Norco is a household name among Canadian mountain bikers, with a reputation for bombproof strength and proven performance even in the sickest riding situations. Being big over there makes their impressively well-sorted Six Three great value over here, too.
The frame follows Norco's tried and trusted blueprint. It's lasted them many years of sickening abuse, so we can see why they haven't changed it - even if it's a weighty wagon.
The head tube is supported for at least half of its height by the big rectangular section down tube. The bent and gusseted 'top/spine tube' loops off the top like a low handle, before dropping back down to the tapering down tube just ahead of the bottom bracket. The seat tube cantilevers off the curved tube via two long arms and legs which straddle the shock. A short stub post above the bottom bracket triangulates to the spine with two thick plates that carry the lower linkage pivot.
The two separate linkage plates give two rear shock mounts, one for 5.5in of travel, the other for 6.3in. They then join to a square section rear end, with big forged bridge and dropouts pieces for strength.
Some bikes just feel anchored and unshakeable as soon as you're astride them, and the Six is a perfect example. The skinny bars might not be quite as confidence inspiring as oversized items in visual terms, but the solidity you feel through them is unmistakeable.
With a slack 67-degree head angle and long overall dimensions, its attitude to line changes is lazy but very surefooted. This adds security to the steering at all speeds, although really tight technical situations can't be hurried. It's also too heavy to chop and change from line to line in an attempt to short circuit its naturally stately progress. A shorter stem would suit hucking and pure DH use as well as speeding up reactions in confined spaces. The mid-length one fitted works fine though, as well as retaining at least some breathing space.
At 37lb, Norco are also stretching the credibility of 'all mountain' claims. With a big dose of Pro Pedal damping on the Fox shock it actually pedals really well though, and the long top tube means no cramped, knee knocking misery. There's no doubt you'll still be surrendering the lead early on climbs and just winching up as best you can, though.
The payback for patience is that, from the summit, line choice is only limited by what you've got the nerve to handle. The back end is slightly stiff over smaller stuff because of the Pro Pedal damping (we'd be tempted to have it reduced when it's serviced), but it's totally composed once you start really clouting things.
In fact, like most good 'true' 4 bar setups, it's so controlled and capable it barely feels like it's doing anything. Only when you try and hit the same lines and speeds on another bike do you realise how well it transitions, sucks up landings and generally stays calm, even when you're well beyond sketchy. Structural integrity and stiffness is reasonable too, giving plenty of feedback to work with. Check the bolts regularly though, as Norcos tend to rattle loose occasionally as a result of the huge amount of abuse they encourage.
Howitzer bottom brackets have a similar loosening habit, but that's the only glitch on an otherwise impressively balanced spec.
The succulently smooth Marzocchi fork is certainly a good match. It's last year's model, but when that means you get twin air springs and externally adjustable rebound, that's no problem in our view. Be prepared to run them slightly harder than you might normally do though, to balance the back end up and stop excessive dive. Different pressures in each leg make for a more progressive action, too.
The wheelset is mid-weight rather than heavy duty, but the rims are broad enough to plump up the Kenda tyres (and offset their pinch puncture-prone sidewalls) and the Deore hubs run forever. The tyres are fairly grippy and predictable in most conditions without being too draggy on the smooth stuff.
Norco also use a 36-tooth ring on the double chainset to allow at least some spin speed, while the shifters and rear gear that are likely to get trashed in crashes are cheap SRAM SX-5. Shifting is okay though, and the less vulnerable front mech is a good quality X-7 one.
Hayes Sole brakes are one sided so need regular pad checking, but they stop well - if bluntly.
The Titec telescopic seat post is a perfect solution to full seat height adjustment in limited space, but we still reckon an oversize cockpit would at least look better.
Overall though, this is one of those trail mates that'll make you go and do bad things. Yes it's heavy, but it pedals well enough to make that bearable if you're patient, and the rewards you'll reap on the descents are huge. Sorted suspension and stable handling meant it never put a wheel wrong however far it led us astray, and the base frame is well worth upgrading over time. A great complete bike for the money, and a great basis for progressing your future riding limits.