KHS has a great idea: softails for the masses. Usually you’d have to spend 3 or 4 grand for the pleasure of owning a short-travel, pivotless suspension bike.
By Philip Keyes
KHS has a great idea: softails for the masses. Usually you’d have to spend 3 or 4 grand for the pleasure of owning a short-travel, pivotless suspension bike. Usually they have names like Moots, Merlin or Seven, and usually they’re made out of gold, I mean, titanium. But while KHS deserves kudos for offering an economical short-travel bike made out of the real deal—True Temper OX II steel—the bike’s elastomer suspension is bouncy and the fancy-looking RST disk brakes perform poorly.
KHS developed the ProST for riders who didn’t want the complexity of a full suspension bike, but still wanted some of the advantages. At $1199, the Pro ST looks like a hot bike that won’t burn your bank account. Rear travel is minimal: one inch of travel for the 19 and 21" frames and 3/4" for the 15 and 17" frames. Some people might think that combining pivotless suspension and steel is a recipe for fracture, but as hard as I tried, I couldn’t break it. The frame is made out of excellent tubing, and KHS says it put the bike through 400,000 cycles of their torture machine without a problem, which they claim is four times the industry strength standard. The bike is covered with a 25 year warranty, and in the 18 months that they’ve had this design on the market, they haven’t had to warranty a single frame.
The Taiwan-made chassis is well made, with nice welds, clean lines and a butted tubeset. KHS has patented their Delta Linear Downtube, which means that the downtube is ovalized at the headtube for added strength, and with a 71/74° geometry, handling is nice and crisp. However, the frame has permanent rear brake mounts which look sort of dorky since the bike comes with disks, and there are no hydraulic cable bosses to use if one were to upgrade to hydraulic disk brakes.
The rear shock is extremely simple (perhaps too simple?) consisting of an alloy housing with an internal 4.5" elastomer internally sealed with two rubber O-rings, and riders can choose between four elastomers to customize the spring rate. The up-to-one inch of travel is just enough to take the edge off the bumps, and the elastomers were quite sensitive to small hits. However, there is no damping, and the bike feels very bouncy. I was unable to pedal the bike without the rear end moving up and down.
The front suspension is much better. Marzocchi’s Superlight Z4 air fork may not be the most lively of the Bomber line, but the dual air fork felt light and laterally rigid, and the 80mm travel was well suited to the minimalist 1" of rear travel.
The drivetrain is a mix of 9-speed Shimano Deore shifters, cranks and front derailleur, and a Shimano LX rear derailleur. The bike shifts impeccably, proving that you don’t need high end stuff to never miss a shift. The aluminum alloy stem and handlebar are made by Kore, while the seatpost and bottom bracket are of nondescript Taiwanese origin. The disk-brake wheelset, while a bit heavy, was constructed out of decent Mavic 317 disk rims mated to KHS’s housebrand hubs, around which spin WTB’s minimally knobbed Kevlar Nano Raptors.
The cable-actuated RST brakes are terrible, and their inability to stop well affected the total ride quality of the bike. For a while I thought the brakes had an anti-lock system: I couldn’t get the bike to lock up. After checking and re-checking, I finally brought the bike down to my local shop to have the pros see if something was wrong, but everything was as dialed in as possible. Despite the "ohh ahh" factor of having disks on the bike, KHS could have gotten much better performance and cut some fat by spec’ing rim brakes. The only time I was pleased with the disks was during wet and muddy riding conditions.
The ProST felt most comfortable on flat or gently rolling singletrack, and while it felt stable on fast descents, the lack of rear shock damping combined with the poor brakes and racing knobbies made rough descents a bit more hairy than even a hardtail. Cornering improved dramatically once I replaced the Nano Raptors with Velociraptors. The bike climbed fairly well (especially after swapping the tires), but 29 pounds of bike (size large) is a lot to carry up a hill.
This is a bike that you get up to speed and enjoy the cruise. With a better suspension unit, better brakes and removable brake bosses, this would be a good bike. As is, I’d give it a C+ for effort.
Contact: KHS, 1264 E. Walnut Street, Carson, CA 90746; 800.347.7854; www.khsbicycles.com. —Philip Keyes