Tested Where it was Intended
2021 Norco Shore A1 - First Impressions Review
If you've looked at the Internet lately, you'll be aware that Norco has been up to some things. It started with some spy shots at the Whistler Bike Park of an interesting looking bike. Speculation ramped up and people headed in all sorts of crazy directions with their speculation. Then Norco just kind of showed up at the Crankworx Summer Series and let the whole world see those same bikes. What was it, though? A new DH bike? A new enduro bike with a double crown fork? A prototype run bike for really tall children? A second round of articles, speculation and forum detection ramped up as people worked to figure things out. Not us, of course.
When it came up that Norco had a new bike that needed testing I was all over it. I had no idea what it was, but it seemed perfect! Long travel, carbon fiber 29er with a crazy-assed suspension arrangement? Internet bike of the moment? Yes please!
New bike day rolled around and I was frothing! Foaming! Finally, a new bike to ride! No, the perfect bike to ride! Hold on a minute...what the fuck is that!
The new 2021 Norco Shore
So, it turns out that Norco has been working on a couple of bikes, which, once again, if you've looked at the Internet lately, you probably could have figured out. "Spy shots" of this bike showed up a few weeks ago and people jumped all over that pretty quickly. Hell, if you were paying attention, some guy dragged one of these down to his murder basement a few months back and snapped a photo of it. So, there has been a lot of speculation, but finally the day is here were we now know exactly what Norco has been up to (in this case, anyhow).
What we have here is the new Norco Shore. It's definitely not carbon. It most certainly doesn't have 29 inch wheels. And you probably won't see it at an Enduro or DH race at any point in the future. This bike is in fact a re-interpretation of the freeride bike of yore. If you need a reminder of what a "freeride" bike is, well, it was a thing sold to us in the 2000's that was supposed to let us pedal to the top of a mountain and then be able to handle anything that one could throw at it on the way back down. This is what Norco is once again promising. In their own words:
The Shore is designed to pedal, shuttle or grab a chairlift up the mountain, and then sail back down, or navigate technical lines, scary lines and getting sideways on the way back down. Big, burly terrain that challenges bike and rider, and makes you question what you think is and isn’t ridable.
In short, it's the sort of bike that you would make if you had somebody like Matt MacDuff recently signed to your team.
It's definitely not carbon. It most certainly doesn't have 29-inch wheels. And you probably won't see it at an Enduro or DH race at any point in the future. This bike is in fact a reinterpretation of the freeride bike of yore.
Ever since Norco released their Aurum HSP, certain people have been wondering when they are going to get around to releasing something with a high pivot that is a bit more pedal friendly. High, Single Pivot bikes have done very well on the World Cup DH circuit and people really seem to want that shit in a package that will pedal back up a hill. Norco is finally giving the people what they want, albeit with a small change to the template.
What this is, is a mash-up of the past and the present. They've stuck with the Horst link that we all know, but they've thrown us a curveball by raising the pivot point and throwing in an idler. There must be a good reason as to why they bothered with all this complexity.
A high pivot bike with an idler offers two major advantages (this is arguable, but bear with me). First, a high pivot bike allows for the rearward axle path that we've been told is the holy grail of suspension design since suspension designs were a thing. The theory goes that we tend to run into the things that cause our suspension to compress. Bumps don't impact a bike on a perfect vertical plane, so by allowing the wheel to move in a rearward trajectory you're going to improve the compliance of the rear suspension (there's also some subtle wheelbase implications, but this is secondary in most discussions).
The next main advantage is that by adding an idler, the designer can more directly control how chain forces impact the suspension by pinpointing the location of the pivot relative to the chain. This is usually a bit more of a compromise when balancing your pivot location around a chainring. Yes, the idler is a requirement to tame the high pivot, but as well as being a necessity it can also offer advantages.
I was curious though as to why Norco chose to add the horst link into the conversation, and not just stick with the high single pivot design that they know and that we're seeing from quite a few other companies. There were a number of reasons that they gave for this.
First is leverage ratio control. Adding in the Horst link and linkage gives more opportunities to tweak the leverage ratio to the place where they wanted it.
Next is durability. Norco has a lot of experience building Horst link bikes and felt like they could best meet their durability goals for this bike with that design.
Lastly, they were able to coax even a bit more rearward axle path out of the design using a Horst link, compared to a single pivot. They feel like this allows them to overcome some of the rollover disadvantage of the 650b wheel and they also feel like they could design in more support for the rear end (the greater the angle of wheel travel relative to vertical, the less impact the purely vertical forces from the rider will have on the suspension).
It feels strange that a freshly launched aluminum-only bike is a bit of a novelty, but here we are. The goal of this project from Norco was to keep costs down and durability up. Because of that, they felt that aluminum was the best option.
Looking at what they've put together here, I believe them on the durability front. Everything about this frame just looks all kinds of solid. The pivots all attach to massive hunks of aluminum, and every weld and tube looks like it's in it for the long haul.
This is probably as good a place to talk about geometry as any. While the construction methods might be a bit old school, the geometry screams the opposite. We'll start with that 63 degree head angle. Then you add in an effective seat tube angle somewhere between 77 and 78 degrees. Reach and stack numbers are a bit less out there. But where Norco really sets them apart is with their size specific rear centers. By moving the location of the bottom bracket depending on the frame size, Norco gives you a 435mm rear center on the size Small frame, all the way up to a 450mm rear center on the XL. As AJ pointed out a little while back, there aren't many other large companies that have made such a leap to embrace new thoughts on bike fit and geometry.
On paper some of these numbers are absolutely frightening to me. What business do I have riding a bike that is so slack and with so much reach? The interesting thing is that it all feels very comfortable once you hop on board. It's one of the longer bikes that I've ever ridden, reach wise, but with the super steep seat tube it doesn't feel excessively long. Once you adjust your riding style a bit (and get your setup dialled in) the other numbers don't feel all that unusual either.
The theme of value and reliability seeps into the parts list as well. What Norco told me was that what they wanted to do was to put good parts where they were needed, while not worrying so much where they weren't. My interpretation of that statement is "we put the money into suspension". Let's have a look at some of the decisions they made.
This isn't where one normally starts, but look at those tires! Double Down Assegai MaxxGrips front and rear! There are times (many!) that I curse how slow that Assegai on the rear rolls, but you can't argue with what it does for you on the way down. This tire spec sets the tone for everything that follows.
After that, you can't ignore 180mm Fox Factory 38 on the front, nor the Fox Factory DXH2 on the rear. Looking at that rear shock, I'm reminded of this classic Kids in the Hall sketch.
Where's the climb switch?
No climb switch.
No climb switch!?
That's right. But don't let that scare you, my friend. Let that liberate you! Cause when you're free flying with the Shore, man, what do you need a safety net for!?
I mean, I wish they put a climb switch on, but I respect their decision not to.
Moving along, the drivetrain is full GX, and let me tell you there have been a few rides where I'm glad SRAM went to the effort of adding a couple of teeth to their largest cassette. Brakes are from SRAM as well, and are another point where an investment was made in the form of Code RSC's with 200mm rotors on both ends.
Wheels also solid, with E*Thirteen LG1s laced to DTSwiss 350s. These feel like they're going to stand up to most things that you will encounter.
The final bits and bobs are a mixed collection - a Deity bar, Deathgrip grips and a Tranz-x dropper topped with an SDG saddle.
Suggested MSRP for the A1 build, as seen here, is CAD 6,999 or 5,199 US. I'll refrain on commenting on whether or not this is a good value, as I'm a terrible judge of that these days. If you consider the suspension bits and other major parts (brakes, wheels), it just might be. Others may point at the aluminum frame and GX drivetrain and think the opposite. In my judgment, I like the compromises that Norco made here, and I like the fact that you can pretty much roll out of the showroom and hurl the thing at boulders and trees as you see fit.
Norco took it to heart when they said they were bringing back the spirit of the first VPS Shore that they made 20 years ago. In more ways than one. One phrase that you won't see showing up in the long term review is "climbs like an XC bike, descends like a DH bike." Not to spoil that long term review, but this isn't a bike that makes its way quickly to the top of a mountain. That's fine, though. That's what you expected. You don't buy a bike that can survive being thrown off a building repeatedly because you're interested in beating XC racers to the top.
You also probably don't buy a bike with a 63 degree head angle either. Or 450mm chainstays (on the XL). These aren't quite Geometron numbers, but they're not far off either, and they should tell you a bit about the sort of people who will get excited about this bike.
All of those numbers combine into a bike that is just a whole lot of different. My expectation was that I was going to be able to steamroll over anything that stood in my path. This has been true, to a certain extent, but the story isn't quite as simple as that. There's a lot of nuance and surprise to this bike, and it has taken a bit of time to get to a place where we really understand one another.
This bike both encourages and requires some adjustment to your riding. It also seems to be quite responsive to setup, and Norco has put a lot of work into this side of things. I've had probably the most involved discussions about bike setup that I've ever had with a manufacturer about a test bike. Often you're lucky to get some suggested pressures and a few words of encouragement (and sometimes not even that) but Norco provides really detailed, size-specific tuning instructions and it has been an interesting process to discuss how achieving the proper tune is critical to getting the most out of the bike.
This can be a daunting process, adapting to this new geometry while working to find the right settings. As you meander down this road, the bike becomes more and more comfortable and rewards you for the work that you put in. What the bike wants is for you to stand in the center and not worry about moving about too much, or hanging off the back. Once you make these adjustments, you wind up with a bike that serves up gobs of traction and stability through a super active yet planted suspension system. Perhaps a bit surprisingly, corners are where it provides some of the most fun, as it seems happy to respond when you enter into a corner with as much speed as you dare. Riding this bike at the margins is where it feels the most comfortable and I've found myself searching for opportunities to see how far I can take things.
What it doesn't seem to like as much is going slow. Whether climbing up a hill or trundling along through janky flats, the bike reminds you that it weighs a fair bit and that it has 180mm of hyper active suspension. Of course, there's a fairly obvious solution to these sorts of things, but at the same time, I'd like to use the long term review to see just how far I can push this bicycle out of its comfort zone. It's busy doing the same thing for me, and I'd like to return the favour.
I'd like to use the long term review to see just how far I can push this bicycle out of its comfort zone. It's busy doing the same thing for me, and I'd like to return the favour.
In addition to the A1 shown here, Norco is offering two other models. All bikes should be available in January of next year.
The A2 is a similar set-up to the A1, but with an MSRP of CAD 4,999 or 3,699 USD. It has the same 180mm front and rear set-up which it achieves via a RockShox Zeb R and RockShox Super Deluxe Coil shock. It has a Deore drivetrain, 4-piston Shimano BR-MT520 brakes and Shimano Deore hubs laced to the same E*thirteen rims (and Assegai Maxx Grip Double Downs) of its big brother.
Norco is also throwing in the A Park option which mixes things up a bit. It ups travel to 190mm in the back and 200mm in the front, using a Rockshox Boxxer Select RC and a slightly longer stroke RockShox Super Deluxe Coil Ultimate DH in the rear. Other differences are the SRAM GX drivetrain in DH persuasian, and a Race Face Chester crankset. Hubs are a mix of SRAM in the rear and no name up front, but also laced to the same E*thirteen rims (and rocking Assegai MaxxGrip Double Down tires). That will run you CAD 5,499 or 3,999 USD.
For more on this bike - norco.com