Norco Fluid Two - 2009
Review by Lee Lau and Sharon Bader
One of Canada's biggest bike companies (and also a major distributor of parts and accessories), Norco is surprisingly not as well known south of the border as other celebrated Canadian bicycling brands. Formerly a company more focused on the recreational and family markets, Norco entered the world of high end bikes over the last decade by capitalizing on lots of local knowledge, smart targeted research & development, an understanding, generous and patient warranty department (dude I was just riding along!) and consistently superior customer service. However, even till a few years ago, Norco mountain-bikes were either known more for pure xc racing (mainly for East-Coasters) or for tough heavy, downhill and free-ride tanks (for West Coast hippies).
The introduction of the Fluid all-mountain lineup of bikes went a long way to changing this perception. In 2006, Norco re-designed the Fluid line by mating traditional front triangle s with four-bar Horst-link Specialized-licensed rear ends, refined frame details and used its buying power as a distributor to spec a bike that rode uphill and downhill exceptionally well yet was still reasonably priced. Now in its fourth generation with essentially the same design, the Fluid line is Norco's bread and butter bike in the all-mountain category.
Norco has achieved the holy grail of a mature design that lives up to marketing expectations ie a one-bike-does-it-all for a rider on a budget. The Fluid Two is very versatile and is at home in an exceptionally wide variety of trails and situations. It can be ridden in cross-country trails or multi-day epics yet can also handle more aggressive technical trails (short of massive airs, or dirt-jumping). Although Norco markets the Fluid lineup as more biased to XC trails, this bike can be more appropriately described as a competent downhiller that also happens to climb very well. Simply adding a heavy duty wheelset or a heavier set of DH-casing tires would expand the Fluid Two's range significantly .
Drive-side profile of the Norco Fluid Two
Lee Lau's biases
I am 155 lbs and 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 Utah, Washington, Oregon, California and Ontario (for example) so I've had some experience biking in a variety of terrain. My bias is towards pedalling up and unlike many people who learned to ride bikes on North Shore trails, I actually enjoy riding (and sometimes bushwhacking) uphill.
Lee on the Fluid Two riding PHD, Pemberton, B.C.
The Fluid Two uses a Specialized-licensed four-bar Horst Link rear end. Head-tube and seat-tube angles are traditional all-mountain at 69 and 73 degrees respectively. Rear travel is adjustable between 4.5 - 5.6" (114mm to 140mm of travel) by moving a rear shock member on a forged link arm on the rear end from one hole to another using a couple of allen keys. The bike's geometry does not change between either rear-travel adjustment; a very nice touch.
There is enough clearance for a 2.5" Kenda Nevegal tire (a change from previous versions of the Fluid where 2.35 rear tires were the limit. The toptube of the bike slopes giving ample clearance. You can substantially drop your seat if necessary for downhills as the Fluid Two has a non-interrupted seat tube.
The front end has a 1 1/8" head-tube. Top tubes and downtubes are hydroformed for lighter weight. Unfortunately there are no water bottle braze-ons.
The complete Fluid Two weighs 29lbs. You don't lose a lot of weight if you go to the Fluid One which is a pound lighter then the Fluid Two and costs another $ 1100 Cad.
A RockShox Revelation 409 with no travel adjust and a 9mm axle is provided as front suspension. It's a relatively light tuneable fork. Not terribly sexy but it does the job without fuss. Fox's proven RP2 is on the rear end of the bike. Both are tuneable air shocks.
The Fluid Two's drivetrain is a mix of Shimano parts. Of note is Shimano's impressive "value" SLX group which shifted error-free even under load.
A nice surprise was getting Avid's superlatively powerful Elixir CR brakes on a middle-end bike. Reach and pad contact are adjustable at the level without tools. Power is outstanding. Unlike the sometimes grabby Juicys, the Elixirs modulated well and were silent!
The rider compartment is outfitted with Ritchey handlebars, stem, seatpost. The wheelset is a standard budget build (Mavic XM117, Shimano M475 - essentially Deore hubs) but with tread that performs well in my local trails (Kenda Nevegal 2.1s)
Cable-routing is very clean. Note the non-interrupted seat-tube and the curved top tube for clearance. Rear suspension can be adjusted between 4.5 to 5.6" (116-143mm)
Fluid Two Performance
The Fluid Two is outstanding in tight technical singletrack. I can't identify one single attribute that makes the bike handle so well in roots, rocks and tight turns. It's got your typical all-mountain head-tube angle at 69 degrees so that's not the only reason. Perhaps its the combination of a relatively high bottom bracket, remarkable standover, nice tight rider compartment (ie short rider cockpit between handlebars and seat especially when I swapped the stock 90mm stem for a 70mm); the Fluid Two can be flicked around, is at home in technical situations and eats up tight corners.
On steep trails, the Fluid Two is also a superior performer in anything but the steepest, longest, roughest chutes, perhaps limited only by its suspension. I swapped out the stock 2.1 Kenda Nevegals for 2.35s for rougher, steeper trails but you can cram 2.5 Nevegals in the rear triangle of the Norco if need be. The RockShox Revelation gets quite a workout on big hits. It was fine for me but a bigger rider dropping in on steep trails will be able to flex the Revelation and would probably benefit from a slightly beefier fork (perhaps something with a 20mm travel - eg a Magura Thor which I swapped out for the front end). The rear suspension (a Fox Float RP2) is a known reliable quantity and is its usual boringly fine performer - eminently tuneable and handling shock-absorbing duties without fuss. As previously stated, swapping for a 70mm stem significantly improves bike handling on downhills and doesn't seem to adversely affect uphill performance so, for me, this trade made a lot of sense. The Fluid's tremendous standover also helps in steeps; the curved top tube and full length seat tube which allows one to jam the seat out of the way helping in this regard.
In the air, the Fluid is competent but clearly not a dedicated tail-whip machine. It's light, so you can get a considerable amount of pop off lips and it's pretty stable on landings. However, this bike is biased more towards staying closer to the ground and I strongly doubt that the components could take a lot of casing lips and/or flat landings. Having said that, I honestly can't say that I did more then cursorily sessioned local jumps and hit a few smaller step-downs on local trails on the Norco so take these comments for what they are; ie shallow impressions from someone who didn't particularly see fit to stress this bike beyond its stated use parameters.
PHD - Pemberton, BC
Downhill (cont'd ...)
I've now sat on four generations of Fluids and none shone in high-speed situations. The 2009 version is no exception. On loamy soft trails this isn't an issue. However, in the more chattery, rough, chundery trails you will rapidly find yourself wearing out and destroying bits and pieces of Norco. The biggest limiting factor is the medium-travel air-sprung front and rear end. You will overwhelm the bike if you subject it to multiple high-speed downhill shuttle runs.
Hauling down faster trails gets rather "exciting"; the multiple big hits simply overwhelm the suspension and the bike isn't quite slack enough for all-out, pin-it, speeds. Occasional ventures probably won't hurt but if your style of riding tends more to going mach-loony on rough beat-up trails then you might want to consider a more burly setup.
The bottom line is that the Fluid Two is a tremendously versatile bike and has a lot of useable downhill range. Components are well-matched to the ride and Norco (again) managed to match value to performance.
Avid Elixir CR brakes - shockingly powerful. Rock Shok's Revelation (5.5", 140mm travel) with a 9mm QR handled front suspension duties
Another nice touch that you don't always see in "mid-level" frames; black paint with sparkles under the clearcoat and a nice metal badge. It's these touches that count
Fluid Two - XC and uphill performance
Billed by Norco as a bike "for efficient climbing" I climbed the Fluid Two up fire roads, up singletrack, up roads and also had it on rolling up and down terrain in my home trails in North Vancouver, Squamish and on road trips to Merritt and Pemberton. As previously stated the Fluid Two has adjustable 116-143 mm / 4.5"-5.6" rear wheel travel and I used both setting for the review.
Climbing is efficient on the Fluid Two. Technical climbing in particular is a delight; the Fox RP2's platform valving does a lot to help and stiffens up considerably when the bike is in shorter travel mode. One can attack scrambly technical sections and the bike hooks up - conspiring to drag you uphill as much as your lungs and legs will allow. At 29lbs, the Fluid isn't particularly light and you won't mistake it for a dedicated World Cup XC rig. Fire road climbs are tolerable (are there any which inspire joy?). Both front and rear shocks can be effectively locked-out with simple switches on the fly so it's entirely possible to make the Fluid Two essentially rigid and grind it out. However, there is no height adjustment on the RockShox Revelation which would help with comfort on steep extended uphills.
Unsurprisingly, a bike that handles well in technical downhills also handles beautifully in xc applications. The Fluid Two's handling is telepathic. The bike can be sprinted up short climbs and dances down short downhills. It's very much at home in rolling terrain with short up and downhills and can be flicked around from switchback to tight turn to grinding uphill. In short, the Fluid Two is a bike that can react quickly to changing terrain.
Some improvements could be made. There is no room for water bottle cages. I cannot stand the OE Crank Bros pedals; to me they are unpredictable throw-aways. A height-adjustable front fork would improve climbing performance.
Sharons' comments (She Said):
From a 150lb women's perspective I found the bike to be a good climber with the pro-pedal turned on. Typical of the horst link design the bike does bob in active mode while climbing or on technical pedaling single track. I found the bike descended well within classic cross country parameters. At higher speeds and on rougher trails it was not as confidence inspiring. It could handle typical fast smooth cross country trails, but was compromised on more steep rough terrain. As indicated above this could be compensated for with bigger tires and a stiffer fork. The Revelation was surprisingly plush for the lower end Rock Shox but was easily overwhelmed on rougher terrain. Front travel adjust would be beneficial on this bike. This bike would not disappoint someone looking for a good all round cross country bike that can accommodate most terrain.
Video of the Norco in action
4.0 Very Good
3.0 Above Average
- Outstanding on tight, technical, singletrack
- Nicely finished frame
- Very tuneable suspension
- Lots of top-tube clearance; the bike rides well in super-technical situations
- Tremendous parts spec for what you pay
- Cannot stand the Crank Bros. pedals
- Could use a height-adjustable front fork
- No waterbottle mounts in the Small and Medium frames
- Wanders at high speed. Not a bikepark bike
The source for this information is Norco. Suggested Retail of this bike is $Can 3029.00 or USD $ 2725
* Same frame as the Fluid 1 with 114-140 mm / 4.5"- 5.5" adjustable travel
* RockShox Revelation 409 dual air 140 mm / 5.5" travel fork
* Fox RP2 air rear shock
* New Shimano SLX gearing with an XT rear derailleur
* Sram Elixir hydraulic brakes
* Mavic XM-117 rims with Nevegal tires
* Ritchey bar, stem, and seatpost
* 69deg HA - 73 deg SA
Complete bike weight: 29 lbs/13.2 kgs
Specifications and geometry are on the Norco website: