This bike piqued our interest from the moment we read ‘Process X’ in the Kona line sheet not long after EVO picked up the Kona distribution. With no information at the time other than “It’s a yet to be released big-fun bike” we were gradually drip-fed information as the launch crept closer.
Soon enough we had all the details on our screens, including some hot pictures and a comprehensive geometry chart (every bike nerd loves a good geo chart right?) Looking at the geo numbers and comparing to other bikes in the segment we could make some assumptions about how it would ride, but nothing allows you to pass judgment on a bike like getting your hands on a real-life actual bike! Fortunately, thanks to some rapid air freight we managed to get our hands on a pre-release bike. The bike made its way to our shores, only to be held up for a week by our ever-vigilant customs officers (we wondered if they’d taken it out for a quick ride).
Finally, the bike (size large) arrived at our office’s and after a quick build, it was time to get the rig out for a ride.
The box-fresh 2021 Process X sports 161mm rear travel (see the detail of this below), with 170mm up the front. Sure that’s plenty of travel, but this versatile beast is so much more than just great travel numbers. In the size large we see a 490mm reach, compared to other brands offerings in Large you would put this bike more towards the longer side of things. With a super short 420mm seat tube length and a 200mm dropper post, even a short-legged rider such as myself can take advantage of the nice roomy cockpit without compromising on post drop. With a 625mm ‘stack,’ it's pretty in line with its contemporaries in this department.
The Process X follows the (much welcomed!) trend towards steep seat tube angles, with a “virtual” ST angle of 78 degrees. This sits just ahead of other similar bikes in the category, and while not “extreme” in angle, it’s a huge step forward from Kona’s older bikes. While it's easy to be told about this in an article, the body position you achieve with a steeper seat tube is something you need to experience yourself to understand how much a small shift of a couple of degrees can make a big difference to the way a bike climbs. Couple the seat tube angle with the long reach and your overall position and actual distance to the handlebars feel just right.
One awesome feature the Process X has is the ability to adjust not only the rear chainstay length (138-150mm) but also the ability to go full-mullet and run a 27.5” rear wheel thanks to a handy flip chip at the top of the seat-stay. Once flipped this chip allows the use of the smaller rear wheel while maintaining consistent bottom bracket height and head angle. It’s worth noting the Small size Process X ships standard with a 27.5” rear wheel while other sizes are 29” stock. While in the ‘Short’ setting the bike has 158 mm rear travel, and when in the ‘Long’ mode it’s out at 164mm. Kona uses the mid-point of 161 mm in their marketing material to save confusion, although possibly it does the opposite?
There are some nice subtle touches across the bike, not least the cable routing, which is well thought out and features ‘Tube In Tube’ guides through the front end and for the derailleur cable routed through the chain-stay. This makes rerouting or replacing cables and brake hoses a breeze. ISCG05 tabs are ready to go if you wish to run a chain guide of some type, although we haven’t experienced any dropped chains on the new 12-speed Shimano drive trains as yet.
Spec-wise, this base model ‘X’ is solid without being frivolous. We can’t fault the solid Shimano XT/ Deore mix drive train, nor the Trans-X 200mm dropper post or the WTB KOM Trail i30 TCS rims on DT Swiss 370 hubs. The Trans-X post has an easy to use adjustment feature allowing you can fine-tune the post-travel to suit your needs (ie. if you don’t need all 200mm of drop, or you have short legs). The cockpit components do the trick, with Kona branded items. The 35mm long (and clamp size) stem wraps around an alloy riser bar, while jammed on the ends are a great set of Kona grips. Out of the box the bike is shod with Maxxis Assagai and Minion DHR, EXO+ tires. We’re stoked to see a quality set of shoes on a bike like this straight off the bat. Companies often cut corners in the tyre or cockpit areas but Kona has struck a great balance of quality, feel and cost. As far as brakes go, we’ve had great luck with the latest Shimano 4 piston versions, but in this case, the Deore units aren’t quite what we hoped for, even the SLX version (next tier up from Deore) is noticeably better. While these Deore units do the job, long term the brakes would be a solid upgrade for owners.
Then there’s the suspension. The Fox 38 Performance is everything it’s touted to be. Stiff, but not too stiff, and whatever’s going on inside them amounts to a plush buttery feel - something that we’ve struggled to achieve out of the box with other Fox forks in the past. Being the ‘Performance’ model there’s not a lot of adjustments on offer, but sometimes less is more right?! Out the back, we find the tried and true Fox DPX2 Performance Elite shock. The shock has the usual finger actuated, 3 setting compression lever - Open, Mid, and Firm. When in the ‘Open’ setting, compression is easily adjusted with a 3mm allen-key and features a good range of adjustment.
Sure it looks good, fits well, and has a solid spec on it - but how does it ride?
For our first ride on the ‘X’ we had the bike set up as it was out of the box, with the 29” rear wheel in the ‘Short’ setting. The first thing that jumped out, literally out the front, was the front wheel - due to that mega-slack head angle of 63.5 degrees. The wheel seems a long way off, but thanks to the steep seat tube angle and long reach you’re seated nice and centrally with a good balance of weight between the wheels. Unlike some other bikes in this category, at no point did we feel the front end wavering excessively while climbing, again in part thanks for the geometry but also the reduced offset (44mm) fork helps in this department. For the overall size and weight of this bike, it climbs very well. You’re probably not going to be stacking hill-climb KOM’s but keep the pedals spinning and you’re all good - as long as you switch the rear compression lever into ‘Firm’ or ‘Mid’. If you’re in the ‘Open’ setting be sure to spin smoothly while in the saddle and you’ll be fine, but stand up and mash the pedals and you’ll be bobbing all over the place.
Descending is what this bike is all about, and that’s certainly where it shines. The steeper and rougher, the better. Hitting sections at high speed was predictable, and even when off-line the bike remains composed. The short back end certainly keeps things playful and nimble, and popping off jumps big or small takes minimal effort and the bike certainly doesn’t feel “big”. Initiating turns is easy, although on mellower trails the slack head angle means a bit more body language is required to keep things balanced and ensure the front maintains traction.
Changing from the “Short” chainstay length (435mm) to the “Long” (450mm) is theoretically easy to do, but the reality is it’s a little niggly, particularly trailside. However, with the right technique, it’s not too difficult. First off, you need to install the supplied brake adaptor, then to make things simple, undo the derailleur from the hanger and let it hang free, this takes tension off the chain which proved to be annoying when moving the wheel back in the frame while trying the keep the dropout in place, as well as line everything up to put the axle back in. After a bit of trial and error, we found removing the derailleur the easiest solution.
Riding wise, outside of the travel differences mentioned earlier, the differences between the chainstay lengths do make a difference to the overall feel of the bike. In summary, when in “Short” mode the bike is a bit more playful, poppy and nimble, and when in the “Long” setting it’s certainly a bit more stable and composed at speed but only marginally less playful. We found the long setting better over small stutter bumps, and overall a bit more active and plush than the shorter setting. We would sum it up as “Short for show. Long for GO!”
Overall we’ve had a ball of fun on this bike, and although we by no means managed to test the limits of its capabilities due to the terrain at hand, we did cover enough ground to get a good feel for what this rig is all about. The Process X is just the ticket for aggressive trail riding, high-speed park laps, big whips and the odd enduro or downhill race.
An EVO ambassador for the last few years, Matt’s been riding and racing every type of bike since he was born and has gained a wealth of bike experience far beyond his years. While he started on a BMX, Matt’s main focus is now Enduro MTB but he was a force to be reckoned with on the road and track through his later school years.Instagram: @mattsberrys
Much like Matt, Lester has been riding and racing bikes of all sorts since his early years. Kicking off the two-wheeled experience on a BMX, then moving on to Mountain Biking (back when one bike did it all). Lester dabbled in Road, and Track racing along the journey. His main focus has been on racing Enduro since 2013, but all the different types of bike in the shed still get used from time to time. Lester is part of the Marketing team at EVO and has been in the bike industry most of his life.Instagram: @lesterperrynz
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