We asked two riders, Lee Lau and Chris Barker take on two models of Norco‘s Fluid LT and then beat them up all over B.C. Here’s what they found out in their travels.
Lee Lau’s biases
I am 155 lbs and 5′ 11″ and have had over 15 years experience riding bikes in North Vancouver, Squamish, Whistler, the Chilcotins and many other areas in B.C. and Alberta. I’ve also made many bike trips to Utah, Washington, Oregon, California and Ontario (for example) so I’ve had some experience biking in a variety of terrain. My bias is towards pedalling up and unlike many people who learned to ride bikes on North Shore trails, I actually enjoy riding (and sometimes bushwhacking) uphill.
Lee’s Gear Shots initial review of the Norco Fluid LT One is here.
Lee getting full travel out of the RockShox Lyrik on the front of the Fluid LT One ~ Pemberton B.C.
Chris Barker’s biases
At 205lbs (edit – now hovering just above 190 lbs after riding this bike so much!) and 5’11”, I like a bike that feels solid when subjected to my style of riding which is best described as “controlled chaos.” Born and raised on the North Shore, I’ve been riding Shore trails for over 15 years so my preference is steep, tight, technical trails. I’ve ridden all over B.C. and sampled some of the best riding south of the border. After several years of too much shuttling abuse, I was the subject of an intervention by a group of bib-short laden lactic-acid fiends (well ok, it was just Lee), and decided it was time to get back to my roots of epic rides with lots of climbing. The chance to check out the Fluid LT series came at the perfect time. Can it be my saviour?
Alpine Lake on Brewer Creek trail ~ Invermere, B.C.
Performance – xc and uphill
Lee says: The Fluid LT One weighs in at 30.5lbs.
At full travel (6″), the head angle is slack for extended climbs. However, put the RockShox fork into 4″ travel mode and the geometry of the bike for climbing is fine. Where the bike is most effective is in seated climbing – the rear tire digs into the ground when grinding or spinning away up uphill making for exceptional traction. During standing or sprinted sections of climbing, the rear shock should have more Propedal mode (maximum ProPedal can be engaged by a lever) otherwise the Fluid LT is too active and will bob and wallow like a pig on a string. Even with ProPedal engaged, the bike feels its weight and downhill bias in any steep uphill trails – don’t mistake it for a snappy ascender.
Chris Barker ~ Merritt, B.C.
In spite of the climbing shortcomings, the Fluid LT One is a born and bred singletrack machine. I keep repeating the point that Norco designs bikes for technical, twisty terrain and that is where this bike shines. This time, the Fluid also performed well when ridden all-out on faster trails of the mixed up and down variety (i.e., Merritt, Island or Sumas trails) for short, sprinted climbs. The suspension is also very well-balanced; I wasn’t fatigued and had no back soreness after riding the bike for extended periods of time day after day. Essentially, Norco dialled the geometry, components and the oh-so-unquantifiable feel of the Fluid LT for singletrack.
Lee Lau. Brewer Creek/Brewer Ridge ~ Invermere B.C.
The only negatives I would point out that is the mounts for the water bottle are positioned in such a way that the rear shock hits a bottle when the bike is used in 6″ travel mode. Additionally, there is no in-between setting for the front fork; you are either at 4 or 6″ travel mode. Riders who like to fine-tune their geometry might find that to detract from performance. Additionally, if you are grinding out longer climbs on technical singletrack where you are maxed out on gears, you will find that the bike suffers and the DHX Air wallows (it’s tough to mask this even with ProPedal).
The Fluid LT2 weighs in at 31 lbs stock, only 0.5 lb heavier than the LT1. At a little more than half the price with a great part spec, you’re paying a lot more for the bling on the LT1.
I’ve rediscovered that climbing can be enjoyable – yeah! Having spent most of my riding time in the last few years on what people around here call a big bike, the LT makes you feel large and in charge when attacking technical climbs and powers up hills blasting over rocks and roots. I’m constantly surprised by what I’m managing to ride on this bike and I get such a kick out of it that my fitness has greatly improved and I’ve dropped nearly 15 lbs since getting the bike.
I like to stay seated no matter how steep and techy a climb gets, and the rear end feels stiff and grounded while grinding away. The LT2 has a Fox DHX 3 shock, which has factory set ProPedal that did its job. A ProPedal shock with lockout would be a nice addition, but pedal bob is minimal enough that it didn’t bother me while climbing seated. It’s responsive enough on the fast up and down XC type trails without being overly plush to bog you down, but take a hard hit and it’s there to cushion the blow.
This is not the bike park. Chris doing some rock work ~ Whistler, B.C.
SRAM parts dominate the drivetrain, including X9 rear derailleur and X7 shifters, and stiff yet light Truvativ Stylo GXP cranks. The cable routing is well thought out, and although I was a bit pessimistic about the routing under the bottom bracket I have yet to snag a cable or brake line.
Marzocchi’s new for 2008 “all mountain / freeride” 55 ATA2 air fork has wind-down travel that can be set anywhere between its 120-160mm range, which is a bonus over the Lyrik 2Step’s “up or down” travel setting on the LT1. The new 20mm QR axle is the fastest and easiest QR I’ve used – simply slide the axle through and tighten until it clicks. When heading up smooth trails or the road, I lock out the fork and set it down to 120mm via the Air Travel Adjust knob, positioning me comfortably for long climbs. When the climbing gets rough, I find unlocking the fork provides for more control. Setting the fork’s travel at about 140mm gives a good XC all-around feel to the fork and geometry and its 5.36 lb weight allows you to manoeuvre it fairly easily.
Chris on a Norco Fluid LT Two, Lee on aNorco Fluid LT One and Sean on last year’s Norco Fluid SE ~ Merrit, B.C.
Performance – freeride
Lee says: As one might expect from my praise of this bike’s ability in technical XC singletrack applications, the Norco Fluid LT is an extremely capable freeride bike. Its geometry (exceptional standover, relatively slack head and seat tube angle) is suited for technical downhills. The RockShox Lyrik is especially capable – fast, loose, steep trails are swallowed up by this fork. The Fluid LT begs for rider input and aggression and responds well when one attacks terrain.
Lee riding a steeper than it looks rock face ~ Whistler B.C.
The main difference I noticed between this bike and its shorter-travelled cousins of Norco’s older Fluid series is that the LT’s range of downhill usability is much greater. With the Fluid LT One, I experienced no hesitation on some of the more difficult North Shore trails or stunts that I generally would be quite reluctant to attempt on the shorter-travel bikes. The full 6″ front and rear travel is all useable; the Fluid feels like a light, flickable precision downhill tool. In short, this bike is capable of punching bigger and more aggressively then its quoted specifications.
Something tells me Lee and the Fluid like steep rock faces ~ Whistler B.C.
I did get the Fluid LT out in the Whistler Bike Park for some runs. It’s a mediocre bike park bike for the faster trails. Distractions such as a rattling chain, stock tires that are prone to pinch flatting (the Fluid LT I received had 2.35 Kevlar bead Nevegals as opposed to the 2.1s stated on the Norco site) and a bike that was almost too light to be sailed around jumps and over tabletops made for a decent, if unexciting, ride. Of course, the Fluid LT is fine for technical bike-park trails (such as those in the Whistler Garbanzo Zone).
Cheap Thrills ~ Whistler, B.C.
Here are some comments on areas of potential improvement for the Fluid LT:
- As mentioned, previously the stock Kenda Nevegal 2.35″ tires are prone to flatting (admittedly a necessary compromise for their relative light weight). The casing of the stock tires had a rather noticeable wobble.
- You would have a hard time fitting a bigger tire then the 2.35 Kenda Nevegals on the bike.
- XTR cranks don’t fit most bash guards. I had to dremel a bash guard to fit.
- The stock Avid Juicy brakes were disappointing. They initially had the infamous “turkey gobbling” sound. Then they started howling. The brakes progressively got worse to the point that the entire rear end of the bike would shudder violently when the rear brake was applied. And that led to another problem…
- I eventually broke the rear end of the Fluid LT at a crack on the seat stay at the weld on the rear disc mount. When I received a new replacement rear seat stay, I tried different size rotors, different brands of rotors and a different rear wheel. I eventually solved the problem by putting Hayes Stroker Trails on the bike. Apparently, this is a known issue that has something do do with frame-brake harmonics and has occurred with some of the Fluid frames. If you have this issue, contact your dealer and the issue will be addressed by replacing the howling rear stays with the new, re-designed 2009 Fluid LT rear stays.
I wouldn’t huck this bike off anything too big, but I have taken it down some of my favourite steep and gnar trails with complete confidence. I often completely forgot that I wasn’t on my freeride bike, and even ticked off some lines that I hadn’t ridden on my big rig. Trips to Pemberton and Whistler gave me plenty of opportunity to step outside my comfort zone on steep rock lines, but I never felt like I was in completely over my head.
Chris Barker ~ Pemberton, BC
One thing I did do to help instill a bit more confidence is swap out the front 2.1 Nevegal for a 2.35 Nevegal. I left the 2.1 on the rear to put it through its paces, and have to say it blew me away by its capability. I was expecting lots of flats but in five months of riding rocky chunder I’ve had only two. The size is noticeable, though, when cornering at speed and I have now swapped out the 2.1 for a fast-rolling 2.35 on the rear.
Chris railing turns ~ Merritt B.C.
Obviously, a big part of feeling in control comes from the brakes. As Lee mentioned, there was an issue with the stock Juicy brakes. The LT2 comes with Avid Juicy 5s, which are a very capable brake although lacking the fine tuning adjustment of the Juicy Carbons (no pad adjustment knob). I swapped out the rear brake for an XT/Saint set-up I happened to have on hand, which cured the frame howling issue. I do find the front Juicy a bit grabby, but otherwise they’re working well after some adjustments to quiet the initial warbling these brakes are prone to. 7″ rotors provide plenty of stopping power front and rear.
Wheels are Shimano XT hubs laced to Mavic 719 rims (same rims as the LT1 – nice!). I’ve been abusing the rear wheel with the 2.1 Nevegal and it’s still running true and strong. However, the front 20mm hub loosened up after only a few rides when my front wheel stuck between a rock and piece of wood. It’s now been close to four months waiting to get the Shimano-specific 28mm cone wrench backordered from Japan to fix it (I’ve been using a Singletrack wheel in place). I can’t say I’m impressed but I’m not surprised that Shimano would make a part that isn’t industry standard. The least they could have done is have the proper tools available to repair it, though.
Chris rolling into Upper Oil Can on the Shore.
As mentioned, the Marzocchi 55 ATA2 is a great all-around match to the LT2, and when put in situations that make you question your decision making, it shines. My butt (and face) has been saved several times when I abandoned rational thought and rolled into some sketchy steeps without so much as a split second survey of the line. I have an ’07 66 ATA on my freeride bike and this feels like a mini version of that fork.
Although the ATA2 is the OEM “budget” version of the fork I found its simplicity somewhat refreshing in use. There’s only one air chamber, unlike other Marzocchi forks with three air chambers. There’s rebound adjustment, travel adjust and lockout via the TST knob, which supposedly controls compression as well but I have found it’s pretty much off or locked out. The lack of fine tuning may put some people off but I found once the fork was properly set up I wasn’t left wanting much more from it.
There is an issue with the TST cartridge allowing the bath oil to leak into the cartridge, which results in reduced travel and a pretty crappy feeling ride. Marzocchi now has a newly designed cartridge to fix this problem, and after having mine replaced the fork feels better than when I first started riding it. There have been numerous documented issues with Marzocchi’s 2008 fork line-up but I can only fairly comment on my experiences with this specific fork so time will tell if any other problems arise, but I’m liking the match-up of this fork to the LT at this point.
Norco Fluid LT One
Full specifications for the Norco Fluid LT One are here.
Lee says: A textbook example of synergistic design; this long-travel Norco’s parts work together exceedingly well, proving that it is possible for a bike to be jack and master of all trades. For shorter days with shorter climbs, the Fluid LT One hit that sweetspot of climbing and descending. For longer multiple day rides and bigger climbs, I might consider going to a lighter, more nimble climbing bike. I realize that I am probably being a bit fussy but the Fluid LT One is almost spec’d too well for hard-riding. I felt guilty scratching up such nice looking parts.
Lee Lau ~ Whistler, B.C.
The biggest problem with the Fluid LT One is the Fluid LT Two. The second-tier Fluid is such a good bike for the money that it would be difficult for a parsimonious buyer like myself to be upsold to the LT One.
– Quality finish on the frame
– Bike handles beautifully in tight technical trails
– Specifications that required almost no changes
- Not much lighter then the Fluid LT Two (only half a pound). Could it be lighter for considering the price?
– Stock Avid brakes (and rear seat stay) are suspect on some isolated frames (this is fixable with replacement seat stays)
– Not much clearance for a big rear tire
– Suffers in high-speed situations
Norco Fluid LT 2
Full specifications for the Norco Fluid LT Two are here.
Chris says: If you’re thinking about adding another rig to the stable to take you places your big pig just can’t pedal, definitely consider the Fluid LT series. Going from a heavier freeride bike will make this feel like an XC machine. The lycra clad XC crowd will balk at this comment, but this bike was designed for the large demographic of riders who don’t ride pure XC but want to experience more than just shuttle lines and still get their adrenaline fix.
LT2 is a great mix of confidence-inspiring strength for when the going gets tough, and lightweight spec for the five hours of riding still ahead of you when you realize your buddy’s been sandbagging you on the climbs. And I just realised, I’m quickly gaining on sandbagger status… time to break out the bib shorts, Lee?
Chris enjoying wide open spaces ~ Merritt, B.C.
– great spec for the price
– excellent versatility
– sweet anodized colour
– confidence-inspiring handling and geometry in both XC and FR/DH riding
– fork is a great match to the bike (when it’s working)
– stock 2.1 tires may leave you wanting an extra serving of meat
– rear brake/frame compatibility issue – not really a con as Norco has fixed it now
– thin grips gave me sore hands at first, but a cheap easy swap out
– chain slaps quite noisily on fast rough descents despite supplied foam chainstay pad
– front XT hub issue…. *paging Shimano…. anyone… anyone?? Bueller?*
– 55 TST issues – fix now available through Marzocchi
Fluid LT 1
Fluid LT 2
Want to get your mitts on a Fluid LT? Any questions for Lee or Chris? Step up to the plate…
To see the 2009 Norcos click here.
More Cheap Thrills ~ Whistler, B.C.