Blimey, it’s nearly a year since I wrote a first ride review of the Kona Process 111 – which you can find here if you’re interested.
Reading it back now, I can see I talked a lot about the length of that bike – I am riding a large frame with a reach of 462mm – which still notably long compared to most manufacturers (especially for a 5ft 8in rider like me).
After the best part of a year on the Process, it now just feels utterly normal to me – although there’s nothing “normal” about the way it rides compared to other bikes.
Kona really went out on a limb when they revealed the Process range back in 2013. The idea of a properly short travel 29in shred sled (sorry, I can’t resist) was a novel one back then – and most riders (including me) didn’t get the point of something that weighed more than a 160mm enduro bike, but had just 4in of rear travel.
The big wheels probably threw even more people off the scent, but ironically I reckon they’re the most important ingredient in its oh-so-magic formula.
I’ve been assuming a bit of knowledge about the bike up to now, so please allow me to fill you in on the basics.
It weighs around 32 to 33lbs with pedals, it has that lengthy 460mm reach coupled with short (for a 29er) 430mm chainstays and a passable 68 degree head angle.
The only reason a stumpy-legged runt like me can comfortably ride a large frame is that Kona bravely specced it with acres of standover and a 450mm seat tube. Thanks guys!
It’s a bike with a clear vision and set of intentions behind it. Bad intentions.
The suspension layout is a variation on Kona’s long-standing “faux bar” set-up and it combines with a beefy rear end to give a firm, predictable feel and snappy acceleration – erring towards “harsh” on occasion, but with that tendency balanced by the smoothness of the big wheels.
I owned the Process 153 for a while and it had a similar feel, which was great most of the time – but got a bit wearing on consistently rocky rides. They’re not the kind of rides I usually take the 29er version on though, so no problems there.
Sometimes I feel like the P111 is the best bike I’ve ever ridden. Usually while riding on a downhill section of woodland trail at speed – as the geometry, frame stiffness and momentum-preserving big wheels make it feel like an unstoppable, laser-guided singletrack missile.
It has better balance and more intuitive handling than any bike I’ve ridden, encouraging me to take the more interesting lines on the trail and making me feel like a better rider than I am.
There’s a bit of trail I ride all the time with a flat 90 degree corner around a little tree. On other bikes I can take the inside line and get round quick enough, but on the P111 I can dab the brakes, initiate a two-wheel drift and Scandi-flick that corner – feeling like I’ve lost no speed whatsoever.
It’s supremely confident on descents ranging from mild to quite steep, but it’s Achilles heel is properly steep trails – where the 68 degree head angle makes it unrideable for me in some situations.
I’ve now put an offset bushing in to slacken the HA to 67.5deg, but I’m mulling over a minus-one-degree slackset as well (though obviously I’m loathe to mess with such a successful formula).
To be fair it’s only on some exposed, technical and rocky steepness in the Lakes and a fiendishly steep and slippy woodland DH track in the Dyfi Forest that I’ve really had to swallow my pride and walk it down – but it’s a limitation to be aware of.
While we’re on the subject of the bike’s shortcomings, I’ll just come right out and say that it’s a bit of a slog on the flat and it’s not the greatest climber.
It’s not as terrible a climber as a 650b enduro bike weighing 33lbs might be, but it’s about on par with a 160mm carbon enduro bike.
I’ve done laps of trail centres like Swinley Forest and Cannock Chase on it – and in both cases I was craving a lighter bike with a bit more pep on the flat and the endless short climbs.
The P111 is a lot more fun at trail centres with more extended climbs and descents however. I’ve had marvellous rides on it at Gisburn, Mabie and on bits of the Marin Trail – and it’s capable of so much more away from the trail centres too.
Riding a big Kentmere loop, it was a revelation heading down the long Nan Bield descent from the shelter – providing just enough suspension to cope with the not-insubstantial rocks at the top while the big wheels bridged the awkard gaps and carried so much speed as the gradient slackened lower down.
It’s the perfect bike for a lot of my local trails at Rivington – and it’s help me beat Strava PBs that I set on a 180mm freeride bike, getting closer to “that” Sam Hill KOM than I ever thought I would.
I’ve made a few spec changes since my initial piece. It’s now sporting the excellent Mavic Crossmax XL wheels with a WTB Trail Boss “tough” rear tyre to banish flats, Sram GX 11 speed gearing and Shimano Deore brakes.
The Monarch RT3 shock has had a service and is working great again, which is just as well because the unusual 184×44 sizing means upgrade options are thin on the ground. The Pike is brilliant at 120mm, feeling noticeably stiffer than 160mm versions I’ve ridden.
I’ve thought about getting a replacement full-suspension 29er, maybe something with a bit more travel and a bit less weight. Something made from carbon perhaps.
However the surprising fact is that FS 29ers with progressive geometry and short seat tubes are still severely limited. There literally isn’t anything on the market with the same key dimensions – and don’t think I haven’t looked!
This is probably a blessing in disguise though, because although we’ve had our tiffs and I’ve been ungentlemanly enough to complain about its weight – it really is true love with the Process. I’ve found that “magic spark” that they talk about on dating shows, and that’s a rare and beautiful thing.
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