Reviewed by Steve Wentz, Joe Schneider, and Brandon Turman // Photos by Shawn Spomer and Brandon Turman
Born and bred in the shred-heavy forests of Bellingham, Washington, the Kona Process has a decidedly simple, capable look to it. This bike blurs the line between all-mountain, enduro, and freeride with its 150mm of travel, 66-degree head angle, and big boy attitude. At $3,199, it's the more affordable version of the $5,499 Process DL, and just so happens to share exactly the same frame.
One look at the Process and we knew we were in for some fun, so we saved it for a few of the rowdiest days of Vital's 2013 Test Sessions…
- 6069 Aluminum Frame
- 26-inch wheels
- 150mm (5.9-inches) of travel
- Tapered headtube
- 66-degree head angle
- 73.4-degree seat tube angle
- 13.7-inch bottom bracket height
- 16.7-inch chainstays
- Press fit 92 bottom bracket shell with ISCG-05 mounts
- 142mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
- Measured weight (size medium, no pedals): 33 pounds, 4 ounces (15.1kg)
- $3,199 MSRP
The Process frame is made from Kona's "Race Light" 6069 aluminum, said to include a mixture of trace elements in the alloy. Doing so allows them to use thinner tubing while maintaining ride characteristics, stiffness, and strength.
Out back, the Process incorporates a stout clevis-type dropout pivot combined with an easy to remove 142x12mm axle. An offset lower swingarm pivot that attaches to the front triangle allows the bearings to have a wider stance, adding stiffness to the rear end. The combination of the three is solid and reliable, and should decrease bearing and bushing wear over time.
Other notable frame features include a tapered headtube, ISCG-05 tabs should you feel the need for a chainguide, a swingarm-mounted front derailleur, mud clearance for days, and remarkably clean routing. Everything is neat and tidy, and we dig that.
First introduced in 1996, the boys have been tweaking and tuning their "Walking Beam" 4-Bar Linkage for nearly 20 years. All that time has paid off.
On The Trail
We don't think anyone at Kona is planning on entering a cross-country race with the Process, so we pointed it (mostly) downhill and let it rip. Trails included a knife-edged freeride adventure down Nephi's Twist under Steve, as well as some rough and rugged Boy Scout to Girl Scout action in Bootleg Canyon under Brandon and Joe.
Just a few hundred feet into the trail, it was clear that the Process is very comfortable to ride. The spec'd 60mm stem, relatively wide bars, and 66-degree head angle were reassuring, especially to us downhill folk. Fit wise, the front end felt a bit high and it could be just a tad on the short side for the listed 18-inch frame, which borders on a large seat tube measurement. This combination set the rider in the middle to back of the bike, but we were okay with that given the descent-oriented nature of the beast.
We trusted the Kona immediately. The bike handles well, isn't sketchy at all, and would track and stick where it was pointed. It worked well both over the front really getting after it or while casually over the back. Smashing through rock piles was a breeze and the Process held a line well. While we wouldn't really call the bike precise, the confidence it gave us more than made up for that. The handling makes for a ride any gravity junkie will likely appreciate.
Downhill suspension performance was a mixed bag, but that bag has lots and lots of potential. Why was it mixed? Our presumably stock build included a RockShox Lyrik R Coil fork that was severely under sprung. We're not overly heavy folk (well, Steve might be), but the stock spring simply didn't cut it. In a world of all-mountain bikes dominated by air suspension, this is something we haven't had to get used to recently. RockShox has five different weight springs available, so this issue is totally solvable, especially considering you'll likely have a few bucks leftover given the bike's low price point. That said, neither the front nor rear suspension have any compression adjustment, something we've grown accustomed to on almost every trail bike.
Kona's careful combination of the frame's suspension rate coupled with the RockShox Monarch R high volume shock made for a rear end that felt surprisingly similar to the coil-sprung front end. Action front to back was super smooth, soaking up just about everything on the trail. It was impressive over small bumps, chatter, and mosts square edge hits. In fact, it felt almost downhill bike-ish. That's not all good, though. While the suspension action was incredibly smooth, it was difficult to get the bike to react quickly to inputs and a little tough to feel the tires at some points on the trail. At slow speeds on shelved sections of the trail, a bit of fore and aft bob was noticed. Leaving the ground also required a bit more effort than most bikes, but it was quite stable once you got there.
Steve sending the biggest move of the trip aboard the Process. Hucker!
Rounding the bend and cruising the flat swoopy sections, we were pleasantly surprised by the Kona when it was rolling. At 33.3 pounds it's very much on the heavy end of the spectrum, but it felt like it wanted to play and rode much lighter than the scale would suggest.
A few out of the saddle sprints were a quick indicator that the Process won't be winning any XC Eliminator events soon, that's for sure. While the frame is stiff, the tires, suspension, and geometry all made for a really muted feeling. It isn't snappy and rolling speed is fair to poor, but a less aggressive rear tire would be an easy upgrade, depending on your needs.
Headed uphill, it would go, but it would most definitely be the slow kid in the group. Part of this is the soft suspension, part of it is the geometry that would wander a little bit and some of it was the tires. We applaud Kona for putting "real" tires on the Process, but in the climbing arena, they slowed it down. The bike climbed well sitting down and the rear wheel had good traction. In the little ring the rear rode higher and stiffer, which is fitting for steep ups. Standing while climbing was a different story, though, and once again we'll attribute that to the lack of compression adjustment on the suspension. If you're curious, the geometry didn't hinder its climbing ability in the slightest.
The Process is basically the sum of its parts. No one thing makes it descend well, but all together it is a trail ripper. Whoever is spec'ing bikes at Kona did a pretty good job. 740mm wide bars, a 60mm stem, real tires, and the included Kona Wah Wah flat pedals impressed us.
Speaking of tires, the 2.4-inch Maxxis Highroller II knobbies added a lot to this bike's downhill worthiness. They provided a lot of traction, aiding with comfort and confidence. This is something we really appreciate, especially compared to the single-ply, hard rubber offerings that come stock on most trail bikes. As a side effect, rolling was slow. The WTB tubeless compatible rims provide the opportunity to help in this situation. Perhaps consider saving the rear tire and putting a lighter, faster rolling tire on the back, then keep the extra tire as a spare.
Once the Avid Elixir 3 brakes finally bedded in, braking was out of sight, out of mind. That's a great thing. We could just ride the bike and have fun.
While we recognize the need for an adjustable seatpost on a bike of this nature and appreciate that Kona was able to spec one at this price point, we haven't had the best of luck with the Crankbrothers Kronolog. It suffers from durability issues and is quite sensitive to where the cable goes. Given the choice, we'd probably leave it off in exchange for more suspension adjustability. With the money Kona could save by not putting the Kronolog on the bike they could likely include an air-sprung Lyrik with awesome compression, and the bike would descend even better and lose around two pounds. Pretty sweet trade off in our book.
Shifting duties were taken care of by a mixture of SRAM X7 and X9 components. Aside from one dropped chain during a large compression and later a broken chain, the drivetrain worked well. It shifted when it needed to and was surprisingly quiet.
Long Term Durability
It's a Kona, which by default means it's bombproof. There's always a lifetime warranty to fall back on if something happens to go awry. Save the Kronolog seatpost, we don't see any big issues.
What's The Bottom Line?
In an era when product managers are trying to win weight wars with other six-inch bike manufacturers, Kona built a bike ideal for claiming the bragging rights at the end of the descent as opposed to the top of the climb. The Process is a fun, trustworthy, and comfortable ride that handles well. This bike is great on aggressive trails, and would honestly be good in the bike park, too. If you value a light and efficient ride, though, you may want to look elsewhere. If, however, you want to have FUN on your bike and are willing to sacrifice a little top speed while getting to the top of the hill, the Process could be for you.
For more fun, cruise over to www.konaworld.com.
Bonus Gallery: Check out 32 photos of the 2013 Kona Process
About The Reviewers
Steve Wentz - A man of many talents, Steve got his start in downhilling at a young age. He has been riding for over 17 years, 10 of which have been in the Pro ranks. Asked to describe his riding style he said, "I like to smooth out the trail myself." Today he builds some of the best trails in the world (and eats lots of M&M's).
Joe Schneider - During the day, Joe's busy solving complex mechanical engineering problems. When he's free, he's out crushing miles on his bikes and moto. He raced cross-country for several years, made an appearance on the Collegiate National Champs Omnium, turned Pro, and more recently shifted his focus to enduro.
Brandon Turman - Brandon likes to pop off the little bonus lines on the sides of the trail, get aggressive when he's in tune with a bike and talk tech. In 13 years of riding he worked his way through the Collegiate downhill ranks to the Pro level. Nowadays he's Vital MTB's resident product guy.