Norco have never really made a bike that's fully captured the ...

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Norco have never really made a bike that's fully captured the ...

DIRT/NORCOWhen Dan Stanbridge (one half of the Dirt NorcoWC race team) first declared interest in takingthe Dirt downhill team off Intense and onto Norcohe was met with uncontrollable laughter herein the office. I’d ridden some bikes over the mid00’s and let’s just say I wasn’t falling over myselfto get them in the magazine – more a case of ‘letsget this rep pissed up, buy him a pack of cigarsand gently send him east with tales of chockedbike test schedules’. You think I’m kidding? Thatsaid, to be fair I rode an entry level ‘09 bike andby then was pretty impressed by what you gotfor the price. I caught up with Stanny recently togo through some of the changes since their firstyear on the bikes:Dirt: The 2010 Team DH bike was not abad bike really?Stanny: Yeah you’re right, riding wise the teamDH had sound geometry and handled well asa result, so it was a good starting point forthe Aurum. Myself and Ben (Reid, the othermember of the team) are very different sizesand have quite different riding styles as well,so when we both started with Norco on theTeam DH bike, personally I was interested tosee how our feedback on the bike design wouldcompare. What I found really interesting wasjust how similar the things we wanted froma bike actually were. A good example of thiswas with the original Team DH, Ben found therear chainstays on the small a bit too long forhim and was able to get a shorter rear end totest. A couple of prototypes later and the rear–to–centre size that Ben settled on as his idealand the size that I settled on were numericallyquite different (as you would expect form a 5ft8rider vs. a 6ft1 rider). But proportionally if youlook at the size of the rear to centre that Benpreferred compared the rear to centre size Ipreferred as a percentage of the overall wheelbase then the proportions we were both afterwere pretty much identical. This formed thebase of the Gravity Tune concept which Norcohave developed with the Aurum, and the ideahas now been expanded to include tailoring thesuspension performance to individual framesizes as well as geometry proportions.A pretty brave move in the beginning, switchingto a bike that in the past, well it wasn’t exactlypretty was it? Would it be unfair to say thatNorco hardly captured the imagination interms of downhill in this country for most ofthe decade?I guess I can only speak from my experience,but I think it is fair to say that my perception ofthe brand a couple of years ago was different towhat I now know to be true. A few years ago Ithink Norco were more famous in the UK for theCanadian Free–Ride style bikes than the racemachines. However as we began to test the bikesand got to know the people before we signed torace with the company, it became obvious thatmuch of my perception had been based on themarketing and exposure relating to Norco (thathad or had not reached the UK), rather than onthe technical capabilities of the bikes.With any change of bike comes anxiety asto how good it will be against the clock and ofcourse image is important as well, but I wouldnot describe the move to Norco as brave. Afterthe first few rides on the 2010 team DH, andhaving got to meet some of the team who wouldbe behind building this new range of bikes, it wasclear that they were heading in a direction whichwould be very good for us as racers.The team bikes of 2010 were nicely presentedthough, and not far off in terms of anglesand weight?Yes, Ben will be pleased to hear youcomplimenting his painstaking vinyl graphicsfrom the early days and yes the 2010 teamDH did form the base for a lot of the technicalfeedback leading to the Aurum, as I was talkingThe Aurum has been indevelopment for a whilenow, but it was 2011 whenit first appeared on theWorld Cup circuit.about earlier with the origin of the Gravity Tuneconcept. Racing the bike every week, but lookingahead to development of the new range Norcowere already working on, we were very keen inour early feedback to keep the positive handlingcharacteristics from the Team DH, particularlythe balance in corners. That said there were alsoareas of the suspension design and attention todetail that I know Norco had in mind to progress,which along with some of the feedback we weregiving performance wise I understand led toideas for the first Aurum prototypes.Where did the marked shift in design comefrom? Did shorter travel bikes feature the newsuspension system before the DH?My understanding is that this came from acombination things, but a new design teamstarted at Norco about the same time as westarted racing for them, with PJ Hunton andOwen Pemberton bringing new design ideas andframe styling to this year’s range of bikes whichplayed a big part. The principles of the ‘ART’suspension system were tested out initially onsome of the shorter travel bikes in the rangebefore incorporating and tailoring them to theDH bike, but now I think I am right in saying thatafter proving successful the ART suspensionsystem is featured on nearly all Norco’s fullsuspension bikes.Is the new suspension design better?Yes in short. But really you could talk all dayabout the pros and cons of the different aspectsof suspension design. In a nutshell the morerearward axle path is better on small bumps(tracks better and holds better speed) and the‘ART’ (Advanced Ride Technology) suspensionsystem gives a really good balance betweenpedalling efficiency and bump absorption on thelarger hits as well as keeping the suspensionactive under braking. I believe it is all aboutstriking a good balance between the differentrequirements you want from your suspensiondesign, and after racing the Aurum for a yearnow I think one of the bike’s strong points isexactly this. The reason I value a good balanceof requirements is to have a versatile bikerather than just the best on the flat sprints ofCanberra, or the fastest in a straight line over therocks at Fort Bill, so I think this is an importantcharacteristic of the Aurum.What do you believe are the biggest benefits inoverall design compared to the old bike?It is all about the detail, I think the Gravity Tuneconcept is a big benefit. This means scaling thewhole bike design (found from testing to befastest) through the range of sizes ratherthan just scaling the front end and losingthe balance of the bike. Also by refining thedesign, incorporating the Syntace axle systemand using the forged BB at the heart of theframe, that Owen and PJ have managed to geta stiffer bike as well as a lighter frame.What is the difference in frame weightbetween an old large (2010) and a newone (2012)?I don’t know exactly to be honest, but I knowour Aurum race bikes are lighter this yearthan the Team DH was last year, and thatwasn’t a heavy bike.Apart from the subtleties in suspensiondesign what would you say to people whocomment that the Aurum is visually identicalto the Trek Session?I am told I look like Prince William, but I don’tthink many people would disagree that thereare some important differences…What’s the weights and numbers on your bikecompared to production?There have been a few prototypes throughoutlast season to get to this point, but now bothme and Ben have stock framesets becauseall the proposed changes from previousprototypes were incorporated into production.The weights and numbers of our race bikesare therefore pretty much stock. Componentwise we are even pretty similar with thefull SRAM set–up. There are just a few specdifferences like we run Gamut chain guides,Thomson stem and seat post, Sun Ringlewheels, Kore bars and Schwalbe tyres. Therest is just personal set–up, like valving of thesuspension, spring weights, etc.How come it’s only the downhill bike thatfeatures scale changes to both front and rearcentres?To be honest Owen or PJ would be betterplaced to give you the details of other Norcobike designs, they have designed all the bikesin the range and I can only talk in this muchdetail about the DH bike because it is the bikewe have been involved most closely with themon through feedback from racing and trainingthese past two years. Although coming fromthe winter training season at the moment,the Sight (130mm travel XC/enduro bike) isactually the bike I have spent most time onrecently and with having so many similaritiesto the handling of the DH bike it has been a lotof fun to ride.SVEN MARTINSVEN MARTIN2012 PRODUCTIONNORCO ARUMEven though the suspension design on this bikeis different to the previous models it remainsan FSR design. The biggest change is shape andform, and it’s hardly surprising that it’s herethat comparisons are made with Trek’s hugelysuccessful Session. OK, so no floating shock orconcentric rear pivot, but bloody hell it’s closeotherwise. The axle path is rearward bringingwith it the claims of improved speed throughtough terrain, and whilst this may be true wewere equally keen to see its speed of pick up,agility and steering plus the association betweensuspension design and shock.In a previous feature on these pages maindesigner Owen Pemberton talked of the bike’sincreased amount of chain growth or anti squatforces. “If these are balanced nicely there is noeffect on bump absorption, but the bike has amuch better pedalling efficiency.” I’m alreadybeginning to think Santa Cruz V10 comparisonshere way before Pemberton went onto discussactive suspension under braking.The main one–piece link offers improved lateralstiffness, something very important to the designas Owen describes, “It was a massive priority forus to make the back end of the bike as laterallystiff as possible, even though some of the pivotslook quite small and lightweight they are alldesigned to work together. We are also using theSyntace rear axle. This frame is a lot lighter thanthe current design.”With the Aurum being sold as a lightweight,aggressive race bike we were keen to get the newoffering rolling. Here’s the numbers on our actualbike for startersCHASSISSize WB HA BB CS FC WeightL 48” 63º 14” 16.9” 30.6” 38.16lbNice touches on the Norco include the integratedseat clamp and fork bump stops. The headtube onthe Aurum is low and short –110mm – offeringthe chance of a pretty low set up. Given theamount of spacers between the fork crown maybea shade too low as a base setting. The biggeststory here though is that each bike is geometryspecific. This means that each size is madescaled up or down (from a medium I’m guessing)whereby the front and rear centre ratios changespecifically. For example on the three sizebikes we have wheelbase from 45.3/46.3/47.5”chainstay at 16.5/16.7/16.9” and front centre of28.81/29.6/30.6” respectively. A laudable effortfrom the BC boys.CLING ONSTaking in the detail of the Aurum 1 it’s difficultto find fault with any componentry such is theproven worth of each, and combined they make agreat package. In fact there is not one weaknessand we’d be happy to launch this bike down anytrack anywhere in the world. I guess the biggerquestion comes as to the choice between this bikeover the higher spec’d LE or lower priced Aurum2. Compared to the LE it lacks the carbon’ness,air BoXXer and Cane Creek shock. But more thananything I think it’s the lighter faster Eastonwheels that will make the biggest difference overthe subtleties of the CCDB and carbon bar, buthey, it’s a guess.And compared to the Aurum 2? Look I’venot been a big fan of the BoXXer Race but gota great feeling last time out on bog standardKona Operator. Other than that not a wholebunch as they say. Certainly not now that XFusion have upped their game. Although wewould obviously prefer the Vector HLR shockerover the model fitted.At £5199 you are paying over £1500 for a 3lbsaving in the LE, whilst the Aurum 1 puts in justover a pound on the Aurum 2. The key messagehere is well chosen components built around asolid upgradeable frame. Certainly one to choseeven on spec alone.SUSPENSIONWith bike companies becoming (become)increasingly standardized in the sales banteryou will only see me returning to the familiarfields of joy that are mountainbike acronymsrelating to suspension tech. Regularly revolvingaround themes that tackle finding that balancebetween pedalling efficiency, square edgecompliance, braking performance and leverageratio curves…and then adding a quirky spinon the design. In this case ART (I’ve alreadyforgotten what it means).Norco talk a lot about square edge slowingsuspension designs down, which is massivelyrelevant obviously, we waited eagerly to see ifthis resulted in better ground speed over (wellthey didn’t say which) less efficient designs.BoXXer R2C2 paired with a Vivid coil is qualitythrough and through, Norco also say they havelowered the overall leverage ratio to enablegreater tunability and longer shock life.RIDINGIn many ways the Aurum is a difficult bike tofault. Having paired good aesthetic with a buildkit that can engage with the job in which it istrusted and then having engineered a solidunion between suspension design and shocktune it ticks all the right boxes. In terms ofangles it’s the same as many downhill bikesgoing into the year ahead and this (a large)feels good for six foot, whereas say a Trek orSanta Cruz you’d be leaning more towardsXL even though the numbers on this and theSession are pretty similar!In amongst the action the Aurum sits welloffering an understandable ride with noeccentricities in the suspension. In termsof dealing with the bigger hits, it copes wellmaintaining good shape and speed. Speed acrossthe ground is fair, so too manoeuvrability. Iput this less than glowing feel down to severalfactors. First of all the steering feels slightlyslow and even with spacers between headsetand top crown the front is a shade on the lowSTEVE JONES64dirtmag.co.ukdirtmag.co.uk65


James McKnight puts theAurum through its paceson home soil.SPECFrameNorco AurumRear Shock RockShox Vivid Coil R2CForkRockShox BoXXer R2C2 200mmRear Derailleur SRAM XO DH short cageShiftersSRAM X9 10 speedChainsetTruvativ Descendant DHChainrings 36 toothCassette SRAM PG–1070 10 speed 11–28TChainSRAM PC 1051 10 speedPedalsBlackspire low profile flatFront Brake Avid Elixir 9, 200mm rotorRear Brake Avid Elixir 9, 200mm rotorBrake Levers Avid Elixir 9Handlebars Easton Havoc DH, 760mmStemEaston Havoc Direct MountHeadset FSA #57E–1, 1.5” to 1 1/8”GripsNorco Lock OnRims Sun Inferno 29Front Hub Sun Jumping Flea, 20mmRear Hub Sun Jumping Flea, 157 x 12 Syntace axleSpokesDT Comp butted stainlessTyre Maxxis Minion DHF 26 x 2.50SaddleWTB Silverado Race SLSeatpost Norco Lite two bolt seatpostWeight17.36kgSTEVE JONESside. Secondly, also the BoXXer fork wasn’t thesmoothest having had some previous outingsbefore reaching us.For all its similarities on the numberscompared to many other bikes, the Aurum feltslightly lethargic leaving me slightly frustrated.Time to get to work on the dampers, or shouldI say time to phone up Dan Stanbridge andget hold of his World Cup race machine, a bikethat you can be sure will have been agonizedover in terms of settings. It did not disappoint.The Stanny set–up had energized the Norco byvarious means. First of all the bar height washalf an inch higher (ground to bar end) andwider than our stock bike, having fitted morespacers between crown and headset and comingwith a slightly higher stem. Second, a blackspring had been fitted to an already preppedBoXXer which gave way more support.The resultant changes to the ride were marked,giving more pick up, better support up front andincreased manoeuvrability. The bike, alreadywith sound and simple rear suspension design,was improved in overall balance. Speed acrossthe ground was better but still the Norco mustbe viewed as a downhill only bike. I say thisonly because the top end modern downhill bikesare many pounds lighter and certainly quickeracting, more like long travel trail bikes given theguaranteed flatter traverses that are part of therace circuit. Still, the Aurum is nevertheless ahighly proficient well–balanced bike once tweaked.CONCLUSION£3699 is a fair price for a good bike. £2499 forthe lowest spec, that’s only just over a poundheavier than our test bike, seems a good optiontoo. There are bound to be comparisons with theTrek Session. The Session 8 is less money butnot quite the spec, whilst the 88 is better specbut £1300 more expensive. Kona produce theOperator, which again is either cheaper or dearer.I find downhill bike’s hugely frustrating mainlydue to price/spec complexity. I cannot help butlook at a similarly suspended Canyon TorqueSpeedzone for €2100 and I look back at the topend Sessions from only three or four years henceat £3500.With the fastest carbon race machines runningat around £3–4000 for frame only, and aMondraker Summum almost £6000 complete, allwith an ability to be built around the 32lb mark,it’s the battle around the £2500–£4000 markthat’s the most difficult ground to call. I thinkthis particular bike is OK, and even though I wasriding forty pound bikes with these angles six orseven years ago, £1699 for a Norco Dirt Teamframe is a bloody good deal not to be missed.And then £5200 for a top end aluminiumAurum with CCDB running at a claimed 34.7lbwith a proven spec sounds tempting, althougheven the pro bike of Dan Stanbridge tipped inat 38.16lb. I weighed the stock test bike at over39lb so I’m still thinking about the lower endbike and together with the standard Operator£2550 (apart from German on–lines) seem theway to go. Reliable but standard spec, upgradethe dampers as you need. I guess I want thebog standard bike with the better dampers foraround £2700. At the moment I could buy atop of the range Deemax/Formula/X0 Germanonline bike AND a Norco Aurum frame fora £1000 les than a top of the range Aurumcomplete.Enough of the money talk, but clearlysomething that every rider will be considering.Getting back to the hardware, well theproportions that have been sorted front andrear of the bottom bracket is a huge plus incomparison to other brands, thank goodnessfor Gravity Tune! Overall it’s largely positive– a solid build, nicely presented, with a veryeffective, smooth and progressive suspensionsystem. It’s slightly heavy and marginally lowup front (as mentioned) which makes me thinkthat maybe they should apply the headsetsizing in line with their Gravity Tune front andrear centre proportions. Most of all big thanksto Dan Stanbridge for letting us ride his wellprepped bike. zPrice: Aurum 1 £3699.99Evans Cycles 01293 574 900www.evanscycles.comwww.norco.com66dirtmag.co.uk

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