It looks too good to be true
The Norco Fluid FS has long been one of the best entry-level suspension bikes on the market, and for 2019 Norco has raised the bar once again.
Norco Fluid FS 3 review
With RockShox suspension, 29in wheels, high-volume 2.6in Maxxis tyres and a frame finish that wouldn’t look out of place on a high-end Trek or Specialized, the new Fluid FS 3 ticks all of the boxes. It also looks like an absolute steal for £1,450.
Norco’s sizing is bang up to date too. The generous 470mm reach measurement on our size L test bike bringing the proportion of this entry-level bike in line with the best bikes money can buy. Its low-slung top tube and elegant seat mast ensuring that standover clearance is equally impressive.
The sleek alloy frame even has size scaled tubing profiles to maintain the desired stiffness characteristics and handling across all four frame sizes. And Norco takes the specifics of sizing one step further by designing the small frame size around 27.5in wheels to guarantee a better fit.
At 15.92kg (35.10lb) the size L Fluid FS 3 isn’t the lightest bike in this test; that honour goes to the Marin Rift Zone. But it’s still lighter than the GT Sensor and that’s with proper chunky tyres and a 130mm TranzX dropper post.
Like GT, Norco employs a four bar suspension design, this time pumping out 120mm travel. Unlike GT however, Norco hasn’t nailed the shock tune – the RockShox Deluxe R feeling sluggish and over damped from the get go. So much so, that even with the rebound adjuster in the fully open setting the suspension felt lifeless, robbing the bike of pop, playfulness and the ability to smooth out rougher trails. Thankfully, the extra cushioning of the fatter 2.6in tyres helped take the edge of the worst bumps.
Up front, Norco has increased travel to 130mm, the RockShox Recon RL fork taking everything in its stride. The latest air-spring top cap means you can add volume spacers to adjust how progressive the fork is, and given that the geometry is steeper, and the front centre shorter than the other bikes on test, adding a volume spacer would help prop up the front end to give you more confidence to attack steep technical trails.
For the money, the build kit is simply outstanding on the Norco. All of the contact points are sorted. The 780mm handlebars have just the right amount of rise and sweep, and the Fluid is the only bike in test to come with lock-on grips. The real bonus though, is the TranzX 130mm dropper post. Thanks to the sleek under-bar remote and light cable action it’s an absolute joy to use and boon on any bike.
With the 2.6in Maxxis tyres laying down so much rubber, even with the small 160mm rear rotor of the Tektro brakes we had now problems modulating the speed of the Norco. In fact, the Tektor MD 275 brakes on the Norco offered better modulation than the Tektro M285 units on the GT.
We mentioned earlier in this test that the shock on the Norco was over damped, but it wasn’t just the suspension that felt sluggish, the Fluid 3 was also slow to accelerate and didn’t maintain speed as readily as the GT or Marin.
How much this extra rolling resistance has to do with the extra weight of the 2,6in tyres or the rear suspension only working on alternate bumps is anyone’s guess, but it put an instant damper on our spirits.
The geometry’s isn’t quite right on the Norco either. Sure the riding position feels more neutral than the GT, but the BB is even higher, even though the Norco has 10mm less travel at the rear. The issue with the geometry though is that the relatively steep 67.9° head angle (1.5° steeper than claimed) puts too much rider weight over the fork when descending, which makes the steering feel more nervous at speed. With a slacker head angle, lower BB and a lighter shock tune the Norco Fluid 3 would easily be the bike to beat for £1,500.
When the new Norco Fluid FS 3 showed up, no one at MBR believed that this was sub £1,500 bike. It looked too good to be true. Get the Fluid FS 3 out on the trail however and it looks less impressive. Norco hasn’t nailed the shock tune, not even close, making this 120mm bike feel harsher and more lifeless that it should be. Then there’s the geometry. And even if we cut Norco some slack because the geometry of our test bike didn’t quite tally with Norco’s geometry chart, the BB is still too high for a 120mm travel bike.