PINKBIKE FIELD TEST
Words by Mike Kazimer; photography by Satchel Cronk
The Norco Fluid FS A1's $3,999 price tag looks like a screaming deal compared some of the expensive carbon bikes in this Field Test. Yes, it's the only bike with an aluminum frame, but still – you could buy one Fluid, buy another one to have as a spare, and still have $3,000 left over to spend on food and gas for all of your riding adventures... or you could purchase one top-of-the-line Scott Genius.
A good price doesn't automatically equate to a good time on the trail, but it sure seems like Norco did everything they could to make sure the Fluid delivered, equipping it with a smart mix of parts and geometry numbers that should work well in a wide range of locations.
Norco Fluid FS A1 Details
• Travel: 130mm / 140mm fork
• Aluminum frame
• 65° head angle
• 76.7° seat angle
• 435mm chainstays (size L)
• Reach: 480mm (L)
• Sizes: S, M, L, XL, XXL
• Weight: 33.8 lb / 15.3 kg
• Price: $3,999 USD
• More info: norco.com
Up front you'll find a 140mm Fox 34, and this is the highest end, Grip2 damper equipped version. That's paired with a Performance Elite level Float X shock, which skips the Kashima coating to save a few pennies without sacrificing any adjustability. The derailleur, shifter, and cassette are all Shimano XT, and Praxis takes care of the cranks. TRP helps slow things down with their Trail EVO brakes, with a 203mm / 180mm rotor combo.
The Fluid's geometry seems to hit the sweet spot when it comes to an all-rounder, especially for riders who want a trail bike that feels at home in steeper, more technical terrain. The head angle sits at 65-degrees with a 140mm fork, and the fairly tall head tube combined with the 76.7-degree seat angle helps create an upright, centered ride position. The chainstay lengths vary depending on the size, coming in at 435mm for the size large we tested.
The Norco weighed in at 33.8 lb (15.3 kg) with control Maxxis DoubleDown control tires installed. That makes it the heaviest out of the five bikes on test, but not by as much as you'd expect – it's only 1.1 pounds heavier than the much
pricier Yeti SB140. Climbing
The Norco's weight never really entered my mind when climbing or descending. Yes, if I hopped off the 30-pound Scott and right onto the Norco I could notice the little bit of extra heft while climbing, but it was really only in those direct comparisons that it was apparent. Otherwise I didn't think twice about it, usually because I was trying not to fall off whatever weird skinny log ride I'd discovered in the woods of Whistler.
Riders who are used to pedaling around longer travel enduro bikes will instantly feel at home with the Norco's seated position. The tall headtube creates a cockpit position that's nice and upright, even with the 140mm fork – there aren't any hunched over, stretched out XC shenanigans going on here. The Fluid's handling is fairly neutral, especially for a bike in this category, but it was slightly easier to zig and zag through tight climbs compared to the longer and slacker Scott Genius. Of course, the Scott has 150mm of rear travel and a 64-degree head angle, so it's not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison, and at the end of the day both bikes will get up just about anything without much fuss.
The Float X shock did dip into its travel more eagerly than the Santa Cruz Hightower or the Trek Fuel EX, which meant I'd occasionally flip the climb switch for longer fireroad climbs. It's still calm enough to run it fully open for any non-road riding, though, with a good amount of grip to help it keep clambering its way upward. Interestingly, the Fluid ended up placing second in the efficiency test, so it's no slouch when the stopwatch and power pedals are out. Descending
The term 'aggressive trail bike' still seems a little strange to me – why is it so angry? – even though it really is the best way to categorize the Fluid. This is one of those bikes that doesn't shy away from the occasional sketchy move (or three) despite having the least amount of front and rear travel in this test.
The geometry numbers aren't worlds apart from the 125mm Optic that impressed us back in 2020, but there is a noticeable difference in how the two bikes ride. On the Optic, the shock tune felt like it prioritized support over everything else, while the Float X on the Fluid offers better small bump compliance, along with those extra five millimeters of travel to further take the edge off bigger hits.
The Fluid has a fairly long head tube, which increases the stack height and makes it easier to stay centered while descending, instead of feeling like you're getting pulled over the front end. For comparison, the Fluid has a 135mm head tube, and the Yeti SB140's measures 100mm; even with a 160mm fork the Yeti still has a lower stack height than the Fluid. As always, a bike is the sum of its geometry numbers, and looking at one in isolation doesn't tell the whole story. Still, Norco has cooked up a tasty recipe with the Fluid, especially when it comes to tackling steep terrain.
I ended up putting down my 4th fastest time on the Fluid, just one second slower than my 2nd and 3rd place times, and two seconds slower than my fastest time, which was on the Trek Fuel EX.
As far as the overall handling goes, the Fluid has a solid, ready-for-anything feel, although its manners fall more on the neutral side of the spectrum rather than being a zippy, lively thing. It's not that it's sluggish, it's just that it doesn't have the same level of get-up-and-go as the Fuel EX, or the Santa Cruz Hightower. Those bikes were more responsive in rolling terrain, with more of a platform to push against and generate speed.
Does the Fluid need $7,000 worth of upgrades to match the performance of those much more expensive competitors? Definitely not. It did very, very well against those carbon contenders, although there were a couple things that could be improved. A chainguide would be the first upgrade I'd make – we dropped the chain a handful of times, something a small upper guide would have prevented. The second component quibble has to do with the 170mm dropper post. It wasn't the amount of drop that was an issue, it was the fact that the very short seat tube meant I was running the post at the minimum insertion mark. A 200mm post on the size large would prevent this, and it's something that taller or longer-legged riders should keep in mind.
At the end of the day, the Norco Fluid has great suspension, good brakes, and a solid, workhorse drivetrain. It offers an excellent price-to-performance ratio no matter your ability level, and could be just the ticket for the rider who's looking for a trail bike that won't hold them back when things take a turn for the technical.