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First impressions: Norco refines Fluid FS into alloy all-rounder

Inspired by the Optic, but doing its own thing

Norco’s Fluid FS started a big project for the brand when it was first re-launched. That alloy frame helped start a new design approach, “Ride Aligned” that led to the exceptionally well-received Optic. Now, that design cycle is coming back around to the new, 2022 Norco Fluid FS.

While the alloy frame and 29″ wheels take several cues from the Optic, including in appearance, Norco’s quite clear this is not just an alloy version of that bike. The Fluid FS is its own bike, with its own purpose (Norco’s tagline “for every rider” gives a good hint at what that is) and, significantly, at a very different, more approachable price point without losing the performance edge. In fact, it’s the first Norco model to bring the brand’s full Ride Aligned geometry to bikes priced under $4,000.

What’s new? 2022 Norco Fluid FS

There are sweeping changes to the Fluid FS for 2022. The 27.5″ wheel option is gone, replaced by 29″ wheels from size small to XXL. Yes, there’s now an XXL size, too. Norco wanted to keep sizing consistent between years and models, so this is a true XXL added on top of the existing XL to expand the range instead of compressing the size chart with an “in-between” size. The Fluid now has options for riders from 5″1 to 6″7.

At the heart of the Fluid FS is still a 6061 alloy frame. But, inspired by the Optic’s progressive geometry, the new Fluid is more broadly capable. It’s not a direct copy in alloy, though. The Optic is a short-travel trail bike that is comfortable riding nearly anything, but happiest when being pushed hard. The Fluid aims to provide a smoother ride that doesn’t require an attacking style to get the most out of the bike, but can still be ridden hard. It’s more of a generalist, and easier to get along with, so it will be lively and engaging on a wider variety of trails and a wider range of speeds.

More travel

To reach that goal, Norco ups the Fluid FS’ travel by 10 mm on each end. There’s now 130-mm rear wheel travel and a 140-mm fork. Norco uses a longer-stroke shock on the Fluid (50mm) than the Optic (45mm) to get a more progressive shock tune. It’s smoother and comes with less of the “push back” of a heavier shock tune.

Also new is the one-piece forged shock linkage. It replaces the outgoing Fluid’s three-piece linkage. This aims to reduce misalignment, which reduces shock stiction for a smoother ride. There are also larger, more durable bearings throughout the Fluid.

Ride Aligned: more progressive but not too progressive

The new Fluid FS follows Norco’s “Ride Aligned” design move toward more progressive geometry. It’s longer and slightly slacker than the outgoing Fluid, but not too much. Head angles, for instance, go from 66.5-degrees to 65. For a trail bike, that is on the progressive end of the middle-ground without being extreme.

A big part of Ride Aligned is the size-specific rear-centre lengths and seat angles. These flow down to the Fluid FS, the first time Norco’s put such design work into a platform that includes bikes under $4,000. Like its carbon fibre siblings, there are size-specific rear-centres ranging from 425 mm on the small to 445 mm on the XXL. The Fluid actually gets one up over the current Optic, adding size-specific seat angles (76-77.3-degrees, by size). Norco brings this detail to the “value” line so that all riders could have the same tailor-fitted experience. Adjusting rear-centre and seat tube angles instead of just reach and stack keeps a rider’s weight centered in the bike when sitting or standing on the pedals.

Ride Aligned suspension tuning platform is also brought from the carbon fiber world to the Fluid. With Norco offering several different forks and shocks as stock builds, and a new XXL size, this was no small matter. Shocks are tuned for each size. Then, no matter what build or size you ride, you can plug in your stats and riding preferences to Ride Aligned and get a very solid baseline suspension set up out of the box.

Detail fo Fox Factory 34 and Vittoria mountain bike tire
Fox Factory 34 with 140-mm travel up front and a Vittoria Mazza 2.4″ tire

Build kit: Norco Fluid FS A1 (and onward)

To bring the cost down on the smooth-welds of Norco’s Fluid FS, the B.C.-brand got a bit creative with parts selection. This is partly inspired by ongoing parts shortages, but there are no corners cut. Norco’s actually put in more work to get custom tunes for all sizes, and all shocks. For the A1 and A2, this means a bigger air volume can on the X-Fusion rear shocks and more durable bushings.

Since more affordable bikes are more likely to be new riders’ first introduction to the brand, Norco wants it to be a good first impression. The parts kits diverge from the safety of uniform SRAM/RockShox or Shimano/Fox builds that dominate in the industry right now, but they’re not oddities. TRP brakes, all models come with four-piston breaks, and either Vittoria or Goodyear tires are all very solid, just brands you’d expect to see aftermarket, not on stock builds.

Shimano XT drivetrain
Shimano XT drivetrain and Praxis cranks/chainring

There are plenty of highlights, too. The drivetrains range from Shimano’s stalwart XT 12-speed on the Fluid FS 1 to the proven SRAM NX range. Suspension mixes Fox, Rockshox and Norco’s custom X-Fusion shocks.

All Fluid FS bikes are designed around a 30-tooth chainring, not a 32-tooth, for the suspension’s anti-squat values. That’s both more welcoming for newer riders and, to be honest, appreciated with the aluminum frame’s extra weight.

Finally, all models come with long-travel 34.9-mm dropper posts. That’s 150-mm on a Small, 170-mm  on the medium and a full 200-mm drop on L-XXL frames. Combined with the excellent stand-over height on the Fluid FS, it gives riders plenty of room to move around on the trail.

The Fluid FS 1 we’re testing comes decked out in a parts kit that goes well beyond a “value” bike. With Shimano XT, TRP Trail EVO four-piston brakes and a combo of Fox 34 Factory fork and Float X Performance Elite piggy-back shock, Vittoria tires and Stan’s Flow S1 wheels, it’s a solid build for $5,000. The only miscue is the Praxis chainrings.

On the trail: First impressions of the 2022 Norco Fluid FS A1

We’ve had a few good rides on this green machine and our first thoughts are that the Norco Fluid FS doesn’t feel like a “value” bike. It feels like a very good aluminum bike that aspires to be more, not tries to be less. That might sound like common sense, but it isn’t always the feeling that comes with “value” range bikes that, in the case of the A4, ring in at $3,000.

It’s not the most efficient climber, but it’s far from the worst. Part is just due to its weight, the Fluid FS is not light. Part is the suspension tune. The Fluid’s strengths definitely lie in climbing technical singletrack, where it absorbs and grips over roots without bouncing. Paved, or buttery-smooth ascents may have riders reaching for Fox’s lockout lever on the Float X shock.

On rolling terrain, the weight still has a bit of an effect, but less so. The Fluid is comfortable and fun on a wide range of singletrack. With a BB that’s 8-mm higher than the Optic, it is comfortable pedalling through rocks and roots with less fear of clipping pedals. From flow to technical roots and rocks, it’s not hard to feel the inspiration of the Optic in the Fluid.

Descending, the Fluid stands out and punches well above its weight. The exception of the Praxis chainring, which has a frustrating tendency to drop the chain on really bouncy sections just like it has on other bikes. Beyond that quirk, the Fluid is a smoother ride than the Optic, more forgiving without losing the poppy, fun element that made that bike such a success. You’ll definitely have to work with the bike’s weight to get airborne, but it holds momentum through corners and over tech like a champ. It’s a trail bike to a T, playful and fun in a wide variety of trails.

All-in, the Fluid FS adds to Norco’s momentum lately, adding an alloy option that rides like a high-end bike for significantly less investment. After a couple of weeks on the bike, we’re impressed. It will be interesting to see how far, both in long rides and harder riding, the Fluid FS can be pushed.

The line: Norco Fluid FS 2022 pricing

Pricing does go up from the outgoing Fluid models, but it’s not a direct comparison. The 2021 Fluid A1 has a build kit that compares most closely to the new A2. So, still a bit pricier, but still with upgraded suspension compared to 2021 and all the other improvements for 2022. And, as is the story everywhere right now, prices are – in general – going up. At least Norco does an admirable job keeping that in check with the new Fluid FS line.

All Norco Fluid models are available now.

A1: $5,000 (Fox Float/Shimano XT)
A2: $4,000 (Marzocchi/Fox/Shimano XT/SLX)
A3: $3,400 (RockShox/X-Fusion/SRAM SX)
A4: $3,000 (RockShox/X-Fusion/Shimano Deore)