This is our third annual roundup of trail bikes that aren’t priced to the stratosphere. We could call them affordable, budget, real-world, blue-collar or college-fund-friendly, but someone would take offense at our assumption of disposable income level. It doesn’t really matter though. These are great bikes for the price, and we’ll leave it up to you about what to spend. Each bike was hand picked, not just for its price, but its components, geometry and modern features. From Issue #189.
Get an overview of all of the bikes in this test, here, and keep an eye out for full reviews of each.
Tester: Eric McKeegan
Age: 41, Height: 5’11″, Weight: 155 lbs., Inseam: 31”
Sizes: S, M, L (tested), XL
As a society, we seem fond of declaring things dead. I’m guilty of it myself recently in regards to singlespeeds (they make better zombies anyway). But it was years ago that certain media types declared the hardtail dead. Fortunately no one listened, otherwise the Norco Torrent 7.1 wouldn’t exist, and that would be a damn shame.
Let’s start with looks. Something about this bike just looks so proportional to me, from the size of the wheels, to the curve of the seat tube, to the angle of the fork; everything lines up to make a right smart looking ride.
But you can’t ride appearances, and fortunately there is plenty of serious performance to back up the minty paint job. Geometry plays the main role here, with a yoke allowing for 16.7-inch chainstays on my size large. Smaller frames get shorter stays, larger get longer stays, a feature rarely seen outside of custom builders. Head angle sits at a slack 67 degrees, 25.1-inch top tube, and a 12.8-inch bottom bracket.
Nothing is a let down on the parts selection either: SRAM GX 1×11 drivetrain, Avid DB5 brakes, wide bar, short stem, KS dropper and the real stars—Nobby Nic 2.8s on WTB Scraper i45 rims. Solid all around. I didn’t get to sample the stock RockShox Yari fork; it wasn’t ready in time for the review.
The Torrent looks good on paper, but it absolutely shreds on the trail. I’ve never ridden a bike that handles damp trails and wet leaves so well. The widely spaced knobs on the Nobby Nics dig in, but also let go and slide around with a predictability that made me feel like a much better rider. Smart geometry and a dropper certainly help with this, but the tires are truly a stand-out for wet weather.
That short rear end invites all manner of rear wheel shenanigans, someone with more skill than me could really make this bike dance, but even I am always looking for things to jump up, over or around. The long front center keeps things feeling stable when pointed downhill, but steep greasy climbs can be a handful. Keeping enough weight on the front to keep the wheel down while not losing traction in the rear is frustrating at times. I’m more than willing to trade off a bit of walking on climbs for the fun going down.
Those biggish tires really shine on this bike. The aluminum frame is obviously a stiff platform, but even on rough terrain, the tires do a great job keeping things in control. I still get a few rude reminders from time to time that this is a hardtail, but that is part of the fun of riding a hardtail on rough trails.
After spending many miles on the Torrent, I can confidently say this bike is exactly what a modern trail hardtail should be. What complaints I can muster are few. The dropper is only 100 mm, a tooth on the GX cassette bent and needed to be cavemanned back into place trailside, and the grips are rubbish.
Norco has been making some of the best-handling trail bikes on the market for years, and the Torrent doesn’t interrupt this streak. Bikes like this will make the widespread acceptance of 27plus tires inevitable for everyday mountain bikers, and I can get behind that 100 percent.
- Solid part spec
- Almost-perfect trail bike geometry
- Boost spacing and a threaded bottom bracket
- Paint job not for everyone
- Lock-on grips still twist on bars
- Dropper post could use more drop
- Wheelbase: 45.9”
- Top Tube: 25.1”
- Head Angle: 67˚
- Seat-Tube Angle: 72.7˚
- Bottom Bracket: 12.8”
- Rear Center: 16.7”
- Weight: 31.7lbs. w/o pedals (specs based on size tested)