Unusually, Canadian brand Norco have a choice of sub-£1,000 full-sus bikes in their range, with the Fluid DX and Faze DX. We tested the 120mm (4.7in) travel Faze DX, which promises to be a better UK all-rounder than the longer travel, heavier Fluid.
Ride & handling: Steady mile-eater for the money
While some bikes embrace the inevitable heft of an inexpensive full-suspension bike and pitch themselves at the more gravity-oriented end of the spectrum, the Faze DX is in some ways fighting against it.
In terms of travel and geometry it’s a fairly traditional cross-country/trail bike, eschewing the slack front end that’s rapidly becoming the norm even for shorter-travel bikes.
Fortunately, while the Norco is undeniably a little weighty, it’s not unreasonable for the asking price. Yes, you can feel it on the climbs, and the RockShox Bar shock tends to squish around under energetic pedalling, but the bike makes upward progress entirely acceptable. No sub-£1,000 full-sus bike is going to be a flyweight flyer, but the Norco puts up a decent fight.
Coming back the other way, the Faze gives a decent account of itself too, largely because the suspension is pretty good. The budget RockShox shock and fork clearly aren’t a patch on either RockShox’ own high-end gear or the Fox kit that’s almost ubiquitous on more expensive bikes, but you’d have to spend several hundred pounds more to get that kind of stuff.
The key point is that the Bar shock and XC32 fork are a cut above the suspension parts found on many other entry level full-sussers. While it’s a little plungy on the climbs, the Bar proves respectably controlled on descents, and well balanced with the XC32 fork.
Norco’s component spec helps a lot too, with high-volume Kenda Slant Six tyres offering consistent grip on hardpack or trail-centre-style compacted trails and a generous 740mm bar making it easy to drop into turns.
The Faze’s geometry is steeper than is currently fashionable for 120mm (4.7in) travel bikes, and it can get a little twitchy at the limit. But it still works well on most trails at most speeds – just because lots of bikes are slacker and lower now doesn’t mean that more traditional geometry suddenly doesn’t work.
If you’re looking to cover some distance rather than launch off everything in sight, the Norco’s layout makes a lot of sense.
Frame & equipment: Old-school geometry with wise suspension investments
Norco have kept things simple with the Faze, with conventional round tubes in the front triangle. Even the head tube sticks with the traditional external headset, albeit with reinforced ends.
There’s a bit of a swoop to the top tube to boost standover height, though. While some might consider it old fashioned, it’s quite refreshing to see a frame that’s not been hydroformed half to death.
The back end is another four-bar setup, with Norco being one of the very few licensees of Specialized’s FSR patent. Chain and seatstays are chunky oval items with clevis-style links at both the chainstay pivots and the back of the rocker arm.
The rocker itself is a particularly neat sculpted item, gracefully linking the seatstays, seat tube pivot and RockShox Bar shock. It’s also good to see machined caps on all of the pivot bearings to keep the worst of the crud out – the Canadians know what wet conditions are, and that carries over well to the UK.
The Faze frame scores well on the ‘looking more expensive than it is’ axis too, with a subtle matte silver paintjob.
This category of bike presents unique challenges for product managers. A retail price of under £1,000 is a challenging target to deliver a workable full-suspension bike for.
Wisely, Norco have focused on the Faze’s suspension, putting their budget into a RockShox XC32 fork and Bar rear shock, as detailed above. Both are entry level RockShox parts but a better bet than most of the more obscure stuff that usually crops up on budget bikes.
The compromise is in the transmission, which is all Shimano Alivio stuff. That’s not that much of a compromise though – Alivio might be basic, but with Shimano throughout it all works smoothly. We’d certainly rather have cheap transmission bits and a more expensive fork and shock than the other way around.
At 14.7kg (32.4lb) the Faze isn’t a bad weight for the money.
This article was originally published in Mountain Biking UK magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.