster climbing capabilities with a steeper 76-degree effective seat angle.
There are four sizes of the 153 27.5 to choose from with 425, 450, 475, and 510mm reach measurements. The 153 29 is available in sizes medium through XL.
Dialing in the Details
With so many competing designs jostling for attention the little details really start to matter. Things are greatly improved for 2018 and the complete package looks quite good.
The clever new three-piece locking pivot hardware is a perfect example of this. “Why couldn’t we have done this in the ’90s?!” commented Willy Warren, one of Kona’s sales reps. A male and female piece sandwich things together with a smaller bolt to lock them together. Because the small bolt has a finer thread pitch than the other axles they can’t work themselves out.
All carbon models use the same internal routing and cable access port as the Hei Hei Trail while aluminum frames use external routing. Want to run your brakes moto style? Or the other way around? No worries with the new flip-flop-able routing design.
Increased seatpost insertion depth is a great bonus, allowing riders of all heights some freedom to explore what longer travel droppers offer. You can bottom out a 125mm travel RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper on the small, 150mm on a medium, and 170mm on L/XL sizes.
Additional fine touches include the move to a direct 180mm brake mount to save weight and simplify things, clearance for a 2.5-inch rear tire on a 35mm rim, tooled rear axles, and a hidden spare derailleur hanger near the lower shock mount. All frames are protected from wear by molded chainstay and seatstay guards, and the carbon model gets a downtube guard to ward off rock strikes.
Aggy’s New Love – The Process 165
Big daddy! Expect to see Kona freeride ripper Graham Agassiz aboard the new Process 165 quite often. This 165mm travel bike is more focused on the descents but climbs surprisingly well for a long-travel platform.
When it comes to geometry, the 165 takes cues from the 26-inch Operator with a slightly shorter reach which Kona felt was ideal for park riding. The suspension is a bit more progressive and purpose-built for use with a coil shock. Even the KS Lev dropper post was chosen because it’s easier to remove if you’re planning to just rip lift or shuttle-assisted laps.
British Columbia’s incredible network of Squamish singletrack served up an excellent place to try the new steeds out. We covered trails including Cake Walk, Angry Midget, Half Nelson, Somewhere Over There, Leave of Absence, Entrails, Bony Elbows, Crouching Squirrel Hidden Monkey, and Dirt Diggler over the course of two rides and were able to suss out all three of the new bikes.
The biggest takeaway? Kona is back in a big way, and they’ve caught up to and even surpassed some modern bikes. These are now much more versatile steeds.
We enjoyed the previous Process 153 when pointed downhill thanks to its stable nature and ability to remain composed through the rough stuff. Where it struggled, however, was on the climbs. The new bikes are far better all-around. By changing the main pivot location Kona allowed the new bikes to pedal much better, making them more enjoyable rides. We were able to leave the compression levers on the 153 27.5 and 29 wide open all the time without issue. Under power the bikes are more efficient than the previous design.
The Process has a long history of dominating the descents, and with this new design now has climbing manners more commonly attributed to shorter-travel bikes. No switches to flip, just pedal up efficiently then smash the descent.
When descending the bikes all remained quite composed, even on sometimes awkward, ledgy, rooty terrain. The bikes delivered rock slab after rock slab, steep pitch after steep pitch, and we came away unscathed and in control. Frame stiffness was superb as well. The only thing the bikes really needed to suit Squamish riding was an extra Bottomless Token in the fork to balance out the suspension feel and give that extra bit of support on big g-outs.
The slightly regressive then progressive leverage curve does introduce a small amount of feedback over the small stuff on the 153 models with a less supple feel than some of their competitors, but the tradeoff for better pedaling will be worthwhile for many.
Hopping on the new Process 165 exposed just how good a coil shock can be on the new suspension layout, eliminating some of the slightly firm off-the-top feel and remaining very consistent throughout the rest of the travel.
Unfortunately heel rub near the dropout seems to remain an issue, and the width of the rocker will have riders with large calves readjusting their pedal stroke slightly.
What about that new 153 29? The fact that it shares the same angles and travel as the 27.5 model means that it’s a burly bike, and our time on it proved that you can indeed get away with a little more. Toss a wider tire up front and the bike would be well suited to some truly punishing terrain.
Build Kits & Pricing
There are seven build kits to choose from in the new Process lineup with models starting at a very reasonable $2,999. Process 153 CR DL 27.5 frames come with a RockShox Super Deluxe RCT shock for $3,099 US.
Kona hinted at things to come when asked about a carbon 153 29 or an update to the 134. Keep an eye out! Sadly the Process 111 is no more.
What’s The Bottom Line?
If the proving grounds is on the trail, Kona passed the test. The same can be said in the lab and on the spec sheet. Kona bikes have always been well regarded for their value, and it’s awesome to see many of today’s more modern features and ride qualities available across the Process line. These bikes will suit a lot of riders and should remain in it for the long haul. Rest assured that Vital will update you with an in-depth long term review in the coming months.
The new Process bikes will be available very soon. Visit konaworld.com/process for more details.
Photos by Caleb Smith