Norco’s plus-size hardtail trades labour-intensive laziness on flats and climbs for outrageously uncouth gravity-assisted character that’d shame many full-suspension bikes. Production packages will be even better than the sample we tested too.
Aggro comes as standard
Norco have worked hard to squeeze proper plus-size tyres into the Torrent while keeping it bang on trend for aggro handling. Complicated asymmetric forgings allow a super-short Boost back end without any calf or ankle rub issues.
The heavily sloped top tube and long, buttressed seat tube extension give plenty of sack space even if you stall on a stupidly steep climb. A long conjoined main tube section keeps the head tube securely attached to the rest of the bike. Brake and gear cables run through less-than-subtle brackets but at least the remote-control KS dropper post cable only pops into view in the bottom corner of the frame.
The Manitou fork will get an upgrade to RockShox' Yari for production models
While the inclusion of a dropper is impressive for the price it’s the tyres that really make a difference to what this bike can do. Rather than trying to massage the ego of struggling muscles with fast-rolling semi-slicks, Norco has opted for chunky Nobby Nic tubeless rubber on super-wide 49mm rims for a full-fat 72mm carcass width. The bar is equally oversize at 35mm in diameter and 780mm wide, and the 28t chainring is a sensible choice on what's a hefty, slow-rolling bike.
Hard work on the ups pays off on the downs
As soon as we started rolling we noticed that we seemed to be working significantly harder on the Torrent than on the other plus bikes from Orbea, Scott and Charge that we were testing at the same time. Tyre drag and a soft feel under power create an unrewarding response to any attempted injections of pace and make it hard to maintain morale.
The slack head angle and grippy tyres mean you really have to haul on the big bar to get it to sullenly change direction on the flat, and even then it’ll often take several tugs to get the message across. Add a bit of upward gradient and the steering often stumbles and scuffs the side of the trail unless you just GPS the straightest course possible through stuff. All this meant we nearly turned round and headed for home before we even got to the tops on our first big moorland mission.
A 28t ring will haul you up anything once you've got the Norco's measure
Get even a hint of gravity on your side though and the Torrent begins to flow. We’re not just talking a little trickle winding its way round boulders and skirting serious drops like you’d expect even on a fairly butch aggro hardtail. With barely double-figure PSI in the tyres the Torrent surges straight over everything with all the subtlety of a tsunami.
Even on foggy nights with split seconds to react to incoming impacts, blind launches or ditches, it soon became obvious that the Norco would just smash its way straight through everything regardless. The noticeably soft, drive diluting frame feel helps damp and control impacts too. In fact, there’s so little sense of drama that only the fact we were casually sat on the shoulder of a very well piloted full-sus 29er suggested we were probably going pretty damn quick.
The steeper, looser and loamier the trail, the more the Torrent loved it too, with the long front end and super-short back end allowing ridiculous lean angles and hip-controlled slides. That meant it wasn’t long before we watched the 29er drift wide, smelled our cheap Avid brakes burning as we dived inside it on the steepest, tightest line and then disappeared into the distance.
But it's on the descents where the Torrent comes into its own
Our dramatic change from cursing haters to complete converts even followed us onto subsequent climbs. With regularly rim-bumping pressures and the realisation that the Norco would only change direction with a big lean rather than conventional steering, we were free to crawl crudely up and over anything in our path. The reduction in rider input to just holding it on an approximate line and keeping the tiny ring spinning wasn’t the most rewarding sensation, but repeated first time clears of ultra-technical climbs meant the results were obvious.
Strava ride autopsies showed that even sections we felt really slow on were being thugged through at personal record pace, and despite initial concerns the tyres stayed inflated no matter how careless our lines or bruising the geology. The Torrent’s descending capability will potentially be boosted even further on production models, which get the new RockShox Yari fork with super-stiff 35mm legs rather than the slightly flexy Manitou Magnum our early sample had.