Norco are on a roll in 2016, if you will excuse the pun. We've already tested their Revolver 29 FS, Aurum, and now Sight - and these are just some of the great 2016 models we saw at their show in August. The brands designers hinted that there was more to come, and we are starting to see that now, with bikes like the Norco Torrent 7.1, which falls into their 'Trail Plus' category.

What first seemed like a fad, 'plus' bikes are here to stay. For 2016, lots of bike companies were showing  off bikes for 'plus' sized wheels. With the advent of Boost spacing, brands had a lot more scope for greater tyre clearance at the chain stay, and improved chainline. Enter bikes that are being built for 27.5" wheels with 3.0" tyres, that can also take 29" wheels with 2.2" tyres.

Enter the Norco Torrent - the modern hardtail

Six months ago you could be forgiven for thinking that it would be very hard to get excited about an alloy hardtail. We would often think of a hardtail as the domain for cross-country racers, and dirt jumpers. Not really the bike for trail riding. And alloy - well most manufacturers had kept alloy for entry level bikes, so what was the appeal?

The Norco Torrent will completely change your opinion of what a hardtail can, and should be. The alloy frame is built around trail geometry, reliability and functionality. There's stealth dropper routing, external full cable outer clamps for the rear brake hose and derailleur, it's got a wide range 1x11 setup from SRAM, burly brakes, a Yari fork, super wide bars and a short stem in a 35mm clamp. And at $3199 - this might be a complete trail bike that's less than the carbon full-suspension frame you have been eyeing off.

The frame is made from alloy and has many of the features you would expect - a tapered (and super short) head tube, dropper post routing, through axle rear end (thanks to Boost) a big, squared off down tube with easy to use bottle cage placement, and a dropped driveside chainstay for minimal chain slap. There's even a neat guard on the inside to protect the frame. The top tube allows plenty of stand over, and the seat tube has a gentle curve at the bottom, which has helped draw the rear wheel in, despite sporting a 3" tyre. The relaxed head tube angle of 67 degrees keeps it super stable, and the steepish seat angle (72.7 on the large) means you're climbing in a good position when the trail does go up. The back end of the frame is also size specific, following the Gravity Tune design that Norco uses. Basically, the chain stays are shorter on smaller bikes, and longer on larger bikes. When you write it like that, you do start to wonder why every brand doesn't do this.

And as silly as it sounds, the bike just looks great sitting there - everything looks in proportion. Yes, even the tyres. The Norco Torrent just looks like it is setup for a whole lot of fun.

The ride

As much as I was ready to just get out and ride on the Norco Torrent, I held an air of scepticism about jumping on an alloy hardtail that has been deemed as a brilliant trail bike. That promise didn't just come from Norco's marketing, but one of our bike testers has been riding his own Torrent and predicts that 27+ hardtails may well be the direction that trail bikes will go.

At first that sounds silly, but let's think about it. Firstly, the traction is immense thanks to the 3.0" tyres run at low pressure. More traction is key for riding fast and loose terrain, and the Norco Torrent has it in spades! A trail bike should also have capable suspension - and the RockShox Yari RC fork has 130mm travel, with a top mounted lockout. This isn't a bike you're taking to the line in a sprint finish so that's ideal. With a KS dropper, and wide 780mm bars, it's easy to drop the seat, get back and let the bike get pretty rowdy. Then, when the trail is point back up again, use the efficiency of a hardtail, along with the 28t chain ring and 10-42 cassette to climb up just about anything, thanks to the superior amounts of traction. While it doesn't climb like an XC bike thanks to heavier wheels, the long frame (637mm effective top tube in large) means that the front of the bike still stays planted, with only a little extra leaning forward.

My first ride out on the Torrent was probably the most eye-opening. Not only because I stopped to drop pressure from the tyres 4 times. As I live one the wrong side of the mountain to my closest trails, just about every ride from home includes a climb on the road or a firetrail to start. I took off up the trail, as it's a way better climb, seeing as it has a few descents in it. This sounds like an odd place to start a review, but this trail has a mix of pea gravel and regular gravel. So it's slippery. The corners are flat, and they drop off into the bush. Even on the short little descents on the way up, the increase in grip from the plus sized tyre was immense.

That boded well, as the trail I was riding to is narrow, off-camber, and has plenty of loose trail surfaces, from dust to loose rock to gravel. It's also got it's share of logs and larger rocks to pop over, and short pinch climbs.

Dropping the seat part of it's 100mm that the KS post allows, I rolled into the trail via the off-camber entry and already knew this was going to be the fastest I'd ever ridden the trail. I'd dropped the tyres to about 14psi, even with tubes still in. This is about more than low pressure and a dropper post though. The trail reminds me of what I used to ride growing up. It's not in a trail centre, you can't ride everything without lifting a wheel off the ground, front or rear. The climbs, corners and descents all reward active bike handling. And a hardtail works really well for this. So while the frame geometry, cockpit and plus sized tyres gave heaps of stability and traction, the fact the bike is a hardtail means it maintains lots of agility too - which is exactly what you want when you're playing around on trails. The grip has you looking for new lines, and the handling and agility of the bike means you can ride them.

Since then, I've been riding the Norco Torrent on lots of other local trails. It's definitely still fun on the buffed and maintained trails of my local mountain bike park. But it shines when there's more fun to be had on finding new lines or seeing older trails with new eyes. With more saddle time, I've realised how versatile the build is too. While the 3.0 Schwalbe Nobby Nic has tons of grip (and would probably hook up even in the wettest conditions) some 2.8" rubber like a Maxxis Chronicle might drop some rolling resistance and make this a cool bikepacking adventure bike. There's so little to worry about maintenance wise, it's a smart choice for big trips on your bike.

Spending some time at a skills park and on some newer flow trails built in South East Queensland, the Norco Torrent is plenty stable with one or two wheels off the ground - and surprisingly forgiving when working on  new skills. You'll still know about it if you donk the rear wheel into square edges. In general bikes don't enjoy being plowed into avoidable obstacles. But the the Torrent opens up more options than full-suspension 27.5" trail bikes I've ridden, my own XC FS bike, and even some longer travelled trail bikes that verge on all-mountain rigs. It's got it's limits, but it really has a very broad footprint.

Overall thoughts on the Norco Torrent

Last year we ran a bit of a thought provoking article suggesting that the hardtail was dead. Lots of the riders we spoke with didn't agree, but we were happy to put the thought out there. Norco have shown with the Torrent that the hardtail isn't dead - it's just evolving. There's more to read on that concept in Issue 153 when it's out in April. What Norco have created isn't just about breathing life back into hardtails. They have created a very capable and versatile mountain bike that has a great selection of parts, excellent performance for the criteria, and it's a whole lot of fun. As an alloy hardtail, you're unlikely to get too upset about crashing it, and there are no pivots or rear shock to stay on top of maintenance with. And at $3199 - it's really exceptional value for how well it rides and what you can do with it. Where there things I didn't like? Sure, the grips and seat didn't suit me, and the cables and hoses were a birds nest from the factory. But that rings true on many bikes, and was so easily looked over due to the ride, and pure joy of mountain biking that the Norco Torrent inspired.


What we loved:

  • Dialled trail geometry
  • No-nonsense parts spec
  • Endless traction

What we would change:

  • Very little! Tweak the cockpit and tyre size for your riding


Norco Torrent 7.1 Trail 27 plus

KEY FACTS

FRAME: Alloy

FORK: RockShox Yari Plus RC (130mm)

DRIVETRAIN: SRAM GX 1x11 w RaceFace Aeffect 28t crank set

WHEELS: WTB Scraper i45 on Norco Boost hubs, Schwalbe Nobby Nic 27.5x3.0" tyres

Full spec is online.

From: Advance Traders