Norco Vixa and Kona Minxy, ’09 Women FR Bikes

26er Pro Reviews

Cockpit Feel/Fit –

I’ve been riding all-mountain bikes for awhile. I’m definitely used to the slightly more XC position of a bike designed for all day and all terrain riding. I was caught off guard initially by the fit of both these bikes. Typically I ride a bike with a 22.5 inch top tube. The medium Kona has a 21.9” top tube. The small Vixa has a 20.1” top tube. Keep in mind that overall the Vixas are designed to be small, whereas Kona’s tend to be larger. The largest frame, Norco calls it a medium, is still an inch shorter on reach than the medium Kona. On my initial ride I thought I was going to die. My knees had never been so close to the handlebars and I’d never sat so upright on a bike before. But by the time my second ride had come and gone I learned to love the diminutive stature of these bikes. It took only the slightest stem and seat position tweaks to get the bikes to feel proper. I dropped the stem and handlebars down as much as possible to get my weight over the front wheel to help with cornering. This was particularly important with the Minxy. The slightly larger Kona frame felt like I was sitting more on top of the bike, whereas the slightly smaller Vixa felt like it had been molded around me. The more I rode the bikes, the more I realized how big the Kona really was. The size difference between the two bikes became apparent on both ascents and descents as I got more rides under my belt.
The handlebars for both are nice and wide, though narrower than some of the big boy bars I’ve seen on the market. They fit my shoulders really well and I never felt too stretched or over extended. The bars could be a bit wide if your shoulders are on the smaller side (mine are about 17″ across) but you can always just cut them down.

The grips were very different between the two bikes. Kona’s are the ultra low profile women’s specific, ‘Lisa’, and they feel great. They’re thin but still have enough vibration damping to knock down the sharp inputs. They do migrate in towards the stem, however, and were promptly held in place by zip ties. The Norco’s grips are nice because they lock on – key in wet areas – and because the lock on clamps come in two anodized colors to choose from; purple and gold. They’re definitely on the bigger side though. Again, my hands are on the larger size for women, and I wouldn’t have wanted anything bigger. ODI makes a nice low profile lock on grip called the ‘Ruffian’ that could replace the Norco choice.

Climbing -

To be honest I was surprised how well these bikes climbed for being of the free ride pedigree, particularly the Kona. The travel adjustability on the fork paired with the shock’s pro pedal feature made a tremendous difference when gravity stopped helping and began to hinder. I’ll be honest, the small chain rings up front helped me pedal the bikes up-hill more often than I’d like to admit, but hey, they’re there, I might as well use them! There was almost nothing I couldn’t climb on these bikes that I could on my lighter racier rigs. Nowhere near as quickly, please understand, but it was doable. There is still some pedal bob, but it’s not too bad. Some out of the saddle climbing is even possible without completely blowing up your legs. They aren’t to be mistook for all-day all-mountain bikes though. They are heavy-ish free ride bikes after all, and they’re not built to climb to the top of big hills. The Kona does climb better for me, but a large part of that is it’s larger size. It has 1.8″ more in the top tube length than the Norco, so the sitting position isn’t nearly as upright. The Norco pedaled more deliberately. Carrying the extra, long seat-post helped immensely, and essentially made it possible for me to ride up-hill. Pedaling the Norco up-hill with its seat lowered is a quick ticket to screaming knees and a supplemental oxygen tank.

Descending/Handling, Conclusion and Specs…

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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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