This Winter, Norco sent us a mid-duty bike which happens to be their most high value offering – the Fluid FS A1. A 29″ trail bike with 140mm travel up front and 130mm travel out back, the Fluid features a blend of parts that vary from budget to flagship, all while boasting highly refined aesthetics. Thanks to its polished welds one could easily mistake it for a carbon fiber frame. In any case, this bike has a highly appealing mix of components with modern geometry and promising features at an excellent price of just $3,999 USD – let’s see how it performed on trail…
- 29″ front and rear
- 140mm front / 130mm rear travel
- SRAM UDH compatible
- “Ride Aligned” geometry
- 5 sizes: S, M, L (tested), XL, XXL
- $3,999.99 USD
At the front of the bike, a flagship Fox 34 Factory RC2 boasts a Grip2 cartridge and four way damping adjustability. This fork is about as good as things get at the Trail level in terms of duty. I had zero complaints with it, although at times, due to the Fluid’s high level of capability I thought a slightly beefier 36 could also have been quite appropriate. At the rear is a Fox Float X Performance Elite featuring a lockout and single rebound/compression adjusters. Props to Norco for spec’ing a piggyback shock where many brands would simply offer up an inline shock. The addition of a reservoir keeps things more cool, calm and collected on long descents and offers a better overall ride quality.
There is nothing that stood out on the cockpit as being ultra flashy, but the Trans X handlebar had comfortable angles and at 780mm wide it offered up the right amount of control. The in-house 40mm stem was a solid, no frills match for the bar and put me in the right spot both in terms of height and length. I wasn’t a huge fan of the WTB grips as they were a bit thin and blocky for me, but I’m sure plenty of riders would have no issue with them. The Fizik Alpaca saddle had a short and wide profile which seems to be popular as of late. No issues with that either.
My test rig came with a Trans-X seatpost with 170mm of travel, which was a solid performer. However, the spec sheet on Norco’s website lists the SDG Tellis 170mm dropper seatpost. Regardless, Norco scales the seatpost travel by frame size across each model, which is a commendable touch.
The TRP Trail EVO brakes are phenomenal, especially at their price point. The thick 2.3mm rotors are tougher than most and the large calipers and comfortable lever blades finish out a great set of brakes. I run these on a personal bike as well, so take that for what it’s worth…
A 12-speed Shimano XT drivetrain at a $4k price point is certainly nothing to scoff at. I also found the Praxis Cadet cranks to be a solid, utilitarian offering that got the job done. All in all – great shifting and plenty of range.
I must say, the cable and hose routing on the Fluid was quite dialed. I didn’t have any of the common problems with the grommets up front slipping or popping out, and at the bottom of the downtube a screwed on cover and zip tie guides help keep things tidy and quiet. At the rear of the bike I have to give Norco props for the 2-way exit from the chainstay. The upper one works better with Shimano’s rear derailleur cable angle and the lower one works better with SRAM’s.
The Stan’s Flow S1 rims are also a great budget offering. They feature stainless steel rim eyelets and a 29mm inner diameter. The S1s are laced to in-house hubs but they gave me no hassles and got the job done with decent engagement.
The wheels are wrapped in Vittoria tires – a Mazza 2.4″ up front and a Martello 2.35″ out back. This was my first time riding Vittorias and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. The tread patterns were both ideal for their respective duty’s and they rolled along fairly quickly. Although I’m unsure of the exact rating of the casing I suffered no flats running them in the high 20 PSI range on mixed terrain. The compound was what I would describe as middle of the road. It’s not a gushy ultra high performance rubber, but rather strikes a smart, economical balance between softness and durability.
A couple more final details on the frame…I always appreciate having a second accessory mount under the top tube. This is the next best thing to in frame storage in my opinion. As far as protection goes, a singular molded rubber chainstay guard kept the noise down and the paint job intact.
A quick overview of the numbers here reveal some very agreeable and modern geometry. On my size Large a 480mm reach and 440mm stays is exactly what I’d request if I was having a custom bike built. Kudos to Norco for having size scaled chainstay lengths specifically for each size on a value bike!
Norco Fluid FS on the trail
Starting with setup, I was very impressed with Norco’s setup guide. It is simple and straight forward, but what I especially liked is that it includes a section with a slider for skill level as well as two options for position bias: more forward or more rearward. I referenced the aforementioned guide, set up my bike and aside from running a couple more pounds of tire pressure found it to be dead on perfect for my liking. Setup guides that get you to a good baseline are great and all, but being able to dial in based on skill level and how you ride your bike takes things to the next level in getting it right, right out of the gate.
On the climbs I found the Fluid to exhibit a neutral on trail feel. I didn’t really fuss over using the lockout lever, save for longer climbs, and the bike had a peppy feel combined with ample traction on the punchier bits. Suspension aside the bike gets a good portion of its ascending prowess from its relatively steep seat angle – in the case of my Large 76.7º (effective). This put me in a natural and comfortable upright position where I could get my body weight over the front wheel on the steeper sections and was never struggling to pull myself forward on the long grinds. All in all a worthy climber.
Getting into the fun stuff this is a bike that punches above its weight both in terms of capability and value. On the capability front I kept mistakenly thinking that the Fluid was a 150mm/140mm rig. Even to the point that I got caught up saying that to friends a couple of times and then had to correct myself and let them know it actually has 140mm/130mm of travel. While this bike doesn’t have any particular attributes or components that scream “aggressive”, it can hold its own very well. Often bikes at this price point can get the job done but start to feel a little wobbly or frail when push comes to shove under a more aggressive rider. This was not the case with the Fluid and I think much thanks is owed not to one single aspect but rather to a little bit of everything – high end suspension, sturdy frame construction, strong brakes and well chosen spec to tie it all together. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that great geometry goes a long ways as well.
As far as some handling and suspension attributes are concerned the Fluid simply felt middle of the road and competent. No particular characteristic stuck out to me. While that might sound boring, it’s not really a bad thing. Riders looking for a bike at this price point probably aren’t geeking out and splitting hairs over the ride quality of a pair of $2,000+ carbon fiber wheels or picking apart kinematics charts and graphs. Rather, they are likely looking for a dependable, utilitarian rig that they can trust as a daily driver and the Fluid is exactly that. The suspension curve was very middle of the road – it wasn’t too linear or too progressive, but rather just right combination of light off the top, supportive in the middle and well capable of resisting rough bottom outs.
Once again with the “neutral feel” theme, I didn’t detect any perceptible brake jack or squat and I found the Fluid to have a stiff, sturdy feel in the corners that was devoid of any noticeable frame flex. The link and pivot hardware is all high quality and easy to maintain, which is helpful, and the well though out cable routing kept things quiet making for a distraction free ride. Lastly, I think much of this bike’s prowess and great handling comes from well chosen geometry that is properly scaled and proportionate within each riders size. When poring over reviews of bikes that cost double the amount of this model, that is something we’re getting accustomed to seeing but it’s worth pausing and giving Norco some props for bringing this concept down to lower price points as well as recognizing that they’ve been taking this approach longer than any other brand out there.
All told the Fluid FS A1 boasts a value that we rarely see in the bike world – especially from a brand that is not working on a consumer direct model. Its carefully chosen parts and brilliant, balanced geometry engrain it with a very high end feel and a level of capability that makes it stay cool, calm and collected when you get in over your head. The simple, proven four bar suspension layout provides the goods without bogging you down with anything gimmicky or weird and the frame is tied together and finished off with great features. The only sticking point that I did have with this bike is that the headset couldn’t properly adjust. It either had a touch of play or was overtightened. This is likely just a fluke and it’s the type of thing that would get sorted by your dealer without any major fuss.
All in all, that is a pretty short list of issues and this is the perfect bike for the type of rider who is taking the dive and getting serious about investing in mountain biking. It’s also perfectly suitable for anyone who places budget as their primary concern but doesn’t want to sacrifice performance on the altar of value. When it comes to bang for the buck, this bike is tough to beat so hats off to Norco on a job very well done!