Field Test: Kona Process 134 29
Can't stop, won't stop
- Travel: 134mm rear, 140mm front
- 29″ wheels
- 66° head-tube angle
- 76.3° seat-tube angle
- Reach: 475mm (large)
- For a 35lb 29er, the 134 likes to be tossed around
- Great suspension performance
- There are far better climbers
- Handling felt unbalanced, nervous on loose trails
- Toss the Alhonga brakes before you get tossed
35.30 lb / 16.01 kg
Kona’s Process range includes 12 bikes that vary from high-end enduro-ready machines to this 134mm-travel entry-level model. ”The mountain biker’s mountain bike,” is how Kona puts it, which is one way to describe how the $2,600 Process 134 29 trail bike is intended to be used: everywhere and for all kinds of riding.
Whereas some brands only offer small wheels on small frame sizes, you can pick up a 134 with either 27.5″ or 29″ wheels regardless of if you’re looking for a size small or extra-large Process; ours was rolling on 29s (XS frames come only with 27.5″ wheels).
The 134’s aluminum frame looks a lot like the carbon version, with swoopy tubes, a load of standover clearance, and room for a single bottle inside the front triangle. The cables are all run externally and are routed reasonably well, and there’s a set of chain guide tabs should the need arise. One standout detail is the decal on the seat tube that lists the frame’s vital information; headset and shock dimensions are listed, as are the bearing sizes you’ll need to know after years of pressure washing the shit out of your 134, and it even tells you the part number for the derailleur hanger. Google knows as well, but this is just a smart, simple detail that I’d love to see on more bikes. Speaking of things I’d like to see, the Kona is nearly as loud as the Grim Donut due to its lack of chainstay protection—you’ll likely want to add that.
The Process uses a linkage-driven, single-pivot suspension layout, with a big rocker arm compressing the vertically mounted RockShox Deluxe Select shock that, interestingly, doesn’t have any sort of pedal-assist switch. More on that later.
Our size-large 134 sports a 475mm reach but a relatively roomy 625mm toptube length thanks to 76.3-degree effective seat angle that’s actually a much slacker number in reality. This is especially true if your legs don’t quit and you run the seat a bit higher than most people would need, thereby moving it even farther back relative to the bottom bracket thanks to the exaggerated angle of the tube. The 66-degree headtube angle makes all the sense in the world on this kind of bike, though, and the chainstays are a short-ish 427mm.
Onto the Process’ spec sheet, which is where you’ll find a few interesting details. Suspension is an all-RockShox affair, with that Deluxe Select shock and a 140mm-travel Recon RL Motion Control Solo Air fork, but it’s the brakes and drivetrain that deserve a few extra sentences. Kona ditched a cog and went with an 11-speed Deore system rather than have 12 cogs and something a bit less refined, which earns nothing but praise from me, but our concern about the Alhonga brakes turned out to be well-founded. More on those below in the descending section.
Depending on what you’re planning to do with your trail bike, how it handles technical climbs might not matter in the slightest. And if that’s the case, you probably don’t care that the Kona can sometimes feel as if you’re steering a long box, crew cab truck from the rear bumper. As you might expect, that can make the front end feel a bit light and long when you’re seated, as you often are while pedaling up a mountain. Anytime the climb got slow, steep, and/or tight, the Kona felt like a handful compared to the Fezzari Cascade Peak, and I definitely found myself needing to plan further ahead and think more about how I was going to get over whatever was coming up. Ditching a few spacers from under the stem can help a bit, but it’s the seated riding position feeling too far rearward that, relative to my expectations of a trail bike with this much travel, makes the 134 more of a handful on tricky climbs.
All of the above meant that we were out of the saddle more then we wanted to be while on the Kona, or sitting up on the nose of the 134’s seat during every climb, thereby shortening the front end and also adding more weight to it for those steep uphills.
But if your ups happen on gravel roads or climbing trails designed to make it as easy as possible given the grade, then all of the above shouldn’t matter. The 134 felt acceptably efficient to me, although not all testers agreed on that front; I thought it deserved a passing grade and didn’t really need a pedal-assist switch, but others countered that any bike weighing this much can use all the help it can get.
So the Process is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to climbing, and there are certainly easier to live with trail bikes if you often find yourself on steep and technical uphills. But if most or all of your climbing happens on gravel roads or simple singletrack, the 134 will move along acceptably.
Alright, you looped out three times, lost count of your dabs, and lost 50 watts to squishy suspension, but you’ve made it to the top and now it’s time for the fun part of the ride. And fun is what the Kona is all about, and it definitely putting me more in that sort of mindset than thinking about going faster. On the 134, I was more likely to have the front-end up or be taking an even more questionable line than usual than when I was on the other full-suspension bikes.
Sure, the subpar brakes meant that none of us ever had a ton of confidence when barreling into anything rough or steep, or even a corner, but it was obvious that the ingredients for a good time are there.
The tighter the trail, the more the Kona feels at home, even if a porky 29er like this is always going to feel like a bit of a motorhome on an autocross course. The 134 is definitely going to be hitting some of those figurative cones, but it gets through awkward, slow stuff reasonably well. It’s when the speeds pick up that it doesn’t quite have the stability we’d like to see, especially on Tucson’s loose rocks. To be fair, the Kona might have been more composed and balanced had we been testing it on some tacky Pacific Northwest dirt, the 134 called for a bit more caution on Tucson’s dry, marbly ground.
While the 134’s handling didn’t suit some of the trails we rode, its suspension felt composed and didn’t give us anything to talk about beyond the fact that it simply worked well. You can run more than 30-percent sag and not find yourself too deep into the stroke too often, but we all ended up preferring closer to 25 percent, as that number helped the bike’s cause when climbing back up for another run.
If you want to go fast, you’ve also got to be able to go slow, or at least try to slow the hell down while yelling “Allllllhonga!” as you barrel toward a tree-sized cactus that most definitely isn’t going to jump out of the way, which is what I ended up doing at least a few times on all my test laps aboard the under-braked Kona. It can’t be easy to spec a bike at this price point, especially when a lot of components are hard to come by, but these are among the worst brakes I’ve ever used. There’s no initial bite, there’s no power, and the near-straight lever blades constantly tried to shuffle my braking fingers off the ends until Kazimer bent more prominent hooks in each after coming back from his first and last ride on the 134.
There was also an odd groan coming from the front of the bike that took me a few rides to nail down. When I did, it turned out to be the hub shifting in the Recon RL’s Torque Cap dropouts that are designed to hold matching larger end caps but that are also supposed to work with normal hubs. And that had always been the case for me but, possibly because the Recon comes with an old-style Maxle, or maybe because the hub is out of tolerance, the Kona’s front wheel could shift slightly in the dropouts. Yes, we adjusted the axle. Yes, it was tight. And yes, it was unsettling on the trail, especially while screaming “Allllllhonga!” at the cactus.
Let’s end with some better news: The 11-speed Deore drivetrain is absolutely flawless, as is the Tranz-X dropper that was also used on a number of other bikes and proved to be trouble-free.
Photos by Tom Richards