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.
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.