Norco are a fairly new name in the UK, but their dominant status in Canada means serious buying power. They have a bias towards the mental end of riding, as the Bigfoot's build betrays.
The top and down tubes are baseball bat scale, and they're welded together along an 11cm seam for extra support. There's also a big plate gusset underneath the down tube to toughen the offset head tube junction.
Super deep, slightly tapered rectangular chainstays, stout, similarly shaped seatstays and thick-cut dropouts create a very solid rear end. Careful curvature means plenty of ankle space and room for 2.5in wide tyres (or 2.6in if the tread isn't too big). The cables and hoses are tucked neatly under the top tube, although there's a lot of loop between the first cable stop and the bar that needs zip-tying securely.
We're also disappointed that there are no built-in chainguide tabs for single-ring use, although you do get twin bottle mounts. The saddle-to-bar reach is on the short side so you can throw your weight around in tight situations, while standover and bottom bracket clearance are average.
The Bigfoot's rear-biased handling balance is immediately involving, encouraging you to manual, manhandle and muck about. The solid frame accelerates pretty well too. It's easy to slide and save on sketchy trails or chuck around in the air, and even novice riders were confident leaning back and dropping serious heights. The slow-speed handling manners are sure-footed, making easy work of damp North Shore woodwork or sketchy, vertical roll-down sections. The short cockpit helps you throw your weight forward and bully the bike's steady steering through corners hard and fast, although really getting it going on flat, flowy singletrack is definitely a physical affair.
Equally physical is the kickback from frame and fork - the Dirt Jumper 4 is smooth enough sucking up smaller, single hits, but feed it repeated hits, compress it into a launch ramp or land it hard and it explodes back with a vengeance. Not only is the massive clang distracting and hand bruising, but several times it threw the front end completely off line when we shifted our weight back slightly. There's no way of adding rebound damping so a new fork is an essential upgrade for progressive riding. The frame is bruisingly solid in feel too, although at least that's expected.
Marzocchi's 100mm (4in) travel Dirt Jumper 4 fork looks the part, with a bolted crown for easy leg replacement, and it gets within a few mm of its intended travel. Unfortunately, the springs and elastomer have a totally untamed rebound and top-out slam.
The Truvativ Hussefelt crankset, handlebar and stem are all proven wrecking kit. The only Achilles heel is the set of bolts on the heavy duty Truvativ Howitzer bottom bracket that loosen occasionally - so check 'em.
Eight-speed Shimano Alivio gearing saves money for other components, which is fine by us on a bike that'll be crashed regularly. It did have a habit of skipping at the worst possible moment - just before launching a jump - and this wasn't helped by the fork kick. Sun's SOS rims are proven and reliable, and stay round when other wheels warp, while the fat Kenda treads add extra cushioning and landing control. The jump saddle is ready for a hammering and there's just enough seatpost height for a 5ft 10in rider to get proper pedalling extension for longer rides.
The Bigfoot's hardcore kit and solid frame push the weight (14.9kg/32.8lb) much higher than some competitors, although it isn't that much heavier than the Fisher - that's the difference a bit of extra cash makes at this level.
The Bigfoot is typical of the new breed of ready-for-anything hardcore hardtails that are an increasingly popular choice for those mixing dirt jumping with extreme XC, street and freeride. The frame, wheelset and kit highlights are able to take a real hammering while the sure-footed but usefully agile handling character is perfect for pushing your limits. Unfortunately, there's no avoiding the fact that the fork lets the rest of the bike down, with the explosive kickback irritating at best and dangerous at worst. As a result, we'd strongly recommend saving up the extra £150 for the Marzocchi Z1- equipped Norco Sasquatch.
MBUK'S MECHANIC SAYS...
Poor fork. We're used to forks with no rebound damping on £300- £400 bikes. But finding one on a £650 bike, especially one designed for serious impacts, is very disappointing. With just two greased coil springs and a short length of elastomer to play with, there's no way of adding any rebound control by adjusting oil heights or weights either. Work round it or bully it into submission while you save up to upgrade, or just save a bit longer and buy the next model up.