By Eric McKeegan
With much anticipation I packed my bags for my flights to Whistler, site of Norco’s 2012 press launch. Riding brand new models on some of the best trails on earth? No need to twist my arm. A full XC and DH kit made for a very full suitcase, but I made it on just under the 50 pound limit.
Norco has been working to revamp their entire full-suspension line-up over the last 2 years, and even add a few models. Last year Norco introduced A.R.T. (Advanced Ride Technology), a licensed version of the FSR chainstay pivot design on the Fazer XC race, Range all-mountain, Truax freeride, and Shinobi 29er all-mountain models. For 2012 there are three new models utilizing ART (and other fancy new tech): Aurum DH race, Revolver 29er XC and Sight trail bike.
Many features are shared between the platforms, including the now standard tapered headtube and thru-axles both front and rear on most models. To me the most standout bit of tech are the one piece forgings used throughout the line. Take the bottom bracket forging for example. Forged and them machined into one hunk of aluminum are the bottom bracket, lower shock mount, main pivot and ISCG mounts. Making all of this as one forging helps to insure all mounting points are aligned, while allowing for less weight and increased stiffness. Not the cheapest way to build a bike, but the right way.
Looking closely at the pivot locations, there are no welded-on clevis for the pivot bolts. Modern forming techniques allow Norco to create tubes with the correct wall thickness and shape to machine the mounts directly into the tube ends, super clean looking, and lighter to boot. All hardware is stainless steel, and keyed to the frame to allow for single tool tightening, but should the need arise, standard metric nuts and bolts can be pressed into service.
All the linkage arms are forged as two pieces and welded (not bolted) together, Seat-tube pivots are incorporated into the tube, and rear brake mounts are forged as part of the drop out.
Just as it seemed us media types were getting antsy, we were hearded back to our hotel rooms to suit up for a ride. Arriving a little late, my first choice, the Revolver, was already snapped up by other journalists, so I not at all reluctantly selected the Sight, the new 140mm platform for Norco. The Sight replaces the Fluid line , and besides the new frame, the geometry is updated with a lower BB, slacker head angle, steeper seat tube and shorter chainstays.
Here is a stock image of the Sight, my profile shots were oddly blurry and gave me a bit of a headache looking at them.
About a dozen of us loaded up and drove to the trailhead for Kill Me, Thill Me, a classic Whistler XC trail. It started off with a very abrupt climb with rocks and roots thrown in for good measure.I was immediately glad for the 2×10 drivetrain, which allowed me to tackle the climb with no issues while having enough gearing range to deal with the flats and downhill sections with out shifting into the big ring.
The trail had a good bit of everything, from rock faces to smooth climbs to slightly stunty stuff to roll or drop. The Sight felt right at home on this technical XC trail. I left the platform off for most of the ride, never really feeling the need to turn it on, the suspension was active without much unwanted movement.
Our group split up, some continued riding, I returned to the hotel to swap bikes for the Revolver and take a short lap of the Lost Lake trails.These trails are less technical with a bit more flow. We ended up climbing up a trail designed for going down, but the Revolver had no issues handling the switchbacks and wooden structures, even in the wrong direction. The triple crank was plenty of gearing for both the ups and downs.
Again with the stock photo:
Headed down things were just dandy, and again I never felt the need to flip any suspesion platforms on. Handling was on the quick side of stable, seemed about right race/trail bike. I think BC is going to see a lot more 29ers on their trails in 2012. This bike was quick and capable.
To the right is a shot of Jay Hoots telling me how much he loves 29" wheels, and that he is working on a Freeride 29er that can do bar spins. (That is a lie.)
After dinner and sleep, the fullface helmets and lift tickets came out, and I swung a leg over the new Aurum DH bike, which was developed with help from the UK based Dirt Magazine race team.
The Aurum is a very modern looking DH rig and should prove to be a very worthy replacement for Norco’s aging Team DH frame. Much tweeking to the rear suspension led to a claimed 60 percent reduction in brake jack (more active suspension while braking), 10 percent lower leverage ratio (easier to tune suspension), 115 percent more chaingrowth (more efficient pedaling), and a more rearward axle path (better square edge bump compliance). The headtubes are kept short (110mm) on all sizes to allow for plenty of bar height adjustment, and the toptube slopes dramatically for standover clearance and better triangulation to support the seat tube pivot and stiffen the front triangle. I was also a big fan of the built in bumpstops, dual crown forks and DH frames are expensive, keeping them from destroying each other in a crash is a great plan.
What really sets the Aurum apart is what Norco calls Gravity Tune technology. Taking into account rider’s center of gravity being more over the rear wheel as height increases, Norco designed 3 different BB/main pivot forgings to create 3 different rear center lengths to keep a riders COG (and resulting ride feel)consistent across a wide range of rider sizes.
That’s a lot of numbers and stuff, and thank goodness I didn’t have to think about them while riding. Long time Norco rider Jay Hoots was kind enough play guide for most of the day, which was much appreciated, Whistler can be a bit daunting at first. After some warm ups on some easy trails, we dropped into some more technical stuff. The Aurum obviously wanted to go fast, and the moments when I was able to just let go of the brakes and let the bike work it was pretty amazing how good it felt. Unfortunately, my flow never lasted long, and I was constantly reminded of the lack of technical riding I’ve done this year. That said, I’d love another day (or week or month) on the lifts on this bike to try to get my rumble back.
After lunch I grabbed a Truax, while released as a 2011 bike, it just came into stock. I happen to have one of these at Dirt Rag HQ for a long term test, so I won’t go too in depth about it. I got in a lot of lift-served runs, and managed to finish four of the five stages of the Enduro DH before I crashed out.
The Truax could be a real quiver killer for some folks, it managed to make its way through the XC stages of the Enduro with no issues, dispatched a long fire road climb with a heck of a lot less exertion than I expected for a 38 pound bike, and wanted to go downhill like the blazes (whatever they are) at least when I would let it. I also managed to actually start hitting some transitions on Crank It Up and hang on to some jumps that felt like they were going wrong. Stay tuned for a first impression blog, and maybe some video…
Norco also revealed new carbon and alloy hardtails in both 29” and 26”, a new carbon cross bike with replaceable dropouts for geared or SS use and an endurance road bike, expect to see updates to their website with this info soon.
Two things really stick out to me about this trip. One, all the Norcos I rode are stiff, in the best way possible. No whippy rear ends, no twisty front triangles, just a properly stiff platform from which to steer and let the suspension do its work. looks like all that engineering paid off. Second, across the board Norco employees I met can ride, and ride well, and that is refected in this next generation of bikes we are seeing. I’d say kudos, but I hate that word with a passion. How about: chapeau?