It’s been some time since Norco offered a full suspension cross country ride, but that hiatus ends with the introduction of the Canadian brand's 2016 Revolver FS. It’s a bike we first saw in testing at Sea Otter, where we speculated heavily on the new model, and now, the details are official.
Bringing rear suspension to the existing Revolver hardtail line-up, the Revolver FS features a full-carbon frame with 100mm travel for cross country and marathon usage. Based on a claimed 50/50 split in demand, Norco will offer the Revolver FS range in both 27.5 (Revolver 7 FS) and 29in wheels (Revolver 9 FS), with bikes featuring equivalent component spec levels to the name-sharing hardtails.
- Buy if: You’re chasing a cross-country racer, with trail-riding flair
Range details: 1x bias and size-specific carbon construction
Where it’s rather common to see brands commit to either 27.5 or 29in wheels, or perhaps offer a size split, Norco's offer of the Revolver FS in both wheel sizes, across all frame sizes (excluding an extra-small 29er) is something rarer.
“The demand was there in Canada, and we started development on the full suspension model straight when we first released the Revolver hardtail," Norco’s mountain bike product manager, Jim ‘JJ’ Jamieson, told BikeRadar.
"A year into our testing, we had to scrap a model using pivot bushings as the durability and frame stiffness just wasn’t where we wanted it. That pushed the project back and required all new moulds. But it allowed us to lengthen the top tubes a bit, refine the geometry and add stiffness to the rear end while lightening up the front.”
In the name of dropping weight, the front triangle, swing link, chainstays and seatstays are all carbon. We’re told a painted, 27.5in wheeled, medium frame weighs just 1,800g – we assume this excludes a rear shock.
Norco uses a technology it calls SmoothCore to create a smooth surface on the inside of the frame, something that removes excess material, finely compacts the carbon and ensures a wrinkle free layup for a stronger, more durable frame. The resin used is something Norco dubs ArmourLite, which is said to increase impact resistance. We suspect it's a form of nano-particle-based resin.
Where the carbon construction becomes even more impressive is in Norco’s ‘Gravity Tune’ technology, which changes the chainstay length in correspondence to each size bike. The idea of this is to create consistent handling and rider weight distribution as frame sizes change. For example, our medium 29er tester featured 439mm chainstays, while an extra-large is another 5mm longer.
The Revolver FS features a Horst-Link suspension design
The 100mm of travel is delivered by a cross country-focused Horst-link design with a top tube-mounted rear shock. The shock is high enough that all frames sizes will fit a bottle within the main triangle. In an effort to keep standover low, none of the frame sizes will offer space for two bottles within the main triangle.
Helping to ensure long-term durability, the frame pivots on double-row sealed bearings. Joining these is a solid seat tube swing-link and 142x12mm rear thru-axle that all help toward a noticeably stiff rear-end.
Norco's GIZMO internal cable routing is highly adaptable, sealed and relatively simple
Internal cable routing is kept clean via Norco’s GIZMO system – effectively a rubber-sealed, convertible setup that's Di2 compatible. Having previously used the system on the brand’s road bikes, such as the Valence Ultegra Di2, we can attest to it being sealed from the elements, while also holding the cable housings secure and rattle free.
All frames include four cable ports at the head tube (two per side). The 1x-equipped bikes are to ready accept both a stealth-style dropper seatpost and a rear shock remote lockout. A small hole exists beneath the top tube for use of a rear shock remote (stock on the top-tier XX model).
Want to use a front derailleur? Sorry, you can't
Interestingly, Norco has decided to remove the front derailleur mounts and associated cable tabs on its complete bike models, which all feature 1x11 gearing. It’s an intriguing decision to say the least, as it’s based mostly on cosmetics and will prevent any chance of ever going back to front shifting. That said, it appears the frame kits available will feature a direct-mount front derailleur tab.
More neat touches include a seat clamp shaped to fit the seat tube’s curves and a moulded rubber chainstay protector.
Where the dual wheel size options along with the varying rear-end lengths are to be applauded, carbon moulds are inevitably expensive, and the Revolver FS calls for plenty of them. With this, the Revolver FS is clearly a platform Norco believes in and so has invested – but it remains a bike that’s priced at the premium end of the spectrum.
Model options: complete builds and frame-only options
While the options in various markets will vary, the full Revolver FS range in Canada offers four complete bike price points in either wheel size and additional frame-only options ($2,199 / £TBC / €2,125 / AU$N/A). UK pricing and expected availability was not available at the time of writing.
Sitting at the top and without question ready-to-race are the 7XX and 9XX ($7,415 / £TBC / €7,999 / AU$N/A). This offers such features as a RockShox RS-1 fork, XX hydraulic remote suspension front and rear, SRAM XX1 groupset, RaceFace Next SL cranks, SRAM Guide Ultimate brakes and DT Swiss XRC 1200 carbon wheelset.
Revolver 9.1 FS
A smidgen more affordable are the 7.1 and 9.1 with a RockShox SID RLT fork, Fox Float CTD rear shock, SRAM X01 gearing, SRAM Guide RS brakes and DT Swiss X1700 Spline wheelset. The 7.1 will sell for $4,645 / £TBC / €5,199 / AU$6,999, with the 9.1 at $4,645 / £TBC / €4,999 / AU$N/A.
Next in line are the 7.2 and 9.2 (as tested here), which feature Shimano’s new XT 11-speed drivetrain and brakes, RockShock RL suspension fork and DT Swiss X1900 Spline wheelset. The 7.2 will sell for $4,050 / £TBC / €4,199 / AU$N/A and the 9.2 priced at $4,050 / £TBC / €3,999 / AU$5,499.
Finally, keeping with the same frames are the 7.3 and 9.3 with SRAM GX 11-speed gearing, basic Shimano disc brakes, RockShox Recon Silver fork and tubeless-ready Alex rims. Expect to pay $3,050 / £TBC / €3,299 / AU$N/A for 7.3, and $3,050 / £TBC / €3,099 / AU$N/A for the 9.3.
First ride impressions: all-day-friendly steed with trail capabilities
At a dealer launch in Brisbane, Australia, I managed a ride on a pre-production Revolver 9.2 FS. Because of time constraints in testing and setup, I’ll keep my initial thoughts brief and without scrutiny of the suspension characteristics. Between me and the rest of the BikeRadar team, we'll hope to have a longer-term test in the near future.
What was most noticeable about this race-inspired machine is how relaxed it feels to ride. It certainly snapped forward when called upon, but its handling and fit seemed closer to that of a typical 120mm trail bike (though it certainly climbed better).
My medium tester featured an on-trend 601mm top tube. While this length would normally feel aggressive, the combination of an ultra-steep seat-tube and short 70mm stem (27.5in models feature 10mm longer stems) gave a more upright ride. A 740mm width bar, meanwhile, helped to stretch me out again.
The upright position is something I got along with, especially given how well the Revolver tackled steep climbs. Its climbing ability isn’t too surprising, with a stiff frame under power, competitive weight and efficient 100mm suspension system.
Despite the limited suspension travel, the Revolver FS loved to descend. The short stem and roomy top tube offer plenty of room to throw the bike around, while helping it feel perfectly stable at speed. Its handling allowed me to be a little more aggressive than I would have been astride a more traditional race bike.
With this in mind, while it's certainly a capable marathon and rough-course XC-type bike, a longer 120mm front fork and dropper post would make the Revolver a stellar all-day trail bike too.
Components wise, this was my first time riding off-road on the new XT 11-speed grouptest. Shifting and braking proved faultless, with a near identical feel and shift precision to that of XTR. Norco has interestingly stuck with an 11-40t cassette, and while it was ample for the testing trails, I’d have preferred the wider range 11-42t now offered.
XC bikes so commonly have cluttered handlebars, but not this one.
It’s so common for modern full-suspension race bikes to have various switches cluttering the bars, but this Norco was pleasantly minimal. The 1x11 setup and Shimano’s clean I-Spec II clamp are responsible for this.
The DT Swiss and Schwalbe rolling stock was completely ready to be turned tubeless, and proved well suited to the bike’s useage. That said, the wheels carry a fair heft for the bike’s price and some decent race wheels would see a not insignificant 400g dropped.
Obviously it’s still early days for the Revolver FS, but my short time with it was an impressive experience. It’s clear Norco's team have done their research on this one.