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First Ride: Norco's 2020 Revolver Cross-Country Bike

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It doesn't have the big jumps and big travel that make downhill racing so exciting, but that hasn't stopped cross-country from seeing a bit of a resurgence over the past few years. According to Red Bull, 2018 saw more people watch racers suffer up hills in the name of glory than watched the downhill World Cup, Lycra be dammed. It sure looks like short-travel bikes are having a bit of a comeback of their own, too, with a handful of forward-thinking rigs being released lately that are more capable than their cross-country designation suggests.
The FS 120 (left) gets 120mm front and back, a dropper post, and wider rubber. The FS 100 (right) gets 100mm, ditches the party post, and sports a race-focused build kit.

The new frame looks kinda like the old one, but get closer and the differences are obvious. The 2020 Revolver is a much more refined design than its predecessor.

One Frame, Two BikesVisually, the new Revolver isn't a drastic departure from its predecessor, with the two looking similar enough that Norco's World Cup racers were actually on prototype versions of the fresh bike for a handful of big races in 2018 without anyone noticing.
On the race-bred FS 100, you'll find a shock with 37.5mm of stroke, but on the FS 120 it's a 45mm stroke shock for 120mm of travel; both have the same 190mm overall length. The FS 120 gets a 120mm fork, too, making it more of a marathon and/or really sporty trail bike compared to the Lycra-loving FS 100. Both are still race bikes in my mind, but one is just racier.
Depending on the shock spec, the Revolver's straight-forward suspension layout can deliver either 100mm or 120mm of travel.
The new Revolver's suspension looks a lot like it did on the old bike, but Norco have made some kinematic changes that have them saying there's essentially no need to ever reach for the shock's cheater switch. No bike with 120mm of travel should ever need that crutch anyway, but there you go. They've stuck with the bearing-equipped dropout pivot as well, even though going to a flexible job like so many others have would have saved a good chunk of grams. There's even a set of double-row sealed bearings in the rearward shock mount, too; suspension quality before weight loss, it seems.
Norco's put a set of sealed bearings in the rearward shock mount for improved suspension action.
When it comes to weight, which it always does with these things, Norco isn't out here bragging about shaving tenths of grams from the frame. In fact, the new frame (and shock) is actually 95-grams heavier than the old Revolver, an increase that I was told is largely down to the move to larger Metric shock sizing. It's basically a wash if you don't factor in the shocks on both the old and new frames, though, and don't forget that's with a whopper of an increase in frame stiffness. More rigidity, same weight, and very different geometry.

Cross-country Geometry Made Fun

Speaking of geometry, these aren't like your dad's old race bike that handled like a triggered chihuahua ready to bite your ass at the mere thought of a shitty line choice. Looking at the head angles, the FS 100 sits at 68.5-degrees and the longer fork'd FS 120 at 67.4-degrees. I know, 67.4-degrees doesn't sound all that relaxed, but it's downright basset hound-like in the cross-country world. Calmer handling, in other words, and in the same dog park as other non-chihuahua cross-country bikes like the SB100 (67.8-degrees w/ a 120mm fork) and the Blur (69-degrees w/ a 100mm fork). I don't know about you, but I always have more fun when it doesn't feel like my bike has a 90-degree head angle.
The new bike is slacker and longer, but that's only half the story.
Norco has done more than just push the front-end out, though, and while they've given the new bikes the longer, lower, slacker treatment, it hasn't been all about getting the rider as far behind the front axle as possible like with so many enduro sleds. Instead, Norco says that it's actually about getting the rider's center of gravity more forward and lower within the new bike's longer wheelbase for a position that's efficient for climbing but not death-defying for descending. It's a balance, and they're under the opinion that most cross-country bikes sacrifice too much on the downs to be quicker on the ups. What if they could do both, Norco asked themselves.

''Our XC team were asking for longer bikes with lower front-ends, so what we took from that was they wanted was a more forward riding position,'' they told me, which certainly does sound like something a cross-country type would say. But Norco wanted to create more stability at the same time, and they needed to move the rider's center of gravity from where it'd normally be on a bike of this ilk. ''We moved that forward in the bike; so we lengthened the bike, lowered the front a bit, and brought the fork out,'' they said before best describing it like a triangle whose base (front to rear axle, aka the wheelbase) is wider for more stability, and the top of the triangle (the rider's CoG) is lower for, you guessed it, more stability. Less sketchy chihuahua, more fun-loving border collie, hopefully.

''It's not a longer, lower, slacker. It's more of a redistribution of mass within the wheelbase,'' they explained to me. But it's also longer, lower, and slacker, too. However you want to put it, the goal was to make a cross-country bike that's fun to ride and doesn't feel like it might fold in half every time you stuff it into a corner. It's worth noting that my test rig showed up with a 60mm stem that I was told not to change out - it was chosen to work with the large-sized bike's roomy 478mm reach and 51mm offset.

Five Models

Norco's catalog is a bit slimmer than some of its competitors, so it makes sense to see the new Revolver only be offered in a handful of complete builds. The race-focused FS 100 can be had in two flavors; $8,699 USD gets you a mixed AXS drivetrain, a SID Ultimate with a carbon CSU, and a set of carbon wheels from DT Swiss. No excuses with that one, eh? The next (and only) step down for the FS 100 is the $4,999 USD Revolver 1 model that comes with a mixed GX/NX drivetrain, that SID Ultimate with a carbon CSU, and some aluminum DT Swiss wheels. There's a $2,799 USD frame-only option for the FS 100, too, that includes a RockShox Deluxe RLR with a remote lockout lever because cross-country racing. If you need a little more cushion for the push'n, there are three versions of the FS 120 to choose from. First up is the $8,699 USD top dawg that gets a similar spec to the 100mm model, but with an AXS dropper post to match the AXS drivetrain, a 120mm SID Ultimate with a carbon CSU, and wider tires. The other two bikes come in at $5,399 and $3,999 USD. No frame-only option for the FS 120, but that shouldn't be hard to figure out given that they're the same except for the shock with 7.5mm more stroke. If your memories of cross-country bikes include being scared of where the front axle is (too close to you), where the seat is (way too close to you), and where you're pointing (close but no cigar), you owe it to yourself to spend some time on a modern, new-school example of the breed. Norco's new Revolver is exactly that.
No surprises here, but all of the FS 100 bikes (and the frame) come with a remote lockout included anyway. The FS 120s skip the extra cable in favor of a shock-mounted switch, thank you very much.Norco put me on a large-sized FS 120 that sports a roomy 478mm reach and that aforementioned 60mm stem that I wasn't supposed to change out. The result of that was a stretched out position that's more racer-inspired than I'd usually prefer, but also not sketchy like I'd expect. It's hunkered down, power to the pedals, get to the top first sorta ride, but the bike's length keeps it from feeling like you're about to get flicked off the trail at any moment. Some cross-country bikes feel breakable but the Revolver isn't one of them, and it never gave me that skittery, loose action that so many ''fast'' cross-country bikes seem to have when traction is more "oh shit" than "oh yes". Despite the trail being more of a stream than a singletrack, I don't recall thinking that I was about to end up on the ground at any point. A traditional cross-country race bike can feel nearly invisible underneath you at times, partly because of its low weight but mostly because of its steep, compact geometry. Some might call that "agile" while others might refer to it as "sketchy,'' but either way, the new Revolver is a different animal. The flipside to all that stability is handling that's less lively and less engaging, but a racer isn't really looking for those things when they're blowing snot bubbles for each exhale and bouncing off their redline. The joys of cross-country racing. In the right hands, the FS 120 that I spent time on could be an absolute weapon. Those hands probably belong to a fun-loving, open-minded cross-country racer, though, or at least someone who doesn't treat every descent as an opportunity to recover.