Let me start by saying this is not a review. At least not in the sense of a traditional Pinkbike style review collaborated over a matter of days or weeks - this is more of a reflection over roughly two seasons daily use of the Kona Process 153. As my guiding bike for New Zealand Mountain Bike Tour company JustMTB, the Process has spent close to 24 months getting rallied around New Zealand on all sorts of rides, from epic shuttle days to overnight bike packing adventures. Across this time we've learned a few things about each other.
The Kona Process 153 - always willing and able for an adventure
I remember the initial test ride, preconceptions that this long low and slack geometry meant an unresponsive and dull ride. It turns out I was wrong, very wrong - from the first moment throwing the Process onto it's back wheel and throwing cutties around the carpark I knew there was something special here.
From jumping on the bike, I've changed only two parts, replacing the saddle and converting to a single front ring - especially surprising as I'll spend upwards of 35 hours a week guiding. I did get the chance to test a Cane Creek Shock but after a couple of weeks returned to the original Monarch for the feel. Literally nothing else has felt the need to be changed, the setup out of the box was amazing, from the Maxxis EXO tyres to the Shimano brakes & KS Lev dropper. Even the bar and stem, usually the first bits to get changed are still present. In fact, minus the odd scrape and missing paint you could put this back in the catalogue. Bravo Kona on a great build that doesn't cost the earth.
What Makes This Bike So Special?
What Kona have done here is make a true mountain bike. It'll climb up the mountain, traverse the singletrack on the plateau and slay the descent back to the valley floor. It doesn't fall into categories - the short chainstays and steeper head angle create a responsive bike just as at home on tight singletrack as it does on steep fast bikepark runs. In short, it does everything a mountain bike should do - takes you on adventures out into the wild and makes it fun getting back home again!
A true mountain bike - adventure doesn't have limitations when you can pedal up, shred down and ride everything in-between
What Can The Process Do?
Part of the job of a guide is to showcase the best of New Zealand mountain bike trails. This can vary day to day, from long XC pedals to days spent shuttling and even rattling down bikepark laps, so it's imperative to have a bike that will not only do it all, but also keep me ahead of the guests. However, the most important aspect is reliability - having a rock solid bike you can take away for two weeks at a time with the knowing it's got your back!
When your typical work week looks like this, you need a bike you can rely on
Initially looking at the travel and weight of the bike, spritely was not a word that came to mind prior to my first New Zealand backcountry style ride on the Kona. As they say, don't judge a book by it's cover - this thing out pedalled some of the smaller travel bikes in the group and was surprisingly good on the technical climbs, making light work of rooty steps and tighter corners which previously I hadn't cleared. I can only attribute this to the suspension design, a system that seems to plant the rear tyre to the ground for traction yet provide a real spring & pop for hopping up trail features when required. I did find on my first bike packing mission, the 80km Old Ghost Road that the Kona certainly requires a little more effort on smoother climbs to keep up, although with the shock locked out it does provide a solid pedalling platform. I'd attribute this slightly sluggish feel to the "weighty yet reliable" Maxxis Minion tyres, I imagine there's a reason they've never won an XC Mountain Bike World Cup.
Bike-packing Lite - Taking the Kona on an overnight adventure
While it'll deliver you to the top of the backcountry climbs and take you out on overnight rides, where it excels is the descents. The 153 doesn't discriminate, it provides the biggest grin riding down a tight tree dodging New Zealand singletrack as it does a fast rocky and technical bikepark run. The bottomless feel of the suspension had me confused initially, as I wasn't regularly getting full travel. It turns out the Rocker design on the Process has a decent ramp up at the end of the shock stroke, an attribute that makes the 153mm of travel feel like a lot more. And that's great because it's gotten me out of jail free many times - the progression and predictably of the shock has provided extreme confidence in situations where I've rallied across gnarly root sections way to fast for comfort. Riding hard is where this thing excels, the ability to push the rider out of their comfort zone and into unchartered territory, giving a thrill and a scare, and then luring them back into safety. I don't Strava, but if I did, I'd likely gain a lot of PB's and see a swift climb up the KOM leaderboard aboard the Process.
From a personal perspective, this bike has influenced the way I ride, and opened new possibilities. I'm always keen to go and ride some "BC-XC," a term coined whilst living in Canada - pedalling up to find the gnarliest way down again. And the Kona has provided a great sidekick in these personal missions in search of the steepest New Zealand MTB trails. The nimble wheelbase combined with the long front end provides an excellent balance of agility and confidence across all manner of steep loam trails, rooty stepped corners and heinous multi stage rocky drops. The short chain stays certainly also aid the bike's ability in shralping turns and ease with which to pop up the front wheel to stay out of trouble.
Another "BC-XC" mission for the Kona finished with a swim & beers
The Bad Stuff
This section is going to be short as I've found very few negatives whilst living with the Kona. The bike is heavy - it's not going to win any weight weenie competitions and you'll likely notice this on longer rides over 4-5 hours if you're pedalling lots. If your riding entails pedalling to get to the descents, you may wish to find a faster rolling rear tyre as well. But what doesn't kill you...
This bike has seen a lot of action - yet has required little above the usual to keep going. Brake pads, rotors, chains & tyres have all come and gone but little else has needed changing. All the original key components are still present too; brakes, wheels, fork, shock, cranks, seat post & cockpit - pretty impressive considering the mileage this thing has done. After a full season of guiding, I took a trip to Queenstown for some riding only to get snowed in for a week. It would have been unacceptable to not ride, so we went out day after day in snow, sludge and mud. Checking the frame & BB bearings after a full guiding season and a week immersed in sludgy mud, it was like they were fresh out of the factory!
The Kona saw every condition - blinding dust, heinous rain, snow and stunning sunshine, battling through reliably
So, Final Thoughts
Across the months, I've taken the Kona everywhere with me; heli biking, overnight bike packing, 80km XC rides, bike parks, and shuttling. While I'm sure I could find a bike that would excel over one or two of these styles, I believe you'd be hard pressed to find one that is so capable across all of them. It may not be the quickest anywhere, but if you've got room for only one mountain bike on a limited budget, then you'd be hard pressed to find something better than the Kona Process 153.
Afternoon escapism in Rotorua