Dirt Rag Magazine

Trail Tested: Kona Process 134 SE and DL


By Justin Steiner and Emily Wally. Photos by Jeff Swigart, Michael Raney, Emily Walley and Justin Steiner.

dirt-rag-kona process-se-dl

Though we’re far from reaching gender equality in the mountain bike world, the percentage of female mountain bikers rises steadily every year. Despite this increase in participation, the industry’s adoption of the women’s market has occurred in fits and starts with a multitude of approaches—some successful and others not so much. For 2015, Kona introduced the 134 SE as a new model in its Process lineup with a laudable and refreshing approach.

Kona Process 134 SE

Kona Process 134 SE

Instead of pigeonholing the SE as a women’s bike, they’re marketing it as a bike for anyone of smaller stature. Small and medium frames are shared across the Process models, but Kona has added an extra-small SE to accommodate riders just under five feet tall. Standover height is a low 25.6 inches across the extra-small, small and medium SE sizes.

dirt-rag-kona process-se-4

The SE model’s parts spec was specifically chosen to cater to smaller, lighter riders. Lighter wheels decrease rotational weight, and a handlebar with just 10 mm of rise keeps bar height low. Both the RockShox fork and rear shock utilize the Solo Air system with a self-balancing negative spring, allowing for perfectly balanced positive and negative springs for lighter riders.

It’s also worth noting the 134 SE is currently the high end of the 134 lineup, ringing in $400 more expensive than the DL. A base-model 134 is available for $2,799. Rumors of carbon Process models abound, but we’ve yet to hear any official word from Kona.

Kona Process 134 DL

Kona Process 134 DL

For those unfamiliar, Kona introduced the Process line in 2014 to cater to the burgeoning enduro market with the 29-inch-wheeled Process 111 DL and two 27.5-inch bikes: the Process 134 and Process 153. For 2015, Kona added the Process 167, with good ol’ 26-inch wheels, in addition to the 134 SE. Throughout the range, model names refer to the bike’s rear-suspension travel in millimeters. As the mountain bike market continues to evolve, geometry has marched steadily forward with longer front centers, slacker head-tube angles, lower bottom brackets and shorter chainstays. With the new Pro- cess line, Kona has pushed this approach even further by substantially lengthening top tubes and employing ultra-short 40 mm stems across all frame sizes. This lengthens the bike’s front center, which adds stability in steep terrain and at higher speeds. To balance the added front-center length, Kona kept chainstays as short as possible—just 16.7 inches on our test bikes.

By tucking the rear wheel under the rider and moving the front wheel farther forward, Kona purports to have added stability and confidence where desired while increasing the bike’s playfulness via the short rear end.

dirt-rag-kona process-dl-2

All of the Process bikes utilize Kona’s Rocker Independent Suspension system, which is fundamentally a linkage-driven single-pivot design. According to Kona, this design is tuned to balance climbing and descending by providing a stable pedaling platform and predictable ride quality through end of stroke.

On the trail

Kona set us up with a pair of Process 134s for our recent visit to Sedona, Arizona, for the Sedona MTB Fest For the most part, Sedona’s trails are tight and technical, requiring frequent lofting of the front wheel to navigate up rock ledges and down drops. In this terrain we both felt instantly comfortable on the Process and were thrilled to be on bikes with such short chainstays. Justin found the 134’s front end absolutely effortless to loft.

As you might expect, climbing on a bike with such short chainstays requires more effort to keep the front wheel down. But with a dedicated forward shift on the saddle and a boobs-on-bars approach, you can scramble up just about anything you have the power to conquer.

In steep terrain and at higher speeds, the long front center offers more stability than the 68-degree head-tube angle might suggest. Despite Justin’s pre-ride apprehension about the head tube being perhaps a little on the steeper side of the enduro spectrum, he found it to be stable at speed.

Both of our test bikes were spec’d with RockShox Revelation RL forks and Monarch RT rear shocks. Despite our weight difference, setting up proper sag and rebound damping was a piece of cake.

dirt-rag-kona process-se-5

Our experiences with the fork were very parallel. We found the 140 mm Revelation to be a solid and predictable performer, but occasionally wished for more plushness in rough terrain; once you’ve ridden a Pike, it’s easy to nitpick other forks. On the plus side, the Revelation rides high in its travel and offers a well-supported mid-stroke. Ridden hard on slick-rock, the Revelation can exhibit some flex, but that’s to be expected of 32 mm chassis forks. Emily appreciated having the multi-setting compression damping and found that adding a few clicks of damping controlled fork motion on technical climbs, helping her maintain momentum.

Both bikes utilize the same rear kinematics and shock tuning, and we had slightly different experiences with rear-suspension performance. Being lighter, Emily found the Rocker suspension to pedal pretty well in the Open setting, where Justin was often tempted to flip the switch to the Pedal setting to stabilize the pedal-induced motion and some mid-stroke wallow. Fortunately the Pedal setting worked pretty well on the trail, providing more initial and mid-stroke control while maintaining climbing traction. Kona incorporated a healthy ramp-up to end of stroke in the Rocker design. Neither of us came close to utilizing full travel in most trail-riding situations, but Justin eventually used full travel on a pretty good-sized drop. Moral of the story: Though there’s “just” 134 mm of travel here, it’s tuned to be pushed aggressively, more so than most trail bikes in this travel range.

In the spirit of being pushed hard, Kona has constructed a very burly aluminum frame with oversized tubes and big bearings in the suspension pivots. As a result, the rear end of the bike is precise and confidence inspiring in high-load situations. The frame is certainly stiff enough to warrant aggressive riders upgrading to an oversize-chassis fork. Of course, there’s a weight penalty for this burly construction. With the DL model specifically, 31 pounds is pretty hefty for a trail bike. Due to smaller frame size and lighter parts selection, the SE comes in a full two pounds lighter, though it still isn’t light considering the price, travel and frame size. Fortunately, the 134’s manual-happy personality and low-slung weight distribution make it ride lighter than it is.

At their respective price points, we felt both the DL and SE offer solid parts spec, including nice touches like Shimano SLX hubs on the DL and Novatec hubs on the SE. Of course the star of the SE’s show is the SRAM X1 11-speed drivetrain. This was Emily’s first experience with 1×11 and she was hooked. With the 30-tooth chainring, she found the X1 setup to offer ample gearing range. She also appreciated the simplicity of having only one shifter, freeing her left hand to manage the dropper post.

dirt-rag-kona process-dl-6

Speaking of dropper posts, we both fell in love with the KS remote lever. It’s small, unobtrusive and very easy to use. Both KS posts, a Super Natural Remote on the DL and Lev DX on the SE, impressed us with their performance as well. In this case the nod goes to the Lev DX for its fixed-position cable attachment on the bottom of the seatpost.

The SLX/XT/X7 drivetrain on the DL also performed flawlessly. The performance of the SLX-level parts is so good these days it’s becoming in- creasingly difficult to justify the expense of going upmarket to XT-level bits.

Takeaway

Kona’s somewhat radical approach to the Process line has created a unique and noteworthy line of bikes because they haven’t attempted to cater to everyone. Kona has built a series of bikes that like to rally first and foremost, with weight and efficiency being slightly less of a priority. With the 134, you’ve got trail-bike suspension travel with all-mountain weight, meaning this wouldn’t be a good bike for chasing Spandex-clad, cross-country bike-riding friends around, even though you’d certainly have a ton of fun catching them on the downhills. In this regard, we have a lot of respect for Kona building bikes the company’s employees want to ride.

Do you prioritize lively handling, endless manuals and a “hit it harder, bro” attitude over weight and outright efficiency? If so, you can’t go wrong here, unless you’d like these same short chainstays packaged with more travel and more-aggressive geometry—in which case the Process 153 just might be your huckleberry. Justin found the DL to be an excellent candidate for an all-around trail bike for the gravity-minded.

For the SE, the buying decision is just as easy. Emily felt instantly at home on this bike, as it’s the only one she’s ridden without needing to swap parts for proper fit or suspension setup. If you’re a rider of smaller stature who likes to get your wheels off the ground, the SE is a stellar choice. If, however, you prefer a wheels-on-the-ground approach and prioritize a lightweight bike, there might be better options.

Vital specs

SE

  • Price: $3,999
  • Sizes: XS, S (tested), M
  • Wheelbase: 44.2″
  • Top Tube: 22.9″
  • Head Angle: 68º
  • Seat-Tube Angle: 74º
  • Bottom Bracket: 13.3″
  • Rear Center: 16.7″
  • Weight: 29 lbs.
  • specs based on size tested

DL

  • Price: $3,599
  • Sizes: S, M (tested), L, XL
  • Wheelbase: 44.92″
  • Top Tube: 23.6″
  • Head Angle: 68º
  • Seat-Tube Angle: 74º
  • Bottom Bracket: 13.3″
  • Rear Center: 16.7″
  • Weight: 31 lbs.
  • specs based on size tested

 

Print
Back to Top