Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Freedom, Fun, and Corpse Flowers.

The Kona Coiler was the first bike that I lusted over.  At 6" of burly travel, it looked like perfect bike for riding trails.  Any trails, whether they went up or down or piddled around without really going either way.  Enough cushion in the rear to feel comfortable pushing your personal limits on the trails, but avoiding the dreaded uphill trudge that most big bikes require.
I never ended up getting a Coiler, but the six inch travel bike is still my idea of mountain bike perfection.  A bike that can handle terrain that's steep going uphill and downhill is the most freedom-giving bike you can own.  Not only does it allow you to travel with only one bike, it can save you the money of another steed.  To put it succinctly, if you are a skilled mountain biker you could own one six-inch travel mountain bike and have space, time, and money in your life to ride (or build trail!) more often.

For example, my bike in 2013. Some dreams don't die.
Chris Mandell, gravity product manager at Kona Bikes, is an interesting character who understands this concept of the one-bike dream.  I met him once at a Galbraith trailhead, and we had a quick chat about the trails north of us in BC.  He was riding a Kona 29er hardtail, and I was struck by how fun he claimed the bike was on the rocky, technical trails of North Van.  If you could ride a bike like that at Fromme, where wouldn't you be able to ride it?  Fast, steep trails would test the strength and steep angles of any bike designed to be pedaled, but without riding downhill zones you could ride that bike on any trail.

Mandell's viewpoint on bike design has been recorded in numerous recent interviews touting Kona's new line of bikes.  The claims that he makes are simple, but reflect that bikes should give their rider a sense of freedom.  Rather than riding at the limits of the bike, riders should be able to find a platform that allows them to ride at their personal limits on almost any terrain.  Here's a video interview with Mandell from good folks at Bike Mag:

You can also find interviews with Chris in Dirt Magazine, on Pinkbike, and at Mountain Bike Rider UK.

The 2014 Kona Process line is exciting because the bikes are designed to ride well.  That's not saying that most other bikes aren't designed to ride well, but rather that there seems to be more of a focused approach to good riding being applied here than many other companies pursue.  I'm almost more interested in what Chris isn't saying: no talk about using chain tension to dampen the shock,  having a super unique suspension design, or making exclusive proprietary components. Another thing that's not being said:  These bikes were designed to order by a tall person. Chris Mandell is a big motherfucker.  Who better to understand how frustrating it is to have a super long seat tube, or how annoying a top tube above your knees really can be?  Speaking as a tall person myself (see above picture of my bike for reference), I have experienced how bike sizes seem to inflate beyond comfortable geometry for descending.  This is not to say that shorter people don't feel the pain, too.  It's an issue for everyone.  However, the sizing on the Process line should make everyone happier.  With geometry that lists stack and reach before anything else, and seat tube lengths that ends at 18.3" for the XL size, Kona has produced a bold paradigm shift not seen since Transition decided maintain a 15" seat tube across all sizes on their Bottlerocket.  The Process isn't meant to check the boxes on size, travel, strength, and purpose categories that most other companies use to sell bikes.  The purpose of the Process is to be fun.

Having poured glowing praise onto Kona and their fancy new bikes, I have to say that I am actually really bummed about the Process line.  I would really love to buy a Process frame, slap the parts I have onto it, and ride it to death.  But I can't, because I have 26" wheels. I said before that the six inch travel bike can give you the freedom to have only on one bike and leave you more time and money to ride it.  This was my mantra through years of being broke and in school, and it still shapes my shopping preferences today.  My 6" travel bike is both a modern frame and part relic, with some parts dating back to the bike I bought in 2008.  I don't care to buy a whole new bike every few years, and I can't start doing that in any case.  The fact that any rider with a bike 1+ year old, besides a 29er, can't buy into the Process line at the frame level is a shame.  I don't doubt that 27.5" inch wheeled bikes are fun, or capable, or a valid size of wheel to ride.  The issue is, by making bikes in different sized wheels than a previous standard that has worked quite well for a number of year, the accessibility to those bikes is decreased.  I appreciate the Process platform as bikes that are meant to facilitate good times and freedom, but I feel that Kona has overlooked the freedom that is gained by granting access to the frame to people who already own a bike but wish to improve their experience.

To Chris and to Kona, good on you for making a bike worth the money it costs.  And to the bike industry, for so aggressively pursuing a small area of growth until it blossomed into a monstrous smelly pile of marketing BS like a corpse flower, shame on you for being a gaggle of self-serving blumpkin-givers.

Amorphophallus titanum, US Botanical Garden

1 comment:

  1. The lack of dropper post isn't going to look good on your Team Enduro USA application.