Norco Shinobi 2011 Review

29er Pro Reviews Video


Shinobi Downhill Performance

I expected the Shinobi to be a good climber. After all 29er afficianados recite improved climbing traction as a key reason for wagon-wheel world domination. However, I was extremely impressed by the broad range and capability of the Shinobi’s downhill ability.

As alluded to in my gushing praise of the Shinobi’s rolling terrain ability, I feel that a key contributor to the Shinobis’s rapier-like ability to dissect terrain is the stiffness of the frame which  refused to be deflected from its course. Chalk that up to the 20mm axle Reba, the Syntace 12mm rear end, the one-piece link arm, the tapered steerer or the overall bike’s design. Point and shoot is the way of the Shinobi.

Frame angles also seemed ideally suited to attacking downhills. The slack head angle coupled with the Reba’s ability to handle multiple hits of varying amplitude meant that the Shinobi always felt in control. From a personal preference point of view, I believe that wider bars and a shorter stem deliver disproprotionate benefits to 29er handling. As I’ve repeated over-and-over again, these big wheels have more inertia to overcome. The ever so slightly wider than stock 710mm bars I ran gives the rider ever so slightly more torque to finesse steering. The shorter stem allows that steering to be fine tuned and the rider to get back off the rear relatively easily in steeps without sacrificing that same steering ability.

While the Shinobi was stable and had that downhill-bike quality of being able to ride over terrain it did not lack playfullness. I found it surprisingly poppy when it was at speed; manuals, small bunny hops, hipping root balls and other small hits were easy to pull off. Although you won’t mistake the Shinobi for a dirt jump bike this side of the Shinobi speaks volumes as to its versatility.

Having said that, a dose of reality is always a good thing. The Shinobi is still a 120mm rear travel bike and is best suited to fast rolling downhils with small to medium sized hits. This is not a knock on the Shinobi or the eminently capable Monarch rear shock but this bike is by no means a coil sprung long-legged machine with freeride pretensions and if you push it too far and too hard it can and will be overwhelmed & the suspension will bottom out. Keep the Shinobi close to or on the ground and it will shine.

The only other remark on the Shinobi is something which I feel is generic to all 29ers. When you’re in extremely steep terrain and you encounter rocky terrain or obstacles there simply isn’t as much room to move the bike around you as with a conventional bike. The simple reason for this is that the bigger wheels get in the way. I would find it disconcerting to be buzzing my shorts (or getting uncomfortably close to my nether regions) as I navigated this steep terrain. Perhaps being psychologically pressured I would then lose my form, tighten up and not let the bike move under me as much as I’d like and consequently not have as much control as I’d like. It certainly could be the the case thatit is not a 29er issue so much as it is my issue and that, given more time, on 29ers I would discover the sweet spot to descending steeps on wagon wheels. It almost certainly is the case that this “limitation” (and I use that term advisedly) is not specific to the Shinobi but endemic to all 29ers. I would certainly welcome more discussion on this topic.


I tweaked the Shinobi’s front compartment by replacing the 80mm with a 70mm stem and adding a 710mm Answer riser to replace the flat 680mm alloy bar

Miscellanous Shinobi downhill shots from various places in BC

About the author: Lee Lau

Lee Lau calls North Vancouver and Whistler BC home. He's had over 15 years experience riding bikes mainly in western North America and in Europe. Unlike many people who learned to ride bikes on North Shore trails, he actually enjoys riding (and sometimes bushwhacking) uphill.

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  • Nitsuj says:

    Nice use of the word conflates. For some reason I thought you were an FSR fan, didn’t you love the Pitch and the LT?

  • leel says:

    Thanks! I really enjoyed the Pitch particularly because it combined so much value in one package and also really liked the Fluid LT that I tested.

    In the Fluid LT I tested I thought the bike really needed platform when going uphill; since then I’ve come to the conclusion that year’s model of DHX Air rear shock suffered from mid-stroke wallow. Its quite possible that its been rectified since other DHX Air’s I’ve tried haven’t had that same deficiency. Bottom line though was that, imo, the Fluid LT’s implementation of FSR was very active. Good for downhills. Hard to control for uphills therefore necessitating platform shocks.

    The Pitch Pro I tested didn’t seem to need platform and would stay planted while pedalling uphill. I’d think these are good datapoints for the perhaps trite observation that the pivot location for FSR implementations is quite important.

    Fluid LT One review here for reference –

    Pitch Pro review where I guest – reviewed here –

  • leel says:

    Some more information from Norco:

    Frame weight with shock is 3300 grams (7.27lbs), no shock is 2940 grams (6.48lbs).

    The frame is available on its own and the MSRP is $2280

    Planned changes for 2012 are as follows:

    - Changed tires (Nevegals will be stock)
    - Wider bars
    - Shorter stem
    - Added an outer guard

  • justin says:

    Thanks for the follow up LeeLau. I think I missed the part about the Fluid’s active ride. Would be interesting to have bikes that were favorites a year or two back to be re-ridden and mini reviewed to see if the conclusion at the time has held up or if their performance hasn’t held up over time relative to the new crop of bikes.

    BTW, got change for $.05?

  • Pingback: MTBR’s Two Cents on the Shinobi « News « Norco Bikes

  • Lee Lau says:

    That’s a tough one Justin. It’s hard enough just reviewing a bike let alone doing that kind of compare.

  • Matt B says:

    I enjoyed reading your review. It has stoked my interest in the Shinobi.

    I am definitely looking for an FS 29er XC but with a bit of an all mountain bias. Clearly you found the bike was a capable climber. Any thoughts on gearing, – did you feel the 24 x 36 granny on a 29er was low enough for extended mountain climbs ? Do you think the bike might be a bit on the heavy side for something like the BC Bike race?

  • leel says:

    Matt – I think it would be a bit overkill for the BC Bike Race but only because I know the course and the course favours lighter bikes. Thinking about it that’s because not many races involve 7 days of that much singletrack. While the Shinobi is a pretty good climber all that weight will hurt over the long haul. Consider the Revolver instead which is Norco’s 100mm travel version

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