Last year, the Norco Valence C1 surprised us all and finished strongly in our Bike Of The Year Awards. Since then, the Canadian brand has deserved the extra attention in its road range, and when the revamped 2015 range was announced, the Valence Carbon Di2 stood out with its immense value and updated frame.
Ride and handling: smooth, planted and twist-free
The Valence Carbon is designed as an all-day, endurance-type bike. We tested it over the roughest roads, fastest descents and steepest climbs – and it handled all of them without complaint.
One of the things that impressed us most about the Valence is its ride quality – in testing it stayed glued to the ground in situations where similar bikes can nervously skip. Pedal in the saddle over rough surfaces and you'll meet a mostly muted feel, something that over a long ride will leave you far fresher.
Helping to achieve this are slender, curved seatstays, along with upwardly curved chainstays, which promote vertical flex – something Norco calls Applied Road Compliance (ARC). In the case of the Valence, the chainstays are also lengthened, further promoting compliance and helping to create that stable ride.
Slender stays and an edgy seat tube
The aero profiling given to the seat tube has potential to create a harsh ride, but Norco has fitted a slender 27.2mm round carbon seatpost, which along with the dropped top tube allows for plenty of give.
Not all credit can go to the frame though – playing an important part in the planted ride quality are the 25mm Grand Sport Continentals, a cheaper Asian-made version based upon the benchmark GP4000s. This traction-filed tread is made even more voluminous and forgiving by the new Fulcrum Racing 7 LG wide rim wheels.
Despite all this forgiving compliance though, the Valence is uncompromising in its torsional stiffness. Smashing on the pedals and wrenching on the bars produced little give anywhere.
It was a similarly confidence-inspiring story on descents, where the frame's stiffness combines with the slightly relaxed angles to create an incredibly stable and secure ride that goes exactly where it’s told.
The high frame stiffness starts at the tapered head tube and works its way down from there
This stiffness is due to what Norco terms the Power Chassis Design, effectively making the bottom half of the frame rigid from torsional flex with a tapered head tube, a wide down tube and deep chainstays that flow on from the press-fit bottom bracket shell.
Despite this efficient frame stiffness, the overall weight and general relaxed geometry means the Valence doesn’t jump like a race bike. It’s absolutely efficient, but lacks the immediate surge and reaction of racier rides.
That's quite a long reach for the given size – and the next size down is pretty small
Given the 53cm frame size of our sample, there is a relatively long reach for an endurance bike. This means those seeking an ultimately short and upright position may find themselves placed between the rather large size gaps on offer.
One tester who sat between available sizes remarked that it’s a slightly odd feeling, with the reach being similar to that of an elite race bike, but just more upright.
Changing the stem is one way around this, as the stock 100mm stem is the likely culprit for the fit being long compared with the relevant competition.
Not long by racing standards, but the 100mm stem is longer than many other endurance-type rides
The tall head tube meets a steerer tube that offers just 20mm of spacers. It’s no issue for riders with average flexibility but, again, proves this bike may not be ideal for those seeking an ultra upright ride.
Frame: quality construction with immense thought given to the little details
As a second-tier option down from the new Valence SL, this model features Norco’s slightly cheaper ‘mid-modulus’ carbon frame. The external design is identical to the top-end offering, but the cheaper carbon lay-up that raises the weight slightly also helps to bring down the cost.
Internally, Norco uses modern carbon-construction techniques to create a smooth internal surface that ensures consistent compaction of the carbon and resin without potential stress-point wrinkles. Apparently adding further to the frame’s strength and durability, Norco uses an impact resistance resin dubbed Armourlite.
Norco uses ‘size scaled' tubing to ensure frame stiffness and ride quality is kept to the desired levels at each of the six frame sizes offered. This isn’t just changing the lay-up to match the size, but also changing the entire tube profile where needed. This concept is seen on some other brands too, but isn’t an industry norm (yet).
A clean cable exit point works perfectly with Di2
The clever GIZMO internal cable routing system works with both Di2 and mechanical gearing. Its main benefit comes from the sealed plugs that grip the cable/wire and prevent rattling inside the frame, while also keeping the grit out. We’re especially fond of how the Di2 wire exits the back of the chainstay, leaving little exposed wire.
The same can’t be said for the more traditional rear brake cable that is simply run through the top tube, although it never gave us any grief.
Clearance is generous and a 28c tyre could be easily fitted if mudguards aren’t being used
Despite the reliable Di2 gearing, an integrated chain catcher is given to ensure chain drops into the bottom bracket can’t occur. Speaking of the BB, hidden on the inside is a mount that enables you to fit bolt-on mudguards for cleaner commuting and/or use during the wet season – a feature not commonly seen on a carbon road bikes.
Equipment: Despite the price, there’s a battery of features
Shimano’s Ultegra Di2 gearing is certainly not expected as this price point – if you’re looking at this bike, it’s likely your first time on the electronic gearing.
Cheaper 105 cranks have little impact on performance
Despite the slightly downgraded Shimano 105 crankset and cassette, we were reminded by just how good the Di2 shifting is, with absolutely flawless performance at the simple touch of a button.
The massive gearing range, however, is something we hadn’t used with Di2 before, and Norco has used a long-cage rear derailleur to handle the enormous 11-32T cassette. Combined with the 34/50T compact gearing out front, it means you’re able to sit and spin the 8.26kg Valence to the top of the most savage hills.
Beyond the seemingly out-of-place white brake cables, the non-series Shimano brakes are solid stoppers and a big improvement over more generic brakes often used to save cost.
Nice choice of wheels for the price
The Fulcrum Racing 7 LG wheels are a solid choice for the money and will prove durable. The new wider rim profile not only helps to improve ride quality and traction, but also aids in creating a stiffer wheel – impressively, Fulcrum has managed to save weight from this new design too.
Helping to steer the bike is a Ritchey Comp Curve handlebar. It's not especially lightweight, but its short and shallow shape should suit a range of riders – and it helps to make up for the otherwise long reach.
While they're cheaply and easily replaced, the contact points didn’t agree with us. Fizik's Ardea saddle proved a little too firm for our liking, and though a gel-padded bar tape is included up front, we found it quickly compressed, leaving little respite from the alloy handlebar. A nice upgrade would be something like Lizard Skins’ DSP tape.
A bike made for racing can be a hoot to ride, but the Norco Valence is aimed at a different breed of cyclist. So long as you’re not chasing an ultra-upright position, the high value Valence will go comfortably and efficiently wherever the road takes you.