The Norco Fluid 7.1 is a 650b wheelsize 120mm travel full-suspension mountain bike that can be bought for $2680 Cad or $2275 USD. Such is the absurdity of the inflation of high-end bikes that this price is considered “cheap” (or value-priced if you indulge in marketing mumbo-jumbo).
Norco’s product offerings exemplifies an industry trend (aided and abetted by consumer behaviour) of showcasing high-end bling carbon bikes with “unobtanium” drool-inducing spec while perfectly good value bikes such as the Fluid that are more than enough for 70% of riders are afterthoughts. My good fortune is to report that the Fluid 7.1 “afterthought” is an exceedingly capable fun bike with a broad range of good performance at a relatively affordable price.
The Norco Fluid 7.1
Some local XC rides from my front door
I’m 160 lbs, 5’11″ and have had over 15 years experience riding bikes in North Vancouver, Squamish, Whistler, the Chilcotins and many other areas in B.C. and Alberta. I’ve also made many bike trips to Switzerland, Tyrol, Utah, Washington, Oregon, California and the Yukon, so I’ve had some experience biking in a variety of terrain. My bias is towards pedaling up, and unlike many people who learned to ride bikes on North Shore trails, I actually enjoy riding (and sometimes bushwhacking) uphill.
My personal bikes are a Turner Czar, Pivot Mach 5, and a Specialized Demo 7. I’ve had some experience in the 650b category. This is a test bike that will be given back to Norco at the end of the test period. I am not sponsored by Norco and have no commercial association with Norco. The bike ridden is a size medium.
March 2014 riding in Vancouver
On the Severed Dick
The Fluid’s frame is alloy (6061 T6), designed for 120mm of travel and specifically for the 650b wheelsize (more on that later in the “geometry” section).
Norco’s A.R.T. suspension is a basic four-bar Horst link suspension now so familiar to many. A.R.T. (Advanced Ride Technology) moves the location of the pivot, tilting the rear link lower and slightly forward from more traditional Horst Link designs and has crept its way into the Fluid frame with tuning optimized perhaps slightly to climbing over descending as befits the all-around nature of the bike. The frames are offered in a wide range of sizes (XS to XL) but all with exceptional standover. Greatly appreciated is the probably un-intentional carrying handle designed into the top tube (see the triangular stiffening top tube brace). Another nice touch pooh-pooh’ed only by those who don’t know better is the ability to fit a fullsize water bottle in a bottle cage in the main triangle.
Note that pictures of the pre-production test bike I rode show very little clearance for rear tires (I switched from the abysmal Conti X-Kings to Schwalbe Nobby Nics). The production frames have lots of rear tire clearance. Do not be misled by other reviews that state otherwise.
Some frame & component details from top left clockwise: (i) Deore 3x cranks and Front D (ii) 10 speed Deore 11-36 cassette; 135×10 rear end; XT rear D; (iii) mature rocker link design for 120mm travel; (iv) tapered front end; Deore brakes, XT shifters.
The component spec on this bike is sensible. No doubt lots of room is available for upgrades if the buyer is so inclined. However, there are no glaring weak points so I rode the bike “as is” except that I changed the Norco saddle for something that was rather more pleasing to my posterior. Some might also want to replace the big ring with a bashguard or add a dropper post. Highlights are as follows:
- Fox Float suspension CTD for front and rear suspension
- Drivetrain is a very sensible mix of Shimano 3×10 (old school!); XT and Deore. While it would have been nice to see a clutch derailleur I can understand the need to save costs here and there.
- House-brand Norco parts for most of the controls (seat, seatpost, bar, stem, saddle, grips)
- Wheelset is also generically boat-anchorish.
- Conti X-Kings (non-Black Chilli) are OE spec. Some Fluid’s are being delivered with Maxxis Ardents.
I also swapped out the Conti X-Kings which I have found to be incredibly consistent as they have been lamentably mediocre in every tire size I’ve had the misfortune of trying (26, 27.5 and 29). Do yourself and your teeth a favour; swap those Contis for something else (I used a worn out Maxxis HR2 and nearly bald Schwalbe Nobby Nic) which will undoubtedly improve performance.
Full component list for the Norco Fluid 7.1
Some frame & component details from top left clockwise: (i) pre-production test bike rear CS doesn’t have much clearance for a substitute 2.2 Nobby Nic; (ii) production frame has much more clearance (2.2 Ardent pictured); (iii) Fox RP23 rear shock; consistently disappointing Conti X-King tires are fortunately an easy substitution; (iv) ART tweaked rear end borrows lots from the Sight; the Fluid’s bigger cousin
From the numbers the Fluid 7.1 is a balanced bike with the key stats being no surprises compared with other offerings of that travel category. As befits more modern frame thinking, its long, low and has a HT and ST angle that is right on the money for a mix of climbing and descending.. Some comparables to other bikes that I picked purely at random are offered below for amusement.
Geometries for all Norco Fluid sizes
Lots of standover for bridges crossing manky swamps
Uphill and flats performance
At about 32.3 lbs the Fluid is not going to win any uphill time trials for Strava e-bragging glory without a healthy dose of Digital EPO. The Fluid’s pedalling efficiency is optimized for middle ring but even efficiency won’t overcome weight (both of entire bike and wheels), which you will feel on smooth gravel road climbs.
Anti-squat is built into the low gears (ie granny gear) but.you will still find that bob to be present in such gears. However, A.R.T.’s built-in anti squat results in tremendous climbing traction on technical square-edged hit terrain (eg crawling up roots and rocks). Basically in lower geared climbing the Fluid tends to stay in the upper part of the travel where the suspension curve has its best small bump absorption. When climbing that translates into a rear end that both absorbs square hits yet digs in for more traction as power is applied to pedals. As I found in my review of the Norco Range from last year, capable technical climbers can use that suspension characteristic to time pedal strokes to scramble up astoundingly technical terrain. It’s somewhat like a low 4×4 feeling where you can use the Fluid’s characteristic of both absorbing small hits and transferring an enormous amount of traction to the rear wheel to crawl uphill.
The Fluid’s relative heavy weight didn’t seem to hurt its chops in technical flat sections. If you’re pinning it in flat technical sections the Norco Fluid 7.1 hauls. The bike doesn’t seem to easily get deflected or its’ energy absorbed. Instead the Fluid seemed to leap forward and dance with every pedal stroke; something I would have expected from a lighter “sprintier” bike. Thinking about it analytically the feeling of getting propelled forward, and dealing so effortlessly with small hits is what one would expect from a bike designed for small bump compliance, a rearward axle path and a high amount of anti-squat. The result is that the Fluid is pretty fast in technical flat terrain.
Comfortable on technical climbs
Any bike that is designed by a Vancouver based company better be able to book it downhill with at least some degree of competence. I’ve had apologists pigeonhole bikes into rigid categories and argue that “trail” bikes shouldn’t be ridden on “freeride” trails, an argument I view as pablum for those who lack imagination. Accordingly I freerode the Fluid on trails in North Vancouver and Squamish, sending it into steeps, abrupt rolldowns to rock-strewn transitions and off drops to flat. I am pleased to report that the bike, my collarbone and my teeth are all intact.
Usually I set up bikes of this travel and intended use with a little less sag starting at 20% then going to 25%. I didn’t find the Fluid to be comfortable either climbing, flats or downhill till sag was at 30%. As harped on previously, switching to decent tires also made a difference. The Fluid was particularly capable in slow technical descents; the Deore brakes are simply superb in that regard letting me slow down and control speed with confidence. Where the Fluid found its limits were in longer descents with repeated hits (rock drops, roots, rolls etc). In those situations it didn’t seem that the suspension had a chance to catch up; I could literally feel the bike becoming more and more like a rigid bike as the descent wore on. To be clear this isn’t an issue when there were rest sections between downhills where the bike (and rider) had a chance to pull their stuff together; this was only an observation in the context of long continuous descents.
Works well for old man XC air
A fair handler in the tech root fests but don’t push those X-Kings too hard when its wet or loose if you love your teeth
In a world replete with xc/trail/all-mountain/650b/27.5/29e/26er/carbon it’s refreshing to be on a good mountain bike that rides well uphill, downhill and on the flats. All at a reasonable price. At $2680 Cad or $2275 USD the Fluid 7.1 bike is excellent value for the money. Buy it if you want to tick the fashion hotspot boxes of wide bars, short stem and wheelsize fatwas. Or buy it if you’re someone who likes to ride fun bikes.
Fluid is comfortable in small steep moves but a bit out of its element if pushed too hard.