By Eric McKeegan
Norco was showing off three new mountain bikes at Sea Otter this year; a new 29er platform, a 2012 Aurum DH bike, and the 160mm-travel 650b prototype.
The 29er is a 100mm travel trail bike, the Fluid 29. Their will be three models available from $1,200-$1,900, making this a very interesting entry into the affordable full-suspension category. The only budget looking details on the frame are the straight 1-1/8” headtube and the bolt-together (rather than welded) shock linkage. The parts spec on this model was solid mix of very serviceable parts with adjustable shocks front and rear and a triple crank. The pinner little Vee Rubber tires shown are not the final spec. Expect more meaty treads from this B.C. company.
The Aurum gets a few small tweaks for 2013, the most noticeable is an even more flashy paint job which was pretty snazzy, although it might make it hard to find a DH pajama suit to match. The cable routing moves off the shock linkage and back on to the frame and the fork bumper is wider, lower profile for more turning radius and easily replaceable.
The real news was this very finished looking 650b prototype. I got to talk to the head of engineering at Norco, PJ Hunton. Among other things I asked why build this bike, when they have solid performers in 26” and 29”?
“Norco tries to build the best possible bike for a given situation,” was his response. We went on to discuss the place of 27.5” tires in the mountain biking arena, and the all-mountain category seems most ripe to take advantage of the mid-size wheels.
It took me a few tries to get the shots of the bike, it was always out being ridden by either the engineering staff or new Norco DH team member Duncan Riffle pre-running the DH course. PJ said Duncan would have raced the fast and jumpy Sea Otter DH course on the 650 proto if dual ply tires had been available.
Norco adapted their FSR-licensed ART suspension system to the tweener wheelsize, changing suspension kinematics to insure the desired amount of rearward travel and anti-squat were still present with the change in relationship between the bottom bracket and rear axle.
I was glad to see Norco taking the bull by the horns and making a slack, long travel bike with 650b wheels, not just another trail bike. I think this is area where 650b wheels have the most chance to really shine. Combine the roll-over of bigger wheels, the more playful geometry of 26” wheels and throw in pedal-ability for all day rides and you get a bike that may keep the new generation of riders going both big and long in the same ride very happy.
Norco has no plans for production yet, and already has changes planned for the next round of prototypes. We’ll be sure to stay on top of this story; I think this bike has some serious potential.