The latest Merida One-Twenty boosts the travel to 130mm and uses P-FLEX suspension system for simple…
When this Norco Fluid FS A1 arrived at STW HQ, I wrote in that week’s Fresh Goods Friday the following: “Hurray for metal trail bikes. Especially metal trail bikes with decent geometry.”
- Brand: Norco
- Product: Fluid FS A1
- From: ZyroFisher
- Price: £4,399
- Tested: by Benji for three months
- Good geometry
- Great suspension
- Impressive spec choices
- 175mm cranks
- Howwid gwips
Am I still saying hurray after three months of ragging around on the Norco Fluid FS A1?
No. I am not.
I am shouting “HALLELUJAH FOR METAL TRAIL BIKES WITH DECENT GEOMETRY!“
This is not a particular spoiler for this review. You can see the ‘Recommended’ tag at the top of the page. You’ve seen the “metal messiah” headline. You already know that I really like this bike. Let me get on with telling you why I like it.
First of all, the Fluid FS is a timely reminder that alloy 29er full-suspension trail bikes are one of mankind’s greatest inventions. Just bananas-ly capable at everything it needs to be. Not exceptional at any one thing. But really good at everything. Everything. Ascending. Descending. Traversing. Commuting. Racing. Pootling. Pump track-ing.
If you want a simple – and more affordable – one-bike life, you get a bike like this.
This is not to say that all trail bikes made from aluminium are equal. They are still susceptible to poor geometry and/or fly in the ointment componentry choices. In this regard the Fluid FS is almost perfect. Almost. I’d still prefer a degree knocked off the head angle. And shorter cranks (175mm arms on this XL are primo pedal strikers). And the grips are way harsh and slippery. All three of these issues are solvable by future upgrades (angle headset, new cranks, new grips).
The really important stuff is dialed. Great brakes (really great actually). Decent tyres. Long dropper. Excellent fork and shock. And an overall geometry and suspension kinematic that is beautifully hovercrafty when calm/seated/climbing and thrillingly punchy and progressive when aggro/stood-up/descending.
I realise I’m putting all my conclusions high up in this review but it’s just getting to the point and saving us all from scrolling straight down to the bottom first!
Off-the-peg, complete bikes still need to be dressed down and assessed bit by bit. So here goes, front to back…
The Fox 34 fork is very probably the best trail bike fork out there. Sure, it has ‘just’ 34mm stanchions but I don’t find them to be an issue. There’s no bushing bind that I can feel. They ride a lot more predictably than some 35/36mm forks out there and they don’t shy away from the rough stuff. They very much punch above their weight.
The headset is normal. With cups and cartridge bearings. And no flipping hoses passing through it. Attached above the headset is a boring but fine 40mm long stem. I quite like a boring black stem. It works. Doesn’t creak. Doesn’t clash with anything.
The handlebar is a 780 x 20mm low riser bar. The spec sheets says Trans-X but it’s clearly an E*Thirteen. Whatevz. Normally this wouldn’t last very on a test bike before being swapped out. As it is, this bar stayed on for the whole duration of the test. Why? The head tube length is actually appropriate for an XL size bike, at 140mm long. And the sweeps of the bar felt fine too. (I’d still rather have a less-jarring 31.8mm handlebar but at this point that ship has sailed. It’s 35mm now. Hey-ho.)
Thr WTB grips were removed after one ride. Just too harsh and slippery. I put on a pair of my standby lock-on grips for the remainder of the testing (NS Hold Fast).
Controls. The SDG Tellis dropper remote worked just fine. The Shimano XT shifter was good; noticeably better than lower tier Shimano or even same/higher tier SRAM shifters that I’ve been used to. The XT shifter just feels more accurate. Less wobbly. Less… crap. I’d much rather have a high end shifter paired to a low end rear mech than vice versa.
Brakes. A real revelation. I’ve always appreciated the power and high level of construction/finish on TRP brakes but I’ve usually struggled with getting the levers to come nearer to the handlebar. They always lie – and bite – way too far out. Not the TRP Trail EVO brakes on the Norco Fluid FS A1. They could be adjusted to lie/bite near the bar and as such are the first TRP brakes that I’ve been able to say are flawless. Solid. No wobble. A free and easy action. Loads of power. Stoppie-able levels of feel. Great brakes, that undoubtedly have a massive positive effect on the whole bike experience.
Not as component per se, but the ample space inside the front triangle for a proper size bottle on the down tube and a set of accessory bosses on the top tube underside is to be applauded. Well done Norco.
The rear shock is a Fox Float X Performance Elite. I don’t exactly know why but I seem to get along with Float X shocks better than Float X2 shocks. Not because of any reliability issues (the older Float X2s are something of internet comment board cliche for “always going wrong”). I just prefer the feel of Float X shocks. Perhaps it’s my sub 80kg weight and/or less than Richie Rude level of riding velocity. The Float X feels quicker and just… funner to me.
Does the bike bob? It’s a 4-bar. Of course you can get it to bob. Just stop looking down between your legs and get on with riding instead. The effective climb switch is there if you want to use it (and you are good at remembering to turn it off at the top of climbs!) or you can dial on more damping if you want to quell the bobs. Personally, I just like living with Bob. I’m prepared to spin smoother circles (less fatiguing) and enjoy the masses of traction everywhere that the system gives you. I’m generally of the opinion that the lack of jittery stuttery stuff being passed into the rider is of more importance than absolute pedaling solidity. Certainly on anything rougher than tarmac.
The rarely seen SDG Tellis dropper post was great. A full 200mm of drop with minimal waggle or draggle. And I even quite liked the Fizik Alpaca Terra but YMMV.
The cranks were perhaps the niggle-iest thing on the bike. I just don’t think mountain bikes should come with 175mm length crank arms. They serve no advantage whatsoever. Whilst they certainly cause considerable more pedal strike woes, dropper length complications, as well as generally overworking my ancient limb joints. 165s please.
The Shimano XT cassette and rear mech were… a Shimano XT cassette and rear mech. What is there to say? Just brilliant. Adjustable clutch tension is you want to be extra geeky. Also, kudos to Norco for actually speccing a Shimano XT chain and not slying a rough-rolling off-brand chain in there as some bike brands oft do.
The wheels and tyres are another key area that significantly influences how the Fluid FS A1 rides. I mean, to be totally honest, I didn’t think about the hubs once. They worked, weren’t overly loud/quiet, weren’t overly fast/slow to engage (am not a particular fan of quick engaging freehubs, for suspension nerd reasons). The rim/spokes/nipples are all decent quality and relatively light weight offerings. This noticeably affects the overall whizziness of the bike. The Vittoria tyres were great. Good sizings. Good compromise of grip and rolling resistance. I would say that there’s not loads of tyre clearance around the chain stays so any 2.6in and/or sticky slop fanatics may wish to find another bike.
In a word: modern. High and proud. Long where it counts. The steep seat angle, long reach, not-short chain stays and good height cockpit really make the Fluid FS A1 a joy to ride on climbs. Just so comfortable and efficient. Other bikes kinda feel embarrassingly inefficient after riding the Fluid FS. It’s this overall stance that overwhelmingly offsets any energy loss that may come about through (un-countered) pedal bob. There’s just so much less bike wrestling and micro-managing going on. Just ride and smile.
Normally after talking about The Climbing, bike reviews are meant to jump straight into The Descending. This format really irks me. And it says more about bike reviewers than bikes. I don’t know about you, but a lot (most?) of my riding time is spent neither overtly climbing nor really descending. I do a whole lot of contouring. Traversing. Whatever you call it when you’re generally maintaining an altitude and rolling with the punches.
It’s on this neither-nor terrain that a trail bike either sinks or swims, rises up or falls down. The Fluid FS A1 is definitely one in the eye for those folk who say bikes over 30lbs are “too heavy”. Utter pigswill. This near-34lbs mountain bike absolutely flies along. It takes all your inputs and spits them out the back. It takes all the impediments that the trail presents and dissipates them. It’s a miraculous power station of a bike.
Ultimately, it’s the suspension that is key here. The suppleness of fork and shock around dynamic sag point (AKA the ride height) that very quickly builds up to a fabulous firm mid-stroke that you can push back against to drive things onward. Pitter patter plus propulsion. It is a great, great thing.
A quick word about Norco’s Ride Aligned. It’s an online suspension set-up assistant. And it’s brilliant. You may wish to occasionally twiddle your rebound now and then away from Ride Aligned’s recommendations, but on the whole it’s bang-on. It’s hard to overstate how great this is. What percentage of mountain bikers are riding around with less-than-ideal suspension settings? 90%?
Okay then. On to The Descending. I’ll not lie or exaggerate. The Norco Fluid FS A1 does not descend like an enduro bike. It simply doesn’t have the millimeters of travel there. It can do fast. It can do steep. It can do rough. But it can’t really do more than one of these things at once. Which is fine. Get an enduro bike for that. With that said, the Fluid FS gets down anything that I can get down. It is not the weak link here. I’d happily accept the drop in descending mph for the increase in mph you get everywhere (everywhere!) else.
So yep, hurray for metal trail bikes and metal trail bikes with decent geometry. The Norco Fluid FS A1 is easily one of the best trail bikes I’ve had the pleasure of riding for many a year. Yeah yeah, it’s not ‘light’. Sure, you can find cheaper direct sales bikes with ‘better’ spec. But that is to entirely miss the point. The point here being mountain biking. The Norco Fluid FS is one of the finest mountain biking mountain bikes ever made.
Norco Fluid FS A1 Specification
- Frame // 6061 Aluminium, 130mm
- Fork // Fox Float Factory 34 GRIP2, 140mm Travel
- Shock // Fox Float X Performance Elite, 2-pos, Custom Tune, 210x50mm
- Wheels // Stan’s Flow S1 rims on Bear Pawls hubs
- Front tyre // Vittoria Mazza 29×2.4in Trail G2.0
- Rear tyre // Vittoria Martello 29×2.35in Trail G2.0
- Chainset // Praxis G2 Cadet M24, 175mm, 30T
- Drivetrain // Shimano XT, 10-51, 12 Speed
- Brakes // TRP Trail EVO, 203/180mm
- Stem // 6061 Alloy, 40mm Length, 35mm Clamp
- Bars // Trans-X Alloy, 780 x 20mm
- Grips // WTB Lock-On
- Seatpost // SDG Tellis Dropper, 34.9mm, 200mm
- Saddle // Fizik Alpaca Terra with Wingflex
- Bottom Bracket // Praxis M24 Cartridge Bearing
- Size tested // XL
- Sizes available // S, M, L, XL, XXL
- Weight // 15.4kg
- Head angle // 65°
- Effective seat angle // 77°
- Seat tube length // 460mm
- Head tube length // 140mm
- Chainstay // 440mm
- Wheelbase // 1,284mm
- Effective top tube // 659mm
- BB height // 30mm BB drop
- Reach // 510mm
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|Product:||Fluid FS A1|
|Tested:||by Benji for 3 months|
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