Norco Fluid HT 1 Review
Cons: Weak fork specification, tires miserable over loose terrain, super-tight cockpit
Manufacturer: Norco Bicycles
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Should I Buy This Bike?
It is 2019, and there is an increasing number of compelling hardtail mountain bikes in the $1,500-$2,000 price range. New technology trickles down to lower price points every year, and we are now seeing 12-speed drivetrains and dropper posts in this price range. Yes, there are a lot of great options for the budget-conscious buyers. Unfortunately for the Fluid HT 1, we feel you can do substantially better with other bikes at a similar price. The Norco is not a bad bike, but there are better options. If you stumble across a deal on this bike, it could still be a viable option for some newer riders who want to get out on the trails. As they say, cash is king.
The Editor's Choice Award-winning Specialized Fuse 29 is best hardtail we've tested. Without sounding too harsh of our stealthy Norco, The Fuse does virtually everything better. We tested the aluminum Expert model which sells for $2,150 and rolls on meaty 29 x 2.6-inch tires. The new Fuse has modern trail bike geometry that delivers excellent all-around performance. It's not the fastest climber, but it certainly won't leave you hanging on the ascents. On the descent, the Specialized delivers a high fun factor, solid handling, and a surprisingly confidence-inspiring and capable ride for a hardtail.
If you want to put in some serious miles on a fast and light hardtail, the Ibis DV9 is a mile-crushing bike. The DV9 is a versatile bike that leans towards the cross-country application. The Ibis uses relatively conservative geometry that lends itself to tremendous power transfer and efficiency. This hardtail is far and above the best climber that we have tested. Steering is direct, and handling is razor-sharp. Don't go thinking the DV9 is simply a cross-country, weight-weenie, bike. It is a fun descender that rips down flow trails and uses its quick-witted personality to slice through rock gardens. The DV9 is available in carbon fiber only. We tested the entry-level build kit which retails for $2,550.
Do you like the idea of a gravity-oriented enduro bike? Does the idea of a full-suspension bike seem a little complicated and expensive? Good news, we tested a couple of excellent, aggressive, hardtails. The Rocky Mountain Growler and Commencal Meta HT AM are ripping bikes that blend the super-aggressive geometry with the simplicity of a hardtail. Both of these bikes are exceptionally confident at speed or on steep terrain. Given the downhill-oriented geometry, these bikes feel glued to the ground as the speedometer rises. The downside is some awkward and bulky handling at slow speeds or in tight spaces. As one might expect, climbing is less efficient and requires a bit more energy compared to the other bikes we tested.
The Fluid HT is constructed out of good old-fashioned aluminum. Aluminum frames are less expensive and more resistant to rock strikes and crashes. The frame has a sleek and stealthy look that might be mistaken for a far more high-end bike at first glance. The Fluid HT can run 27.5+, 27.5, or 26+ wheels. 26+ will lower your ride height slightly. Our bike came stock with 27.5+ wheels. One quirk about our test bike is that it has 141mm rear spacing. Not 142mm…141mm.
We measured our large test bike and found it to have a 640mm effective top tube and a 442mm reach measurement. The head tube angle measures 67.7-degrees while the seat tube angle is 72.7-degrees. The bottom bracket is 322mm off the ground with the stock 27.5+ wheels. The chainstays are 432mm, and the wheelbase is 1170mm. Our large HT 1 hit the scales at 29 lb 8 ounces setup tubeless and without pedals.
-Available in aluminum frame only
-XS-XL frames available
-Runs 27.5+ (tested), 27.5, or 26+ wheels
-Build kits range from $975 to $1,699.
-Designed around 120mm fork
-141mm quick-release rear axle
The Fluid HT offers decent downhill performance that is highlighted by its fun and snappy cornering abilities. This is not the bike we want to ride on substantially rocky or rooty trails, that said, it can be quite fun on fast and flowy trails. The 2.8-inch WTB Ranger tires are a bit of a curse and a blessing. They roll fast and perform well on hardpack but can be a nightmare on loose or sandy soil.
The descending position aboard our Norco is compact and a little cramped. Standing up on the pedals, the 442mm reach measurement is quite short on a large frame. This short cockpit has two main effects. On the one hand, the short reach paired with a low-slung top tube, shorter wheelbase, and stout chainstays create somewhat of a dirt jumper feel. It is quite easy to throw this bike around, and it is easy to get it airborne or lean into a manual. On the other hand, the short cockpit can feel sketchy when charging down singletrack as fast as you can. It interferes with proper weight distribution and reduces stability.
The Norco is not the bike for you if you plan on riding chunky terrain. We suggest looking to bikes like the Specialized Fuse, Commencal Meta HT AM, or Kona Big Honzo ST. The Fuse has a well-designed frame that mutes the trail surface a little bit and the 3.0-inch tires offer some damping. The Meta HT AM is built for hard-charging with its ultra-slack geometry. The Kona Big Honzo ST has meaty tires and a steel frame that provides a comfortable ride. The Fluid HT feels out of place in rough terrain. The weak fork specification, short wheelbase, and relatively steep head tube angle simply don't play well. It is challenging to keep this bike under control when the going gets bumpy, and it feels like you could go over the bars at any given moment.
While this bicycle isn't much fun in rock gardens, it fares far better motoring down flow trails. While the steeper head tube angle detracts from confidence on raw and rugged trails, it creates sharp and direct handling. On the right soil, this bike can be a blast. It rolls quickly, encourages boosts and shenanigans, and slays corners. Simply dip a shoulder, and the Fluid HT rips through corners. The short rear end creates a nice snap out of the turns. This bike does have a high fun factor if you find yourself on a trail with well-laid-out corners.
Trail surface is an extremely important factor for this bicycle's downhill performance. The WTB Ranger 2.8-inch tires work well on hardpack trails. They roll fast and have a decent bite to them. When the trail gets loose, sandy, or mixed, things go south in a hurry. Testers had a difficult time controlling the front end, and the front wheel broke away quickly with little warning. This was especially problematic when rolling into a rock garden where this bike needs a clear entry. Losing the front end in your time of need is a one-way ticket to disaster. As a result, it is difficult to recommend this bike with these tires in certain areas, like the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where traction can be an issue.
The HT 1's build kit was poor and negatively affected downhill performance. The RockShox Sektor RL fork is mediocre at best. It is difficult, if not impossible, to set this fork up to feel good. It is far from smooth, and the chassis is noodly and flimsy. The entry-level Shimano hydraulic disc brakes get the job done if your speed is under control. When the trail gets steep, or you're carrying a head of steam, they feel a little weak and underpowered. We have discussed the WTB tires at length by now. The takeaway? They are decent on hardpack soil and far less impressive in loose conditions.
The Fluid HT is a respectable climber. Testers found that it was a bit more well-rounded on the climb compared to the descent. Handling is sharp, and the front wheel stays grounded through uphill switchbacks. Power transfer is okay, and with its reasonable 29.5-lb weight, it feels fairly efficient.
The climbing position is reasonably comfortable. The slacker, 72.7-degree seat tube angle, leaves something to be desired. If you look down while spinning in the saddle, it is clear the bottom bracket is significantly forward of your hips. This detracts from efficiency as it is more beneficial for power transfer to be on top of the bottom bracket. The short reach is less problematic when climbing as opposed to descending. The slack seat tube angle puts you behind the bottom bracket. Since the bottom bracket is one of the points from which you measure reach, being significantly behind the bottom bracket makes the reach seem longer.
Steering is direct on the ascent. It is easy to change directions quickly to find a smoother and more pleasant line. The Fluid works through sharp switchbacks with ease. Longer and slacker bikes require a well-laid-out game plan and clean entry into a corner, the Fluid HT does not. If you find yourself on a bit of a funky line, you can correct the mistake given the shorter wheelbase and quick steering. When it is time to punch up some rocks or choppy section, the Norco handles well-enough. With tire pressure around 19-21 PSI, this bike delivers decent traction. It is beneficial to get up and out of the saddle to save your body from getting beat up.
The component grouping worked well on the climb. The NX Eagle drivetrain is a nice specification on a $1,700 bike. We often find 10 and 11-speed setups on bikes in this price range. The Norco's 50-tooth climbing gear is breezy when paired with a 30-tooth chainring. The WTB Ranger tires fared far better on the ascent compared to the downhill.
At $1,699, the Fluid HT is an average value. On-trail performance is decisively fine but it doesn't shine in many situations. The build kit is a mixed bag with highlights featuring a dropper post and NX Eagle drivetrain while notable lowlights are the RockShox Sektor fork and tires with multiple personality disorder. To put it simply, there are better bikes in this price range.
The Norco Fluid HT 1 is a wallet-friendly hardtail mountain bike that lacks any legitimate, standout, ride characteristics. Climbing performance is respectable, but downhill performance is too one-dimensional for our liking. At $1,699, this bike represents an average value that may be a serviceable bike for novice riders. Still, there are better options at this price.
— Pat Donahue