Norco Revolver 2 29er - First ride review£2,400.00

Fast and fun big-wheeler

BikeRadar score4.5/5

Norco’s catalogue puts a ‘Marathon’ tag on the Revolver 2, the middle bike in a range of three, but it’s a tough, lively and involving machine that earns its worth for almost any sort of riding, from fast cross-country blasts all the way through to big mountain outings. 

A 3x10 drivetrain, tapered steerer, through-axles, suspension lockouts, chainguide tabs and cable guides for a dropper seatpost make it as adaptable and future-proof as any bike we've tested this year, with only the minimally treaded fast-rolling tyres limiting its flat-out riding abilities when trail conditions are less than perfect.

Ride & handling: Fast-rolling 29er that reacts well to being ridden furiously

We’ve seen better forks and shocks on bikes at this price, but the Norco's RockShox Recon/Ario pairing does the job, offering enough tuning to suit the ride personality of the bike. We rarely felt the need to use the lockout options – a lever on the rear shock and cable push/pull on the handlebar – but it’s good to know they’re there for riding to and from the trail.

One of the most pleasing aspects of the way the best big-wheelers feel is that you have the impression of being in the bike rather than just on it. This comes from two main factors: a long wheelbase, which if the rest of the geometry is right helps to sit you more centrally on the bike; and a bottom bracket centre that sits below the wheel axle centres. 

With your centre of gravity in the right place a bike feels more stable and confident at both low and high speeds, and this is where the Revolver shines. Its nicely controlled short-travel suspension setup and superbly balanced pedal-and-point handling never felt challenged enough to lose its line, even on the most technical trails.

Apart from the long wheelbase making tight switchbacks a bit of a struggle, it handles superbly on all manner of high and low speed terrain. It climbs well, flies down rough descents and cruises its way over roots, rocks and holes with a nonchalance that, to put it bluntly, makes you feel like a better rider than you are. Take it from us, because this is what we did, you'll need to take care if you jump off this then onto a similarly equipped 26er!  

Norco revolver 2: norco revolver 2
Norco revolver 2: norco revolver 2

Frame: Neutral suspension feel and future-proof features

British Columbia-based Norco started up nearly 50 years ago. 2012 sees the Canadian company’s commitment to big-wheelers expand to six ranges, four hardtail and two full-suspension, incorporating 16 bikes. The longer travel (140/120mm) Shinobi range is intended for harder hitting riders, while the Revolvers are for those who want less weight and more speedy cross-country ability with just enough big terrain potential to let them expand their temptation boundaries from time to time. 

After initial rides a couple of our testers were surprised to learn that the Revolver 2 is such a short-travel bike at just 100mm. Its hard and fast rideability and big wheels make it feel as though it has more. The frame uses a confidently neutral four-bar linkage configuration with a tidy ‘hollow form’ rocker compressing a RockShox Ario shock, offering 100mm of travel to match the Recon air-sprung fork. 

A short tapered (1.5 to 1.125in) head tube stops the front end looking and feeling lanky, while a kinked forward seat tube makes for a little more mud room than on other full-suss 29ers we’ve tested. Practical details are to the fore, with a curvy low-slung top tube offering generous standover clearance, a forward facing seat clamp (out of the rear wheel spray), and aforementioned bottom bracket tab-mounts and cable guides on the top tube for a dropper post.

RockShox ario shock  offers 100mm of travel  to match the recon fork up front: rockshox ario shock  offers 100mm of travel  to match the recon fork up front
RockShox ario shock offers 100mm of travel to match the recon fork up front: rockshox ario shock offers 100mm of travel to match the recon fork up front

Equipment: Decent mix of big-name and own-brand parts; tyres would be our first upgrade

Through-axle wheels add to the bike’s future-proof character, as well as boosting its burly ride quality. Skinny rims, 160mm brake rotors and fast rolling shallow-treaded Kenda Slant Six treads emphasise the Revolver’s cross-country speed persona more than its carefree all-mountain side, but you could easily upgrade to this. The tyres aren’t grippy enough for properly muddy trails but they’re great in the dry and have enough air volume to increase the comfort attributes of the big wheels.

The drivetrain comprises a SRAM X9 rear mech with X7 shifters and front mech, a triple crankset and 10 sprockets out back, offering as many gear ratios (and a few more) as you could require for the most extreme ups and downs, although for typical rolling terrain the wide range of the cassette tempts you to ride in the middle ring most of the time. 

A couple of riders commented on the way the full outer cables to the gears, and the rear brake hose, cluster run under the down tube. This looks a bit messy and exposes the cables to front tyre rock-spit damage, but it’s the most direct routing and at least they’ll deflect that rock-spit damage away from the down tube underbelly. Top-up parts include Avid’s powerful but well modulated and adjustable Elixir 5 brakes, a Norco branded double-bolt seatpost, stem, middle-width (26.5in) low rise bar, bolt-on grips and a skinny but comfy WTB Silverado saddle.

Short, tapered head tube stops the front end looking lanky: short, tapered head tube stops the front end looking lanky
Short, tapered head tube stops the front end looking lanky: short, tapered head tube stops the front end looking lanky

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

Guy Kesteven

Freelance Writer, UK
Guy started filling his brain with cycle stats and steaming up bike shop windows back in 1980. He worked the other side of those windows from '89 while getting a degree in “describing broken things covered in mud" (archaeology). Dug historical holes in the ground through the early '90s, then became a pro bike tester in '97. Guy has ridden thousands of bikes and even more components the world over since then and can remember them all in vivid, haunting detail. Can't remember where the car keys are, though.
  • Age: 45
  • Height: 180cm / 5' 11"
  • Weight: 68kg / 150lb
  • Waist: 76cm / 30in
  • Chest: 91cm / 36in
  • Discipline: Strict sadomasochist
  • Preferred Terrain: Technical off-piste singletrack and twisted back roads. Up, down, along — so long as it's faster than the last time he did it he's happy.
  • Current Bikes: An ever changing herd of test machines from Tri bikes to fat bikes and everything in between.
  • Dream Bike: His Nicolai Helius AM custom tandem
  • Beer of Choice: Theakston's Old Peculier (not Peculiar)
  • Location: Yorkshire, UK
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