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According to Wikipedia, Shinobi (忍び) is the Japanese word for Ninja.

When I was asked to test and review a 29er I was not sure how objective I could be for the type of bike.  The majority of my riding has been on 26" wheel bikes of various types.  Hard tails, Dual Suspension XC, Freeride, and of course always a road bike in the quiver for some fast training rides.

The day the bike arrived I was eager to build it and see what it really felt like pedaling something with 29" wheels.  Bike build went smooth although I wasn't comfortable with the brake housing.  With a little trim and bleed all was good.  

Up front is a solid Rock Shox Reba 29er with 140mm travel and 20mm Maxle lite axle to ensure the wheels track straight.  

The rear suspension was not the normal FSR but a tweaked variation of the Horst link called A.R.T. (Advanced Ride Technology) dampened by a Monarch 2.1 MM3 air shock providing 120mm of rear travel goodness.

Other notables were the one piece link arm, Avid Elixir 5 brakes with 185mm rotors and Shimano drive train.

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Norco Shinobi Midrift.

First Impressions
Once built I did a visual review of the bike and a few things really popped out for me. First off was the Flat bar. Wow, haven't ridden a flat bar for at least 10 years.  This IS going to be a new experience.  

Hoping on the bike and setting up shock sag, seat height, and pedal position was surreal. The bigger wheels and flat handlebar were noticeable but did not effect my riding position or stand over in any way.  Once I suited up and pedaled around, the bike feel and speed potential started to stand out. With the 29" wheels you can feel how the bike held momentum, which would be a huge benefit on fast rooted trails.

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Norco Shinobi frontend.



Riding in the Dirt - the Climb
Once on the trail the bike started to really stand out.  I could clear more obstacles without worrying about them or hesitating, the benefits of the 29" wheels over 26" were getting obvious.  I was feeling less friction, better rollover, and better traction.  Even climbing seemed easier, I could look further ahead, as the bigger tires just rolled over rocks and roots.  The rear suspension worked with little or no feeling of pedal bob, and the tires grabbed when they were needed.  Even with the larger rotating mass of the 29" wheels climbing seemed smoother. The only time I had to adjust my riding was on tight switchbacks or complicated turning, the larger wheel did take a little more effort to turn and track to where I wanted it to go. That was minor once I got into the ride.  At the top of the trail I actually felt like I had extra energy, which I will partially thank the performance of the bike and its ability to speed up the trail.

Riding in the Dirt - Singletrack
Once into smoother rolling single track the momentum and speed really started to shine. There was little effort needed to run the trail at speed and only a tight maneuver would slow you down. With a couple quick pumps of the crank you were back up to speed and firing along with ease.  For pedaling out of the saddle the suspension was efficient and little energy was wasted even in higher gear cadence sprints or big ring grinds.  Any rough terrain seemed to not even exist, the wheels rolled smoothly.

Riding in the Dirt - the Descent
Here is where the Shinobi really surprised me. Going downhill on groomed singletrack with slightly sweeping turns the bigger wheels can get up to speed and stay there with the great stability. The suspension both front and rear on the bike seems to love to fly this kind of singletrack.  With the 185mm rotors and Avid Elixir 5's braking was super efficient at stopping me, only issues were when the corner or maneuver involved a tighter radius I had to adjust to turn the wheel and track the bike where I needed it to go.

Through rock gardens and heavy rooted sections, I was reminded that the Shinobi is a purpose built ALL MOUNTAIN bike and was able to keep my speed high. With 120mm of rear travel and 140mm travel Rock Shox Reba up front, the tires maintained there contact to the ground and rolled along right where I needed them to go.  

Opinion:
The Shinobi performed its best when pedaling at faster speeds on rolling trails where you can lean the bike and sweep it in and out of turns. Climbing was smooth and super efficient and the Reba could be locked down when you stood on the pedals and a steeper head angle was needed.  The bike is well thought out and works well for the trails we have here on the West Coast.  In the right hands an experienced rider could definitely feel the benefits in longer endurance rides or events.

Plus:
Climbs like goat
Suspension is smooth on semi-technical trails
Traffic stopping looks

Minus:
Tight trail sections can slow you down
Overall Weight can be heavy

Website:

www.norco.com/