WORDS BY SAM BAKER | IMAGES FINLAY WOODS
Remember the Kona Stinky? Perhaps the Stinky Dee-Luxe? The term ‘iconic’ doesn’t even begin to describe what this bike meant to an entire generation of riders. Before your long, slack, monster-truck of an enduro bike, there was the humble Stinky. Sporting a head angle closer to 90 degrees than 64, and a wheelbase shorter than a shopping trolley, it had a cult following like no other. In the early 2000s, Kona was the business.
There was a brief hiatus with a few missed marks over the years, but the recent success of the Process 153 and Operator models have reinstated Kona as a premier brand. New for 2021 is the Process X, a complete redesign on the ever-popular 153, albeit with a little more length, a slightly slacker headtube angle and a bit more travel. The sleek, new design disguises the X’s love for aggressive, technical trails. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is just a trail bike: it’s built to go fast and it makes no apologies for wanting to point downhill.
The Process X is a well thought-out bike. If you’re paying upwards of $7000 for a rig, you naturally expect it to be, and out of the box the Process X is ready to charge with a very versatile build. A Fox 38 Performance fork and a DPX2 shock handle the suspension duties while Shimano XT flawlessly takes care of the shifting.
None of the components are flashy or extravagant, but they all do their job and do it well. But the centrepiece of the bike is the 170mm 38 fork and its imposing presence.
Aside from the carefully considered build, Kona’s R&D crew has invested a lot of attention into the new frame, to ensure it’s fit for purpose.
Starting with the dropper post, Kona has opted for a shorter seat tube length that allows the small- and medium-sized frames to run a 170mm post, while the large and extra large receive the 200mm treatment.
The chainstays come in at a substantial 450mm across all sizes, which gives a noticeably planted feel when you want to let ‘er run. But with the ability to switch that to 435mm with a flip chip, you can easily create the more nimble, playful feel that Kona bikes are renowned for.
You can really tell how well a bike is built by looking at the finer details. Kona has gone as far as including two downtube protectors; one underneath to protect against stones and debris, and another cleverly positioned nearer the top of the downtube to repel shuttle rash—great work from the brand’s engineers. Another nice touch is the ‘tube in tube’ guides through the front-end and chainstays. This allows for pain-free cable replacements, and is something that all high-end bikes should come with standard these days.
What helps the Process X stand out from similar models is its dedicated mullet mode. A flip chip in the seatstay allows a 27.5” rear wheel to be seamlessly fitted without affecting the geometry. So if carrying two tubes and tight rear ends take your fancy, this could be on the money.
Riding the bike
Now a 63.5-degree head angle doesn’t necessarily lend itself towards a spritely, agile or quick-handling bike, but when combined with its 77.5 degree seat-tube angle, the Process X has the confidence to give it a go.
It’s not going to be a record-setter up any hills, but what it lacks in speed it makes up for in comfort. Think of it as a chauffeur, leisurely spinning you up any climb in a courteous manner and depositing you at the summit ever-so-calmly. I never really needed to use the climb switch—sure, on a gravel road you could flick it to get more oomph out of your pedal strokes—but for what it is, the suspension platform does its job better than expected when left wide open.
The large-sized model we tested sported a 490mm reach, which is big even for the current ‘long and slack’ climate we’re in. Usually I’d turn my nose up at such a length, but the steep seat-tube gives the pedalling position a much smaller feel than the numbers suggest, and it really doesn’t feel like the ungainly older brother you’d expect.
However, when you get into some spicy terrain, the added room is welcome and allows you to quickly establish a centred attacking position on the bike. Despite giving it a good crack, I still haven’t managed to make the Process X feel out of its depth. The buttery 38 consumes everything you put in front of it, and the long, stable frame keeps you planted over the roughest of terrain.
The rear-end feels solid and predictable, with a good amount of progression that avoids sharp bottom-outs and delivers a dose of confidence that’ll have you lighting up straightaways to your heart’s content.
Chances are you’ll freak out before this bike does. Not only is it stable, it also delivers an insane amount of grip when cornering, and that’s an aspect that really stood out to me. Simply lean it in and the bike will practically do the rest. It felt bizarre to give it death into every turn and have it spit me out the exit as if it was nothing. It’s a feeling I’m all too happy to embrace.