Updated: Jul 18
Hardtails. It’s where we all started. Whether it was a Raleigh 20, a PK Ripper, or a 90s Diamondback, almost universally we all started shredding on a hardtail bike of some description.
However, with the wave of decent full suspension bikes coming to market from the 2000s onwards, most regular mountain bikers have moved to a full suspension bike being their usual trail machine. Despite this, the diehards have remained - outliers; trolling us on their nimble single speeds; others cajoling us on their 26” wheeled fluro-accented 90s machine, with clothing to match; and the odd hardcore XC racer, rolling up on the starting line. Some even manage to hit the trifecta and achieve a higher level of consciousness by occupying the Venn centre of those three circles in one sweet rigid moment. But, if you thought for a moment you didn’t fit any of those categories - you like gears and on-trend fashion, and have no interest in racing - the good news is there is still a place in hardtail nirvana for you. The mountain bike industry is always on the hunt to be able to provide exactly what you are looking for and, as such, a new category has emerged in the last few years that caters to those who might like the aggressive riding characteristics of a slack full suss, but without some of the drawbacks such as extra cost, maintenance and lack of pumping ability.
The new Norco Torrent is one of these bikes - and we’ve had the chance to spend some time reviewing it. The Torrent comes in two frame materials (steel or alloy) and at two price points for each frame. The A2 comes in at $2499, the A1 (tested) at $2999, the S1 at $3299, and the flagship S1 at $4499. The steel frame is also available as a frame only for $1099. Like most bikes in the current climate, stock is extremely limited so you may have to ring around a few shops before you are able to get your hands on one.
First off, yes, it’s true - and now officially, scientifically proven in the NZ Mountain Biker laboratory - red goes faster, and therefore this Torrent is damn near flying. It’s got that same kind of wow factor that made your eyes pop out of your head when you unwrapped your first bike on Christmas day. You can’t help but smile at this bike. And, maybe that’s a bit of a clue as to what this bike is all about; hardtails have a way of harking us back to simpler times, before we began obsessing about what difference five psi might make, tokens in our shocks, and if a nitrogen fill would actually make us faster. No. hardtails force the rider to remove themselves from any such trivialities, name them for what they are (“bull s%*t”) and let their own riding skills stand for themselves…. Or not. It’s an approach to riding that is both freeing, and terrifying.
But enough waxing poetic. What is the new Torrent all about? Well, in the case of aggressive hardtails, it’s all about the numbers, and numbers that have been usually associated with that mad friend you grew up with who was always putting an insanely long travel fork on his hardtail (eventually he snapped his headtube right?) but, damn, he could ride. We all had a friend like that. Well, maybe that mad friend was on to something, because the aggressive hardtail category is now a real thing.
So, let’s start with a few of the features of the Torrent. First up, on the A1 we’ve got the 150mm travel RockShox 35 Gold fork, that’s matched to a 64 degree head angle. By way of example, the Norco Sight, a bike aimed at EWS/Enduro riders, has a head angle of 63.5, so that’s the kind of territory you are in. Our large has a 480mm reach, 76 degree seat tube, and a 425mm rear centre (chainstays). These numbers might not mean a whole lot to you but for a hardtail they are right down the aggressive end of the spectrum.
The Torrent is rolling on Stans Flow D 29” rims, (pre-taped, and with Stan’s valves and sealant in the box we got this rolling tubeless in about 10 minutes) with Schwalbe Hans Dampf rubber. In the drivetrain, the Torrent gets the value oriented new Deore 12 speed 10-51 1x drivetrain. And lastly, keeping things under control, are the Shimano 4-pot 420 brakes. You also get a Trans-X 150mm dropper and a Fizik Taiga saddle all for $2999.
After a relatively simple build, it was out into the streets for a quick rolling check and feel. Instantly, the thing that popped out to me was how similar to my last long travel full suspension bike this Norco felt in terms of overall position in the cockpit. Nice wide 800mm bars, and that visual cue of where the front wheel sits out in front of the stem - it all felt like it was trying to mirror the experience of a long travel full suspension bike in terms of rider body position. A great start!
Out on the trail and the thing that hardtails beg you to do is get up out of the saddle and sprint. Every little climb, every little straight, you know that any effort you put in is rewarded with instant acceleration. Caution, you may start referring to your full-suss bikes with phrases like ‘Mr Blobby’ or other such names, because this thing just wants to go. But any hardtail can say that. The thing with the Torrent, is that it wants to keep going faster when the trail turns down. If you’ve moved from an XC oriented hardtail to a more trail oriented full suss (a pretty normal progression in bike ownership) you might not be aware how much geometry and tyre choice factored into the feeling of confidence that your new long travel bike has given you. That’s what the Torrent has tapped into here. All those things that make modern full suspension bikes great, but in a hardtail package. So, when the trail turns a bit techy, gets a bit of flow, or you see a few jumps, whoops, opportunities to manual etc, you don’t for a moment think “darn I wish I was on my full suss bike so I could enjoy this bit of trail” - you just rad on through it!
Of course, there are limitations to this. Firstly, decent size jumps. No matter how good your technique is, unless you are riding perfectly sculpted dirt jumps, you’ll still be coming back down to earth with a fairly decent impact on a hardtail. There is no way to avoid this, but good technique can make it the best version of what it is - you and a hunk of metal hitting the earth at 30 km/hr. On the plus side, knowing this is imminent, and also knowing you’ve got new abilities to accelerate quickly as you approach the takeoff, you might actually find yourself clearing jumps you didn’t before, and focusing more on your actual jumping technique. For better or worse, this bike won’t hide anything. If you can jump well, you will jump well on the Torrent, if you can’t - and you need your squish to cover your poor technique or habit of always landing on the knuckle - the Torrent won’t save your ass from your poor technique.
But the sweet spot for the Torrent is surprisingly large. On singletrack that isn’t insanely rough, has twists and turns and built in flow, you’ll be surprised just how good it feels. In fact, if you know how to pump, you’ll be reminded of just what you give up by going to a full suss bike in this area. A flowy singletrack trail with lots of rolling undulations and opportunities to make speed through pumping is what this bike was made for, and you’ll be surprised just how fast you might find yourself going as you use the trail to create speed - and that is a real smile inducing way to ride.
We would love to test the steel frame version to see if we could really ‘feel’ the fabled compliance of steel vs alloy, but the reality is the 150mm of suspension and chunky tires are going to absorb most of that, so it might be hard to argue for the steel option based on performance. However, we also know steel bikes are just their own version of sexy - and you’ll get extra street cred to boot - but alongside that, they also have great qualities in terms of fatigue resistance (think of all the big hits you’re giving this thing!) so, in saying that, for an extra $300 the entry level steel model might just be our pick of the bunch.