Norco VPS A-Line review£2,044.00

This year's A-Line is basically a slightly lighter, lower version of last year's Team Downhill bike and the result is a superstable, high-speed, big-drop monster.

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The 2006 A-Line is basically a slightly lighter, lower version of 2005's Team Downhill bike and the result is a super stable, high-speed, big-drop monster. Add a top component specification and the Norco really is a serious gravity abuse tool.

Frame

It's compact enough for you to move around and work the bike

On the A-Line frame some weight has been lost from the head tube, chainstay yoke and hydroformed mainframe tubing. It's still a big, heavy beast designed to be dropped from great heights without grumbling though.

A shorter top tube and increased standover height combine with the flat-crown Marzocchi 888 VF2 fork to drop the rider lower on the bike too, immediately giving a more involved and connected feel.

If the rear end looks rather familiar it's because Norco have a licence to use the FSR linkage design owned by Specialized. Using a longer shock than the BigHit - 9.5in (240mm) versus 9in (229mm) - means it milks a maximum 9in of travel from the machined linkage. An 8in (203mm) setting plus two different geometry settings can be accessed by moving either end of the Fox DHX 3.0 shock, and you can adjust the end stroke compression and rebound too. A clamped bolt-through axle provides a solid link across the 150mm wide rear end.

 

Equipment

Where the Norco really scores points though is on fork spec - it has the VF2 version of Marzocchi's 888, complete with external rebound and compression damping.

The rest of the spec is good too. A Marzocchi integrated stem and Syncro handlebar build a solid cockpit, and the wheels are tough; Sun rims shod with Kenda Stick E 2.5in rubber give big cornering and dropping confidence and Norco's own-brand Axiom hubs seem perfectly OK too.

Hayes HFX-9 brakes with 203mm (8in) rotors are standard issue for maximum downhill stopping power, and the wisdom of only fitting a Shimano Deore rear mech was shown when we smashed ours in half during testing.

Through no fault of its own, the SDG saddle also got its nose broken cartwheeling a slow speed drop, so ignore the Titec seat in the test photos.

The e.13 chainguide needed a bit of tinkering too, and we lost a crank off the Howitzer bottom bracket at one point, so keep checking your bolts.

 

Ride

The bottom bracket wasn't the only problem - we spent a lot of time checking bolts and other bits to find various rattles and try to settle things down. Even well into the testing process we were still stopping mid run to tweak rebound or compression on either end to try to get the bike totally balanced and quiet. Our Medium test bike was also sprung for hucking drops not sucking up rocks and we ditched the 500lb spring for a 400lb one after our first session. Check the sag in the shop and swap the spring then if possible.

Noise and tuning niggles aside, it's a super capable bike with a great fork. The long, smooth-stroking shock and heavier weight really come into play when you're flying drops flat-out or dropping double-figure feet on to flattish landings.

The FSR linkage is very efficient whether you're pedalling, braking or just floating over stuff too. The medium length wheelbase and cockpit make the bike reasonably agile despite its weight, and it's compact enough for you to move around and work the bike rather than just sit centrally. It's certainly not nervous at speed or in the air, though, and you'll be fine if you just lean back and let the long shock take care of things.

Essentially, Norco have done a great job of turning the A-Line from a straightline monster truck into a much more versatile ride. It's still heavy but it's smooth enough to flatten anything that you can't heave it around, and the impressive component spec means there's nothing that obviously needs upgrading or replacing either, even if it always feels slightly looser and noisier than the opposition.

Guy Kesteven

Freelance Writer, UK
Guy started filling his brain with cycle stats and steaming up bike shop windows back in 1980. He worked the other side of those windows from '89 while getting a degree in “describing broken things covered in mud" (archaeology). Dug historical holes in the ground through the early '90s, then became a pro bike tester in '97. Guy has ridden thousands of bikes and even more components the world over since then and can remember them all in vivid, haunting detail. Can't remember where the car keys are, though.
  • Age: 45
  • Height: 180cm / 5' 11"
  • Weight: 68kg / 150lb
  • Waist: 76cm / 30in
  • Chest: 91cm / 36in
  • Discipline: Strict sadomasochist
  • Preferred Terrain: Technical off-piste singletrack and twisted back roads. Up, down, along — so long as it's faster than the last time he did it he's happy.
  • Current Bikes: An ever changing herd of test machines from Tri bikes to fat bikes and everything in between.
  • Dream Bike: His Nicolai Helius AM custom tandem
  • Beer of Choice: Theakston's Old Peculier (not Peculiar)
  • Location: Yorkshire, UK
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