Canada’s Norco have a legendary reputation in the mountain bike world – building big-travel tough bikes is part of the company’s DNA. More recently, though, they’ve turned their hand to carbon road bikes with the Tactic range.
The 3 is aimed at the budding racer, with steep 73.3-degree parallel angles and a short wheelbase (1,006mm on our 58cm test bike) to sharpen up the handling and agility.
Frame & equipment: Stiff, with mountain bike influences
The frame’s tube shapes are all about out-and-out stiffness too, with an oversized tapered head tube mated to a chunky all-carbon fork. The hugely oversized down tube flows into a massive press-fit 30 compatible bottom bracket shell, which itself tapers into large, box-section chainstays. The top tube has a stout junction at the head and tapers into the seatstays through a substantial seat junction.
The construction process uses some tricks Norco have learned from their mountain bike program, the main being the use of a highly impact-resistant resin called Armorlite. This is used to protect the down tube from stone chips, the chainstays from chain slaps and the bottom bracket shell from from a dropped chain. The resin also creates a stronger bond than a standard resin, which Norco claim makes for a stronger and lighter frame.
Equipment-wise, Norco have stayed on 2013 trend with Shimano’s 105 gearing. Here, it’s mated to a BB30-compatible FSA Gossamer chainset in standard 53/39 form. Out back, a wide-ranging 12-28 cassette makes up for the lack of a compact on the climbs, with the lowest 39/28 the rough equivalent of a 34/25. It’s a decent compromise, as we certainly appreciated the Norco’s high-speed descent potential from a big 53/12 combo.
The Shimano R500 stickered wheels are actually the latest R501-30s, with a deeper rim and curvier shape. They’re no lightweights but the hub quality is as good as it gets for the price.
They’re shod with Clement Strada LGG tyres, which are a claimed 25c but measured with callipers are much closer to 28, at just over 27mm across. They’re deep too, making for tyres we were happy to run at lower pressures for winter roads and added comfort without an increased risk of punctures. The compound is relatively gummy, and traction on cold wet roads admirable.
Norco provide the majority of the finishing kit, with an aluminium bar, stem and seatpost all serviceable and well made. The saddle is Fizik’s less popular Ardea, flat topped and firmly padded. It’s adequately comfortable thanks to its narrow dimensions but it wouldn’t be our first choice.
Ride & handling: Straight down the line speed
As the geometry and appearance would suggest, the Tactic isn’t a bike to mess around on. Speed is the name of the game here, and the burly frame construction and out-and-out stiffness make for a bike that’s free of flex and brutally efficient.
The lack of unwanted flex under pedalling and steering is a good thing – the Norco shows huge eagerness to go rapidly. The flex-free nature also has an effect on comfort, though, with the Tactic banging and crashing its way through potholes and over rougher surfaces. Thankfully, this is tempered massively by the huge volume tyres. Its these the Tactic most definitely needs; we tried switching to a wheelset on standard 23s and the bike became even more brutal.
The price tag is good value for such a capable handling bike – at £300 below the upper limit in this competition it hasn’t compromised on its components, and even the Tektro R340 brakes performed as well as they needed to thanks to quality pads and Shimano’s superbly finished brake track surface.
We like the racy but climbing-capable gearing, and loved the big volume tyres. With a bit of budget to spare we’d invest in a comfortable carbon post – in its current form it might be a little too tough for some.
This bike was tested as part of Cycling Plus magazine’s 2013 Bike Of The Year feature – read the full results in issue 273, on sale Friday 1 March and available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.