They're a major brand in their native Canada, and Norco Bikes are designed to tackle the most extreme riding on an everyday basis. It certainly shows in the unshakeable confidence of this hard-hitting Shore Two.
You only have to look at the head tube to realize that this is a serious heavyweight. It's a massive, thick-walled, cold-forged piece with a deeply hollowed triangular wedge at the back, reinforcing the junction with the maintubes. The hydroformed down tube and top tube are gusseted underneath and on top, and the two sets of paired 'legs' supporting the seat stub are also thick. Another small stub mounts the front mech for dual chainring operation and the bottom bracket has ISCG tabs.
Starting with a big horseshoe bridge, the chainstay is pivoted at both ends for true four-bar performance, with twin positions on the thick linkage plates to give either 170mm (6.7in) or 189mm (7.4in) of rear-wheel travel. The back end uses a bolted 12mm axle with a 150mm width hub for extra stiffness and tyre space. The end result is an extremely heavy frame that might be overkill for some riders, but if that's the case check out the Norco Six series, based around a similar, but 3.5lb (1.5kg) lighter frame.
The kit collection nicely matches the heavy duty frame, starting with the faithful Marzocchi 66 RV fork. It has only external rebound damping and low pressure air top-up for the soft coil springs, but the performance is smooth and impressively consistent. There's occasional top-out knock, but otherwise it stays glued to the trail. The Fox DHX 3 shock gets factory-set ProPedal compression damping to stop bob, but it still matches the front end for consistently smooth action over all impacts.
The big Sun MTX S-Type rims are tough as hell and Kenda 2.5in tyres add surefooted grip and fat carcass protection. The dirty great bolt on the back makes it easy to apply leverage to the 150mm axle, although you'll need to take a spanner with you just in case.
The Hayes hydraulic brakes are a bit wooden, but there's no shortage of power. The Truvativ/ SRAM transmission runs fine and survived a couple of post-crash trailside straightenings. The super short Syncros stem and bar set up easy steering, and the bolt-on grips are a real help. Also, the two-part telescopic Titec seatpost is a great solution to otherwise limited seat adjustment.
It's the Norco's overall versatility that made it a unanimous favourite among our testers. Wherever we took it and whatever we threw it down, it was an absolute blast. Despite its being a relatively heavy bike with fairly standard dimensions, the short cockpit makes it feel super agile. Active suspension makes it easy to lift or compress the bike at either end with intuitive body weight shifts, and the four-bar back end isn't affected at all by pedalling or braking inputs.
As a result, it'll eagerly snatch the tightest singletrack lines, and it's beautifully balanced for surfing fading traction through skittery corners. It tiptoes along skinnies and see-saws with equal composure. Only the Coiler feels more at home on the high stuff.
The combination of smooth suspension action, chunky wheels and overall weight keep it totally glued to the trail. With the free-flowing oil bath fork slobbering and squelching away up front and the rear end set up for maximum travel, it's like riding a freeride bloodhound that sniffs traction out of any trail. Even on the first ride, we were ripping down the most radical lines of our test descents like we'd been riding it for weeks. All through the test it hucked, dropped or charged balls-out across boulder fields better than any of the other bikes here.
If we had to find downsides with the bike, it's not quite as precise as some on fast, open downhill sections. It also takes some muscle to dig it out of tight spots and slow-speed situations, so you'll know you've been riding after a day of sessioning the Shore - but it's well worth the effort.
Thanks to the telescopic post and just the right amount of compression damping on the rear shock, it even pedals pretty well, despite the weight disadvantage. It certainly wasn't last up the hill if we were stupid enough to race back up for pole position on the next descent.