Kona have influenced the off-road scene for years, impressing 13- year-old boys with daredevil huckers called Stinky and Howler (the bikes, that is). Because of this appeal, they've long had frames in small sizes with sloping top tubes, which has also suited many female Mtbers. 2006 however, marks the release of their first dedicated women's bikes including the Kona Lisa RD.
The Lisa RD is the ladies equivalent of the Zing, Kona's entry level road racing rig. The two bikes have many similarities and much of the same equipment including reliable and crisp Shimano 105 mechs, levers and shifters. They also feature Mavic's new Aksium wheelset, which share the looks, if not the light weight of the higher end Ksyrium range. Paired up with Conti's Ultrasport grippy rubber, they make a perfectly good training combination.
The Dedacciai Force 7005 butted alu frame has large angular downtubes and smoothly rippled welds. However, while this tubing may work on larger frames, in small women's sizes it becomes incredibly stiff. The result is a lively response when climbing out of the saddle, but a bike that ends up being harsh at the front end. Straight bladed carbon forks look great but do little to dampen road vibe and may turn off women seeking a more comfortable ride.
Compared to the Zing, the Lisa RD sports a shorter top tube and short 80mm stem, which makes it more compact and upright. This along with 38cm handlebars means that handling is easier for narrower shouldered riders. However, with the availability of adjustable reach levers such as Shimano's R-700, it's a lost opportunity not to use them on all women's bikes for better control. The Tektro RX40 brakes are great value but again, with the levers a strain to reach, braking just doesn't feel powerful and wrist fatigue can set in on long descents.
Frame geometry and a cockpit tuned for smaller hands are perhaps the most essential factors for imbuing confidence and ensuring comfort but a few other components can also make a difference. The Selle Italia Lady saddle is a great start - supportive and sporty. Shorter cranks often suit smaller riders and the Lisa RDs come with 170mm standard - which suits most average height women. But the option for fitting 165mm would be welcome for the smallest frames to help minimize toe overlap. Five frame sizes between 44-53cm gives great coverage on the little end, but it leaves out taller women who might actually benefit from a shorter top tube too.
There's a growing demand for bikes designed for women and the major players are tapping into this market. The likes of Trek and Specialized now offer a range of bikes across all price points, performance levels and even in larger sizes. Kona are playing a bit of catch-up in this new market and the Lisa RD is up against competition from more thoroughly 'girl specific' designs. Its lipstick-hot shade shines but for £1000 it's not quite up to what we now expect from women's bikes.