Norco Fluid 7.2 $1709

Canadian born and bred budget trail tamer

BikeRadar score 3/5

Not sure which of the ‘new’ wheel sizes will best suit you? Not a problem, sir. Norco offers the trail-friendly Fluid with a choice of 29in (the 9 series) or – as with the model tested here – 650b (7 series) wheels.

The 7.2 props up the bottom of the Fluid range at a very competitive-looking price, but still manages to cram in air suspension front and rear, as well as a 10-speed transmission. Are there any compromises lurking, or is this a proper Canadian bargain?

Frame and equipment: classy and curved

Fluid by name, fluid by nature: Norco’s designers have made the most of modern aluminium tube shaping technology, leaving the 7.2 with barely a straight line in sight. Even the seat tube has a subtle kickback on its journey from bottom bracket to saddle, while the remaining tubing kinks, curves and downright flows its way from A to B.

Curved dropouts and a sculpted, hollowed out post mount for the rear brake calliper complete the, er, fluid look. If you have a pronounced heels-inward riding style (or big feet), you may find that the wide stance of the lower portion of the seatstays leads to you clipping your heels though.

The dropped chainstay pivot takes the tried-and-tested chain tension route to reducing pedal-induced movement, with the linkage-driven rear shock sitting tidily just ahead of the seat tube. Ready-to-go dropper post cable routing and the tapered head tube – with matching fork steerer – are nice touches on a bike that hints at a hard riding edge, but the standard 9mm quick-release axle up front is at odds with the burly aspirations. Still, at this price it’d be churlish to grumble.

RockShox air springs hold up both the front and rear of the bike – something that’s great to see at this price. The XC 30 fork isn’t the most accurate-steering bump muncher out there, but we’ll certainly take air over coil. It’s got skinny stanchions and a standard QR axle, but the tapered steerer and matching headset will make a future fork upgrade easier.

Bonus points for the tapered steerer and air-sprung fork, but RockShox’s XC 30 is flexy when the going gets rougher

There are hints of cost-cutting to hit the 7.2’s tempting looking price – in the own-brand finishing kit, for example, and the non-lock on grips. The small 160mm brake rotor up front doesn’t inspire confidence for long descents or repeated hard braking either.  The 3x10 Shimano Deore-flavoured transmission, on the other hand, gives the best possible range of ratios courtesy of big-wheel-specific middle and large rings. And Continental’s X-King tyres are fast rolling and provide plenty of grip in dry conditions, at the expense of some bite when things get damp and sticky.

Ride and handling: surprisingly nimble

The Canadians pretty much invented freeriding, and freeride design has influenced trail bike design heavily over the years, with shorter cockpits, slacker head angles and beefier chassis designs being introduced to reduce twist and flex in the turns. These changes have all come from experience of throwing bikes down stuff that bikes don’t have any place being thrown down.

Unsurprisingly, then, the Fluid is a bike that invites a hands-on approach to trail riding. If you’re coming from a cross-country background you may find the compact cockpit takes a little getting used to, but don’t be fooled – the 7.2 is a surprisingly potent machine for gobbling up the miles. It’s not especially light, admittedly – and it’s beaten on the scales by some of its bigger-wheeled competition – but we suspect most of the extra weight is lurking in some of the less important componentry, because those 650b hoops sure don’t hang about on the climbs.

With a lively, placeable feel and a supple rear end that keeps the back tyre gripping even on technical climbs, the Norco is more mountain goat than mule. The dropped chainstay pivot does reduce the suspension’s ability to track up and over momentum-robbing obstacles under hard pedalling, but it’s a subtle effect that’s easy to adapt to.

Where the Fluid 7.2 really comes into its own though is on the way back down. The compact cockpit and super-slack head angle combine with the mid-size 650b wheels to make for a flickable, chuckable plaything that wants to be thrown around. Push it hard and you’ll run into the limits of the flexy, whippy fork and undersized front brake rotor, but this is a bike that offers way more fun than ought to be legal at this price. It’s compromised and could be even better, but for the money the Fluid 7.2 is a potent – and hugely entertaining – trail tamer.

This article was originally published in Mountain Biking UK magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

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