Antony gives us his review of the budget Norco Fluid 7.3 full suspension trail bike
As we all know, the bike industry is a cabal of snakes, a den of vipers, constantly thinking up new ways to part us from our money. An extra cog on your gears? That’s the kids’ public school fees covered for another year. A new axle standard? Ch-ching! £1,000 for a wheelset is “normal” these days, apparently. We’re being ripped off left, right, and… sorry, what’s that? A mountain bike for £1,099? A full suspension mountain bike?? No, I can’t test it, I’m too busy writing angry comments on Facebook.
Here we have the Norco Fluid 7.3 FS – certainly not the cheapest bike ever to pass through the doors of Singletrack, and probably not the cheapest full susser, but still a good way below the price point at which most of my riding buddies would consider “decent” bikes reside. It’s a UK-only exclusive, born of a pact between Norco and Evans Cycles to make their budget full suspension bikes even more so. Although it doesn’t quite sneak below the Cyclescheme threshold (which would just be cheeky), it’s about as cheap as bikes in its category can get without cutting some serious corners.
2017 Norco Fluid 7.3 Features
- Full suspension 27.5in trail bike
- 6000 Series aluminum alloy frame
- 120mm rear travel
- A.R.T four bar suspension design
- Designed for 120mm travel forks
- 68.5° head angle
- 74.5° seat angle
- English threaded bottom bracket
- 135mm quick release rear hub spacing
- 425mm chainstay length
- External routing for brake, gear and dropper post cabling
- Available sizes: Small, Medium, Large, X-Large
- Complete bike RRP: £1099
Evans’ website describes the Fluid as “head-turning”, but it’s not the cutest puppy in the basket. There are some nice touches (like the orange details on the saddle and rims) but it doesn’t have, say, the matchy-matchy fork decals that some manufacturers use to bling out their budget offerings. Instead you get a workmanlike 4-bar suspension frame, black forks, black finishing kit… you get the idea. The bike has 120mm of travel at each end and rather unexciting geometry: short reach, steep-ish head angle and a fairly high BB. I’m fairly sure the frame design has stayed the same for a few years now, and nothing about it screams “built to rail”.
Look more closely, though, and some nice details do start to jump out. Although the frame is front mech compatible, there’s proper 1×10 gearing, with a Shimano Deore clutch rear mech and a wide-range 40T Sunrace cassette. A chunky WTB Vigilante tyre up front looks ready to tackle any conceivable foulness, and the wheels sport tubeless-ready-rims, which are even taped up ready for action. You’ll need to get some valves and probably change the stock tyres (the rear has a very thin sidewall, with less meat than the VIP buffet at Glastonbury) but it’s still a nice bonus.
Mud clearance isn’t lavish, but a 2.3” rear tyre fits fine. The bike also has a sensible cockpit with a short 60 mm stem (75mm on the XL bike) and “cut ’em down if you like” 760 mm bars.
With a budget build, it’s easy to pick out the highlights, and it’s also often easy to spot where savings have been made. In this case, apart from the unbranded crankset, there’s an obvious absence of dropper post, even though the guides for said part are all present and correct. This wouldn’t be too annoying, except the stock seatpost doesn’t quite drop far enough, courtesy of a knuckle in the seat tube where the shock mounts, and thanks to the bolt-up clamp, if you don’t have an allen key the seat doesn’t drop at all.
While I try not to meddle too much with the stock spec of test bikes, I’m finding it increasingly hard to enjoy riding without a dropper, and it was a big relief when a battered old Fox DOSS was liberated from a dark corner of the office bike cave for the duration of the test. If you don’t have a dropper post lying around, the Fluid 7.2 comes with one as standard for £100 extra.
The bike is supplied with some basic accessories, including a multi-tool that fits every hex bolt on the bike, and before taking it out for the first time I used this to adjust the reach of the Tektro brakes. I also swapped the rear WTB Beeline for a more slop-friendly Nobby Nic, which converted to tubeless with minimal faff. I then donned my Bike Reviewer’s Helm of Authority and hit the trails.
Riding the Fluid was initially a bit of a comedown. The RockShox Recon forks are an OEM version with a bolt-up Maxle, rather than the tool-free one found on fancier forks. In a car park test they felt wooden and flexy, they made some odd sucking noises, and they just look a bit cheap: for example, the rebound adjustment is via a plastic tab that feels like something out of a Kinder egg.
The Tektro brakes also gave me some worries, as they initially gave a dribble of braking power barely capable of dislodging a surprised brigadier’s monocle. I should also give an all-too-predictable mention to the squirmy non-lock-on grips and the flimsy plastic bar plugs. You’ll want to swap these out immediately, especially as better quality bar plugs might save you a very unpleasant abdominal gouging.
Slinging a leg over the Fluid caused further misgivings, as it feels very short and twitchy compared to bikes with more modern geometry. But after the first few minutes of riding, I experienced a strange and unexpected sensation: I was having fun!
First off, the Fluid climbs rather well, thanks partly to a modest all-up weight of just over 30 lbs. Point it downwards and it happily rattles through nadgery terrain, with a nice neutral ride over rocks and roots. The forks, which appeared so uninspiring on first impressions, felt fine on the trail, and although I never really trusted the brakes, once the pads were changed they started doing a passable job.
The rear suspension, supplied by an OEM Rock Shox Monarch, worked a treat, keeping the rear wheel stuck down on the climbs and sucking up the bashiness on the way back down. There’s no lockout but I never felt it needed one.
The suspension ramps up as it gets towards full compression and feels very supportive, even with fairly low shock pressures. This keeps the pedals off the ground and makes rocky awkward sections easier to get through cleanly. It’s not particularly playful – this isn’t a bike that inspires you to boost off lumps in the trail like a hi-bounce ball – but there’s still a lot of fun to be had from trying silly lines and seeing what you can get away with.
The Fluid doesn’t feel as good on fast swoopy stuff, with the short wheelbase and steep head angle amplifying any nervousness from the rider. While the forks worked better than expected, they are undeniably a bit clunky, and on long rocky descents you do start feeling beaten up. The brakes were probably my least favourite bit of the bike: I found myself using two fingers to brake rather than my usual single digit, which probably didn’t help with arm fatigue, and the stock pads lasted a grand total of three wet rides.
There were a couple of niggles with other bits of the Fluid: the shock bolts worked loose at first and needed snugging up, and the rear wheel required truing after a visit to the Peaks, although to be fair this included an exuberant run down a trail called Potato Alley. Make no mistake, it’s not the same build quality as a more expensive bike. But it definitely punches above its price point.
Three things that could be improved
- The brakes were distinctly iffy, with low power and an alarmingly short pad life.
- The bar end plugs need swapping ASAP, before you core sample yourself.
- The frame needs an update. A longer, slacker front triangle with the same suspension design would make the bike feel a lot happier on fast steep stuff. Or consider upsizing if you can.
Three things we loved
- Wide, tubeless-ready rims and a beefy front tyre are great to see on a bike at this price.
- It’s light enough to ride all day.
- It’s a decent full suspension bike in the same price bracket as a similarly-specced hardtail.
At its price point, the Fluid’s competition is mostly hardtails, and a while back I would have told anyone looking for a £1k mountain bike not to bother with a full susser. As well as the extra weight and lower spec, there’s more maintenance and more stuff to go wrong. But that was back when I lived down south, and mostly rode trails that were as groomed and flowy as a prize Afghan hound. Now every ride seems to involve a selection box of rocks, and my hardtails are mostly decor for the shed.
The Fluid is cheap and competent on awkward knobbly trails, even if it doesn’t really shine on the faster stuff. If I was a beginner mountain biker with a tight-ish purse in the Peaks, the Lakes, or somewhere with similar terrain, I’d be very tempted to take a punt on it.
Norco Fluid 7.3 FS specifications
- Frame // Fluid alloy 27.5 Frame, 120mm Travel
- Fork // Rockshox Recon Silver RL Solo Air 120x15mm
- Shock // Rockshox Monarch R HVI
- Hubs // Joy Tech 15mm Sealed Bearing Front & 135mm QR Rear
- Rims // WTB STP I 23 TCS
- Tyres // WTB Vigilante 27.5 x 2.3in front & WTB Beeline 27.5 x 2.2in Rear
- Chainset // Samox 1x , 32t Chainring
- Front Mech // N/A
- Rear Mech // Shimano Deore Shadow Plus SGS 10-Speed
- Shifters // Shimano Deore 10-Speed
- Cassette // Sunrace 11-40T
- Brakes // Tektro Hydraulic Disc Brake HD-M285, 180mm Front & 160mm Rear Rotors
- Stem // Alloy MTB 4-Bolt 60mm (75mm on XL)
- Bars // Norco 6061 DB Alloy, 760mm Width, 25mm Rise
- Grips // Norco MTB Gator Design Trail Grip
- Seatpost // Norco 6061 Alloy Double Bolt 30.9 x 350mm
- Saddle // WTB Volt Sport
- Size Tested // M
- Sizes available // XS, S. M. L, XL
- Weight // 13.7 kg (30.2 lbs)
|Product:||Fluid 7.3 FS|
|From:||Evans Cycles, evanscycles.com|
|Tested:||by Antony for 2 months|