Pick up a mountain biking magazine these days and you're going encounter all sorts of mumbo jumbo about wheel size supremacy. We've got a pretty mixed bag of testers here at MBT; two out of five actually ride 29ers in fact. Even still the primary weapon of choice for our technical east coast conditions tends to be the medium travel, full suspension 26er. Simply put, we've been using these bikes for a long time and they excel at the type of riding we enjoy. This takes us to the Kona Process- one such medium travel fully suspended 6er that leans more toward the aggressive side of the all mountain spectrum. We got to test it in a variety of early spring eastern trail conditions ranging from rocky, rooty single track to fairy high-speed (rain soaked) descents. Here's what we discovered.
The Kona Process frame is comprised of 6069 aluminum with a direct mount front derailleur with tried and true 4-bar linkage. Suspension duties are handled by a RockShox Lyrik R (coil) fork in the front and Monarch R HW air shock out back (good for 6.3" of travel and 5.9" respectively). Braking comes in the form of the Avid Elixir 5 hydraulic disc variety (7" front, 6" rear). WTB ST i23 TCS rims come wrapped in Maxxis High Roller 2 rubber. The 2x10 drivetrain is all SRAM (cranks, cassette, chainrings, X7 shifters and front derailleur, X9 rear, S1000 cranks). WTB supplies the saddle and Kona the bars and pedals (Wah Wah platforms).
All told our size medium test bike weighed in at 33.4 pounds and a unit identical to ours can be had for $2999.
At a glance, the Process can look a little intimidating what with its long legs and beefy stanchions but don't let the hints of downhill-grade performance throw you. Setting up sag on the fork is a breeze thanks to an external spring preload dial and gradients printed directly on the fork leg to insure you get it perfect. Even more comforting is the fact that Kona offers internal fork springs in a whopping five different weights to make sure the fork is sprung perfectly for your weight and riding style. This is accomplished at the dealer level so it does not affect pre-ride setup.
The shock is a standard air pressure affair- pump it up to the recommend sag for your body weight and once again preprinted gradients take any measurement troubles out of the equation.
Rebound, as always, is an acquired taste based on conditions but for the most part we went a little above the halfway point on the clickers, preferring a bit more return snap on units that tend to dig deep into their travel.
There's no getting around it, the Process looks like a burly bike the moment you make contact with it. From the 2.4" wide tires to the large linkage beams mating up with the shock, there's no mistaking this bike's intent. Fortunately the top tube slopes pretty steadily before meeting up with the seatstay to allow fairly worry-free stand-over height.
Climbing on board reveals a nice, fairly upright riding position wit ha fairly short reach to the 29.5" wide (low) riser bar. Dropping the hammer is surprisingly efficient for a bike of the Process' mass. We attribute much of this to that 2x10 transmission, which boasts gearing seemingly custom tuned to this bike's attributes. Start low if necessary and pop your way up through the gears, the chassis' rigidity and active suspension won't offer a hint of protest as you do. The bike hides its weight well on the trail and better still, the gearing combinations always feel spot-on.
While we would rate the bike's handling and performance as adequate on the flats, it's when the going gets rough that the true charms of the bike start to come through. It's pretty difficult to upset the Process in successive chop, rock gardens, stutter bumps and the like. In fact, we would go as far as to say the uglier the trail, the more confident the Process becomes. There have been more high-tech and ballyhooed suspension designs since, but the 4-bar linkage remains a competent platform for allowing the suspension to remain active in the ugly stuff while transmitting little (if any) kick back to the pedals.
When it comes to cornering, there is a slight tendency to fear the fork offset pushing that front wheel way out there will cause washouts but we never found this to be the case. In fact, chalk it up to solid engineering on Kona's behalf, the rear of the bike actually felt as though it would fall in line and push the bike through sharp corners just before the moment of losing traction up front entered the equation. Before long it became a bit of a game for our testers to push the cornering limitations of the bike but those beefy Maxxis tires and spot-on geometry kept things upright time and time again.
If there were a weak link to the Process' game, it would perhaps be its climbing prowess. Riders used to those XC-like bursts of upward acceleration will immediately notice a definable lag in the pedal/ momentum relationship on the Process once the trail starts pointing toward the sky. However, this isn't to say you need to dismount and seek out the nearest ski lift either. The Process understands the all mountain moniker and can be pressed into ascending detail accordingly but it works best with a rider willing to adapt to the bike's strengths ahead of time. Our preferred method of eclipsing the hillside was to carry as much momentum into the base of the climb as possible then to drop gears before things got really ugly (steep). Stay seated, pedal the instant the momentum began to fade and keep on spinning the cranks until you've hit the top. Don't worry about paying careful attention to your lines and learn to trust in the bike's geometry to take care of keeping the wheels planted (wheelies and rear tire-spins don't happen naturally here).
Getting to the top is the name of the game here because turning around and coming back down is what the Process does best. You've got a dropper seatpost out of the box so slide the seat down, lean back on the pedals and let the Process earn its keep. The bike holds a line as if magnetically charged and the suspension has got the chops to devour whatever nastiness may try to unsettle things. That solid low-speed cornering ability pays dividends in tight berms and switchbacks once the speeds start increasing and the Avid Elixirs make bringing things back to reality a lever-squeeze away. This is a bike that can get a rider craving descents.
Odds & Ends
We never exceeded the limitations of the Maxxis High Rollers but felt an even more aggressive tread pattern may be the ticket for wet roots and slippery log hops. The factory wrapped chain stay is a nice touch for riders who don't like gouging up their new bike not to mention it cuts down on descending clatter exponentially. If you've been on the fence about the 2x10 drivetrain, this is exactly the type of bike that can make you a believer in the theory that 3 chainrings aren't a necessity. Finally, while we appreciate the leverage of the fairly wide handlebars, we would liked to have done a few experiments with units boasting even higher rise. Sadly our time with the bike was too brief to allow for such tinkering but; on the downhills especially, it often felt like an even more upright riding position would have allowed us to attack sections harder.
In a utopian society, mountain bikes would be capable of doing everything perfectly. As it stands however, each and every bike is a compromise of sorts. We have to make purchase decisions on what comes the closest to our intentions while giving up the least everywhere else. The Kona Process should be a top contender on your short list if your ideal riding experience consists of a lot of high-speed sections; ugly trail conditions and abundant descents. It can almost be pressed into service everywhere else but do keep in mind that factors like overall weight, pedaling proficiency and small bump feedback take the backseat here so as to provide you with the ability to master descents like a veteran. If you enjoy abundant hardpack, smooth singletrack or paved bike trails, the Process is overkill in the purest sense of the term. Anyone else with a hankering for the nasty stuff may want to set up a demo ride. Just be forewarned, all it takes is clearing one technical descent that shook your confidence on a lesser bike to make everything else feel inferior by comparison.