The process was well received as a 26in bike in 2013, but Kona has ripped up the rule book and designed a brand new range comprising two longer-travel 650b bikes and one short-travel 29er. The Process 134 is the middle option, offering just over five inches of travel – 134mm, to be precise.
Kona’s new 650b –specific aluminium chassis, with its burly construction, would put many DH bikes to shame. The shape and geometry is very new-school. Using a steepest-on-test head angle, long front centre, stubby stem and ultra-short chianstays, Kona relies on the extra length in the wheelbase for stability.
For stiffness, the alloy frame uses a hydroformed front triangle with wide, press-fit 92BB shell and sturdy back-end. There’s also a massive, oversized shock linkage with carbon reinforcing bridge to boost stiffness further. The sturdy rear stays culminate at oversized hollow dropouts hiding a bolt-through 142x12mm axle.
Up front, the top tube is so low-slung it dips lower than the rear tyre, and uses an extended seat tube bridge (and dropper post) to afford enough saddle height. This design offers amazing standover clearance.
The Process features Kona’s tried-and-tested suspension formula of a single pivot with a linkage. Everything rotates on huge bearing, and 8mm Allen-bolted main pivot hardware totally eliminates any twisting of the back-end. The slightly progressive suspension design uses a basic RockShox Monarch R shock, with an extender yoke. This mounts the shock in a similar fashion to Specialized’s, doing away with the shock bushing to recude initial breakaway friction for a super-supple ride.
Boasting 140mm of travel, the RockShox SektorSilver Air is very sensitive (thanks in part to slippery chromed steel stanchion) but its damping performance is rather crude for this price point.
We joked of awarding bonus points since the Kona was the only bike on which we didn’t end up swapping the stem – the stubby 40mm unit integral to the Process philosophy, as in the KS Eten R dropper post, which worked fine but is one of the heaviest on the market.
Decent 740mm-width Kona handlebars house old-style Shimano Deore brakes, which work reliably but their long four-finger levers look dated. Deore kit elsewhere includes hubs, shifters and a basic 38/24t Shimano chainset. A better SLX Shadow Plus clutch-type rear mech effectively and quietly secures the chain.
The Maxxis Ardent isn’t the ultimate tyre but does offer the best performance in this test, with a broad, stable footprint on the wide WTB SX rims. The solid wheel package nicely matches the attitude of the bike, but like other components on the Kona, does pile on the pounds.
There’s nothing remarkable about the Process 134 at slower speeds or when climbing, but open the throttle descending and a thumping, deep bass thud comes close to downhill bike-level performance on a trail bike. The sound is echoed by suspension that holds its speed amazingly well over rough ground and kills trail buzz and vibration like no other mid-travel bike.
The long reach, short stem and tight stays offer an aggressive riding position from the off, and we found ourselves riding more from our feet, rather like skiing, firing through berms and using the incredible stiffness of the rear-end and the supportive suspension to steer the bike. The ultra-low top tube had us leaning the bike further over than ever before in familiar corners.
At times, it felt like we’d glimpsed the future of trail bike performance, so it’s frustrating that the Process’s component package and its associated weight isn’t as impressive as the frame. At over 15kg (33lbs), the weight might be a deal-breaker for riders targeting big mountain circuits, where lightness takes top priority.
The Kona Process is arguably the most cutting-edge trail bike on the market. With perfect, modern geometry and incredibly sensitive suspension, its attitude is more short-travel downhill bike than traditional cross-country.
We love much about the design ethos, but this cheaper Process 134 is heavy, and the amazing ride is offset by the sheer bulk it requires you to drag around. It might well be the trail bike aggressive riders have been dreaming of, but the Kona needs to shed some weight to gain more versatility before it justifies higher marks in this category.