Norco Vixa and Kona Minxy, ’09 Women FR Bikes

26er Pro Reviews

Components –

Fork

Initially I was really happy with the Marzocchi 55-ATA that’s standard on both bikes. It’s torsionally stiff, easy to adjust and ultra plush. It steers incredibly well both over blistering fast rock gardens and slower technical descents and let’s you predictably thread the needle through the steepest and roughest terrain. The fork corners consistently well in both smooth or rough conditions and makes a cake walk out of rocky DH trails. The 20mm front thru axle is a breeze to work with and holds the front wheel extremely secure. I was also quite pleased that the fork had travel adjustability down from 160mm to 120mm – a huge plus for all mountain riding. It’s by no means perfect, however, and there are a few things I’d change if I could;

1st – The travel adjustment knob is the antithesis of ergonomic. It’s sharp edges and unforgiving contours are murder on the fingers – especially if you’re hands are cold. Combine that with a requirement to first lift the knob up, and in both of my cases – off – it’s usually a guarantee for sore fingertips.

2nd – The lockout lever seems to have been designed backwards and it nearly defies the laws of physics with it’s almost complete lack of friction. It also locks out with a clockwise turn of roughly 60º which means two things: The lever can rattle into a locked position if the terrain is rough enough and you’re carrying enough speed. It happened to me once, it did not make me happy. It also means that a stray branch or bit of brush can effortlessly lock your fork out and instantly ruin your day. That happened to me too. Once. Two zip-ties later and I was good to go.

3rd – The forks also seemed to have slightly limited travel. I consistently got only ~5 of the 6 inches promised by the length of the stanchions. I haven’t diagnosed the reason for this behavior, but a possibility is too much oil in the fork. This could be a bit of a pain in the neck for many people. Sending the fork back to the factory for a rebuild, or having your LBS do it all takes time away from you and the trails. It’s not catastrophic , as the forks still work quite well, it’s just something to be aware of if it seems like your fork is acting peculiar.

If fork replacement is potentially in your future, one thing to note is that the Minxy’s 1.5” headtube presents more options for a bigger, huskier fork upgrade. The freedom to choose between 1.125” and 1.5” steer-tubes may be of significant value for women looking for more generous travel on the front end.

Shock
Both bikes are outfitted with identical Fox DHX Air 3.0s and they work great with the fork. They’re fairly adjustable and easy to dial in for a smooth and buttery ride. The Minxy’s rear suspension design provided easier access to the shock adjustment ports while the Vixa’s were a bit more hidden within the rear yoke. Once the shocks were adjusted properly, they performed consistently regardless of the hit frequency and/or amplitude. They did not skitter over the fast stuff nor did they bottom out on drops. The well controlled rebound damping kept the bikes from bucking after large inputs, regardless if it was an obstacle or a drop. Essentially, the rear wheels stayed on the ground when they were supposed to and were ready to pop-up when they weren’t.

Brakes

There’s nothing to write home about here. These are definitely a weaker part of the component build and definitely one of the first things I’d address on both bikes. The Avids on the Norco held out better than the Hayes Strokers did on the Kona, but both brakes were prone to serious fade during longer (~1/2 hour) descents and neither were ever as strong as they should be. Their lack of strength meant for tired hands and less brake control over tenuous terrain than I’ve experienced on some of the higher end brakes. However, if you don’t plan on taking these bikes to the top of big hills for long DH/FR runs, and instead want to ride at jump or terrain parks then the stock models are probably more than adequate. If you fancy a lengthier descent I highly recommend upgrading part or all of the systems. Switching pads on the Avids from organics to semi-metallics could significantly help increase braking strength. The Hayes already come with semi-metallics, so a pad upgrade may not be enough to get you the strength you need. You might want to also consider increasing the rotor size on both bikes.

Brake lever feel and reach adjustment has to go to the Hayes Strokers. The levers were easier to actuate and adjust in towards the bars. They were significantly more ergonomic than the Avids as well. Keep in mind my hands aren’t tiny. I wear a women’s large cycling glove. But I know a lot of women whose hands are much smaller than mine. I strongly recommend trying out different brake levers to make sure they will accommodate your hand size. Levers that won’t adjust close enough to the bars will result in very tired hands and forearms too early in the day.

As far as the bikes are concerned, I didn’t notice anything particularly bad while braking. The Kona’s back end got a little loose but nothing too alarming. Certainly nothing to cause problems or distress. An option eliminating that effect would be looking into the D.O.P.E. system, Kona’s answer to the “single-pivot lock-out-under-braking” question. I didn’t experience anything obvious with the Norco. The four bar linkage design seemed to work fine. It didn’t feel like it jacked up or dove while I applied the brakes. It seemed quite balanced and predictable.

Wheels & Tires

Both bikes came with hefty rims laced with stout spokes. The Kona has Alex DM24 hoops and the Norco has SunRingle MTXs. The wheels are strong and stiff and have held up well on the abusive trails around town. Initially the Formula hubs on the Norco spun quite slow, though. There was significant friction and it was obvious The first few rides felt like the brakes were rubbing all the time. Eventually, however, this problem went away and the hubs now spin as well as the Shimanos. The Norco has a 12mm Maxle on the back which is nice for wheel security and added stiffness. The Kona has a standard rear QR that’s slightly faster to actuate than the Maxle when time is of a necessity, but it doesn’t add the bonus of extra rear end stiffness. I didn’t notice the Kona flexing, but if someone’s going big it might make a difference.

I was half expecting DH tubes in the tires after I got my first flats, but I was surprised to find standard mtn. bike tubes holding in the air. Switching to beefier tubes might be something to consider if you plan on incorporating mountain riding into your rides. The Minions on the Kona pinch flatted all the time. And I’m not particularly heavy. Nor am I a hack when it comes to lines. I don’t expect my tubes and tires to make up for a lack of control or brute force descending. It’s more of a pleasant surprise than an expectation when I hit my rim and I don’t pop a tire. So I started getting irritated with the 2.35 Minions on the Kona when I got flats on every ride. The traction was awesome on both dirt and big steep rocks and they cornered great, but the thin casing on the OEM tires just wasn’t substantial enough for rocky descents. As a sidenote, I typically run ~ 35psi in my tires to prevent this very situation. At 40 psi the flats tended to stop but the traction started going to hell, so I’d suggest a huskier sidewall. The Minion’s are a great tire, I would just suggest a tougher version.

The 2.35 Kenda Nevegals on the Norco were less prone to flatting than the Minions. They had good traction both in cornering and descending and held their own on steep smooth rocks. The Minions felt like they rolled/pedaled faster than the Nevegals, but I had a hard time divorcing differences in seating position, bike geometry and tire style when determining pedal efficiency. I would suggest here as well, invest in a thicker sidewall if descents are in your future. Though they flatted less often than the Minions, the Nevegals still flatted more than I preferred.

Saddles

Both bikes employ WTB women specific saddles. The Minxy has a more all-mountain feel to it than the Vixa, and the differences are obvious on longer rides. The Speed She Comp on the Kona is slightly narrower and less squishy than the Speed She on the Norco. If you’re getting the Vixa for an all mountain fun adventure type bike, I’d consider a more supportive saddle model. My personal fave is a Fizik Aliante with steel or ti rails for mountain applications. I was impressed to find that the Minxy’s was comfortable on longer (3-4 hour) rides. Usually I’m pretty picky about seats, but the Speed She Comp was nice. Both were great for descending. The Norco’s Speed She was a little softer and made for happier landings if it happened to get in the way a little bit.

Drive-trains

Fortunately both manufacturers provide bash guards with their cranks – an obvious necessity for bikes intended for abuse. The double ring is a lifesaver too. I like to pedal to the top of my climbs, so having the appropriate gears is a necessity. I’ll say that my granny gears are probably more worn than the 32T rings. The Kona comes with a competent all Shimano Deore drivetrain and a 11-34 9spd cassette. The Norco is spec’d with a mix of Shimano and Sram components and sports a PG-950 11-32 9spd cassette. Both bikes shifted great in the beginning. They were repeatable and fairly crisp, but they have recently started to develop some shifting problems. I really just need to take a few minutes and adjust the rear deraileurs to take up the cable stretch.

All of that being said, adding a chain guide would make life more idyllic as the chains tend to hop off during quick big hits. This is more of a nuisance on a recreational ride, but if racing or competition is something you’re thinking about, throw down the ducats for a chain guide. The Vixa has an ISCG adapter which is awesome, because there are so many options from which to choose. The Minxy would require a BB mounted design, which is fine, it’s just be a bit more work to set up.

Cockpit Feel/Fit and Climbing…

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  • Tony W says:

    Is she related to a Nascar driver?

  • Miquel Sanchez says:

    Another fine example of the wasteless critueqing in the bike industry. No disrespect to the author, but how does a comparison review by one rider of two bikes amount to anything helpful for the average consumer?

    Reading between the lines, there are too may problems with both bikes beyond their UGLY looks. The Norco doesn’t climb or sprint and the geniuses that order the bikes there (there are no inhouse engineers at Norco) haven’t been able to find one with a design where the seatpost doesn’t slam into the rear shock. So you need to carry two seat posts! No problem says the author! No, thats a big problem, because it shows it’s a stupid design. Let’s see, it doesn’t climb or sprint and I need two posts. Yup, I am all over that companies bike.

    The Kona is yet another version of their tired suspension design repackaged into a “womens design”. It’s apparently stable, if you get it going fast enough but doesn’t steer well at slower sppeds and is a pain to push around and suffers from unwanted suspension lock-out. On top of that, it is heavy! So, if you just do fast descents (huh?) this may be the bike for you.

    Useless! Comparing one slow fat pig against another one, doesn’t help me. There are lots of good bike designs out there from companies that actually design and manufacture their own bikes and that invest in real engineering. Shootoots between only two bikes are useless, unless of course, you live in a town that only has one bike shop selling only those two bikes with no access to courier or mail service.

  • adam says:

    Hey Miquel Sanchez,

    I think you might have missed the title a bit Miguel. The reason these two bikes are in a shootout is because the are FEMALE freeride bikes for ‘09. Both from two big companies that are going to attract a lot of attention from women riders who are looking into women specific freeride bikes. That is a perfectly legit reason to compare them.

    Reading between the lines is fine. Remember, every bike has its good and bad, along with ever suspension design. There is yet to be a perfect bike for all conditions.

  • Tracy Barrell says:

    Hey,
    I have a good solution that will work very well for your seat post issues for the Norco Vixa, Titec makes a telescoping seat post that works perfectly for this application. Though it is a bit heavier it is a small sacrifice to have full leg extension for rides up but still be able to slam it if needed for the decent. I am happy with the Vixa, I live in Pacifica and there is a climb to get to the decent, this bike works perfect for this type of riding. Of corse there are always little things I would change about the stock parts and all that but I am willing to make a few mods to make the bike better like: chain guide, better pedals, grips, and possibly brakes. Thanks Norco! Ride on!
    Tracy Barrell Pacifica Ca

  • Tiffany says:

    Tracy,

    That’s a great suggestion for solving the seatpost situation on the Vixa. Glad to hear it’s working for you.

    Tiffany

  • Ezra L. says:

    I’m glad to see that some one put some perspective to Miguel’s comment. As Tracy pointed out, the awesome underlying point to this whole “shootout” is that there are actually woman’s specific freeride bikes being produced by major bike manufactures!I can not tell you what a relief it is to me to know that my wife will have access to a bike that actually was made to fit her. No longer will we struggle to find builds that suit her needs (she likes to bomb through things, without always looking for the best(smoothest) lines), and that fits her body. My only qualm with this article is where is the Transition Syren? Without the Syren being present it doesn’t allow riders (particularly woman riders) to understand the full array of choices that they do have. Please include the Syren in future tests. I know that my wife would love to hear what you have to say about it. Thanks.

    Ezra L

  • Tiffany says:

    Hi Ezra,

    Glad you enjoyed the article. As for the Syren, I’d be happy to review it if it becomes available to do so. I hope your wife can find a big that fits her well, no doubt it will help her go even faster!

    Tiffany

  • Paul says:

    I feel as though for being female specific bikes, they should have much more than shorter tubes and stand over. What about lighter weight? The majority of female riders are going to be lighter than their male counterparts and not going to need that extra 5 pounds of frame material that a clyde would.

    There are more ways to optimize performance features based around the gender differences. If I was a lighter rider, (I’m the opposite) I’d want a bike that took advantage of the fact that I’m less abusive on parts. Since I’m a heavy rider, I demand bikes that are built with a little extra security in mind.

    The fact that both employ front forks that aren’t tuned for a lighter weights is another example that both are just bad or at least sub-par attempts at creating female specific bikes.

    Not that they shouldn’t have made them, but it seems as though they could have gone further than just making a smaller frame.

  • adam says:

    Paul,

    I hear what you are saying about the front fork should be more tuned to a female rider. I thought about this for a while myself, I thought this was a downside as well. Than I remembered, that I am 240lbs, and I have to get standard forks tuned for my weight. So..Should I be mad at company x for not making L dh bikes with stiffer springs. One could argue yes, but, another could argue no. I ride with another 6’4″ guy who is about 200lbs on a wet day. I think forks are just something people are going to have to learn to deal with on their own.

    I have a Zoke 55 on a Norco Fluid LT I am testing right now, and to get it to balance right, and not suffer from brake dive, it appears I am not getting full travel at this point either. Though I’ve not really had time to experiment. This fork issue could be a Zoke issue, not a Norco/Kona issue.

    Good point though.

  • Anthony says:

    Miguel: Useless article huh? Sounds like from all the things you cite you learned alot from it.
    I think everybody who reads this article will realize it’s just ONE person reviewing it and will therefore consider it. What I can tell is that this ONE review by one person is a hell of a lot more informative and accurate than all the drivel and misinformation that I read in forums that are open for anybody to write a review. The author also goes to a great extent to explain her riding style and experience to put her review in perspective. Certainly a better review than some of the junky one line reviews I’ve seen on open forums: “this bike sucks, I broke it” or “this bike is flexy, don’t ever buy it”

    Regarding “engineered” design: I for one value it (I’m an engineer myself), but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good product if it’s “engineered”. Nor does it mean it’s a bad product if it’s not “engineered”. It is up to the leaders of the company to determine if they need engineered design or not, or maybe they purchase an already engineered design (which is probably what Norco is doing, if you’re correct). It’s up to them whether they want to take that risk, if that’s their business strategy, then so be it. Maybe that’s why these bikes are so heavy and overbuilt – for a margin of safety since they aren’t analyzed all to hell. As a resuilt they may be making bikes with lower cost of development and maybe even quicker development, all while hopefully meeting their specifications, which if chosen correctly will meet those of the customer and they will therefore sell bikes. What matters is the bottom line.

  • Chris says:

    This is one of the best reviews I have read in quite some time. Talk about COMPLETE! The technical knowledge of the author is outstanding and it seemed to buck the trend of the all too common mediocre review in so many ways: The author was not trying to fluff the drawbacks of either bike and any problems were addressed in very clear and logical ways. The fact that she gave extensive incite to HER riding style and background is an immense help to anyone considering either of these two bikes. How often do you see reviews and wonder exactly how does the riding style of the author compare to me? How much time did they spend on the bike? What type of terrain did they ride? Ect… Without that information, its really difficult to judge the value of the information and how it relates to your own abilities.

    (Dirty) Sanchez,
    Funny! You sure seemed to have learned a lot from the review! How can you say this doesn’t help anyone? The female freeride/DH market is exploding! Been to Whistler lately? The number of shred bettys in the lift line is amazing! Add to the fact that neither of these bikes are very likely to be stocked by your local NORCO or Kona dealer and you have a very worthy and helpful review!

  • ChrisO says:

    What? Women’s specific designs? A rising demand for them? Crazy. But wait, will other manufactures follow suit? Improve on the short comings and/or weight of the first bikes out? Push the envelope again? Have those advances improve all our bikes again. Hmm…I’m for it. Excellent review. I like my Titec telescoping seat post….

  • Kasey says:

    Thank you so much for this review. I was able to ride the vixa last year at interbike and was totally blown away. I am not a typical female that likes the female fit on most bikes. Usually I find that the lower center of gravity just screws with my handling. Add to that…they usually down grade the parts, so it won’t help my racing one bit. I teach mountain biking to women and help run a mountain bike camp for kids. The Vixa is a great option for teaching what many are so afraid to learn…going down hill. I can also spend the day at bike camp without wondering if I am going to blow-up my shocks by going off a drop. I am glad to see that the minxy is an option as well. I am lucky enough to know both the Kona and Norco rep for our area and will be requesting some test-ridable bikes. My husband better watch out I may be beating him in the downhill events, too. Thanks for the awesome, short and sweet, to the point review.

  • nadia says:

    Thanks for the review; I was also contemplating the syren, but it looks like my field has been narrowed to the vixa or the minxy. All three still don’t have as low a standover as I would like, but maybe in time they will actually design forks and rear shocks that can fit into a differently shaped frame.

  • Tiffany says:

    Kasey and Nadia,

    Thanks for the great feedback. I’m currently reviewing the Syren so I’ll have some more information on that style in a month or two. Happy riding to both!

  • Venessa Hydamacka says:

    Hi Tiffany,
    I really appreciate your thoughts on the bikes you compared. They are the 2 that I have been looking at as well as the Syren. You are very lucky to have the chance to ride them. I already have a all mountain climbing style bike that I am very happy with. It is the descending that I am losing out on. Which is really the part that I love the most. I am thinking that for the price difference that the Kona seems like a better deal. If any of the parts break, I would be replacing them with upgrades anyway. I personally like the suspension design of the norco better. But the whole seat tube issue has come into my mind. And I am also concerned about the standover. I am only 5’2″. So that has always been an issue for me. But would love to hear more about your reviews. Thanks

  • adam says:

    It has taken a lil’bit o’ time but the Syren review is up.

    http://reviews.mtbr.com/blog/transition-syren-review-womens-specific-freeride/

  • Tyler says:

    After reading this review and testing the bikes out my lady decided on the Minxy. I have to say, considering the Vixa costs about 700 dollars more I can’t see the real value. You wrote a great review and we would like to thank you for actually putting out an insightful account of your experience on both bikes. I’m sure any lady would be pleased with either of the bikes reviewed but from what we know now the Minxy is a killer all-round bike that I’m rather jealous of as I sit aboard my Norco Six.

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