On the other hand, if you’ve been conscious and paying attention for the past little while, you’d have been witness to an amazing transformation from Norco that has led to them producing one of the most cohesive and polished ranges on the market today, including this stunning cross-country machine you see here.
What is it, and who is it for?
The Norco Revolver FS, first spotted a year ago at Sea Otter, is a dedicated cross-country flier. It’s everything you need to dominate a marathon race or XCO, and nothing you don’t.
It’s available in both 29er and 27.5″ formats, and we’ve got the bigger-wheeled version on test. A lightweight full-carbon frame houses 100mm of race-tuned travel with firm lockouts at both ends, and the geometry is all about motoring up the climbs and flicking you through speedy singletrack. The absence of a dropper post, coupled with the lightweight RockShox SID fork and narrow, quick-rolling tyres is a polite reminder of this bike’s boundaries. If you’re after a play bike, this ain’t it, unless you make some modifications.
The price point, at a bit over five grand, places it within reach of many keen racers. It’s not an elite-level race bike (there’s a $9999 XX1 and RockShox RS-1 equipped version for that) but if you’ve got visions of finishing towards the pointy end, then the Revolver can take you there.
When we first pointed a camera at the Revolver, we got some unholy kinds of feelings. It’s a freaking stunner, with a silky paint job and great lines that are well-preserved by the internal cable routing, carbon from tip to toe, including the linkage, and claimed frame weights are around the two-kilo mark (the complete bike is 11kg). The suspension configuration is kind of inverted from the standard Norco setup, which leaves loads of room in the front triangle for a water bottle, and there’s a second bottle mount under the down tube too, which will keep the marathon crew happy and watered. The other benefit of this configuration is that you can get at the shock’s lockout lever easily too.
Norco’s Gizmo internal cable system is really neat, and there are spare ports to allow you to run a dropper post too. You won’t be adding a front derailleur to this bike however, as it’s single ring only, but that’s the way we like it.
For such a race bike, the rear end has a burliness that is appreciated, if unexpected. The swing-link is a robust hunk of carbon, the pivots are sturdy with big axles, and overall the rear end is very stiff. It all makes for great power transfer, though the fork is left feeling pretty limp in comparison to the rigidity out back.
As with other Norco’s bigger frame sizes don’t just get longer up front, but the rear-centre measurement increases too. In a size medium like our test bike, the rear end is 439mm, whereas in an XL is 444mm.
Norco employ their ART suspension system throughout their whole range. It’s a tried and tested four-bar linkage, which Norco tweak extensively across the range. Comparing the Revolver with, say, the Sight C7.2 we recently reviewed, it’s easy to see the big differences in the suspension layout. On the Revolver, the axle path has less of a rearward path, leading to less pedal feedback when putting down the power, which is what you spend a lot of time doing on an XC race bike. Overall the 100mm of suspension travel is quite firm, especially as you move towards the end of the travel where it ramps up in a pretty pronounced way.
Lightweight fork: Its weight figures would make Kate Moss pout, but the RockShox SID RL has some limitations. As we noted above, the stiffness of the rest of the bike makes the fork feel a bit undergunned in rougher trails. It’s well matched to the rear end in terms of the suspension action however, and the Solo Air spring is easy to set up. We can’t help but feel the SID platform is due for a refresh.
New-school cockpit: For what is essentially a race bike, Norco have gone with a pretty progressive cockpit setup, running a 740mm bar. The 70mm stem is a welcome change from the 90mm fishing rods that would’ve been specced on this kind of bike in the past.
Bullet-proof XT: Shimano’s butt-whipping XT drivetrain and brakes are the kind of components you’ll never have to think about. On our test bike, the 1×11 drivetrain was matched to a set of Raceface cranks but production bikes have XT cranks too. The braking and shifting is perfect.
Rims and tyres are future upgrades: The rims of DT’s X1900 wheelset are a narrow 21mm, out of place amongst the trend towards wider hoops. Something wider to offer a bit more support to the tyres would be ideal. As it stands, the Schwalbe Racing Ralph treads are pretty nervous – they’re the basic Performance version, and the side knobs are a firm compound that don’t inspire much confidence in fast corners. A tread with a stiffer sidewall and a stickier compound might add a couple of hundred grams to the bike, but it’s a tradeoff we’d be happy to live with.
The Revolver is an easy bike to get the most out of. First up, we went tubeless – the rims are taped and ready to roll. The tyres aren’t the best for tubeless use to be honest (the sidewalls leak a bit we found – another reason to swap them out when they’re worn) and we ran the tyre pressures a little higher than usual, to compensate for the narrow rims and lightweight construction.
Suspension-wise, the 90psi recommended by the pressure chart on the SID was perfect for our 63kg test rider, and the sag markings on the rear shock made it easy to dial in just over 25% sag (around 135psi).
After a bit of twiddling we set the suspension rebound one click faster at both front and rear than we’d generally opt for, which helped keep the suspension lively. With the suspension slowed down, the overall firm feel means the Revolver can easily start to feel a bit dull on the trail, and no one wants to ride a wet blanket.
The Revolver is a stealthy achiever. On a number of our test rides we were pleasantly surprised to see that our climbing times were right up there with our fastest ever efforts, but without feeling like we’d been really going for it. This is of course what you want in a cross-country race bike – it should make the climbs feel easier and shorter. Power delivery is superb, with the unobtrusive suspension letting you keep on the gas when it’s rough, and the stiff frame ensuring all your effort is fed directly into dropping your mates.
It’s a stealthy ride in other regards too, with barely a whisper coming from the bike on the trails. The cables don’t rattle in the frame, and the suspension operates in almost total silence. Again, useful for launching surprise overtaking manoeuvres on your mates right before the singletrack starts.
Descending, like on many cross country bikes, is smoothest when you keep it all rolling. Keep those 29″ wheels up to speed and it’ll silently gobble up the kind of terrain that you’ll find on most cr0ss-country race tracks, with the wide cockpit giving everything good stability. On technical slow speed descents, or when hard on the brakes, the twist in the fork is more apparent and the Revolver doesn’t feel as confident.
We’re big advocates of dropper posts, even on cross-country bikes, and we think a dropper would be a worthy consideration for the Revolver so you don’t feel quite so perched up there when pointed steeply downwards. Obviously it’s your choice as to whether or not your terrain and the weight penalty justify adding a dropper to the bike. The cable routing is there should you decide to do so.
The Revolver doesn’t have any remote lockout levers, but we didn’t miss them for moment. Without remotes, the whole bike looks and feels much cleaner, and we found it easy to lock it all out on the fly anyhow. The lockout force front and rear is well matched too, so hard sprints on the fireroads or tarmac don’t feel mushy or unbalanced.
We think the speed of this bike in the singletrack would be amplified with some new rubber. The handling is awesome and precise through the corners, but so often the tyres become the limiting factor, getting skatey before you’re properly tipped into a corner. Luckily, that’s an easy an inexpensive upgrade.
The Revolver FS 9.2 reminded us again that there’s definitely a difference between a trail bike and a proper cross-country machine. You might be almost as fast on the climbs on your trail bike, but almost doesn’t cut it at the races, so if that’s a focus for you then you need the right tool for the job.
All up, the Revolver FS proves once again that Norco are really charging hard across all categories of the mountain bike world. They’re really on a roll, taking the knowledge they might learn in one market segment and then applying it appropriately across their range. Considering it’s a new addition to the Norco lineup, it’s truly impressive how polished this bike is – it’s ready for the race track, right out of the box.