According to Canadian firm Norco, the Shinobi 1 is its “best-kept secret” for all-mountain and enduro racing. Well, that’s about to change as we take a closer look.
The Norco Shinobi shares many features with the Sight 26in bike: tapered head tube, swoopy top tube for increased standover clearance and ISCG tabs on the traditional threaded BB shell for fitting a chain device.
Out back the Shinobi also sports Norco’s A.R.T. (Advanced Ride Technology) four-bar suspension design, where the Horst link is licensed from Specialized.
To maintain rear-end stiffness and get the chainstays as short as possible, Norco wraps the seatstay bridge around the front of the seat tube. The rear end is then held together at the back by a flush-fitting 142x12mm Syntace axle, where a breakaway bolt secures the mech hanger to the dropout. When we accidentally tore the rear mech off, we quickly discovered that the bolt doesn’t actually break away at all! Instead, it strips the threads in the mech hanger, making the spare bolt that Norco has generously threaded into the down tube useless without a fresh hanger to go with it.
Suspension set-up is key to getting the most from the Shinobi. With a large-volume air can and light compression tune on the RP23 shock you simply can’t run 30 per cent of sag or you’ll be constantly clipping your pedals, even though the Norco doesn’t have a particularly low BB height. We found the best option was to run 20-25 per cent sag and the ProPedal in the ‘1’ position. That said, the bike would benefit from a smaller air can or increased Boost Valve pressure to improve bottom-out resistance.
Norco bucks the trend for matching suspension travel front and rear by marrying a 140mm Fox 34 Float RLC fork to the 120mm Shinobi chassis. It’s easily the best 29er trail fork you can get, and the mismatched travel doesn’t upset the balance of the bike.
Straight-pull spokes and narrow hub-flange spacing on the Sun Charger Pro29 wheels don’t offer as much lateral stiffness as some 29er hoops, but they spin for ever. Let them run and you’re gone.
At first glance the 33/22t chainrings on the SRAM carbon chainset seem a little under-gunned. But after doing some big rides on the Shinobi we were relieved to have the lower gearing, especially for grunting up steep inclines, where the lack of momentum works against the big wheels.
Stopping on your way down is equally important, so Norco specs size-specific rear rotors: 160mm on the S and M sizes, 180mm on the L and XL for increased stopping power.
You can’t knock the Easton Haven carbon handlebar and matching 70mm stem for quality, but we’d prefer to see the wider 750mm Havoc Carbon fitted as standard. Also, where’s the dropper post?
You can detect some flex in the Shinobi when diving into the rougher, rock-strewn trails that the Norco encourages you to seek out. It’s hard to say, however, if the flex is in the frame or the wheels, and equally difficult to tell if it is really detrimental to the ride. Sure, it makes it harder to square off a bermed corner, but the hint of flex also allows the Shinobi to find its own line — often where there isn’t one at all.
Fast uphill, quick out of corners, light and smooth on the roughest of trails, the Shinobi 1 is a true all-rounder and without a doubt one of the best 29er trail bikes of 2012.
We dubbed the Norco Shinobi 1 ‘the cheater bike’, simply because it’s in a class of its own on every trail. But that’s not to say it’s without fault. Out of the box it needs a dropper post and 750mm bar, and the rear shock could do with a little TLC to milk the final 10 per cent of performance out of the A.R.T. suspension. And don’t forget to buy a sparemech hanger.
MBR rating: 9
Frame: 6061 aluminium, 120mm A.R.T.
Suspension: Fox RP23 shock, Fox 34 Float RLC 140mm fork
Wheels: Sun Charger Pro29, WTB Bronson Race 2.2in tyres
Brakes: Avid Elixir 9 180mm (size L)
Drivetrain: SRAM S2210 chainset, X9 shifters, X0 rear mech, Shimano XT front
Components: Easton Haven carbon bar, Haven stem, Norco seatpost, WTB Silverado saddle
Sizes: S,M, L, XL
Weight: 13.11kg (28.9lb)
Size tested: L
Head angle: 69.1°
Seat angle: 71.5°
BB height: 342mm
Front centre: 737mm
Down tube: 720mm
This test first appeared in the September issue of MBR.