While plus tyres haven’t taken off as well as many brands expected, one place they work well is on hardtails, particularly cheaper ones where suspension quality is likely to be compromised. That’s certainly the case on Norco’s Fluid, but it’s still begging for a fork upgrade to show its full potential.
The Fluid chassis gets off to a good start with its posh-fork-friendly tapered head tube. Both the top and down tube are double butted (thicker at the ends for extra strength without excess weight/stiffness in the centre), and the extended seat tube has a reinforcing buttress.
The driveside chainstay snakes down and out to squeeze between the chainring and the fat rear tyre, while keeping the back end short at 430mm. There’s no seatstay bridge, so there’s ample room for 3in rubber if you fancy upsizing from the stock 2.8s.
Cable routing for a semi-internal dropper post makes future upgrading easier. Until then, a quick-release (QR) collar lets you change seat height without tools.
The second set of bottle cage mounts on the seat tube limits how far you can drop the seatpost, but you can always cut it down. While the rear axle is the latest 148mm ‘Boost’ width, it’s QR rather than bolt-through and the dropouts are fixed. The rear brake attaches via a neat perpendicular ‘post’ mount.
Norco Fluid 3 HT kit
The XCM fork struggles to provide either smooth control or full travel, especially in colder weather Mick Kirkman / Immediate Media
Up front, the XCM fork uses SR Suntour’s ingenious push-fit ‘Q-Loc2’ thru-axle in 110mm Boost width. Theoretically, the stiffer axle connection and 120mm stroke should give the Norco a control advantage over the 100mm/QR-forked bikes here.
The 15mm hub also means you won’t need a new wheel if you upgrade the fork. Suntour supplies the crankset too, which has a small 30-tooth chainring to offset the effect of the fat tyres on the gearing. A SRAM 11-speed shifter, rear mech and 11-42t rear cassette complete a practical range of gears.
A 60mm stem and 750mm bar provide a decent cockpit. The Tektro brakes with 160mm rotors are basic and low on power, though. Because the WTB Ranger tyres are cheap non-tubeless versions, they’re not as supple and smooth as usual. The 30mm (internal) rims are on the narrow side for a plus bike too.
Norco Fluid 3 HT ride impressions
With a balanced 67.5-degree head angle and a fairly wide bar at the end of a reasonable-length top tube, the Norco’s handling feels naturally weighted and sorted.
The 30mm rims mean the 2.8in tyres are rounded enough not to put up extra resistance to leaning into or out of corners too. That makes it stable enough to be confident at speed but not too sluggish when making sudden changes in direction and diving between trees.
Without the twists and turns of internal cable routing, the SRAM NX gearing is smoother and lighter in action than normal. The small chainring provides a more realistic gear range for novice riders and also helps you capitalise on the Norco’s ability to crawl up super-steep slopes, if the ground is dry enough for the WTB rubber to keep gripping.
Hopes of a smooth ride from the plus tyres are dashed by their stiff, wooden carcass. As they’re not tubeless, you can’t go really low on pressure for fear of bursting the inner tubes. Add high wheel weight that kills acceleration and the bike feels harsh and hard work rather than flowy and floaty at the slow speeds where plus bikes should shine.
Plus-size tyres on wider rims let you run lower pressures for a smoother, grippier ride. But the Norco’s WTB Rangers are budget versions that feel more wooden than most Mick Kirkman / Immediate Media
Switching tyres (the rims are tubeless) to something better isn’t a big deal though, and you could even fit a lighter 2.6in set without dropping the bottom bracket too low.
Unfortunately, the Suntour fork is massively oversprung, so it only gets half its travel even when ridden pretty hard. You can eke a bit more out of it if you cut down the long elastomer in the right-hand leg, but it’s still way too firm for an average weight rider.
I tried removing one of the coil springs, but that left it too soft and slow to rebound. You’ll need to budget for a new fork.