Staying power. It seems like every time I write about this bike I talk about its “staying power.” I’ve already mentioned it in each of the two reviews I’ve already penned about the current Kona Process 134, which hit the market in 2019. So, I decided, why not put it to the test?
This whole thing actually started before Bike Mag (my former employer) was shut down, long before we could possibly imagine what would come next, and before Covid changed our whole world. When we reviewed this exact bike at Beta Tests in the summer of 2021, I’d already had it for at least 6 months. And, it’s still in my possession.
The idea was to see how the 134 would hold up to the test of time—not only physically, but after a few years on the market, how would it feel alongside bikes of the future? And what would living with a bike for this long teach us about it? Most riders out there live with bikes for far longer, but the fast-moving bike industry just doesn’t typically allow people like us to hang onto bikes for this long. You should see how many emails we have from Kona’s marketing department asking if we were ever going to publish the long-term test we told them we were working on and if they could ever expect the bike back.
It’s the perfect bike from the perfect company for a long-term test. Kona has a reputation for making bikes that last. Look for a Kona review without the word “workhorse” in it. I bet you can’t find one.
The 134 isn’t just a workhorse, though, it’s also a show pony. It’s no doubt the most refined bike Kona has ever made, with by far the most attention to small details like cable routing, cable protection, and pivot hardware. So, I wondered, would Kona’s sexiest, first full-carbon bike hold up? Did the brand stay true to its toughness principles when sculpting this beauty?
Beauty and Beast
Well, it’s been through two Pacific Northwest winters so far, and it still looks practically new. To be fair, me and the other person who rode the bike over the past couple seasons are both very diligent about cleaning our bikes. For the most part, we’d rinse the bike off after every ride as well as clean and relube the chain. But that’s it, really. We just kept it clean. We didn’t do any other maintenance unless it was totally necessary. In fact, the only thing that really needed attention was the Reverb dropper post, which developed some squishiness after a year or so and needed a cartridge bleed. That one actually cost significant downtime because rebuild kits were impossible to come by in the height of Covid.
As for the frame, it has held up impeccably. The bike has been treated kindly, but not with white gloves. It’s been thrown in the back of pickup trucks, it’s clashed with other bikes, it’s been crashed, and it’s been ridden by at least 5 different people. And through it all, there’s not been one single creak.
It’s proven itself to be a solid, easy-to-own bike. The integrated frame protection keeps the bike running quiet, and unlike a lot of test bikes, has stayed glued to the frame the whole time without any fuss.
I also really love the cable ports on this bike. Not only are they beautifully sculpted, but they don’t require any finicky plastic or rubber entry or exit grommets or fittings. Actually, scratch that. there’s one where the dropper post housing enters the seat tube, but that’s it. Kona resisted internal routing for the longest time because they were holding out until they could make it perfect. I’d say it’s about as good as it can get. The routing is fully tubed, so you can just push the housing in one end and it’ll come out the other. They also made a Y-junction nside the frame for the rear brake, with ports that exit on either side of the headtube so that left-hand-rear-brakers also benefit from correct cable routing around the headtube. Not only is it well thought out, it’s totally maintenance-free.
The frame pivots and hardware are well-built, too. Other companies have better sealing on their pivots these days. Specialized, for instance, uses seals on the heads of the pivot hardware itself now, in addition to the bearings themselves being sealed. This bike doesn’t have that, but I’m not sure how much it needs it. Other than a little surface rust on the exterior of some of the outer bearing races, the pivots are holding up just fine. With the shock out, swingarm still moves nice and smoothly, without any noticeable grittiness. And, when I took the pivots completely apart and felt the bearings directly, I could only feel the slightest bit of wear.
But, the thing that made me want to inspect the pivots was a knocking that I could feel in the pivots. A few of the pivot bolts had loosened up over time. This is extremely common for full suspension bikes, and I’m actually impressed with how little they came loose. I can’t recall ever checking them once, so after a couple years, it’s really not much of a criticism to report a couple bolts backing out a bit. Especially considering the fact that after one little hit with the torque wrench the knock was gone.
Kona uses three-piece hardware for the pivot bolts on this bike. The two main pieces thread together and then there’s a third, smaller bolt that goes through the center and is supposed to keep things nicely locked up. It’s a good design, but I’d personally still recommend threadlocker. Had this been applied to the hardware during assembly, there’s a chance that the pivots wouldn’t have come loose at all. Some extra attention to the assembly process here would be helpful, although, equipped with this knowledge, it’s extremely easy for anyone to go through and put a little dab of loctite on the pivot hardware for safe keeping.
As for the components, I unfortunately don’t have any tantalizing drama or horror stories to share. After a couple seasons, other than the Reverb needing a rebuild, the only thing I can really report is that the shift housing needs to be replaced. Everything else has held up perfectly. We went through a pair of brake pads, but that’s the only part that’s actually been replaced. Even the tires are the originals, which doesn’t reveal much other than point out the fact that tires last forever in the wet Pacific Northwest.
If I were to change anything about the spec, it would be the brakes. Even though the SRAM G2 stoppers are designed for trail bikes like this, they’re really just not quite enough for the steep riding in our test location—which is also Kona’s hometown. I’m sure they’re fine for the majority of riders who buy this bike, but I don’t see the harm in spec’ing some Codes instead.
The Long Ride
I’m not going to sugarcoat it, the 134 isn’t my all-time favorite bike to ride. It’s not the sort of bike that wows me every time I’m on it. But, it plays the long game extremely well. Living with the 134 is easy. On top of it being simple to keep running smoothly and quietly, it has an approachable demeanor that makes me comfortable throwing a leg over it, even after long periods off it riding other bikes. I get on it and feel at home immediately, every time.
Part of it is the modern-yet-familiar geometry. The numbers are as follows: 475mm reach, 66-degree head angle, 76-degree seat angle, 427mm chainstays, and 342mm bottom bracket height. It’s all just where it should be for a trail bike, and it came out in 2019. It’s still perfectly relevant.
I love the way the bike handles, I love the way it climbs, and I love how stiff and stiff and unflappable the carbon frame is. It’s not the lightest high-end carbon trail bike, at just over 30-pounds, but it makes up for it with strength. If weight is more important to you, you’re probably not a Kona customer anyway, nor should you be. Kona will be the first to admit that lightness takes a backseat to durability. It’s why they were basically the last brand on earth to go carbon in the first place, and while we can all give them a little shit for that, I think it’s respectable. Kona sticks to its guns, for better or worse.
Their modified single pivot suspension system is another example. It’s not very sophisticated-feeling, but it gets the job done simply and effectively. This bike climbs better than any other Kona I’ve ridden, and while it’s not the most supple, it has plenty of pop for party laps, and good bottom-out control for plowing through stuff.
The shock came with one volume spacer in it, which I did remove once to see how it felt with a bit more of a linear spring rate. I wanted to see if I could make the rear wheel track the ground better. It worked, but it negatively affected pedaling enough for me to want to put the spacer back in. The inability to have the best of both worlds (traction and pop) is essentially the reason this bike isn’t higher up on my list of all-time favorites.
But, it does a ton of things right. It fits awesome, has clean, beautiful lines and durable paint, is quiet, well-built, has good bottle storage, decent room inside the frame for bikepacking bags, and has geometry numbers that are really tough to find fault in. Does the 134 have staying power? Yea, I’d say so.