Commençal’s 6061-T6 aluminium frame uses a top tube merging from round at the head to subtly wedged in profile where it meets the seat tube. This is matched with an oversized and similarly shaped down tube to address the stresses frames cope with. Last year’s slim, triangular cross-section seatstays have been replaced by flat-sided rectangular tubes taken from Commençal’s higher end Combis, to increase square inches for the decals as much as rigidity. A curved stay bridge makes the most of adequate rear tyre clearance and asymmetric dropouts return with 3D forging on the disc side. Neat touches to the slick, disc-specific frame are line guides running along the underside of the top tube and seatstays. The in-vogue style of the single-coat stealth and acid green logo give the modestly-titled Normal an individual and expensive appearance.
Hiding behind Commençal’s guerrilla branding lies SunTour’s popular, at least within this selection, XCR fork. Coil-sprung internals make light work of the 100mm of available travel (20mm less than last year’s bike). However, 30mm stanchions ensure a solid feel when loading the front end into corners. When the mechanical ‘Speedlock’ switch is in the locked position the fork suffers from a harsh top-out clunk and unfortunately there’s no blow-off valve to save your bacon if you ride it locked-in onto the rough stuff.
Our old friend Alex looks after the hoops while a Shimano RM65 hub at the rear is paired with Commençal-sourced components up front. Kenda’s Karma patterns of widely-spaced low knobs in two-inch guise are lightweight fast rollers. They’re not the grippiest out there, but the point of no return is predictable.
Downgrading the brakes has enabled drivetrain upgrades. For starters this is now a nine-speeder and one of the few SRAM bikes sporting improved X-5 rear derailleur and shifters. Up front it’s a Shimano Deore derailleur and the same flexi Truvativ Isoflow square-taper crank, which is prone to catching heels. The upshot of these tweaks, though, is that last year’s Juicy 3 brakeset highlight has been swapped in favour of Avid BB5 cable-actuated discs. They’re passable, but ultimately we would rather live with 24 gears if it meant keeping the quality hydraulics.
An in-house selection includes a 90mm stem that balances technical agility with climbing prowess. The ‘Supreme’ riser bar is slightly narrow, but its subtle lift and sweep facilitates deft handling. The SDG Bel Air is undoubtedly the best saddle of the test and historically a favourite with us.
While the 100mm fork steepens the front end a smidgen compared to last season’s flier, the Normal stays just the right side of reclined. It’s lost none of its snap out of the blocks and demands to be ridden hard. That said, it’s still kind on beginners until they’ve found their feet. Riders returning to mountain biking and on a tight budget will appreciate the Normal’s yielding nature and speediness. Anyone coming from a misspent youth on BMX or motocross bikes will relish the bike’s chuckable nature. Once again, the Commençal proved one of those bikes that the test team would squabble over in the last few elimination rounds. It enables the pilot to sit back into the bike, and despite tweaks to the spec that are obviously aimed at making it feel like a more rounded package, it’s effortless to flick about in tight terrain yet is still up to being ridden comfortably all day long on an ascent-laden epic.
Despite alterations to last year’s frame and components, the Normal still excels out on the trails. As tired as this probably sounds it has clearly been made with real riders in mind, rather than just by joining the dots to form a racey-looking shop floor unit shifter. The shape of the bike looks right even from a distance and this impression is confirmed within the first 100 yards. It is a shame that last year’s great brakes were chopped at the cost of minor drivetrain alterations. A better option would have been to stick the money into an improved fork option from either RockShox or Marzocchi.
MBR RATING: 9/10