Big Wheels & Ready to Charge
Norco Aurum HSP Downhill Bike Reviewed
High single-pivot bikes are gaining popularity with a couple of new designs on the market and others coming soon. One bike that has fuelled the interest is the new Norco Aurum HSP. Late summer 2016 there were early sightings of an unknown and freakishly different looking bike in the Whistler Bike Park. Once the 2017 World Cup season kicked off the public slowly began to learn more. We at least knew it was a Norco…
Spring forward to April 2018 and the new Aurum HSP was officially released, followed soon after by my first impressions of the bike. Early images were of a 27.5 wheeled beast but by launch, there was also a 29-inch version, and the entire Norco Factory Team had opted to race it for the season. With big wheeled downhill bikes being a relatively new piece of equipment, I chose this option for the review. I don't have a single regret about that decision.
The Norco Aurum HSP reviewed here is the HSP1 which retails for 7,999 USD (9,499 CAD). It’s an impressive build that, aside from the wheels, is a World Cup replica. They're little to complain about though; the DT EX511 rims laced to DT 350 hubs are incredible performers.
DT EX 511 Rims Laced to DT 350 Hubs
Remember when DT rims were soft and would ding if you looked at them the wrong way? That’s not the case anymore and hasn’t been for a while. The DT EX 511 rim has a proven track record as a durable alloy wheel and this was verified by my time aboard the Aurum HSP. But wait... This is an enduro rim on a downhill bike?
Racing enduro puts parts through the wringer, but many of the DT supported World Cup DH racers also run this rim. The wheels dealt with everything I rode during the test period without complaint. They were even subjected to the worst conditions of the year in the Whistler Bike Park, where I have often dinged rims into a ratty edged semblance of a circle.
Schwalbe Magic Mary Tires (Addix Ultra Soft F+R)
The Magic Mary is the go-to tire of many aggressive riders in Coastal B.C. The sure-footed feeling in loose, choppy terrain is fantastic and they provide excellent traction almost anywhere. The MM can be a little less effective than something like a Minion DHF in loose over hard conditions but only by a small margin. In the DH casing they mean business but still provide excellent feel and composure.
Were it my bike, the rear tire would be swapped with the Addix Soft compound (rather than Ultra Soft). It still provides great, predictable traction but lasts longer, especially in the bike park. However, the Ultra Soft Addix compound strengthens the HSP's ready-to-race pedigree.
The Aurum HSP1 comes fitted with top of the line RockShox suspension. A Boxxer World Cup DebonAir softens blows at the front with a Super Deluxe Coil RC in the rear. My initial setup of the Boxxer needed some tweaks but once made, everything was great. Norco includes a thorough setup guide on their website and I ended up very close to the recommendations.
Both front and rear the RockShox suspension performed strongly. The Boxxer was at a slight disadvantage because of how well the high single-pivot worked, but it matched well. It’s not a knock against the fork, more admiration for the job done with such a challenge.
SRAM X01 DH 7-Speed Drivetrain
The SRAM X01 DH drivetrain is great. Purpose built for downhill, the cassette includes an integrated spacer and seven carefully selected gears. I’ve had no issues with SRAM DH drivetrains and this one was flawless as well. SRAM X01 DH cranks were fitted with a 34t chainring. I would opt for a 32t but for racers, keeping the larger ring makes sense (and potentially a 36t for some courses).
SRAM Code RSC
SRAM updated their most powerful brakes about 12 months ago and they’ve been spec’d on everything from heavy hitting DH race sleds to trail bikes. Reliability explains the broad spec. usage but access to power was quick and available with minimal effort. Braking can be done later thanks to how promptly they can wash speed and they never did anything odd during long runs from Garbanzo to Whistler Village or full Creekside laps.
Deity Touch Points
Continuing in the direction of the World Cup team spec, the Aurum HSP1 is finished with Deity components. Included is the Deity Blacklabel handlebar, Intake direct mount stem, Knuckleduster grips, Sidetrack I-Beam saddle and an SDG I-Beam post. Norco says they spec. the bike with the 15mm rise Black Label bar but the test bike had a set of 38mm risers. It’s the same bar I run on my personal bike, so that was fine, and there’s also plenty of room for stack height adjustment.
Saddles on a downhill bike see very little cheek, but the Sidetrack was comfortable enough. When swinging about in rough terrain the edges of the saddle tended to be on the bony side. I’d choose something with more padding. The Sidetrack is fine though and the I-Beam post combo makes for a lightweight setup and looks fast.
On the Trail
With the Aurum HSP being coil sprung, Norco sent the test bike with their recommended spring and tune for my weight; 400lb and MM. Normally the XL size comes with an HM shock tune and a 450lb spring to account for a typically heavier rider. Initially, it felt like the wrong spring for my preferences; the rear suspension sat quite deep in the stroke with little mid-stroke support. This early sensation was in part a result of the very effective rear suspension. Once the front end was set up correctly, the shape of the bike felt much better.
In fact my challenges in the rear were exaggerated by my initial fork settings. Stock, the Boxxer came with two tokens installed and despite running more sag than the 18% recommended for my body type, the fork felt harsh. High-speed hits in the park transferred a lot of feedback to the bar and after a couple of runs my hands were paying the price. Changes had to be made and after meddling with the damper during the initial ride, it was down to the tokens. After some emails, I discovered Norco's comprehensive setup guide and it confirmed that for me, both tokens were to be removed. With the fork aired up to where the bike felt balanced—a hair more than the recommended 18% sag—everything felt great.
From here, setting up the Aurum HSP proved easy, requiring only minor adjustments the following ride. I found the high-speed compression on the fork worked best completely open, low-speed compression was set 15 clicks out, and the rebound was 10 clicks out. Rear damper settings eventually sat 10–11 clicks out on the low-speed compression and the rebound was set ‘to feel’. The rebound was never counted because it was very hard to access with the frame design; something to note.
Throughout the setup process, one thing remained true; the rear suspension provided incredible amounts of traction. Regardless of the terrain, how well or how sloppy the bike is ridden, the rear end tracks like nothing I’ve experienced before. Feedback from chatter and chop almost became a figment of the imagination.
Norco settled on a fairly progressive leverage curve on the HSP. That progression complements the small bump traction well, allowing it to take on big hits but smooth out the chatter. Its buildup through a strike is smooth and rarely felt like it ramped into a wall from nothing. The bike was seldom unsettled when doing dumb stuff, like come up short on a huck, and maintained momentum through successive large hits.
It was especially enjoyable on fresh, raw, steep terrain. Trails with lots of feedback are where the bike comes to life. The high single pivot allows the rear wheel to easily move out of the way and over obstacles, smoothing out the trail and maintaining a high level of control. The Aurum HSP's short rear end was noticeable in some situations on steeper terrain, creating instability that was exaggerated by the cramped cockpit. It helped that the axle path is rearward, growing to a claimed 465mm at full travel, but a longer static position would further benefit.
Maintaining momentum was tricky on flatter sections of trail with lots of feedback. Increasing low-speed compression helped in some situations but I found it a hindrance in chatter, minimizing the bike's insane bump-smoothing abilities. In another section, a large hole with a square-edged downside caused the rear to spike on occasion. Another damper change helped the suspension compensate, but the adjustment resulted in the rear being less composed elsewhere on the trail.
Although progressive, the bike feels ‘heavy’ to pick up on the trail when compared to others like the Devinci Wilson 27.5. With the light top end and a less supportive mid-stroke, it's slower to respond to rider input. The incredibly addictive bump eating traction trades-off responsiveness. Jumping the bike also requires more rider input, because the HSP will try to stay glued to the ground. Riders who enjoy air should check out a slightly heavier spring rate. If ridiculous amounts of traction are a priority, stick with the recommendations.
The combination of a progressive leverage curve and stiff frame resulted in some interesting moments when fooling about. The bike provides such confidence that I found myself doing completely stupid shit, just because. Eyeing up corners and slamming into them as hard as possible was a favourite, but I was given a stern warning early during the test. Aggressively pushing deep into the bike, the rear sprung out with such unexpected force that I ended up heavily understeering as my bodyweight was quickly shifted inside the bike, directing me off the trail. The short length played a part in this mishap as well. I also found that whenever the rear broke loose it had a tendency to chatter rather than slide smoothly and predictably, with the traction available fighting the stiff frame.
Heavier riders will appreciate how stout the frame is, especially the rear. Lighter riders may not. It wasn’t enough to create deflection issues as I experienced with the Devinci Wilson—a very stiff carbon bike—but if it weren’t for the ability of the suspension to quieten the trail, it could have been really uncomfortable. Admittedly, I'm an anomaly; tall but light. For the average-sized human, it should be less noticeable, if at all.
Historically, performance under braking has been a downside of single pivot frames. I honestly began the test thinking this problem would rear its ugly head quite early. In the roughest sections of trail that demanded heavy braking before an aggressive direction change I was able to notice some instability. Hitting the same sections again and focusing on new braking points, or planning a slightly different line almost always removed the problem. Any locking of the suspension in regular situations seemed overshadowed by the grip on offer thanks to the high single-pivot suspension and very little feedback through the pedals. Overall, I didn't feel it was a problem and small tweaks from the rider made it less so.
You might think cornering on a 29-inch, 200mm travel downhill bike is a problem, but that simply isn't the case. Even with the aggressive 62.5-degree head angle and extended rear-centre, the Aurum HSP is nimble. Switching direction quickly is done with ease as the bike swings over the low slung mass of the suspension. Off course, the shorter than prefered length of the bike contributes to this manouverability. The largest size available provides a 461mm stock reach. For someone around the 6’ mark, this feels small and I was cramped on the bike. Aside from this it was an absolute joy to ride. It's scary how quick it can get going before the feedback makes you think you should slow up a little! If there were more room in the cockpit and wheelbase it would go even quicker with no concern.
Norco hasn’t messed around with the Aurum HSP. The bike provides confidence by the spade-load. Its rear suspension is so good that my approach to rowdy sections was completely altered. Recent interest in high single-pivot suspension is warranted, and I look forward to trying a similarly configured trail bike. A stumbling block is the drag created by the idler, which was quite noticeable on the Aurum HSP. If that can be sorted we’re bound to see more short travel options.
Less competitive types who ride steep, rough terrain will be very pleased with this bike but the Aurum HSP will most benefit racers (or aspiring racers) looking to climb up the result sheet.
8000 USD is a lot of cash but this is a premium machine. For those looking to get the ride quality on a budget, the HSP2 can be had for 5,549 USD/6,499 CAD (2,150 USD/3,000 CAD less) spec'd with similar suspension.
Head to the Norco website to learn more about the bike.