Posted by Editor on 07/21/10
Norco recently invited Canadian Cyclist to participate in their 2011 Launch; an event that offered three days of riding around the trails of Vancouver's North Shore and Burnaby Mountain next to SFU (Simon Fraser University). How could we refuse?
Unfairly, Norco has sometimes been categorized as a 'Parts Bin' bicycle manufacturer - one that goes to Asia and picks stock designs out of a catalogue, slaps on a paint job and calls it 'exclusive'. The 2011 line proves, more than ever, that this is not true.
The company, which recently doubled its bicycle design and engineering department, will be introducing an impressive line of re-designed full suspension bikes for 2011, using their new A.R.T. suspension system. A.R.T. stands for Advanced Ride Technology. It is a four-bar FSR design that Norco has customized to provide optimal bump compliance, plus improved pedaling efficiency when climbing.
The diagram illustrates the rearward wheel travel of the New 2011 Range as compared to the former 2010 Norco LT.
One of the biggest problems with suspension is pedal bob - that bouncing you get when pedaling under pressure which robs energy by making the bike go up and down as well as forward. Norco describes A.R.T. thus:
A.R.T. delivers a ride which is more efficient while pedaling while offering improved square edge bump compliance to smooth and quicken rough riding conditions. Both of these features have been achieved by changing the location of the pivot points to achieve additional chain growth and a more rearward axle path. The increased chain growth results in higher anti-squat characteristics which reduces suspension bob and makes the bike pedal more efficiently. The improved rearward axle path lets the rear wheel move back at the same time as it moves up to get out of the way of large, square edge bumps more effectively, allowing the bike to roll smoother and faster over rough terrain.
In simple terms, the changed pivot points on the suspension allows increased front to back movement (as opposed to up and down), which reduces pedal-induced squat (bobbing) as well as bump compliance. The latter means that the rear wheel moves back and up when hitting larger obstacles.
The A.R.T. system has been incorportaed on a number of lines, including the new Phasor XC bikes, the 29er Shinobi and the All Mountain category Range. The Shinobi is one model, while the Phasor and Range each offer multiple models. A women's specific Vixa also comes with A.R.T.
I had a chance to ride Range and the Phasor models, and came away with very favourable impressions. Both are significantly lighter than previous Norco offerings in these categories. The Phasor comes in at an extremely respectable 23.2 pounds (10.5 kilos) for a 100mm travel bike, for the top-of-the-line Phasor 1. It is kitted out primarily with Shimano XT and Avid Elixir R Carbon disc brakes back and front. A RockShox SID RLT 100mm fork handles front end suspension.
I rode this bike up and around Burnaby Mountain, on a wide variety of trails - everything from gravel fire road climbs to twisty, rooty B.C. descents. The primary impression was that this bike is considerably more versatile than I would expect from what is essentially a race bike. It climbs strongly, without noticeable bobbing or flexing, and handles everything but the largest bumps efficiently and effectively. Cornering is excellent; as tight as you would expect from a competition bike.
The following day I switched to a Range to ride the Lynn Creek area of the North Shore. The Range is the Norco designated "All Mountain" category bike. Personally, I've never particularly liked this category, since they usually don't handle the big hits as well as a purpose-built DH/Freeride bike, and they are normally still too heavy (in my opinion) to enjoyably ride up climbs.
The Range may be the first All Mountain bike that I have ridden that truly deserves that moniker. It is a sub-27 pound (sub-12 kilo), 160mm travel bike that both descends extremely well and that didn't make me feel like I was pulling an anchor behind me when I was climbing. Of course, it is not as quick or efficient as a bike like the Phasor but, on the other hand, it is a bike that I would feel confident on taking for almost any ride.
The Range SE - which I rode - comes with a 160mm Fox Float 36 FIT RLC fork and a mixture of SRAM X0 and XX equipment. There are three models below (Range 1, 2 and 3), all of which offer the A.R.T. suspension system.
The third bike that I had a chance to ride was the Ceres; a performance commuter that uses the Gates belt-drive system. I've been wanting to try out a belt-drive bike since I first rode one around a parking lot last year, and at the Norco launch had the chance to put a few hours on the Ceres through Stanley Park and across the Lions Gate bridge on an extended urban ride.
Intuitively, the belt-drive makes sense: no chain to get dirty and catch on pants, low maintenance, smooth and quiet. Of course, to get a range of gears you have to go to an internal hub gearing system, and choices are somewhat limited here. The Ceres comes with the Shimano Alfine 8-speed hub.
For the first half of my ride the Ceres performed flawlessly. However, when I stood and put some pressure on the pedals for a short, steep climb, it shifted and the belt popped off. Was this a design flaw? It turns out no - when we got the bike back to the launch HQ, we discovered that a ring that holds the belt onto the rear cog had not been installed at the factory.
Norco is offering a number of single speed and internal hub geared models using the Gates belt-drive system - including a 29er. For single speed use I think the system is clearly a viable alternative. Multi-speed is still a developing category but, based on my experience, it offers a low maintenance and interesting option for commuters.
We would like to thank Norco for the opportunity to participate in their 2011 launch.
Vixa is the women's version of the Range
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