The Norco Torrent range is part of a wider trend of aggressive hardtails (‘hardcore’ hardtails if you’re from the UK) making a comeback.
Words: Will Shaw
Photos: Edward Kelly
The Norco Torrent range is part of a wider trend of aggressive hardtails (‘hardcore’ hardtails if you’re from the UK) making a comeback. Bikes like the Canyon Stoic, Specialized Fuse, Trek Roscoe, and Marin El Roy are all new to the market or have received a complete longer, lower, slacker overhaul in the last couple of years. Whilst a hardtail is never going to descend as well as a dual suspension bike with a comparable amount of rear travel, there’s something so exciting about hammering down descents on a capable hardtail.
The Norco Torrent A1 I’m testing here is one of four models in the Torrent range. The A1 is the top alloy model, and it retails for $2799. The A2 model retails for $2399. There are also two steel models, the S1 and S2, which retail for $4399 and $3399 respectively. The S1 model is a very popular bike in my riding circles, so I was excited to hop aboard the latest Torrent to see what all the fuss is about.
The Torrent range isn’t aimed at cruising or racing around cross-country networks like many other hardtails on the market. With a 150mm fork, aggressive geometry, and burly components, Norco claim that the Torrent range will allow you to ‘prove your mettle on the toughest trails.’
I owned the previous generation of Norco Torrent, which had 140mm of travel and more compact geometry, so it was interesting to compare the differences to this new model.
The Norco Torrent A1 has a tidy looking frame, with nice welds and cleanly executed internal cable routing through the down tube. The rear brake and rear derailleur lines are routed externally from the bottom of the down tube, and the dropper cabling is a fully internal affair.
The threaded bottom bracket and chainguide mounts are nice inclusions on the frame, and there’s bottle/tool mounts on both the down tube and underside of the top tube. The frame features a short seat tube to allow for maximum dropper length, so there’s no mounts there. It would be great to see a longer dropper specced on the larger sizes, as there was plenty of post showing on the 150mm dropper on my size large.
There are no real unique features when it comes to the Torrent A1, although the aggressive geometry is only topped in the mainstream market by the Marin El Roy, and the frame looks like it means business with its long reach (480mm in the size large tested), short chain stays (425mm), and low-slung front triangle.
Setting up the Torrent A1 was a simple affair. I’m not a huge fan of the RockShox 35 Gold RL fork, and with its tendency to dive I opted for more pressure and compression than I normally like to run. I’d prefer to sacrifice comfort for a stable ride height on a long travel hardtail. The bike comes with 800mm bars, and I lopped them down to 760mm to squeeze through the tight stuff, but that was the only change I made during testing. The bike comes with tubes, which is a bit of a pain to swap over, but at least you get two spare tubes in the process! The wheels are taped, and they sealed easily with a bit of sealant and a floor pump.
The final confirmation of the Torrent A1’s aggressive intent was its weight, which is a portly 14.17kg in size large with the tyres setup tubeless. The tyres are Schwalbe Hans Dampfs in a 2.35” size from their value for money Performance Line. This is appropriate given the Torrent A2’s pricepoint, although I opted to pop a Rimpact Pro in the rear, as the Performance Line tyres from Schwalbe aren’t the most robust out there.
On The Trail:
I’ve always had a soft spot for trail hardtails. They’re not the best tool for the job most of the time, and that’s half the fun. The Torrent’s geometry highlights this. The reach, 64 degree head angle, and fork travel combine to give you lots of confidence pointing the bike down fast and technical descents, but the short rear end reminds you the Torrent is all about the good times.
As I live at sea level, all my rides begin with some climbing. Whether you’re on the road or the trail earning your turns, the Torrent is more content with seated climbing and grinding to the top than surging out of the saddle. The short chain stays are great for pulling manuals and steering with the rear for laughs on the way down but maintaining traction on technical climbs when standing is trickier than on bikes with more proportional geometry. My approach to technical climbs on the Torrent was to stay seated where possible, getting out of the saddle for crux moments, and throwing the bike forward over obstacles where necessary.
Where the Torrent makes up for its heftiness is when you’re pumping the bike through undulations, as in smooth terrain it can turn every downwards undulation into forward motion. This is also easily achieved by manualling, and you’ll want to be covering the rear brake with the Torrent’s short chain stays!
Whilst I’d categorise the Torrent A1 in the ‘hardcore hardtail’ or gravity focused category, it’s still plenty of fun in flatter and twistier singletrack. The rear end breaks traction with little effort, but I see that as an exciting element of the Torrent’s character rather than a flaw. If you want a bike to maximise control on the trails, a 150mm forked hardtail isn’t the right bike.
I could’ve focused more on adjusting my technique to maximise traction in the rear, and I probably would at times if the Torrent was my only bike, but riding bikes is all about having fun I think, so I just let it hang out there and stomped a foot when things were getting out of hand.
My concerns around the RockShox Gold 35 RL were warranted. When you consider how incredible mountain bike suspension is these days, the Gold 35 RL stands out as a poor product. I’ve ridden the fork on multiple bikes now, and the conclusion I’ve come to is that you either accept riding a stiff setup to keep your ride height predictable, or you opt for the fork to do its job and experience the thrill of a lifetime as it dives at the worst possible moment.
There’s no doubt product managers have a tough job speccing bikes to certain price points, but I’d be interested to ride the A1 back-to-back with the A2 to see if the Suntour Zeron35 does a better job up front. Other forks you often see at a slightly higher price bracket ($3000-$4000) such as the Marzocchi Z2, RockShox’s Pike Select RC, and Fox’s Rhythm forks offer a huge step up in performance. Another RockShox product that offers great performance in this price range is the Revelation RC, and I would’ve loved to have seen this fork specced on the Torrent A1.
Compared to other hardtails in this space, unfortunately the Torrent A1 is sufficiently let down by the RockShox 35 Gold RL that I’d have a tough time recommending it over something like Canyon’s Stoic 4, which retails for $2649 and comes with a Pike Select RC fork, which is a fantastic product. Obviously, Canyon are a direct-to-consumer brand whilst you’ll pick your Norco up from a dealer fully built and with the support of the dealer. With the fork being such a critical component on a long travel hardtail however, it’s hard to accept mediocrity in this area.
It’s worth noting that other brands sold through dealers are also speccing this fork at this price point, so this isn’t Norco speccing something out of place at its $2799 RRP, and they’ve really nailed the spec everywhere else. The Trek Roscoe 8 ($2,999.99) also comes with the 35 Gold RL, and Specialized’s Fuse Comp 29 retails for $2800 and comes with a RockShox Recon.
Overall, I had a great time on the Norco Torrent A1, and it proves that geometry can go a long way in inspiring confidence and good times out on the trail. I’m also a big fan of the longer travel hardtail, as any bike that puts a smile on your face gets the thumbs up from me.
Norco have done a great job with most areas of the spec. The Shimano drivetrain, brakes, and hubs all offer great value for money. The TranzX Dropper is almost ubiquitous at this end of the market for a reason, due to its low price and reliable performance. The Stan's rims are a nice touch at this price point, as is the Fi’zi:k saddle.
Unfortunately, the Torrent’s price point has put the product manager in a tricky spot, as forks like the Revelation RC, Pike Select RC, Fox 36 Rhythm, or Marzocchi Z2 are just out of reach. I wish Norco had decided to price this model slightly higher and gone with one of those options, as it would give the Torrent A1 a whole new level of confidence, and truly make it the kind of bike you could one hundred percent trust through rough terrain.
As it stands, I now understand why lots of riders I know are aboard a Torrent S1. Compared to the older Torrent model I owned, the current Torrent range is more capable, and more fun if you’re more about good times than timing yourself. If you’re in the market for an aggressive hardtail and can stretch your budget to the steel S1 model (which retails for $4399) that would be my recommendation. Despite my dislike of the 35 Gold RL however, I still finished every ride on the Torrent A1 with a smile on my face, so maybe you should just get one and let the joy of riding be your focus, not the minutiae of fork performance!