2019 Norco Fluid FS 1 29 Bike
Anew model to arrive in the small-but-growing genre of mountain bike that features short travel, but fun, aggressive geometry, is the Norco Fluid FS. We're talking only 120mm of travel out back, but not some steep, sketchy XC bike. Look at it as either a mini-enduro bike or a beefed-up, do-it-all slalom bike; ready to turn, ready to jump.
- X6 Aluminum frame throughout all models
- 120mm rear travel
- 66.5-degree head angle (29-inch wheels)
- 27.5 or 29-inch wheels available on size medium only
- SRAM NX Eagle drivetrain with 30t chainring and DUB crank / bottom bracket interface
- 29mm internal-width rims
- Prices ranging from $1,649 (FS 4 and FS 4 W) up to $3,049 (FS 1 (tested) and FS 1 W)
- Women-specific models sizes XS-M
- Weight: 34 pounds (Medium 29er tested with pedals)
The four different builds of the Fluid FS lineup all use the same X6 aluminum frame with prices ranging from just $1,649 to $3,049 complete. The Fluid sports 120mm of rear travel and 130mm up front with forward-balanced riding position and geometry. Five different sizes complete the Norco Fluid FS line-up. XS / S are only offered with 27.5-inch wheels, L / XL are 29 only while Medium is offered in both 27.5 or 29. Norco says the tunes between wheels sizes provide nearly identical performance and playfulness. There are also women-specific builds in sizes XS through M. Vital tested a size medium Fluid FS-1 29er with a budget-friendly retail price of just $3,049.
The Fluid has clean, classic lines and smoothed frame welds, so it could be mistaken for a carbon bike. The cable-routing and finish details are tidy and well thought through, comparable to the features found on higher-end bikes. The best part about the FS-1 is that none of the parts or components stand out as “oh crap, these must be swapped before riding.” The build looks capable when considering the price of the bike. It’s not a $5,000 or $8,000 bike. It’s a $3,000 MTB and must be considered as such in testing.
Out of the box three things stood out. The TransX dropper post may be short for taller riders, at only 130mm of drop. The 2.6-inch WTB Trail Boss tires are big, aggressive and really squeezed in the stays out back. Norco said that some, if not all, Fluids from here on out may have Maxxis Forekaster 2.6 tires on them. This one didn’t, so this test features the WTB tires. And at just over 34 pounds with Burgtec flat pedals, the Fluid felt a little more portly than expected, considering the limited amount of travel.
On The Trail
Tire pressure and suspension were set up as per Norco’s spec. Tires were at 21 PSI front and 23 PSI rear with the fork at 97 PSI and the shock at 195 PSI. The bike comes with a thoroughly detailed and helpful setup guide providing a great baseline - well done, Norco.
Considering the tires, a fleet-of-foot rocketship was not an expectation that came with the Fluid. The volume and size of the tires were fun to look down on and steady climbs, while a chore, were acceptable when a fun descent awaited. As soon we encountered traversing up-and-down singletrack, no matter how fun, the rotational heft of the tires was felt. Places where we could coast on a lighter, more roll-friendly setup now required pedaling, and connecting jumps that we'd normally pump and coast through needed a little help from the pedals as well.
In the first couple corners, the rear tire was already buzzing the chainstays. That 2.6 is crammed in the back with little room next to the drive-side chainstay, with the knobs rubbed it to the point of wearing off the paint. A skinnier tire out back, even a 2.5, is what we'd recommend.
Don’t think we’ve written the bike or the tires off just yet, however. When traction is needed, the WTB tires are fantastic with consistency throughout the entire lean angle. There aren’t any major float zones or places in between traction. When the terrain got rough, they were mobbing monster trucks, as long as gravity was there to keep things moving. In fact, when gravity was on our side, the Fluid was a hoot. Through jumps and berms, the bike is very poppy, highlighting its fun-loving nature and the Fluid's intended use. Approaching steeper terrain, the slack head angle erased any thought about being on a shorter-travel bike. Though only 120mm of travel, it’s a good 120mm of travel. There is a slightly progressive suspension curve at 15%, which is a balanced value for a 120mm trail bike, allowing the use of all travel without bottoming-out too easily during its intended use. Pedaling efficiency is maximized with close to 100% anti-squat on all rear cogs using a 30T chainring and the level of chain-growth and pedal kickback is pretty normal for a trail bike. Anti-rise traits near 50% mean the rear suspension is relatively independent from braking forces.
The stock suspension components (RockShox Revelation RC fork and RockShox Deluxe R DebonAir) are configured well for the terrain that this 120mm bike will excel on. Rebound was sped up slightly on both the fork and shock from suggested settings, and compression was firmed up a bit on the fork. Adding tokens or spacers was not necessary with only one harsh bottom-out recorded after ungracefully plopping off a flattish drop. If trails full of big hits and harsh bottoms-outs are daily-driving terrain, the Fluid could survive, but we wouldn't consider a bike with just 120mm of travel under such conditions.
While not sexy, there are no complaints regarding the TranzX parts, and considering this is where most riders will quickly upgrade, performance of the bike is not held back by the stock parts. The seat post has been smooth, consistent and faithful. Despite neurotically adjusting seat height any chance we get, there have been no hiccups with the post. The action is a little slow when raising the post, but definitely acceptable. It should be noted that size XS Fluids use a 100mm dropper and size Small Fluids use a 120mm dropper.
When it came to slowing down, SRAM’s GUIDE T brakes aren’t high-end offerings but throughout the test, they went unnoticed. And that’s a good thing. Riding temperatures ranged from 25 degrees (F), in the snow all the way to 90 degrees (F), where we’ve experienced some lower-end SRAM brakes get spongy in the heat. The bite and lever pull of the GUIDE T’s remained consistent. With that said, the terrain the bike was tested on doesn’t require extended periods of braking. Slowing down is pretty on or off. While not understanding the desire for a 120mm-travel bike for regular use in consistently steep, brake-dragging terrain, a brake upgrade to something sturdier should probably be considered if that's your jam.
SRAM’s NX Eagle drivetrain is not light but has worked very well with no skips or confusion between shifts and gears. Remember, we’re talking a $3,000 bike, so the crispiness of XX1 or XTR isn’t at the fingertips, but the NX drivetrain has been dependable and hassle-free. At this price range, that’s all we ask. The 30t chainring with 50t Eagle setup is pretty darn granny. When in that gear, we were almost not moving or it was so steep, we were on the brink of looping out. Slide forward in the saddle a bit and the front wheel stays down, thanks to the 76-degree seat angle. The presence of such low gearing on a big, long climb with this 34-pound beast gets a thumbs up from us.
When the bike price and target terrain for the Fluid is being considered, the overall build and configuration is a home run.
The Wheel and Tire Swap
We just happened to have a nice 29-inch wheel and tire setup that could be easily throw on the Fluid. Same rotors, Eagle drivetrain. It consisted of carbon Roval Traverse wheels with a Specialized Butcher 2.3-inch front tire and a 2.3-inch Slaughter semi-slick rear tire. A GX Eagle cassette rounded out the tubeless setup. We slapped ‘em on, adjusted the brake calipers and immediately took almost four pounds off the bike!
Not surprisingly, on the trails the Fluid was now a different, speedier beast. It rolled fast, responded to pedal strokes and hit every on-trail connection we're used to making. The propelling pumping power of the shorter travel made these home trails a blast. Rebound was slowed down a click and we backed off the fork's compression one click due to the reduction in unsprung mass that the snazzier parts provided.
Now, we know carbon wheels are expensive and this is an unfair upgrade, but we had to try. A quick swap to a tubeless setup with some faster-rolling, speedier tires alone is an affordable way to make this Fluid FS a true, all-around hauling machine. With the spruced up wheels and tires on it, the Fluid is the perfect daily driver for the singletrack and bike park features in our tester's neck of the woods.
If we were headed to Whistler, we'd have no problem riding the Fluid even though it's not a full-on enduro rig. Ideally, we'd use a 2.3 tire combo with a semi-slick rear for the jump trails and the 2.6 WTB’s (or something similar) for the natural trails of Whistler. On the natural blue trails of Whistler and even some of the blacks, this bike would be a blast to ride, stable enough and sturdy enough to tackle that type of terrain. Sure, this bike will eventually run out of suspension in a place like Whistler, but we just want to stress again how capable we feel it is as it sits.
Things That Could Be Improved?
We believe the heft and tread pattern of the tires is a bit much for most riders looking for a bike with 120mm of travel. On select pieces of gravity-fed terrain, the tires shine, but for the wider market, we would opt for something a bit lighter and faster rolling. Even if the bulk and aggression of the tire is appreciated by someone buying the Fluid, swapping to a narrower tire out back is required. The 2.6-inch WTB tire spec'd on the rear of the bike was too wide, and we experienced tire rub on the driveside chainstay which actually resulted in paint removal.
Who Is The Norco Fluid FS For?
Experienced, long-time riders who hate spending money but want a modern, extremely capable trail bike, will revel in the geometry, ride quality and spec of the Fluid. The rider ready to make the jump from Walmart bike to legit mountain bike will be extremely satisfied as they begin to explore the adventure of real mountain biking. Anyone desiring more all-around fun on the trails compared to what a delicate cross country bike provides should also consider the Fluid.
Flowy, jumpy terrain is what the Fluid wants. Aggressive, nasty terrain is what the Fluid ain’t scared of. Where the enduro bike is overkill and the cross country bike is nerve-wracking, the Fluid is right at home. Visit norco.com for all the info on the FLUID FS line of mountain bike.
Vital MTB Rating
- Climbing: 4 stars - Excellent
- Descending: 4.5 stars - Outstanding
- Fun Factor: 5 stars - Spectacular
- Value: 4.5 stars - Outstanding
- Overall Impression: 4.5 stars - Outstanding
About The Reviewer
Shawn Spomer – Age: Don't Ask // Years Riding: 23 // Height: 5’9” // Weight: 196.234-pounds
Shawn is Content Director of Vital MTB. When he's not avoiding Instagram like the plague, he's trying to grill guests on The Inside Line podcast or get laps on the trails near Boise, Idaho. A former race videographer and photographer, he started Litter "Mega"zine in 2003 and has somehow stuck around to make a living in this industry.