Bike Shootout: Kona Process 26″ vs 29″

Founded in 1988 under the short-lived name Cascade, Kona originally designed bikes with input from Mountain Bike Hall of Famer Joe Murray. Kona then proceeded to introduce the world to two decades of mountain bike innovations, such as front/rear-specific tires, the first production straight-leg fork for mountain bikes, and what many considered to be the ultimate freeride bike, the Stinky. Unfortunately, Kona hit a slump as it rounded out the first decade of the new millennium. It wasn’t that the bikes had fallen into a downward spiral; they simply hadn’t kept up with the Joneses. They needed a revamp, and, fortunately, that’s exactly what they got.

The Process line of Kona Bikes is 100-percent purpose-built. Kona created four use-specific designs, each with a unique mix of geometry, travel and wheel size. In the words of Kona’s Product Manager Chris Mandell, “A perfect bike is the sum of a lot of parts. We aim to strike a balance between them all to create the best riding experiences for various situations.”

The Process line offers bikes for trail riders all across the spectrum. We chose to test the Process 111 and Process 167, which are at opposite ends of that spectrum. With the bike’s names designating the amount of rear wheel travel, it may seem obvious which model is for which riding discipline; however, suspension travel isn’t the be-all end-all in determining how a bike will ride. The Process 111 sits atop 29-inch wheels for the trail rider looking for optimal pedaling efficiency in a bike that steamrolls over trail obstacles with ease. The Process 167 sports 26-inch wheels for a nimble, flickable ride that caters to the freerider who wants to throw his bike around at a moment’s notice.

Both frames are constructed from aluminum to withstand the rigors we put our daily drivers through, so it’s not the frame material but the geometry of the bikes that sets them apart. Kona is confident in designing the Process 111 and Process 167 models around a 1×11 drivetrain and has omitted a front derailleur mount to reflect that confidence. The Process bikes are all characterized by a long front center paired with a 40mm stem and a short rear center achieved by short chain stays (420mm on the Process 167 and 430mm on the Process 111.)

Though they represent opposite ends of the trail-use spectrum, it’s interesting to note how many components have become standard features, regardless of the bike’s intended purpose. Both bikes are equipped with KS Lev Integra 150mm dropper seatposts, SRAM X1 drivetrains with identical gearing, and matching 40mm stems. SRAM Guide brakes have recently become a welcome sight on any bike we test, especially on the freeride/downhill ripper the Process 167 proved to be.

The lengthy front center geometry causes the whole Process line to stand out from the rest of the pack. With extremely low standover heights, the bikes both appear to be low-slung sleds compared to their equivalents from other brands. At first, it caused us to question the all-around trail ability of the Process 111, but the bike proved strong in all trail situations.


Climbing: The climbing ability of the Process 111 is better than almost anything we’ve ridden in its class. The Pedal compression mode on the RockShox Monarch RT sits somewhere between the Climb and Trail modes of Fox’s CTD system. During our test, it offered the substantial platform needed for pedaling efficiency yet kept us glued to the trail through technical or loose sections. Bottom line: we couldn’t get the back end of the Process 111 to break free, regardless of what we pointed it up. Though the long front center would lead you to believe this is a stand-up-and-crank bike, we found ourselves planted in the saddle for the entirety of every climb.

Kona isn’t shy about calling the Process 167 a “downhill/freeride/hardcore enduro” bike, and its climbing ability backs up that claim. It’ll bob regardless of how much you increase the low-speed compression on the shock, and the front end will swim in front of you on the climbs, but hey, that’s not what it’s made for. We put it through a couple days of 3,000-foot climbs and they seemed to be at the limit of what would be enjoyable.

Kona-9Cornering:  The Process 111 corners incredibly well for a full-suspension, 29-inch bike. The dialed RockShox suspension keeps it feeling confident and predictable, regardless of the terrain you’re cornering on. The Maxxis Ardent tires are solid performers in nearly any condition and kept us hooked up through loose sandy corners as well as corners strewn with rocks and roots.

The faster you can rail a corner on the Process 167, the happier it is. Its low bottom bracket and short stem had us feeling right in the center of the bike and enabled us to lay into high-speed berms with ease. While this would typically come at the cost of cornering finesse, we found ourselves remaining clipped in on corners we usually unclip for on our less aggressive trail bikes. That has to mean something, right?
Descending: We found the Process 111 to be a phenomenal descender for a bike with its amount of travel, while we found the Process 167 to be lacking for a beast of its size. The Process 111 delivered unfaltering control at nearly any speed, while the suspension ate up anything reasonable in its path. We had to be precise with our line choices, but the amount of effort we put into it was paid back double by the bike. We hope to see the RockShox Pike making an appearance on more bikes with this amount of travel.
The Process 167 felt competent at speeds in the middle of our ability but felt all over the place when we had it up to speed. Its geometry always left us feeling comfortable in the center of the bike, but the bike never seemed to sit into the suspension correctly. After a few rides, we had the suspension setup skewed more towards high-speed descending, but we were never able to achieve a setup we felt fully competent piloting when laying into descents.

Kona-10Braking: Lower-tier Shimano SLX brakes are really the only weak link of the Process 111 build. While they performed up to par at low speeds, they faded on any extended or steep descents. It may be too early to comment on their long-term durability, but so far we’re smitten with the SRAM Guide brakes on the Process 167. We’ve taken the Process 167 on some extremely aggressive descents, including one that lost 8,000 feet, and we were unable to get the Guides to fade at all or need a single bleed. Also, they offer some of the best modulation we’ve ever felt.

PicMonkey Collage 4Testing quirks: The setup and maintenance of both bikes seemed to be the biggest obstacle during our testing. Out of the box, the Process 111 had a squeak in the rear axle that would intermittently make an appearance throughout our rides. We were temporarily able to remedy the issue by taking apart the rear hub and greasing the axle, but the squeak would inevitably return after a couple rides.
The Process 167 didn’t cut us a break when dialing in the suspension. The Lyrik wouldn’t allow us to near the end of its travel, even when we filled it with considerably less pressure than suggested. Backing the rebound damping out all the way helped, but then it wouldn’t sit near the top of the travel where the geometry felt right.

Rather than throwing a leg over the Process 111 and locking out the fork compression upon seeing the first climb, we strongly suggest going on an entire trail ride with the fork fully open. The geometry does a great job of utilizing the fork travel in the attack position while maintaining efficiency in the seated position. We only used the compression lockout when pedaling out the roads back to our house in a leaned over, aero position. We would only consider replacing one component on the Process 111 for long-term use: the Shimano SLX brakes would have to go to make way for some XT brutes.
Be patient with the suspension setup on the Process 167. It may take some time to dial it in for your specific version of charging. If you live in an area with bomber, high-speed descents and don’t plan on climbing, you may want to switch out the single chainring for a bigger 34-tooth.

The Process 111 is a do-everything trail bike for riders who want it all in a single package. The combination of impeccable climbing efficiency, considerable descending prowess and cornering dexterity make this bike a force to be reckoned with for its reasonable $4099 price tag. We doubt there are any trail riders out there who won’t have a boatload of fun riding the Process 111.
We suggest the Process 167 for, and only for, diehard enduro or freeride enthusiast who would like to skip out on climbing completely or are willing to hike-a-bike up the steeps. It’s been used as a flipping machine for top riders, such as Graham Agassiz, and is a great bike if you’re looking to step up your game to such a level.

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