The Norco Fluid 29er mountain bike looked awesome on paper in 2019, but constipated suspension meant early versions struggled on the trail. An upgrade from RockShox Revelation to Pike fork, a new tune on a Deluxe Select rear shock and new rims wrapped in some of our favourite Maxxis rubber fully release its obvious potential for 2020 though.
Design and geometry
The Fluid frame is unchanged for this year but that’s fine as it was already a cracking chassis. Even at this low price point, the tubes are size specific to tune the ride, internal cable routing is neat and there’s a threaded bottom bracket for longevity. Geometry is edging towards edgy with a sub-67-degree head angle and 470mm reach in the large and it’s low enough that you could size up if you wanted more stretch. The bottom bracket is threaded for longevity and there’s plenty of room for the big lugs and fat carcass of the 29 x 2.6in Maxxis DHF tyres. The chunky tubes make it a hefty chassis but the same frame is used right through the Sight range and overall bike weights are competitive for the cost. The bike we had last year lasted really well cosmetically too so the paint is on point.
Components and build
After we struggled to get the RockShox Revelation and Deluxe rear shock feeling fluid last year, the suspension change is a big deal. The Pike Select is an impressively sorted fork even with basic set up and the Deluxe Select rear shock gets a lighter, less constipated tune for 2020. It’s even mounted fat-end frame side to reduce unsprung weight and increase sensitivity.
A switch to Maxxis DHF tyres from Forekaster’s adds a bit of weight but a tougher carcass means you can properly play with the low pressure potential of the 2.6in width and wide rims. Drag is still low considering the level of cornering grip and the directional tread gives significantly more steerage than a square knob pattern when things get sloppy. The Stan's Flow rimmed wheels give a livelier feel than last year’s WTB hooped set and while the Shimano hubs are heavy they’re damn near indestructible.
The groupset switches to new Shimano 12 speed with an XT highlight on a predominantly SLX drivetrain, complete with smooth transitioning 10-51 tooth cassette. It’s lighter than the SRAM NX on last year's bike, too, particularly in the cassette which also helps boost suspension sensitivity. The basic Shimano brakes could definitely do with larger rotors than 180/160mm to control the Fluid’s thirst for technical speed but at least they’re relentlessly reliable.
The 50mm stem and 780mm bar are rowdy ready, and X-Fusion’s Manic dropper post has built itself a great reputation for reliability. This all builds an excellent value kit package and all the bikes in the range look a bargain if you’re tighter on budget.
Ride, handling and performance
We spent a lot of time on the 2019 Fluid, but even testers who were fresh to the bike felt at home immediately. The reach is long, but not intimidatingly stretched when you’re weaving through tight tree lines. The steering angles, stem and 780mm handlebars give enough power steering leverage to keep the massive Maxxis front tyre obedient rather than obstinate when you need to change line suddenly. You’ll have to be really going some to unhook the DHFs though, they’re a lot less drifty than most 2.6in tyres and being able to drop to teen pressures has been great in treacherous early autumn conditions when expectations are still set to summer grip levels.
It’s immediately obvious that the RockShox Select suspension pairing is synced in more than just name, too. Both Pike and Deluxe shock float on the supple transition between high volume negative chamber and the main air spring before easing into a really well-controlled mid-stroke. Add the big tyres at teen pressures and this translates into ample grip for climbing and braking, but it still rips corners with excellent feedback and preserves predictable ride height through rough sections really well. There’s none of the spike and choke of 2019 and bottom-out is well controlled, so you won’t get too punished if you forget it’s only a 130/120mm travel bike.
While the weight takes some wattage to get moving out of corners, speed is sustained excellently due to the big tyres and more sensitive suspension, so you’re generally just topping up velocity rather than torquing from a standstill. The ART suspension kinematic means it pedals smoothly, even if you’re lumping the pedals round on your last legs and we never missed having a compression firming ‘climb’ lever.
The faster you go, the more the high-volume rubber, stiff frame and capable suspension come into their own, it doesn’t take long to develop a real bond of trust with the Fluid. While it quickly proves it’s happy not-really-braking through a surprising amount of situations, the option to slow down more significantly would definitely be welcome at times. We’d definitely put bigger rotors on our ASAP upgrade list and better brakes overall would be a bonus.
Norco always puts together a great spec package for the price and that’s certainly true of the Fluid FS 1. It features kit that bikes several hundred pounds more expensive would be proud of. What’s really impressive is that Norco does it on frames that are still well-shaped and really well made, right down to tough paintwork and accurate pivot/frame alignment for friction-free suspension action. Burly frame tubes, high-volume, tough-carcass tyres, wide rims, big handlebars, and other high-control components mean it’s no featherweight but its ability to carry momentum through chaos means you’re rarely working to restore speed from scratch. The weight also adds extra authority to the grip and grounded attitude of the Fluid. We’re delighted to say the suspension is really sorted for this year, with a great balance of sensitive traction and consistent ride height control for pushing the Fluid to its full flat-out potential. The only obvious glitch are the basic small rotor Shimano brakes, but even a lack of stopping doesn’t stop it becoming our first benchmark trail bike bargain for 2020.
- Temperature: 23-degrees, sunny
- Trails: Dry, man-made and natural
- Terrain: Mix of rolling hills and technical descents
Tech spec: Norco Fluid FS1
- Price: £1,995 / US$3,499/ AU$3,399
- Head angle: 66.5 degrees
- Frame material: 6061 alloy
- Size: Large
- Weight: 15.1kg
- Wheel size: 29-inch
- Suspension: RockShox Pike Select 130mm travel, RockShox Deluxe Select rear shock 120mm travel
- Drivetrain: Shimano XT rear mech, SLX shifters, chain and 10-51T cassette. Shimano M610 30T chainset
- Brakes: Shimano BR420 disc brakes (180/160mm rotors)
- Wheels: Stan’s Flow D rims on Shimano disc hubs with Maxxis Minion DHF EXO 29 x 2.6in tyres (front/rear).
- Bar/stem: Trans-X 780x35mm bar and forged 50x35mm stem
- Seatpost: X-Fusion Manic dropper post
- Saddle: Fizik Taiga saddle