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REVIEW – 2009 Norco Fluid LT2

All-mountain goodness

Words by Dan Austin.
May 18th, 2009

With the introduction of the Fluid LT (long travel) in 2008, Norco expanded their Fluid line of all-mountain bikes as well as their presence in the growing all-mountain genre. Since the bike’s inception, Norco has tweaked and refined the platform, culminating in the new and improved 2009 Fluid LT. Have changes been made for the better? Read on to find out.

The bike and the ride
This second generation of the Fluid LT frame is the same for all the Fluid LT models and maintains the same overall look as the first generation. It does, however, get a few significant changes for ’09. First, the rocker arms for the shock are now forged, giving them higher strength and a more refined look. 

Next, Norco beefed up the seatstays and added a forged chainstay clevis to supporting the rear-most pivot. This gave me the confidence to take this LT wherever I wanted. Also, when we reviewed last years LTs, the testers asked for better tire clearance and Norco did just that – thanks for listening, Norco. The downtube was also lightened up a bit, helping to reduce overall weight. All pretty subtle changes, but they’re definitely a step in the right direction.


The 2009 Fluid LT2 sits smack dab in the middle of the Fluid LT pack. || Photo: Dan Austin

Out of the box, a size large bike weighed in at 34.5lbs. and fit me like a glove. At 6’1” and pushing 190 lbs. (OUCH), this bike felt like it’s been my trusty old steed for years. Once the bike was built, all I had to was adjust the air pressure in the suspension and install the cleats for the Crank Bros. pedals on my shoes I was ready to go. The fit of the cockpit was ideal – the only adjustments I had to make were raise or lower the seat depending on the trail I was riding. It was great to just get on, ride and enjoy the LT as is rather than have to find my happy place through part swapping, and endless tweaking of seats, bars, stems and so on.

The frame is hydroformed aluminum with two rear travel settings, 137mm or 157mm, standard 10x135mm rear wheel spacing, a 1 1/8” head tube and a 68mm bottom bracket. Since this isn’t a big huck bike, these are more than ample. I particularly appreciated the rather cross country 73° uninterrupted seat tube and the 400mm Race Face Deus XC post on the longer climbs in Vernon’s Kal Park. Combine that with a slightly slacker 68° head angle, and the LT is well suited to both the ups and downs of all-mountain riding.


When you have the right parts and feel good on the bike, a lot of things are possible. || Photo: Stuart Kernaghan

The curvy tubes on the LT not only provide a great look but also ample standover height, which I appreciated on more than one aborted skinny attempt. A BB height of 355mm makes the Fluid a fairly tall bike but that height was appreciated over technical trail features and rocky terrain, especially once I got a bash guard on. Norco also included water bottle mounts that can actually accommodate a tall water bottle.

The DHX Air 3.0-supported Horst Link rear suspension on the LT2 worked very well. There was little bob when climbing, it was active under braking and did a great job of riding over or soaking up hits, bumps and whatever the trail put in front of me. The DHX Air 3.0 doesn’t outwardly have much in the way of adjustments, but fiddling with air pressure and the rebound adjustment can dramatically affect the feel of this shock. More air in the spring makes for an overall stiffer shock, more in the boost makes for a shock that ramps up faster, while less in either results in the opposite.

The DHX 3.0 comes with a factory set Propedal platform, which is sufficient for the riding I’ve been doing, and it performed like a champ whether I was climbing or doing drops. I used the full travel but never felt the thud of reaching the bottom, and it’s plush enough to plow over rough terrain at speed without a care in the world. The Propedal keeps things stable when climbing so you don’t feel like your energy is getting sucked up by the rear suspension. I wasn’t expecting performance on the mid-level model of this shock to be this good, and it was a pleasant surprise.


A close-up of the rear end – SRAM and Truvativ parts, coupled with the DHX 3.0 rear shock, were up to the task. || Photo: Dan Austin

My only real advice when it comes to this shock is to journal your pressures. I initially had the shock set up so it felt … well, perfect. Then I upped everything for the Ski-2-Sea race in Kelowna, only to realize that I didn’t remember what my perfect pressures were. That said, it’s definitely worthwhile experimenting with pressures in the spring and boost chamber to get the LT feeling and acting just the way you want.

Front suspension duties are handled by a Marzocchi 55 ATA fork. The combination of light weight (5.6lbs), an alloy steer tube, 35mm stanchions, air spring and 120-160mm of adjustable travel make this the perfect type of fork for what the LT is designed to do – go up and down. The 20mm tool-free QR Torque Axle system is easy to use and undoubtedly adds to the stiffness of the fork.


Dan pushed the LT2 hard, and it never let him down. It’s impressive to see what you can manage with 6″ of travel. || Photo: Stuart Kernaghan

Housed in the left leg of the 55 is the air spring and Air Travel Adjust (ATA) system. The ATA is a wind-down mechanism for adjusting the travel from the minimum to maximum and almost anywhere in between. It works just fine, but the adjustment mechanism could use a little refinement. The “pull and twist”-style travel adjust led to numerous frustrating moments.

I would fight with the cap to get it to stay up so I could turn it and then find the right position so I could put it back down. My second issue with the ATA cap is that it has really sharp edges that make it uncomfortable to turn without gloves. There has to be a better way to build a travel-adjust mechanism – other fork makers have done it.

There was one operational problem with the 55 that I need to mention. The ATA cartridge in the 55 stuck in the compressed mode, as some of the 2008 ATA forks were prone to. This problem was supposedly fixed for ’09 by using tighter seals in the ATA cartridge, but apparently some of the ‘09s still have ’08 cartridges in them. As luck would have it, it wasn’t long before I had a fork with about 60mm of travel… plush travel, mind you. I contacted Norco, who took ownership of the problem right away. I sent the fork back to them and it was back in no time, fixed and ready for action. Problem solved.


The ATA control (left) just looks sharp, while the TST 2 is fairly self-explanatory – she’s locked, or she isn’t. || Photo: Dan Austin

The TST 2 system, housed in the right leg, controls the rebound and lock-out features on the 55. The “2” in the name refers to the two positions it has, locked out and unlocked. It’s controlled by a simple lever on the top of the right leg. People have mentioned that the lever is vulnerable to being switched to a locked-out position while you ride, but that never happened to me.

The rebound adjustment, located at the base of the right leg, is a simple twist adjustment. The only thing is, you have to turn the rebound adjustment knob quite a bit before it seems to make a difference.

The 55 felt great with low stiction, smooth travel and a stiff, solid feel. I felt confident on good-sized drops and diving into corners as well as unburdened on climbs. And although I’d used the full travel, I never felt it bottom out. I will say, when this fork is working it’s great – almost awesome, but when it doesn’t, it’s not fun.


“Aim for the rock, but don’t hit it.” Dan made the landing look buttery, thanks to the solid parts pick and some skills on his part. || Photo: Stuart Kernaghan

The spec
The parts spec on this bike is bang on. The stock parts list is exactly what I would expect on the second-tier model of the LT line – perhaps not top shelf options but dependable performers not far off the top.

The drive train is solid with SRAM X.7 shifters, XT front and X.9 rear changers. Not as snappy as the full X9 setup on my other bike but still very dependable shifting, even under load. With the triple chain ring set-up, you can really get the LT up to speed but I was happy to replace the big ring with a bash ring.  It’s a more useful piece of equipment for my style of riding.

It also had an 11-32T SRAM cassette, which was great. I would have thought it should be an 11-34T for all-mountain climbing on a bike that weighs north of 34 lbs., but the gearing was low enough. A 34T cog might have been too low, leading to other issues while climbing such as a chronically light front end.


It wasn’t all steeps, high speed and big airs for the Fluid. There were also some peaceful, scenic rides overlooking the lake… || Photo: Allen Hanson

The Truvativ XR stem and Stylo components – bar, cranks (42/32/22) and GXP bottom bracket – are a perfect match of performance, weight and price, and all are up to the task of climbing up and throwing down. Solid performers like an FSA Orbit-X sealed bearing headset, and Crank Brothers Smarty pedals are also included. I particularly liked the Smarty pedals as they have tonnes of float and are super easy to set up. The only thing I miss is the distinctive ‘SNAP’ sound you get when you click into Shimano SPD pedals.  As for longevity, the Smartys are not rebuildable so their lifetime is finite. When they die will depend on where and how much you ride.

Avid Juicy 5s with 185mm rotors handled the braking very effectively and I found no need for the larger rotors as stopping power was more than ample. Again, a bang-on choice for this bike.

The wheelset was made up of XT hubs, Mavic 317 disc rims, steel spokes and green anodized nipples inside a Kenda Nevegal 2.35” wrapper. The package gave me the confidence to ride hard, fast and land at speed. They were also lighter than I expected, which meant I didn’t have to pay a huge penalty on the climb up.

All in all, the part spec left me wanting for nothing.

A few issues
Only a few issues – mostly nit picky ones – temper my praise for this bike. A problem with the ATA cartridge in the fork getting stuck down required the fork to be sent back and be repaired. Norco provided superior service, fixed the fork and had me back up and running in no time. So far, it appears to be fixed. The fork’s travel adjust is also not the best system out there. It’s hard on the hands and not as easy as it could be to use. It gets the job done, but if you compare it to other travel adjust systems, it makes you wonder why they couldn’t do better.

When changing over the big ring to a bash ring, I stripped two of the four chainring bolts in short order, quickly learning that a torque wrench is a valuable tool. This is more of a warning than a critique. These bolts are quite delicate, a plus for weight but bad for hack mechanics like me. Luckily, I had a few lying around the shop that made suitable replacements. So just be more careful than I was.

My final two thoughts are more personal preferences. First, the bar seemed a little skinny. It’s 27” wide already, but that extra 1” seems to make a difference in the comfort department for me. Call me picky. Lastly, the LT2 only comes in a single green pearl colour [we’ve already discussed this – it’s Lime Crush. – Ed.] I don’t mind it too much, and it’s a very nice paint job, but judging by the comments I have received it can be a bit hard to take.

And at the end of the day…
It took a little getting used to the Fluid after riding a hardtail XC bike for the last couple of summers, but once I figured out how to climb with over 6” of travel all around, it was a dream. Spinning up hills, with consistent and even power, made technical climbs a breeze and staying seated keeps the power to the ground. The rear wheel digs in and drives you up just about anything. 


Climbing on the LT2 wasn’t a chore, in spite of the fact that it only had a 32T cassette. || Photo: Stuart Kernaghan

On top of that, the travel adjust gives you the option of steepening things up for an even more cross-country feel. The LT climbed so well, though, that I rarely felt the need to wind down the front fork or switch to the shorter travel in the rear. I had expectations of the front end getting light on uphill switchbacks and steep pitches, but even with the fork fully extended, I found that it tracked right where I wanted it to go. That was a definite bonus.

Going downhill was equally as impressive. The Kenda tires bite into the dry early season hardpack of the Okanagan and don’t let go. Going hot into corners is the order of the day and popping out of a turn at speed is something I thought I would only find on a good DH bike. The Fluid handles drops like a pro – I have to remember that this is not my DH bike and that I should exercise a little caution when hitting that next drop, jump or gap. I’m not saying it can’t handle it, but I’m not willing to find the failure limit on any bike. The LT is not going to replace your DH rig, but if need be, you could get away with running the LT at the bike park for a day and be pretty happy.


You want steep? You can’t handle steep! Or maybe you can… The Fluid showing one more type of terrain it’s able to handle. || Photo: Vicki Cunningham

Norco obviously put a lot of thought into the build of the LT as well as making this a nice looking bike. The green aside, the appealing design of the frame and coordinated look make for one fine unit. From custom graphics on the fork to matching green anodized spoke nipples and lock-on clamps for the grips, the LT is a very well put together package.

You should be able to tell by now that I love this bike. I feel like I could ride it on all-day backcountry epics or some solid downhill trails with modest stunts and come out smiling. I only wish I had it with me last year when I spent eight days riding in Moab – this bike would have been perfect! Good luck getting this one back, Norco.

The MSRP on the ’09 Fluid LT2 is CAD$3,699. 

Pros

  • the fit and finish is exceptional – the bike fits great and a lot of effort was put into making a nice looking package in both the frame design and accents
  • the spec is ideal – it left me wanting nothing
  • the ride is superb both up and down – easy climbing, smooth fast downhill prowess
  • the price is spot on for the package – not cheap, not outrageous, but good value for what you get

Cons

  • the fork ATA cartridge failure was a bummer, but it was fixed
  • fork travel adjust knob needs some refinement to make it less of a pain to use – literally
  • bars felt a little on the skinny side – my personal preference
  • chainring bolts are light duty – my personal mistake
  • a single VERY green colour choice – more would have been nice

So, what do you think about Dan’s take on the Fluid? Wish you could get your hands on one, or are you not a fan of the colour? Whatever it is, head on over to the boards.