Kona’s 153 Process platform launched last year to resounding success and the 27.5 bikes were critically acclaimed across the board. However, what many people didn’t realise was that Kona sneaked two models of 29er into the 153 lineup, both in aluminium, and both towards the lower end of the price bracket.
Keen to get our impressions on how the Process handled with the big wheels, Kona sent us a 153 AL 29 to check out. A 160mm front, 153mm rear travel 29er with a 66° head tube angle is right up there with the modern assimilation of a long-travel 29er, so we were excited to get this beast out of the box and onto the trails.
First impressions while setting it up were that the 153 29 AL was a bruiser of a bike. The big burley centre bar on the Kona Beamer linkage looked meaty enough to handle anything we could throw at it, but it also came with a weight penalty, with the bike weighing in at a porky 15.5kg.
The first caveat that’s worth mentioning is that this model retails at a modest four grand and therefore is spec’d accordingly, with RockShox’s price-conscious Yari Solo Air fork, Deluxe RT shock, and the simple but effective SRAM Level T brakes. The rest of the spec, however, is impressive for the price point: Race Face Aeffect crankset, WTB i29 TCS rims shod with Maxxis Minion DHF 2.3” tyres, a TranzX dropper post, SRAM’s true and tested NX 11-42T 11 speed cassette and finished off with a Kona bar and stem.
A quick look at our medium test bike’s vitals told me that it was longer than average in both wheelbase (1189mm) and reach (450mm) but sported a set of the very short chainstays (425mm) which only added to my enthusiasm to get out on that first ride. As I rolled out of the car park my initial concern was that with the heavy frame and small range cassette the 153 would be a chore on the climbs, but was pleasantly surprised with the speed at which it ascended. Of course that 12th gear is always nice, but unless you live in the steepest of locales, more of a lazy luxury than a necessity. What really impressed me though was how the big wheels and long wheelbase negotiated the tight switchbacks that are a signature of a lot of my local climbs. The 29 AL rolled around them with consummate ease.
My first descent was an eye opener—fast and direct, and the stiffness in the rear end with the Beamer linkage was impressive. Cornering was a lot of fun too; those miniscule chainstays give the Process the manoeuvrability and nimble prowess akin to a much smaller bike.
The 153mm of rear travel seemed bottomless and ate up everything I could find over the one-month test window. The AL 29 is like a deftly agile juggernaut; that short, stiff rear end mixed with the big front wheel and long reach make it extremely stable at speed. You feel like you can just stand on it and plough over everything in your path, yet retain the precision needed to change direction at will.
The only weaknesses the 29 AL has all seem to stem from the spec of the bike rather than anything systemic. The Level T brakes were either off or aggressively on, and while we spent time tuning the suspension to its ideal settings (using a ShockWiz for the first few rides) it was still a bit underwhelming, lacking any finesse and perhaps robbing the bike of some of its playfulness and pop. An instant upgrade I’d look at would be to drop the RC2 damper into the Yari fork, which I believe would help a lot.
The other query I had initially was around the hefty weight of the 153, but found that it didn’t actually faze me much while I was riding, only when lifting it onto the rack. However, for those gram-shaving weight obsessives out there, Kona have recently released the Process 153 29 in carbon, so keep an eye out for those at your local bike shop.
The Process 153 29 AL is a lot of bike for the price and sits as a legitimate all-rounder. Of course, you’re not going to win any XC races on it, but for general trail riding or bike park laps, the Kona is an incredibly fun and confidence-inspiring bike to ride. I was genuinely surprised by how much I loved riding the AL 29, proving that the old adage of ‘never judge a book by its cover or price tag’ rings true more than we would like to admit.