Reviewed by John Hauer and Jess Pedersen // Photos by Shawn Spomer and Lear Miller
We’ve seen a number of the greats on Kona bikes over the years. Clear back in 1994 Steve Peat was rallying a Hei Hei Ti frame down local downhill tracks, then Greg Minnaar, Tracy Moseley, and Fabien Barel joined the crew, earning back to back World Championship titles along the way. They’ve also been ridden by several freeride idols, like Dave Watson as he famously gapped over the Tour de France. Now the brand is making a concentrated effort on the rising Enduro scene with their updated Process, a bike that has evolved just as quickly as the discipline itself.
Even after receiving positive reviews of the 2013 model, Kona wanted more and wanted better. So they redesigned the Process from the ground up with input from Matt Slaven, eventually ending up with a race-ready line that includes the Process 153 and 134 (two 27.5-inch bikes), and the 111 (a 29er). Like you've probably already figured out, the numbers correlate to the amount of rear wheel travel on each bike.
We spent some time on the burliest of the bunch during the 2014 Vital MTB Test Sessions in Sedona, Arizona.
Process 153 DL Highlights
- 6061 aluminum butted frame
- 27.5-inch wheels
- 6.0-inches (153mm) of rear wheel travel
- Rocker Independent Suspension
- Tapered headtube
- 66.5-degree head angle
- 74-degree seat tube angle
- 0.4-inch (10mm) bottom bracket drop
- 16.7-inch (425mm) chainstays
- Press fit bottom bracket with ISCG tabs
- 142x12mm through axle
- Measured weight (size Large, no pedals): 31 pounds, 15 ounces (14.5kg)
- $4,999 MSRP
Kona made some major cosmetic and performance changes to the Process for 2014. The first big change that you will notice is the absence of the classic Walking Beam 4-bar linkage, and a new horizontal shock arrangement with a U-shaped yoke that wraps around the seat tube. Known as “Rocker Independent Suspension,” the new system is a single pivot design with a linkage actuated shock and consistent, slightly progressive leverage curve. Unlike some similar yoke designs, the shock uses standard mounts and dimensions.
The linkage is complemented by all things large in the name of durability and stiffness - large industrial-sized bearings, large pivot thru-axles with wide spacing, and even large threads on the axles to avoid stripping. By machining the outer race bearing seat, Kona made it easier to remove bearings without special tools.
One of the biggest benefits to the new suspension design is massively improved standover, allowing Kona to really exaggerate more modern geometry and boost rider confidence when things get wild. Even the XL frame has the same super low standover as the Small. Of the 25 bikes we tested in Sedona, the Process 153 had the longest reach measurement of all the size Large bikes and nearly the longest top tube. Kona compliments the long front end with a short stem and wide handlebars. The chainstays are also very compact at just 16.7-inches (425mm).
Some subtle details include internal cable routing for the derailleur cables, standard and stealth dropper post cable routing, ISCG05 tabs, a direct front derailleur mount, tapered head tube with zero stack headset, and 142x12mm rear thru-axle. Thankfully they didn’t forget the water bottle cage mounts on the bottom of the downtube. While not ideal for on the fly water access or keeping your bottle clean, they’re a must for riders who prefer to ride without a pack. Mud clearance at the rear wheel is decent with a minimum of 1cm of room with 2.3-inch Maxxis tires.
The 153 is available with two build kits - the standard 153 at $3,399 and the 153 DL at $4,999. Both builds come with a RockShox Pike (different models mind you), Maxxis High Roller II tires, short/wide cockpit, clutched derailleur, dropper post and reliable Shimano brakes. We spent our time on the 153 DL.
On The Trail
For our test of the Process we rode several loops with technical climbs with some good grunts and a mix of steep, tight, fast, rocky, and flowy descents. Trails included Ridge, Brewer, Slim Shady, Hogs, Pig Tail, Broken Arrow, Little Horse, and Llama.
As we prepped the bike for our first ride, it was immediately apparent that Kona hit the cockpit geometry nail on the head. At 6-feet tall we were right at home with the size Large frame’s spacious 24.8-inch (629mm) top tube and 18.1-inch (460mm) reach combined with Kona’s 40mm stem and properly wide 30.5-inch (780mm) RaceFace Atlas FR bar. Rider position was well balanced, not too far back or forward, and we weren't cramped or stretched out.
The rest of the geometry is everything you would expect and want in a long-travel trail/all-mountain bike. The short stays provide better cornering characteristics but are kept in check with the long front end on high speed sections. By matching the stays with a 12x142mm rear axle, the Process has a stout chassis that is nimble enough to navigate the most technical terrain. It also has a 66.5-degree headtube angle that keeps that front wheel tracking well while still absorbing square-edge hits efficiently while descending. The geometry provided loads of confidence, which is something we appreciate.
The bike shined when the trail got faster and steeper. It changed directions on a dime while its mass helped picked up momentum and hold a straight line through the chatter and chunder. In a bike park/resort setting, we’d rate this rig among the best in its class based on its downhill capabilities, stable nature, and ability to remain composed through the rough stuff.
The RockShox Monarch Plus RC3 shock had a noticeable knock near the beginning of the travel during our initial parking lot spins, but that didn’t adversely performance on trail. At around 35% sag it was nice and supple off the top and had a smooth ramp that progressed throughout the stroke. Even with the knock it was predictable through the travel, delivering a bottom-less feel that was always ready for trouble. Traction was available at all times thanks in part to the suspension and in part to the tires.
One of the big contributors to the bike’s success in the downward direction is the RockShox Pike fork. We were able to confidently place the front end wherever we needed with no negative feedback in any situation. It had solid compression support throughout the entire stroke and a smooth air spring curve that gave just the right amount of progression to keep the fork from riding too deep in its travel. Thanks to the Bottomless Token system it can be easily tuned for more aggressive riders and trails.
While we’ve gushed about the bike’s downhill performance up until this point, we’ve got to keep sight of its overall performance. Considering that in most cases you’ll have to pedal it up the hill, the fact that this was very close to the heaviest bike in our test is a bit of a downer. The nearly 32-pound (14.5kg) Process 153 DL comes in a pound or more heavier than most at a similar price point. While it isn’t out to win any awards on the ups, perceived and actual weight were on the heavier side, that’s for sure.
The moment you throw a leg over this machine you feel like you are on an extremely capable bike, but rolling speed and its climbing abilities are not its strong points. Give us lift access and the Process 153 and you will see a smile on our faces, but tell us to ride it on an all day epic and you will see a look of concern. Fit riders looking for a bike that can handle the most technical of trails will appreciate the 153, but riders lacking great fitness will likely struggle to muscle it up steeper, more technical climbs.
The 74-degree seat tube angle helped when pointed back up the hill, as did the Monarch’s on-the-fly compression adjust lever over the quickly changing Sedona terrain. It added much needed efficiency to the bike with little effort. The bike has very low anti-squat numbers when pedaling in the bigger chainring, but they improve in the granny gear - something to consider if you’re thinking about a swap to a 1X drivetrain.
Sprinting, the short rear end matched with the progressive feel of the Monarch Plus RC3 made for an extremely snappy feel out of corners and a bike that wants to get right back to business. On uphill and flat sprints the bike’s mass will hold you back some, as will the lack of an immediate response at the pedals.
The 153 DL is highlighted by components from RockShox, RaceFace, FSA, Shimano, SRAM, WTB, Maxxis, KS and even a few from Kona.
Our biggest gripe with the build was the incredibly poor compatibility of the SRAM shifters, Shimano brake levers, and the KS LEV dropper cable. They simply didn’t align well, and we were unable to dial in all the lever angles and positions to our personal preferences.
Front and rear 2.3-inch Maxxis Highroller II EXO 3C tires hooked up great on the descents, but our ideal setup would include something a bit faster rolling in the rear to help the bike out a tad on the way up. If you’re in the same boat, consider replacing the rear and hanging onto the Highroller II as a spare for the front.
The WTB Frequency Team i25 TCS rims laced to Shimano XT hubs with straight 14 gauge spokes were tubeless compatible, felt stiff enough in all situations, and held their tension evenly throughout the test.
As usual, Shimano's XT brakes worked flawlessly, providing plenty of power in all situations and the steepest, loosest terrain.
Beyond not being able to line up the levers perfectly, the mishmashed 2x10 SRAM X7/X9/X0 drivetrain gave us quite a few headaches and was a struggle to keep working properly. The rear derailleur cable was constantly coming out of tension and we seemed to struggle to find the perfect gear over the constantly varied hills. Ghost shifts, dropped chains, chain slap, and drag were the name of the game, which was a real downer.
While we’ve professed our love for the externally routed KS Lev seatpost in the past, the newer Lev Integra model took far too much effort to set up. It was a careful balancing act to find the perfect cable tension to keep the post from dropping unexpectedly. Luckily KS is already aware of the issue and has released an updated retrofittable actuator with zero cable movement. All new bikes and distributor stock have moved to the new design, but there may be a few stragglers still out there. Be aware that you may need to send the post to KS for the fix.
Long Term Durability
Looking over the bike, only two things stuck us by surprise. First, the derailleur hanger is miniature, which could speak poorly of durability. Second, the front shock mount looks very skimpy, but we’ll trust that Kona did their engineering homework and fatigue tests to ensure it’ll hold up to big hits and harsh bottom-outs. There's always a lifetime warranty to fall back on if something happens to go awry.
What's The Bottom Line?
Like we said of the last version of the Process, the new Kona Process 153 DL is ideal for claiming bragging rights at the end of the descent as opposed to the top of the climb. It’s a durable ride that you can rally down just about anything with confidence, casually race select Enduro events with, and even shred in the park. We have to tip our hat to Kona for offering such a capable descender for under $5,000, but the competition in this category is fierce and we think there’s some room for improvement to the spec, weight, and pedaling performance. Those searching for a light and efficient ride may want to look elsewhere. Regardless, thanks to good geometry and suspension, everyone will be able to destroy some turns, boost lips, and punish rocks aboard this model.
Visit www.konaworld.com for more details.
About The Reviewers
John Hauer - In 13 years of riding, John has done it all and done it well. Downhill, 4X, Enduro, XC, cyclocross... you name it. He spent 7 years as the head test rider for a major suspension company, averages 15-20 hours of saddle time per week, and is extremely picky when it comes to a bike's performance. And yeah, he freakin’ loves Strava.
Jess Pedersen - Jess is one of those guys that can hop on a bike after a snowy winter and instantly kill it. He's deceptively quick, smooth, and always has good style. He's also known to tinker with bikes 'til they're perfect, creating custom additions and fixes along the way. Maybe it's that engineering background...