KONA PROCESS 167 Review
We test what could be the final chapter in 26” history, Kona’s 167.
From dirt issue 153
Words: James McKnight
Photos: Joonas Vinnari
Tested | KONA PROCESS 167 Review
Kona were one of the companies who impressed in 2013/14 with the launch of their Process platform of bikes and a devotion to a new world of wheel talk; the range consisting of two 27.5″ beasts (the Process 153 and 134) and one 29″ (the Process 111).When we rode the Process 153 last year in Austria for the bike’s official launch it instantly became one of our favourites, making a beeline directly into the 2014 Dirt 100 (our roundup of the best products each year). Kona had set the pace with their range of innovative (in the geometry and wheel size) bikes and were marching fast into the future. For 2015 the range gets a new addition, this time in the form of a 170mm travel, 26″ wheel, heavy hitter. Back to the future?
It seems strange, surely, that after confi dently forging the way with a line of bigger-wheeled bikes last year that for 2015 Kona are birthing a new sibling into the Process range in old money: 26″ wheels as standard. Is this a mad move, an oversight, or maybe some sort of bodge job to filter out a stockpile of products?
Or, less cynically, maybe there is some life – further innovation – left in what we thought to be a defunct size? That’s what Chris Mandell, Kona’s head Product Manager, says.
This bike apparently has its place in the modern world of mountain biking, so too the wheel size. I gave it a pasting on a cold alpine hillside earlier this year, and caught up with Mandell.
The news of Kona launching a 26-incher was something of a shocker, but having met their design team of Mandell and Jack Russell on several occasions, I knew they’d probably have something up their sleeve. It turns out that the Kona Process 167 does have its own set of goals and intentions in life that perhaps lend to smaller, marginally stronger wheels. It also replaces the brand’s Entourage bike, which was always aimed at being a bike park slayer, and should lend some clues as to why they took this seemingly brave move.
Kona pro Graham Aggasiz needs a bike that can spin, flip and tailwhip, and he has a lot of say in the genetics of this bike, so now we’re getting to the basis of the 167’s intended use.
I f nd it hard to believe that it is going to be partaking in any enduro races, as Kona slightly unconvincingly mention in the bike’s blurb, so we’ll ignore that. Mandell told me he runs his
own 167 singlespeed and uses it as his “Whistler bike”, something simple and durable on which he can put in laps on the mountain’s famous A-Line jump trail.
Eyebrows were raised on initial inspection – just as it was hard to get your teeth into a 29er just a couple of years ago the reverse has now happened – but with Mandell’s description of the bike’s purpose in life that changed to a sort of satisfied chin rub. We can’t imagine that there are going to be many bigger-wheeled bikes appearing at Aggy’s Fest Series any time particularly soon – spinning and flipping and tricking over huge jumps is better suited to smaller bikes and a short chainstay according to the expert himself (and if it works for Aggy… ).
And this is where we unearth the secrets a little more. You see (this is the story according to Kona), Mandell and Russell knew they had to keep the super short 415mm chainstay of the Entourage bike so that this new creation could jump with the best of them, and in order to do so while keeping the geometry they wanted (the 167 has a 65º head angle and -2 BB), there simply wasn’t enough space for a bigger wheel.
Everything about this goes against the bike industry’s Book of Commercial Innovation, which leads us to think it is a genuine story we’ve heard here. Having said that, discontinuing the Entourage and bringing it over to the same Process platform must be a cost saver, so it’s probably a smart business move too. Let’s just hope it rides well.
This is a bike aimed at a niche market, and for that matter there is only one package on offer. Coming in at around four grand, you’re going to want a dialled package of components here, solid parts that won’t fail, and high-end at that. Drive is taken care of by a collection of SRAM X1 and X01 parts, with their new and very good Guide brakes slowing things down. RockShox Lyrik RC2DH Solo Air forks up front are decent, if a little basic in the age of the Pike, and one of the few options designed to take the hammering this bike sets out to seek. An air shock – the RockShox
Vivid Air RC2 (our test bike came equipped with a coil shock) – takes care of things out back and keeps things simple for the bike park. The seatpost you see here is the great KS Lev Integra, a dropper post that Mandell enthuses over. The rest is finished up with Race Face Atlas bars, Novatech hubs on WTB Frequency rims and 3C (triple compound) Maxxis Minion tyres. It’s a decent, but not astonishing, package for the money. Maybe we’re just de-sensitised by bargains on offer elsewhere?
The one thing I will say is… that I think this bike seems a little confused, and perhaps that is made more evident through the components spec. The dropper post is an innovation that no enduro bike should be without, but although Kona and Mandell say this one can pedal to the top of a tech downhill, I’m just not convinced that’s where the bike’s heart is. Graham Aggasiz won’t be pedalling to the top of any monster jump lines, and I probably won’t be grinding up any hills on it either – I’d rather see it commit fully to pointing downhill instead of sitting between two camps (enduro and gravity).
On the mountain
People who spin and trick on a full suspension mountain bike on the side of a mountain are hard to come by. I’m certainly not one of those, save the odd stiff-backer. However, the essence and spirit of the bike I like very much; I’d like to think any day now I’ll start throwing down big flat 360s like the man Aggy, and I’m sure there are plenty of you reading this who are in a similar boat. Taking the 167 to the Fiss ladis Serfaus resort in Austria I started to like it more than I had imagined my apprehension would afford me.
After a day on some standard (but very good) Alpine terrain – rocks and roots and switchbacks with the odd climb – I took the bike more into its element and hit the bike park. Berms, jumps, not a lot of rough stuff other than a few braking bumps. The 167 is comfortable here, a pig in shit, loving every metre of banked turns and each booter to hit,of which there were many. While it may have a short chainstay, overall it’s a long old beast with a wheelbase of 1189mm on a size Medium, reach of 450mm (for reference that’s 30mm more than the new Specialized Demo downhill bike in the same size). Plenty of space up front gives confidence in all scenarios, particularly at speed, and presumably that’s beneficial when your tyres are buzzing on the dirt as you approach a
monster jump at top speed. The length of this thing is actually quite surprising even when looking at it, and there’s definitely enough in its three sizes for the tallest of riders. Having said that, it does seem bizarre that a bike aimed at jumps and tricks is quite so lengthy up front, but what do I know?
To take the bike out of its element and put it (and myself) into dangerous territory I then tagged along with Kona pro riders Connor
Fearon and Andrew Crimmins – two very polite, committed and friendly characters I may add – and we pointed ourselves at the bike park’s downhill racetrack on a rainy Alpine summer’s day. Holes, cambers, roots, rocks, mud: the track is sublime in terms of natural downhill terrain. There are also plenty of large jumps near the end, which are perfect for the 167’s nature.
In the tech I was surprised at how composed the bike could be. The length up front puts the rider in a position of great confidence, and I was able to smash into turns with equal excitement as I would on any downhill sled. Across the roots and cambers the 167 held its line. (Although that’s something the 153 does well too, perhaps better even still…)
If you’re not racing downhill but only like to point your bike downward, then you’d be mad to buy anything bigger than this in this day and age. The bike likes to take off from terra firma,
that we have already deduced. So down on the lower slopes it was time to hit the bigger jumps: a mix of wooden booters in the trees and machine-built tables, step-ups, and all sorts. It’s funny though, because although the bike felt absolutely capable and at home here, it was in the tech that preceded it that I felt it most at home. Jumps – especially the straight airs that I put it through and which pretty much 100% of the bike’s potential owners will do – are of course no problem here.
I really enjoyed my time putting the bike through its paces in the Alps, I was surprised at how well it handled the steep DH stuff but less so that the wheels didn’t hold me back…The bike lapped up the tech and was right at home on the big booters. However, I have to say that I’m not so sure it is as defined in its purpose as I have come to expect from Kona’s dream duo of Mandell and Russell.
I’ve gone in a great big circle while contemplating this bike. I had a lot of fun on it, I felt good on it, it felt solid and reassuring and it has a bombproof feel to it. I’d love to have it
as one of many bikes in a garage, the one that I bust out for bike park laps. But there are very few people who have the privilege of a full line up of bikes and options for each and every day of the week. If you’re looking for a do-it-all bike, even if you fi nd yourself pointing down more than up or along hills, then you’d frankly be better off going for the superb, and
future-proof, Process 153. If you like to hit big airs and rail berms then you are someone who will benefit from the added beefiness of the Kona Process 167 and its trick-happy geo. It’s a conundrum.
Frame Kona Process 167
Shock RockShox Vivid Air RC2
Fork RockShox Lyrik DH RC2 Solo Air
Stem Kona 40mm
Headset FSA Orbit
Grips Kona S-LOG
Bars Race Face Atlas FR
Shifter SRAM X1
Derailleur SRAM X01
Brakes SRAM Guide
Seatpost KS Lev Integra
Saddle WTB Volt Team
Crank SRAM X1
BB SRAM BB92 GXP
Chain KMX X11
Wheelset Novatech hubs on WTB Frequency Team rims
Tyres Maxxis Minion 3C
Sizes Small, Medium, Large