Norco’s ‘ART’ suspension layout drops the chainstay pivot slightly lower than on a classic Horst Link design but it’s still a proper four-bar linkage system, not a simple swingarm set-up.
Mounting the shock vertically leaves room for a down tube bottle mount and reduces load on the top tube and square-to-rectangular down tube. You get a tapered head tube, externally clamped brake and cable lines, and a threaded bottom bracket too.
The frame is dated in some ways though — it has a QR rear axle, limited rear tyre clearance and no provision for an internally-routed dropper post.
Norco Fluid 7.1 FS kit
SRAM’s single-ring NX transmission is a fantastic way to power a trail bike, especially in this hard-wearing steel chainring specSteve Behr / Immediate Media
There’s no need to go back to the shop to buy upgrades for the Norco.
The RockShox Recon fork is a Gold version with lighter alloy legs and a 15mm thru-axle, and RockShox supplies the Monarch rear shock too.
While the Maxxis Ardent tyres are still designed for fast rolling, the grippier compound gives them an edge over the plastic boots of the other similarly priced bikes. The WTB i25 rims are slightly wider than average too, for a smoother feel.
RockShox’s cheapest Monarch R damper can handle bigger blunt loads better than some more expensive shocksSteve Behr / Immediate Media
With a 760mm bar and 55mm stem, the cockpit is on point for pushing the pace on technical trails, and the lock-on grips really are locked on.
Norco has even found room in the budget for an externally-cabled dropper post for extra descending control and to give your left thumb something to do. There’s no shifter on that side of the bar, due to the fact you’re getting a single-ring transmission — a full 11-speed SRAM NX set-up, with a 30x42t bottom gear for clawing up climbs.
Norco Fluid 7.1 FS ride impression
You can hit stuff as hard with the front end as you can with the rear and you don’t have the saddle stuck up your arse while you’re doing itSteve Behr / Immediate Media
Hanging this hit list of cost-effective equipment off a really competent frame makes a big difference on the trail. At a basic level, you can hit stuff as hard with the front end as you can with the rear and you don’t have the saddle stuck up your arse while you’re doing it. There’s a lot more subtlety in play than that though.
The rounded shoulders and shallow tread of the Ardent mean the tyres struggle in the slop. But, thanks to the screw-through axle and reasonably sensitive feel of the fork, and the well-shaped cockpit, you get accurate communication of what grip you do have and the reaction speed to make the most of it. Stick a grippier front tyre on (save the Ardent as a spare for the back, where it’s a speed booster) and you can really start driving the bike through turns and rocky sections.
The Trans-X dropper post is definitely in the cheap and cheerful category but makes a massive difference to techy trail confidenceSteve Behr / Immediate Media
After a few hours of bedding in, the Monarch shock became the best-controlled and most consistent rear damper compared to the Polygon Siskiu D7, Cannondale Habit 6 and Giant Trance 4 that were also on test.
The ART suspension is naturally stable and efficient when pedalling too, so the lack of a lockout lever isn’t an issue. If you’ve not used a dropper post before, then the extra control and confidence you get from being able to lower your saddle at will can’t be overestimated, and while the Norco’s Trans-X post is relatively crude-looking and operating, its basic functionality is fine.
Overall weight is okay (the big cassette makes the rear wheel weight look high but its extra heft isn’t that noticeable, dynamically, because it’s in the centre of the wheel). Even the brakes work better than the rest on test because the stiffer fork lets you use the front stopper a lot harder.
Once you start working the brakes, shocks and your skills to the limit with a more aggressive front tyre, noticeable frame flex and the 68.5-degree head angle start to become a confidence issue. Compared to the Polygon, Cannondale and Giant also on test, it’s still streets ahead in terms of overall package capability, but if you’re looking for a similarly good-value Norco with more upgrade potential, go for the newer, stiffer, slightly slacker Optic.