Kona Process 134 DL: a Bikepacking Review

Kona’s Process family of bikes are billed as enduro racing machines with the 134 filling the mid-travel role. But with its forward-thinking design concepts, the Process 134 also serves as a perfectly capable bikepacking platform.

Overview

Kona has long been known to create fun, bombproof bikes with a nod towards simplicity in design. The introduction of the Process in Kona’s 2013 lineup caused a stir in the industry. The very next year, Kona ushered in a redesign of the Process platform that spurred an industry movement toward progressive, long and slack geometry that can now be found on most modern trail bikes. The mid-travel 134 is widely considered to be a quintessential Colorado trail bike, easily taking on the rocky trails the state offers.

How well does a 5.5in trail bike function as a bikepacking rig? For those who have never swung a leg over this bike, the answer might surprise you. The Process 134’s strengths in aggressive trail riding contribute to its prowess as an extremely capable bikepacking platform.

dscf1157

Technical Specs

As the model name indicates, the Process 134 comes standard with 134mm rear travel (5.5in) and 140mm up front, paired with 27.5in wheels. At first glance, 5.5in of suspension may summon fears of wallowing through travel while waging war against gravity’s cruel pull on man, machine and bikepacking gear, but additional pressure in the fork and shock combined with the 134’s progressive suspension tune provides a stable pedaling platform even while fully loaded. For extended periods of fire road travel, you’ll want to lock out the suspension. For reference, I’m a 180lb rider and my typical pressure settings are 80psi and 175psi front/rear respectively, though I bump those up to 100psi and 195psi while bikepacking.

The Process is far from the lightest bike on the market (mine weighs in at just under 30lbs with upgrades), but the weight is carried low. This makes for a grounded feeling when climbing or descending technical trail when loaded, as the lower center of gravity offsets some of the additional weight placed on the bike in a typical bikepacking scenario with a handlebar and seat bag. I’d argue that the weight of the gear has a far greater impact on riding efficiency than the bike weight, and if you’re anything like me, it’s the engine that could stand to shed a few pounds – not the bike.

One other noteworthy specification is the Head tube Angle (HA). The 2015 model’s HA measures a respectable 68 degrees (67 degrees on the 2017 model). I consider this a goldilocks-angle: not too steep and not too slack, keeping the bike playful while still maintaining stability when things get fast and loose. With gear strapped to the bars, the HA makes for very predictable handling characteristics under heavy load.

dscf2198

The Ride

While technical specs are helpful on paper, what really counts is how the bike rides once gear is strapped down, legs are turning and you’re cruising down the trail. I’ve been riding the 2015 model of the Process 134 DL for two seasons, taking on iconic trails such as the Monarch Crest, racing enduro on Moab’s legendary slickrock and going on numerous bikepacking trips. There have been moments where I’ve wished for more or less travel, depending on the terrain. There have also been times where having wheels shod with plus sized rubber would have been a godsend. But for the vast majority of the trails I ride in the Front Range, this bike fits the bill perfectly.

Grinding up forest service road is not exactly what the Process was designed for, but locking out the fork and shock allows you to better transfer your pedaling power into forward motion. The 27.5in wheels are a great wheel size for many applications, and there is a decent amount of cushion with 2.35in tires. It will not be the most efficient ride, but you will get where you need to go.

Singletrack is where the Process really starts to shine on bikepacking trips. The mid-travel suspension soaks up the bumps while the progressive tuning keeps the bike from feeling too DH in the pedal-heavy sections. This bike handles single track beautifully when fully loaded. The semi-slack HA maintains the nimble and playful nature of the 134 while the additional weight of bikepacking gear adds stability at speed. Momentum is easily preserved, and the Process cruises through choppy sections or that gnarly tangle of roots that might normally slow you down.

Handling

One of the most evident qualities of the Process 134 is that its geometry and low center of gravity are suited to technical climbing. However, while fully loaded  it becomes much more difficult to get the front wheel up-and-over rocks while attacking steep sections. This is typical of any bike operating with a load on the bars, but it’s worth mentioning that hike-a-bikes were a frequent occurrence while using the Process for bikepacking.

Cornering at speed while fully loaded takes some adjustment. The increased momentum from the added weight requires more body english than when the bike is gear free. Increased care should also be taken when considering body positioning on the bike. The Process’s geometry typically demands that it be ridden with an aggressive body position with weight towards the front while cornering. Hanging off the back in a more passive position results in undesirable front wheel drift. But when the bike is fully loaded, the extra weight gives additional purchase while cornering, keeping the bike from drifting through corners. Overall, the Process’s cornering prowess is maintained even when fully loaded. This bike is simply a delight while hitting twists and turns.

Even fully loaded, the Process is a capable descender.The additional momentum generated by a full load of camping gear increases braking distance as expected and makes it difficult to engage the dropper post without risking contacting the bag and the rear wheel. This is where the negatives end though – the additional stability gives you extra confidence in tight corners and technical features. Modest drops can be taken speed knowing that the suspension can soak it up. You won’t be setting any KOMs piloting a fully loaded Process 134 downhill, but you can certainly take on more than you would be able to on a hardtail or fully rigid bike. Descending is where the Process shines, whether fully loaded or out for a quick lap after work.

Durability

Durability is not typically addressed by bike reviewers due to the quick-turn nature of the typical bike review. No matter how well it rides, a bike that cannot survive the inevitable crash is not something I’d be interested in – especially for bikepacking. The durability of the Process 134 is perhaps one of the things that has stuck with me the most. On my second ride aboard the Process, I suffered a crash on Hall Ranch’s infamous Bitterbrush rock garden. My weight sandwiched the bike’s down tube between myself and a nasty collection of jagged rocks. The immediate result was a slightly dented down tube. Immediately after, I had visions of a crack slowly starting to spider out from the dent, rendering the frame a painfully expensive hunk of scrap metal. Two years later, I’m still left with a slightly dented down tube, no cracks and no catastrophic failure (knock on wood). All said, the Process lineup is as close to bulletproof as a bike can get. Think of it as a working (wo)man’s bike; not overly expensive but every bit as capable as bikes twice the cost.

There is however one area that was decidedly not bulletproof: the derailleur hanger. During a chance encounter with a rock, I ended up limping an improvised-singlespeed (thank you Garret!), fully locked out Process 134 out of the Kokopelli trail system in Fruita. Always pack a spare.

Setup

The Process 134 DL is my primary bikepacking rig, so I’ve experimented with various bag setups and found the list below to be the most useful. However, there is always room for improvement: future plans include construction of another custom top tube bag near the seatpost, and (if I’m lucky) one of Porcelain Rocket’s new dropper post compatible seat bags. If you’re looking for a few tips on how to pack your gear, make sure to check out our article on how to pack for a bikepacking trip.

Bag List

  • Revelate Designs “Pika” seat bag – I opted for the smaller sized Pika over the Vischa since this is a full suspension bike and clearance over the rear wheel while descending is of concern. Its smaller size also allows for some, albeit very minimal, lowering of the dropper seat post.
  • Revelate Designs Gas Tank –You can store food and sunscreen in there!
  • 13L dry bag strapped to the handlebars – Right now, I’m using a simple strap system to hold this in place. While it works adequately, the simplicity and ease of a dedicated system for multi-day trips would be much preferred. I plan on picking up a system before my next big trip.
  • Revelate Designs Pocket – The size Large pocket has convenient mesh pockets on the side for storing trash and extra space in the main pocket to add additional cargo area that the bike frame cannot provide.
  • Custom frame bag – The Process’s frame triangle doesn’t have much real estate, but what there is can be put to good use. My frame is a size Large and has room for a 3L hydration bladder. Having the hydration bladder stored in the frame bag keeps the heavy weight of the water off of your back and places it low on the bike towards the center of gravity. It also allows me to run the hose up to the handlebars for easy access on the move. Osprey’s bladders have handy magnetic clasps that I attach to the straps holding the dry bag on the handlebars. I built this bag myself using an Ikea sewing machine and absolutely zero sewing skills. Look for a detailed write up on how to make one later this winter when I make Custom Framebag 2.0™.

Conclusion

The Process 134 DL is an immensely capable trail bike; one that can be used for everything from enduro racing to multi-day bikepacking expeditions. Its 140/134mm of travel allow the rider to take on challenging terrain even while fully loaded, and a progressive tune on the suspension keeps the Process riding high in the travel while under pedal power. The industry-shifting geometry keeps the bike both nimble and stable at speed and comfortable fully loaded.

Disclosure: The Kona Process 134DL was purchased by the reviewer and was not provided as a test bike. We strive to provide an honest and objective review of the product’s strengths and weaknesses to our readers.

Leave A Reply

Navigate