You may have heard of Norco and have probably seen the brand on South African trails in the last couple of years. Our favourite link with Norco has been Bryn Atkinson’s videos showing his ridiculously incredible trail-riding speed and control. We weren’t sure what to expect from this Canadian brand when the Revolver FS 100 was prepped for a TREAD test. Boy, were we in for a surprise…
It’s light and sleek, both important for a bike that’s designed to go fast everywhere. The toptube and downtube are squared off, which gives an appearance of strength. The charcoal frame with electric blue decals grows on you, especially with the blue tone on the frame and crank matched to the blue on the new Rock Shox Sid SL carbon fork. The SRAM AXS Eagle 1×12 drivetrain, in oil slick colour, and carbon DT Swiss XRC wheelset complete a classy package. At 10.22kg it’s not the lightest bike we’ve ridden, but it’s in that 9.5-10.5kg sweet spot for XC race bikes. And besides, a light bike is a light bike and not necessarily a strong/fast/agile bike.
Here’s a summary of the spec:
The FS 100 AXS is the highest specced model in the Revolver range and comes with SRAM’s Eagle 1×12 AXS electronic drivetrain, which incorporates the XX1 crankset, derailleur and chain, with a 10-50 cassette. The carbon DT Swiss XRC 1200 wheelset at 1411g is seriously light and the hubs have CINC ceramic cartridge bearings. The brakeset is SRAM Level Ultimate with a 180mm rotor up front and a 160mm rotor out back. The cockpit is all RaceFace carbon. The tyres are Maxxis Rekon Race 2.25.
The Revolver has quite a substantial rear triangle. It reminds us of the generous rear triangle on the Santa Cruz Blur. What this seems to offer is a little more weight, but a lot of lateral stiffness, which translates to snappy acceleration. Norco says this model is 40% stiffer than its predecessor. Overall, it has a fairly classic four-bar linkage suspension design with vertically orientated rocker link tucked against the seattube and beneath the rear end of the toptube, where it hooks up to a 100mm-travel Rock Shox Delux RLR shock. The main pivot is quite wide, made possible because it’s a 1x-drivetrain-specific frame. The frame is really neat with clean lines and internal cabling, including through the chainstays. There are three bottle-cage bosses on the downtube, but it can only really take one bottle inside the frame, although it seems to have sufficient space to accommodate a Lyne Holy Rail. https://www.on-lynecomponents.com/collections/the-holy-rail/products/holy-rail-dual-cage-kit-quick-draw-multitool. The derailleur hanger doubles as the thread for the rear axle, which would seem to increase strength of the hanger and which also moves the derailleur a bit further away from the frame when in the lightest gear – not a bad thing at all considering the tight tolerances on 1×12 drivetrains. Norco is one of the few big brands that makes size-specific chainstays, which allows rear-centre modulation to offer proportional rider position, which Norco says helps improve rider control and suspension action.
This top-of-range bike comes with the latest top-of-range Rock Shox fork, the Sid SL (Super Light). It has 100mm of travel and weighs just 1326 grams, the lightest cross-country fork on the market – yes, even lighter than a carbon Lefty Ocho (1446g).
We had this bike for seven weeks, which gave us plenty of time to ride at a variety of trails, including Northern Farm, Grootfontein, Huddle Park, Braamfontein Spruit, Cascades and Giba Gorge. It was also ridden at two events, an Enduro at Grootfontein and the Sani2c Race. Being spring/summer, we also got to ride it in dry and wet conditions. Here are our impressions…
When locked, the rear is super stiff and makes smoother surface climbing really feel efficient. The lockout is via a Rock Shox Twist Lock, which, when it works, it works flippen well. Unfortunately, this lockout system does have a weak point, which we have now experienced on all three bikes we have ridden that use it. After a while (duration has varied on all three bikes), the cable tension declines, which essentially disables the lockout function. But only on the rear shock, not the fork. It requires the rear shock cable being re-tensioned. Doable yourself, but best done by a pro bike mechanic. Anyway, back to the climbing. It’s a steady, efficient climber, especially on long ascents, but it’s not noticeably fast. Although we tried, we never really threatened our PRs on our familiar ascending Strava segments.
As with other modern XCO frames, the Revolver is longer and slacker (68.5-degree headtube, 76-degree seattube and 460mm reach on the Medium frame) than its predecessor. This delivers a basic level of confidence on descents, but you still need to feel in control when it gets steeper or the terrain throws up some challenges, forcing you to make split-second decisions. We never once felt overwhelmed on a descent during our few weeks on the Revolver – it just does what you want it to.
The front-rear balance of the Revolver feels really good in medium-pace and fast corners. We spent most of the test period using the Maxxis Rekon Race tyres it came with. Fine for the rear, but the front needed something with more aggressive edge knobs for dry, hardpack terrain. A pair of Vittoria Agarro 2.35s arrived for a review, so we fitted them and found the traction on the front to be superb. This in turn allowed us to be a bit more daring into turns. One of our testers set a Strava segment PB down the full jump line/tree line at Delta Park, Johannesburg, without trying to (no tailwind either).
As we have pointed out in previous TREAD bike reviews, but will repeat for those that may not have read those, handling is an important aspect of a bike. The transitions between turns, attacking short, steep, sketchy ups and choosing lines under immense pressure on unpredictable downs, all fall into handling. One tester did a five-run Enduro event at Grootfontein, Pretoria on this bike – in the wet. “The conditions were very challenging, but the Revolver handled everything with predictability and poise,” he said. He finished seventh overall on a 100mm XC bike. Pretty good ‘handling testimonial’.
One of our testers completed the first two days of Sani2c 2020 Race on the test bike. This did involve the rain-affected detour on Day 2, but it did see him spend over five hours on the bike on Day 1. He reported the long-ride comfort was very good, even when he cracked and had to fight his way through the final 10km with no real composure. Why didn’t he do Day 3 on this bike? See the * below…
Obviously this is subjective. But there’s something really attractive about this bike – dark colouring and sleek frame, dripping with top-end components.
*The SRAM crankset broke during Stage 1 of Sani2c (seven weeks into our test period). It didn’t actually visibly break, but started with the left crank developing some very marginal lateral movement. So marginal that the rider felt like his right cleat might be loose. It got worse on Stage 2 and the bike became unrideable. Mechanics at the event confirmed that it wasn’t something that could be tightened, but rather a SRAM fault. It was indeed a SRAM fault as the crankset was replaced by SRAM. Obviously this wasn’t ideal, but it doesn’t reflect on Norco as such. It’s also the first time we have had any issues with a SRAM crankset, which we have ridden hundreds of.
THE TREAD SCORES
|Norco Revolver FS AXS 100|
You get light, fast XCO bikes that feel just right when you’re pedalling hard, either on a flat or up a climb; and the Revolver certainly feels just right in this regard. But what sets the Revolver FS 100 apart is how incredibly well it handles anything tricky at speed on descents and during transitions between obstacles. A true allrounder for the committed competitor.
The Revolver FS AXS also comes with a 120mm travel fork and shock for riders keen on more generous suspension. This is the flagship model – there are more models of Revolver with lower spec at lower pricing.
PRICE: | R169 900
WEIGHT: 10.22kg (with tubeless and bottle cage; without pedals)
TEST-RIDDEN BY: Sean Badenhorst and James Moreland