Review: Kona Process 153

The Kona Process 153 has already become a bit of a modern classic in the two or three years it’s been on the market. Before “long, low and slack” had become the three most-commonly used words in MTB marketing, the Process was reasonably long, very low and, erm, not actually that slack.

The Process range – which also includes the 111, the 134 and the 167 – was designed firstly to offer the geometry the design team wanted, with the amount of suspension travel offered on each frame a secondary concern (hence the odd numbers).

The design brief also prioritised durability, chassis stiffness and a predictable suspension feel – and the team at Kona delivered on all three in spades.

I came to the 153 via a whirlwind love affair with my Process 111 (see review here) – the first bike that I felt really fitted me perfectly and which had an aggressive, involving and fun-loving personality.

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The Process 153 on its debut ride in Hebden Bridge.

Selling my Giant Reign, I snapped up a used 153 – hoping the 650b version would have the same thuggish charm as my 29er.

When the Process range was first launched I wasn’t a huge fan of the looks, but seeing my own 111 “in the metal” had brought me round to it’s distinctive, swooping tube profiles – and the 153 looked better still in its vibrant orange paint.

Its first ride under my ownership was a baptism of fire, as I took it on a Hebden Bridge tech-fest with around 1,000m of steep climbs and rugged, steeper descents – and fortunately it felt great from the start.

Well, firstly I should get the biggest negative with the bike out of the way. It is not a great climber. It’s not even a good climber. Compared to the other long travel bikes I’ve owned and ridden, I’d say it was a pretty poor climber really.

Whether on technical climbs and on tarmac or fireroads, it was always a bit of a slog and I was struggling to stay with riders that I’d previously had no trouble keeping up with. On rocky or steppy climbs the bike felt like it was getting “stopped” more than I was used to.

It’s got a reputation as a heavy bike – but with Crossmax XLs a Lyrik and a mid-level build I found it to be on par with other aluminium enduro bikes. The Meta V4 and GT Sanction both came out heavier when we had a weigh-in on holiday.

The stiff frame and taut suspension give the Process a good turn of speed when you stamp on the pedals – and it’s more fun than some enduro bikes on tamer trails, with the short 425mm chainstays and relatively steep (by modern standards) 66.5 degree head angle making it an involving ride.

I did several rides on my old turf down in Hertfordshire and it was great fun on the undulating singletrack, if a bit tiring due to the bike’s weight.

I was pleased to find that it did have the same solid, predictable and insolent feel as my 111 – and the same confidence-boosting capabilities.

PMBA Graythwaite

The confidence boost comes not just from having a bomber-stiff frame or six inches of travel to plough through obstacles – but by making that ploughing so much fun that you want to try new and exciting things on it.

Actually “ploughing” is a poor choice of words, since the 153 is very much at the “poppy” end of the spectrum in my opinion. It gives a bit of a bumpy ride over rock gardens and is more physically demanding than some steeds – but it’s so easy to pick the bike up and place it where you want to.

Just like the 111, it made me seek out limps and jumps on the trails – and it felt amazingly balanced and predictable in the air.

The payback for that poppiness is that the bike did often feel a bit harsh on the rockier trails I tackled in the Lakes and in Italy.

Initially I put this down to the 2014 Monarch shocks I was using on it – and a Cane Creek DBinline did improve things a fair bit. Unfortunately that shock only lasted a handful of rides before the damping blew (TF Tuned had a theory about the transversely mounted yoke causing this).

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The 153 was an absolute flyer once I’d fitted a Lyrik and DBinline

Moving on to a brand new 2016 Monarch RT3, things were better than they had been initially – but it was still tiring to ride it on long alpine descents.

By the time I got the 153 out to Finale Ligure and Molini, I’d popped an offset bushing in the front shock mount – which took the head angle to 66 degrees and which I felt made it just that little bit easier to ride on steep and gnarly terrain.

However back in England and tackling some extreme Lake District rocky steepness, it still felt a bit out of its depth. I was definitely out of practice on this kind of consistently steep and rocky trail, but a slacker head angle and less “stoppy” suspension would have been very welcome. I came to the same conclusion after the steep and rough PMBA Enduro Series race at Graythwaite in the summer too, for what it’s worth.

When I asked about shock upgrades, Kona’s really helpful tech department recommended me the Fox X2, but in the end it proved more economical for me to sell the 153 and buy a new bike.

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One of my last rides on it, somewhere cheeky near Glossop.

For 2017 the HA has been slackened to 65.5 degrees and the front end lengthened further – with Kona referencing medium-sized people like me sizing up to a large for the increased reach.

I’m a huge fan of the 153 and clicked with the bike right away, but for me it never quite had the same magic as the 111 – which I think is just the perfect proportions for me.

Incidentally that has the same harsh note in the suspension sometimes, but the bigger wheels and lower BB drop really make it a momentum-carrying monster.

Despite the critical comments above, I’ll only really look back with fondness on my time with the 153 – and I’m really glad I owned it because these Konas have taught me a lot about what bike geometry and suspension works best for my riding.

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