Norco Tactic SL Disc Ultegra review

A race bike ready to be ridden beyond the race course

BikeRadar score4.5/5

The Norco Tactic SL Disc Ultegra sits in the middle of the Tactic race bike family. On the sharp end are two Tactic SLRs with rim brakes and 800g frames. On the opposite end are two Tactic base models also with rim brakes and 1,050g mid-modulus carbon frames. In between lies the sweet spot in my opinion, two versions of Tactic SL Disc bikes with 910g frames sporting nearly seamless flat mount disc brakes.

Punishing pavement climbs to eye-rattling gravel backroads, the Tactic SL Disc was eager for all of it
Punishing pavement climbs to eye-rattling gravel backroads, the Tactic SL Disc was eager for all of it

Smart specs abound

Finding my praise once again are Shimano's hydraulic disc road brakes. Norco wisely opted for a 160mm rotor on the front and a 140mm on the rear. It's a smart spec in my opinion as the increased modulation over a 140mm disc far outweighs any weight savings and that doesn't even scratch the surface of how much better they are than rim brakes. 

Oh, sweet hydro road discs, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways
Oh, sweet hydro road discs, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways

The thru-axles front and rear work wonderfully for a bike like the Tactic SL. The bike and the ride have a solid, planted feel. It's not wispy or delicate, it feels capable and controlled and the thru-axles multiply those positive traits. As does the Shimano Ultegra mechanical drivetrain. Sure, Di2's electronic precision is almost otherworldly, but there's something to be said for the tactile, silky, single digit throws of the cable-actuated levers. When one looks up "refinement," images of Shimano's mechanical road groups should be the reference.

Shimano mechanical Ultegra 11-speed provides the ratios
Shimano mechanical Ultegra 11-speed provides the ratios

I've had good luck with the DT Swiss R32 Spline wheels. They stayed true despite hitting holes and other things I shouldn't have and racked up miles without issue. That said there's no getting around their portly 1,720g weight.

Straight-pull spokes on the DT Swiss R32 Spline wheels remained perfect throughout testing
Straight-pull spokes on the DT Swiss R32 Spline wheels remained perfect throughout testing

Confident, let it run

The Tactic SL has a capable, solid, locked-in feeling at speed. The numbers and its race intent led me to think I was in for a nervous, hyper-focused ride where any lack of attention would be punished. I've found the opposite to be true. Hold on now, I'm not saying the Tactic is slow, dull or lazy by any means, it's just less of a razor than expected — and that's a very, very good thing.

While not purpose built for dirt roads, the Tactic SL Disc handled them easily
While not purpose built for dirt roads, the Tactic SL Disc handled them easily

It's plenty stiff and responsive, mash the pedals and the scenery begins to blur very quickly. The tapered head tube flows into a rather large down tube, through a massive bottom bracket area and sends power through stout chainstays, which Norco calls Power Chassis. Above the chainstays however, are Norco's ARC Race seatstays. They're svelte and bowed ever so slightly to keep the ride from being overly harsh. Norco also takes the effort to scale up the carbon frame tube diameters and chainstay length as frame sizes increase. It calls the tech SizeScaled Tubing. It's designed so a bigger rider on a large size experiences the same handling and ride characteristics as a smaller rider on a small frame.

That reassuring handling delivered a huge boost in confidence. Even with 25mm Clement tires, the Tactic SL and I ventured on quite a few gravel roads. Some loaded with rocks, most rattled with washboards, a few much too steep, but for a road bike built with racing purpose, it handled each unpaved outing with mettle far beyond what the numbers would lead you to believe.

Of course, I rode the Tactic SL on a lot of pavement as well. It was on the tarmac that that same reassuring ride from the dirt roads pushed me to go faster. Coming into huge sweeping turns was met with an incentive of speed, allowing nary a thought of touching the brakes. Simply weight the inside bar, set the lean and let the rush of adrenaline wash through you. The stable, predictable handling encouraged speed, demanded I tuck harder, and rewarded looking ahead for the next chicane. It's that trust, and knowing that the Tactic's not going to jerk or jump off line unexpectedly, that makes it a fine race machine.

In a perfect world

The Tactic SL did everything I asked of it, often with more grace than the pilot. If I had to list things that could be improved, the first would be more tire clearance. The 25mm Clements had little to no breathing room at the fork and rear end. I do realize that Norco offers the Valence SL Disc with 28mm rubber and the Search C with cushy 35mm Clements — but both of those are a bit more upright, whereas the Tactic SL has proper go-fast positioning.

The seat tube features subtle aero shaping, but sadly there's not much for tire clearance
The seat tube features subtle aero shaping, but sadly there's not much for tire clearance

The other isn't a knock on Norco, rather Shimano. Like it or not, the movement towards taking road bikes off the tarmac and onto the dirt is a trend that's likely not going away. Most dirt roads are bumpy, littered with potholes, washboards, and chunky gravel. Hearing the rear derailleur knock against the chainstay is somewhat ridiculous since Shimano has a very elegant clutch mechanism in its repertoire. 

So much fun

Norco bills the Tactic SL Disc Ultegra as a road race bike and while it can certainly deliver on that label, it's so much more. I took it on a 90-mile road loop and the very next day rode seldom used gravel roads above 9,000 feet. No wheel or tire swapping, no gear changes, the same bike on very different terrain, but an amazing ride on both. 

One of my first "real" bikes was the same orange color. Just like that one, I'll be sad when this one is gone
One of my first "real" bikes was the same orange color. Just like that one, I'll be sad when this one is gone

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