We find out what actually goes into designing the bikes you know and love!
Unleashing the Norco Revolver
The Revolver is Canadian brand Norco’s purebred XC racer which has guided riders onto podiums in the Swiss Epic, Crocodile Trophy and Commonwealth Games. With a growing pedigree of results, when Norco started looking at how to make improvements, the design team had to take into account the increasing difficulty of modern cross-country race courses.
“The first question we have to ask is, is the current bike sufficient or is it getting pushed to the limit of what they (our riders) can do,” says Paul Burnett, Norco’s Product Manager. “If you follow cross-country, the courses are getting harder and there is more gnarly stuff. You need to make these changes to classic cross-country race geometry to make it less fatiguing and give riders more confidence on the downhills.”
The design team at Norco noted that as XC courses have evolved, and to cope the brand’s factory team riders were having to maintain a forward pedaling position on the uphill, and then were off the back of the bike in total survival mode on the descents. So when approaching the new Revolver the goal was to move their center of gravity forward and down.
“The purpose behind (updating) the Revolver was to stabilise the rider's weight distribution over the course of the race. So you would see these riders where continuously having to shift their weight over the front on longer ascents as soon as there was a decent grade or technical terrain to keep the front end from floating and give traction to the rear wheel—they were in a constant state of recovery,” says Arthur Gaillot, who looks after the suspension base tunes for Norco.
“We started off with a head angle, stack height, stem length that we felt worked really well together, and the bike is designed around a 60mm stem which is aggressively short for a traditional XC bike. Because the stem length is short we could lengthen the top tube and the reach of the bike up to the stem. Then we could look at the seat angle so that the rider is moved more into that more forward position…so the seat to bar distance is still comfortable,” says Norco Engineering Manager David Cox.
Haley Smith, one of Norco’s Factory Team riders got her hands on the new Revolver in the middle of the racing season, and it only took one ride ahead of a Canada Cup race before the Ontario native decided to make the swap. Five days later she rode the new frame to a career best World Cup result at Mount Sainte Anne.
“My first thought was that the bike looked more relaxed, like the old Revolver’s cooler younger sibling. Once I rode the bike, I realised that the relaxed geometry actually makes the bike faster, while at the same time making it feel reliable and stable,” she says.
“I used to ram my saddle all the way forward in order to get the pedalling position I wanted, which ended up putting my centre of mass really far in front off the rear axle. With the updated geometry, I can run my seat more in the middle for optimal pedalling position, while allowing me to keep the rear end of the bike more nimble,” she continued.
There is no question the descents are playing a bigger role in the final results, but cross-country races are still won on the climbs. So, many World Cup XC riders, including Norco’s Factory Team, were slamming saddle rails and swapping for long negative degree stems to achieve the most efficient climbing position. This in itself answered Burnett’s question, the Revolver’s geometry was no longer sufficient, so Norco sought to solve the changes riders were making with components with the frame itself.
“When you look at someone like Jaroslav Kulharvy’s bike, it looks insane and nobody can actually ride that except for him—nobody really should it just looks like you're in a horrible position. We thought we could do better,” Burnett says.
Cox continues, “That bike is a really good example, you can look at what he’s done to the bike to enable the bike to perform the way that it needs to, so we worked with riders on our XC team to get feedback and understanding as to why they were altering their position on the bike, what their intended outcome was and how we could actually fix that.”
Once they had this feedback back from the riders, the tinkering began. Burnett’s starting point was to jump on an XL of the old Revolver (he usually rides a size large), smash the saddle forward and install a stumpy short stem. This gave him a rough starting point for the geometry they were trying to achieve with the new frame, namely the changes to the reach and the weight shift they were looking for, but, that was only the beginning.
With the cost of cutting carbon moulds, once the geometry and suspension parameters are finalised, the brand utilises 3D printing to make sure they won’t be making any expensive mistakes when the designs are sent to the manufacturer.
“We get full 1:1 rapid prototypes 3D printed, I think we actually use the biggest printer in Canada to actually 3D print, and I’m pretty sure we can actually do a hardtail in one piece. So we print the front triangle and the stays and then we will put bearings and hardware into the bikes and build them up as complete bikes,” Cox explains.
“By the time we are done with that the prototypes are destroyed cause we’ve drilled holes in them and the graphics team have gone out and put stickers all over them so they are kind of multi purpose. But, that is the most useful way to figure out those fine details because the last thing you want to do is have carbon moulds made and find out that we've got cable routing problems.”
After months of testing, the final result is actually two versions of the new Revolver, with the new bike coming in a 100mm travel version and a 120mm version as well—they utilise the same frame, just slightly different components. The 100mm version uses a 37.5mm shock stroke on the 190mm body, while the 120mm version uses a 45mm stroke. However both see a slacker frame, with more reach and a lower headtube, allowing riders like Smith to achieve the position they were looking for and run the stock 60mm stem.