Does the Torrent FS conquer gnarly root sections, float over rock gardens and claw up steep, loose technical climbs with ease? Read on to find out.Review from: By AMB Magazine Jan 11 2017 5:05AM Words: Sebastian Jayne Photos: Robert Conroy
Norco Bicycles have been exploring mountain trails and smashing backyard skid sessions for over 50 years. The Canadian company’s latest creations are certainly turning heads thanks to dialled colour palettes and riding experiences. Photos and videos of riding that come out of Norco’s home country all seem to end up in one place – Dreamland. The towering trees and loamy soils of Canada provide the grounding for the rough singletrack filled with rock drops and root chutes that most of us dream about. Even the climbs hold technical challenges waiting to be conquered. But conquered by what? Norco hopes their newest mountain bike will be that which will prevail. Big and burly, the Torrent FS+ 27.5 inch A7.1 is the higher end model of two and is touted as an aggressive all-mountain bike and looks to put Norco’s hand into the plus size, full suspension cookie jar that seems to be the industry’s next big thing. But can a plus size, all-mountain bike really conquer a whole mountain? Let’s see!
Out of the box and built up, my first thought was that this is a big bike. Aesthetically, the Torrent’s frame matches its use and is big and burly. Just sitting there, the 2.8 inch Maxxis Minion DHF and DHR tyres looked menacing. The subdued colour really makes the splashes of green on the frame and the DVO suspension and SDG saddle ‘pop’. The external cable routing, while easy for maintenance, does make the downtube appear cluttered. The aluminium frames welds are a little chunky and the bottom bracket has an ‘industrial’ look. But as a whole, I like the look. It’s that ‘throw me into anything and I’ll make sure we get out the other side’ tough look that inspires you to ride hard before you’re even on it.
On the suspension front, unfortunately I wasn’t able to use the stock 130mm DVO Topaz T3 Air rear shock but the RockShox Deluxe was more than enough for the test. This bike was pre-production and stock models will come with the DVO unit. Up front is the Boost version of DVO’s Diamond enduro fork. Its adjustable travel from 130–170mm, via internal spacers, makes the fork versatile, and the stock setting at 140mm suits the Plus-size wheels. Initial setup of the Diamond was easy thanks to DVO’s instructional support website and videos. With one of the coolest features being the ‘OTT’, or ‘Off The Top’, system that gives you easy control over the initial portion of the stroke. This means your air setting can control your mid stroke support and bottom out, while the OTT can control the traction and small bump compliance, negating any need for a compromise. Out of all the components on the Torrent, the Diamond was certainly a standout. While other parts may be at the cheaper end of the spectrum, I’m glad Norco spent the money on the suspension, which really adds to the riding experience more so than, I feel, any other component.
The rest of the componentry is still solid with a mix between SRAM and, Canadian company, RaceFace. The SRAM GX rear derailleur moves the SRAM chain up through the wide range of the 10–42 XG cassette, with the RaceFace Aeffect series crank set and 28t chain ring handling business at the front. RaceFace also supplies the dropper post with the hybrid mechanical/hydraulic, remote lever-actuated Turbine. Stopping power came from SRAM‘s R level Guide brakes and were paired with 180mm rotors front and back. What were they stopping? All up, with pedals, the Torrent weighed in at 15.8kg. Pretty heavy compared to a normal trail bike, but the Torrent isn’t touted as a normal trail bike and it really shouldn’t be compared to one.
On the trail
Rolling out the door my first thought was how comfortable I felt on the Torrent. Its Plus wheels may have felt foreign but the geometry made my 175cm body feel at home on the medium-sized frame and everything was where it was supposed to be. Norco employ a Gravity Tune system to all their bikes’ individual sizes that fixes the front-centre/rear-centre ratio which means the rider’s weight is always optimally distributed regardless of frame size. This makes a big difference out on the trail, as does the seemingly less concerned feature of bottle cage position. The ample room in the main triangle means the bottle is perfectly placed which may seem odd, but optimising the little things is how you get a bike to ‘feel’ right.
To me, an all-mountain class of bike should be able to conquer anything you throw at it and this means its climbing should be equally as competent as its descending. At 15.8kg the Torrent is no mountain goat and over long climbs this becomes painfully apparent. Norco’s A.R.T suspension system does provide a balanced pedalling platform, and the low speed, on-the-fly compression adjustment on the Diamond fork means the suspension feels good to pedal. The central position created by the Gravity Tune also adds to comfort and the 35mm stem paired with 760mm bars felt perfect for me.
Where this bike really excelled though, and where you forgot about the weight, was technical climbing – up pretty much anything. Rock gardens, steep loose climbs and muddy trails were where the Torrent’s 130mm suspension and Plus-size wheels really shone with an almost endless amount of grip on offer. Whether you were in the seat or over the front of the bike the grip was there and it seemed there was a lot more margin for error if you got your body position wrong on a slippery climb. The 28t front ring may sound small but it perfectly matched the plus-size wheels and allowed both a comfortable cadence and torque to be held over technical climbs. The Maxxis Minions also added to the grip, and while they felt heavy and sluggish on the road and hard-packed singletrack, they were in their element digging into loamy, mushy ground. When both the comfort and grip combined, they worked well to alleviate concerns about the overall weight of the Torrent. An 8kg bike may be great on a road but if you need to push it up a technical climb, is it the best thing for an all-mountain adventure?
So we’ve climbed up, a little slower than normal, although we did clear that technical climb for the first time, now it’s time for the descent. It took me a few runs to really understand the Torrent and its big wheels. Some tweaking to the OTT system was in order after the first run to make the fork suppler across the smaller roots and rocks as was a tyre pressure change from 15psi up to 17–18psi to stop the big tyres squirming in the corners especially on the faster downhill tracks. It also took some time to learn how to handle the big bike as it was a bit of a change from my normal XC rig. The large tyres and weight of the Torrent meant changing direction or lines through slower technical sections was a bit more of a mission but when it came to faster, rougher tracks the plus–size wheels really came into their own. All manner of lumps and bumps were swallowed up which really helped on blind tracks when questionable line choices were made. Room for error offered by the big wheels on the way up meant you could hold your line, but on the way down it meant you didn’t have to worry about your line, you just charge through.
Apart from large repeat compressions and drops that used up most of the 140mm of suspension, the Torrent could handle just about anything. Along with helping charge rough sections, the traction on offer by the Plus-size tyres meant muddy corners through to loose-over-hard packed dirt could be leant into with full confidence. The plus version of Spank’s Oozy rims performed well on the trail and helped create a stiff platform to tackle rough sections. The SRAM Guide brakes seemed to be a bit overwhelmed by the weight of the bike on super steep sections but the great modulation and grip on offer meant tyre traction could almost always be maintained. The Maxxis Minions certainly helped in the traction department, but I found them a little too aggressive for the smoother trails and I’d probably switch to a smoother tread like the Maxxis Rekon+ to decrease rolling resistance and open the scope of the bike up a bit more. As far as the rest of componentry was concerned, they all performed flawlessly with the RaceFace Turbine dropper post getting a big thumbs-up as does the RaceFace wide/narrow chain ring that kept the chain on throughout the test. Billed as such an aggressive all-mountain bike it was peculiar the Torrent did not come stock with a chain device but there are ISCG mounts if you wish to add one.
Any prior misgivings about Plus-size bikes or shortcomings from the Torrent FS itself were quickly forgotten after the second and third rides, and instead it was all about the fun. Does a Plus-size bike dumb down a trail? Yep, especially a full suspension version. Is that a bad thing? With the amount of fun I’ve had charging around the tracks not caring if I was a millimetre too far left or right of a root, I say no it’s not a bad thing. It’s just really fun! If you’re going to make a bike for riding and not racing shouldn’t that be your ultimate goal?
Norco’s aims for the Torrent FS+ are “Conquer gnarly root sections, float over rock gardens and claw up steep, loose technical climbs with ease.” Did Norco achieve this? I say yes. The small bump compliance of the DVO fork mixed with the large contact patch of the tyres and stable geometry means gnarly root sections are handled with ease. Rock gardens are literally floated over, as the 2.8 inch tyres provide plenty of cushioning and the planted feel of the Torrent inspires confidence. And the up? Well a key word in their description is ‘claw’ up, and you really do claw. You don’t claw fast, the bike is close to 16kg, but if you have the power, the Plus-size tyres and comfortable geometry lets you climb up just about anything. So as Edwin Starr said, ‘What is it good for?’ I think exactly what it is marketed as, an aggressive all mountain bike you can ride anywhere and do anything on.
Model Torrent FS+ A7.1
Weight15.8kg (as tested)
Ride large and in charge, anywhere you want to go, on the F@R - SE Bikes
During recent weeks at Suttons Bay Bikes we received our fat bike fleet! The new models for the year we received included bikes from Surly, Cogburn, LaMere, and Fuji. Perhaps the most impressive bike found in this lineup came from Fuji's BMX brand SE Bikes. The F@R (pronounced "fatter") is the first delve SE Bikes has made into the rapidly growing fat bike market. With the recent boom in fat bike popularity, we have seen a transition from steel frames to both aluminum and carbon, saving weight and enhancing ride quality. The F@R is no exception to this trend as it is built around a double butted alloy frameset. Designed with a front hub spacing of 135mm and a rear spacing of 190mm the F@R comes stock with 4.7" Vee Bulldozer tires (72 tpi) on 93mm rims, a similar setup to that of the Specialized Fatboy models. With rims this wide and a set of 5" tires this bike begs to float over fresh powder. In fact these tires were among the lightest 5" tires we have seen to date weighing in at 1339 grams, undercutting that of the much praised Dillinger 5 by over 150 grams. Complimenting the frame, the bike comes with a mix of Shimano Deore and SRAM X-7 components stopped only by a pair of Shimano hydraulic disc brakes. This is where the bike shines in comparison to the similarly priced offering from Specialized and even Trek's Farley. However, one can talk specs and components all day, the real proof is in a test ride.
When first hopping on the bike the larger footprint of the 5" tire is immediately noticeable. The tires allowed me to cover snowy terrain a standard 4" tire would never allow such as nearly foot deep powder. However, the tire did leave me wanting something with a little more bite as the rear tire did begin to spin a bit as soon as the torque was laid down. As an all around tire, the Vee Bulldozer is a fantastic option for those looking to upgrade. I was also quite surprised at how quick and crisp the shifting given by both the front and rear mechs was. Even under pressure and cold weather, the shifting stayed reliable thanks to the fully housed externally routed cabling. Similarly, the bike performed very reliablely and predictiblely under various braking conditions due to the Shimano hydrualic brakes. On this subject one thing to note it that this bike comes standard with Shimano's M445 brake levers which are slightly longer than normal and much appreciated when reaching for the levers with gloved hands.
However, one downfall to this bike was immediately noticed when things turned uphill. The weight of the wheelset seemed to hold back this bike from its true potential. Clocking in at a whopping 1685 grams for the front wheel, these wheels may not be your first choice if you decide to line up at a local race, although the complete bike did come in at an impressive 34 pounds 10 ounces. For a stock bike rocking 5" tires and >90mm rims this is great especially when compared to some of Surly's popular 4" tire offerings which at the lightest come in around 35 pounds. Although this may be a deal breaker for the racing crowd, something everyone can appreciate is the F@R's use of a rear thru-axle. This was feature was much appreciated as it made the 190mm rear spacing feel no different than that of a 170mm spaced fat bike.
Overall, this bike is fantastic for someone looking to get into fat biking who wants both a quality build and a bike that can handle most everything thrown at it. Racing may not be the F@R's forte, despite this fact it will shine on the trails and as an adventure bike. Coming in at a $1449, this bike this bike is unbelievable for the price!
Stay tuned for next weeks review of the F@R's not-so-little brother the F@E!