BIKE REVIEW: Norco Torrent HT S1
In mountain bike design, there’s always been an undercurrent back to its roots, where steel-framed bikes met fat tyres for the first time in the hills of California. It’s in this flow of ideas that the new Torrent from Canadian brand Norco fits. Setting out to build an aggressive, modern long, low, and slack 29” wheeled bike out of cromoly steel, Norco have put together a bike that harks back to simplicity with a current touch.
The Torrent HT S1 is what I’ve had on review for the past few weeks. Built around that long, low, and slack frame built from double-butted Chromoly steel, the HT S1 gets some of the latest gear from SRAM: a Lyrik Ultimate fork up front with 150mm travel, SRAM GX Eagle shifting and SRAM Code R brakes. Rolling on E.13 LG1 29” rims, Maxxis Assegai 3C 2.5” TR tyres with EXO+ and Novatec hubs, this is a bike that looks as aggressive as its intentions, with those large 2.5” width tyres and deep tread pattern of the Assegai hinting at its purpose, to get out and shred, no matter the conditions.
Staying true to those roots by offering no rear suspension in its hardtail design, it does change a little about the experience compared to a full-suspension bike, but there are positives for riders willing to take on the challenge. Instead of just relying on the rear suspension on drops, jumps and over trail chatter, there’s a bigger emphasis on finesse and bike control that’s a good test of skills and reading the trail ahead.
With its 64-degree head angle, slacker than plenty of downhill bikes from just a decade ago, and long top tube, having a reach measurement of 480mm on the Large-sized model I tested, there’s a real capability in the right hands to shred wide open down some fast trails. That reach, combined with a fairly steep seat tube means that any time the trail points downwards and becomes steep, it’s easy to keep the weight well behind the centre of mass of the bike behind the saddle, while the slack head angle helps keep the front end of the bike controllable on those rowdy descents.
Climbing back up to the top to do it all again, that steep seat tube I mentioned keeps the hips and legs at a good position above the cranks to climb. Thanks to the wide uptake of dropper posts, bike designers are now trending toward steep seat angles, which helps keep the reach between seat and handlebars more constant and the hips above the pedals when climbing, lessening the feel of the front end wandering on a long bike with slack head angles.
X-Fusion’s simple and capable Manic dropper post provides 170mm of travel on the Large size frame tested, more than enough to lift the saddle high for climbing and get the saddle out of the way for descending. The dropper lever has a simple and reliable action, while the post itself gets moving quickly and without fuss when needed. Also offsetting that wandering feeling is a short offset fork, the fork has a 42mm offset, helping to quicken the steering, along with a 50mm stem and 800mm bar combo to increase the stability particularly in rough descents, but also meaning the steering is quick and precise without feeling twitchy.
Ride the bike a little slower than intended and the stiffness of the frame is noticeable. There’s strengthening gussets throughout the frame, most obvious is the one between the top tube and seat tube, but there’s also one on each of the top tube and down tube junctions to the headtube, between the chainstay and seatstay to strengthen the frame at the rear brake, and one between the seatstays. The combination of the heavy-duty chromoly and those gussets might feel a little stiff, but that changes once you get riding it.
At speed the compliance and damping of the steel frame comes out, starting to cushion the bike against trail chatter and impacts with its slight flex and vibration damping. I never felt it was flexing too much, but the difference in trail feel was noticeable between riding it at a slow pace vs riding it wide open. There’s not a big weight penalty for the strength of the cromoly manufacturing over an alloy or carbon frame, the complete bike comes in at under 15kg with my Shimano SPD pedals fitted.
The wheelset feels stiff and burly for an alloy set of hoops. E.13’s LG1 rims are tubeless compatible, stiff and light for a downhill-rated rim. From the factory, the wheels are set up with tubes but it should be a simple affair to install tape, valves and sealant to get them set up with tubeless. They’ve got a reasonable, but not overly wide 30mm internal width which works well with the 2.5” tyres, and the frame and fork is rated to take a 2.6” tyre maximum, opening up the ability to run quite a wide tyre for those looking for more traction or the extra cushioning a larger carcass tyre provides.
The stock tyres are Maxxis Assegai 2.5” wide, with 3C triple-compound rubber, EXO+ protection and tubeless ready. These just offer plenty of traction in any conditions. Loose dust, rocks, sand, loam, any conditions this tyre will dig in and find traction. Compared to Maxxis Minions on my normal trail bike they feel pretty familiar, there’s just a slight difference in cornering that the Assegai has less tendency to slightly drift when banked in loose turns until it gets hooked in on the outer knobs that the Minion has, thanks to its extra row of knobs in between the centre and side knobs.
Up front the fork is the top-spec Lyrik Ultimate RCT3 from Rockshox. This comes with the Charger 2.1 damper which allows a large adjustability – rebound, three-position trail adjust and a low speed compression adjust. For the most part I ran it with the standard spring rate, basically PSI set to my geared-up weight in kilos plus 10, rebound around halfway and less than a handful of clicks on the low-speed compression to help offset brake dive and bob when pedaling.
I didn’t get to test the settings with different amounts of tokens on the air side, for the most part I was able to set it up to a good feeling out of the box without making too many adjustments, owing to the current performance levels of Rockshox’s dampers – supple off the top, well-damped and handling well when the trail becomes rough chunder and drops. On the Charger 2 damper note that some recommend a different setup compared with the first-generation damper, with less tokens in the air side and a little more pressure to get the right sag point, this helps the fork feel more linear and perform better in most scenarios.
Brakes are SRAM’s Code R 4-piston units, this was the first time using the revised Codes since the first generation back in the mid-late 2000s and I must say they’ve got a ton of power when you really need to pull up. But the first thing I noticed out on the trail is the modulation, which is odd for a brake with so much power on demand. Tapping the lever just lightly to where you can feel the pads bite, it’s a very gentle amount of power that comes on, and then when you really need it, pulling hard gives a consistent progressive amount of stopping power all the way. Not bad for the “R” model which sits below the more expensive RS and RSC models in the Code line. The brakes do perform at their best with some warmth in the pads, they can feel a little down on power on the initial bite on tracks where you don’t need to brake so much and the pads cool down a bit, but that’s easily remedied with a little more lever pressure.
The design and paint job looks great, the black gloss paint of the frame has been loaded up with metallic flakes to make the paint really pop, and the lettering and logo design is simple and classy. Props to Norco for keeping with the black theme, then the bright red of the Lyrik forks makes sure this bike looks like it means business. Build quality wise the frame I was on was welded cleanly, all the welds appeared of good quality.
As I mentioned before there are additional strengthening gussets, but another design feature is the asymmetric chainstays, the drive-side chainstay joins a little lower on the bottom bracket than the non-drive side, making more clearance between the chainstay and chain. I never heard any chain slap or noise from the drivetrain thanks to all that clearance plus the clutch mechanism on the GX derailleur, but it might be an idea to at least put a bit of protective tape or chainstay protector on there, just in case. There’s a single water bottle mount on the upper side of the downtube, low down which keeps the weight of a water bottle down low on the frame, which feels like maybe a little longer to reach down than some other designs but only minimally so.
Cable routing is all external which I think is a good touch, if you were using this as a race bike or just need to replace a brake hose or complete brake, it’s easy to swap over rather than having to route a new cable through a frame. The dropper cable slips into the seat tube just above the bottom bracket, following the line of the rear brake and rear gear cables along the bottom of the downtube. I’m not really a fan of the gear and brake cable passing under the bottom bracket as it’s easy to get them damaged by stray rocks, but it’s pretty minor, and you could just wrap the hose & gear outers with some foam sheathing or other protective material to give it a little more protection.
Connecting you to the bike is a Fizik Taiga saddle, a light and acceptable option when it’s set up at the right angle for your sit bones. Personally I would run a softer seat for more comfort on longer rides, but considering this bike’s intentions where you may not end up on the saddle very much it’s a respectable choice. Not to say that it’s uncomfortable, just harder style padding saddles aren’t my preference. It does have a smooth finish clean lines around the saddle though to avoid it getting snagged on your shorts while getting active.
Up front there’s a 35mm clamped, double-butted alloy 800mm handlebar with Norco branding and a 50mm length chunky house-brand alloy stem. The 800mm bars are definitely wide, those not wanting such wide bars could cut them down, but I prefer the feeling of wide bars myself. Chatter up front was pretty minimal thanks to the performance of the front forks plus the damping of the steel frame plus the thickness and material of the Ergon lock-on grips.
I’ve got nothing exceptional to say about the drive train since it just worked, the GX Eagle gets the job done. With simple clean reliable shifting right across the massive 10-50T gear range out back with minimal noise or harshness when shifting. The NX cranks felt stiff under the stress of drops and cornering and even though they were 175mm cranks aboard a bike with quite a low bottom bracket I didn’t have issues with clipping the ground or rocks. Just double check the 8mm bolt of the Dub cranks to the bottom bracket is nice and tight, along with any others across the bike, which is just good practice. I didn’t have any issue but they can work loose occasionally.
Where I think the Torrent shines is as a play bike to load up on fun with. Tracks like Thredbo’s flow track and other tracks where high-speed corners and flow are in abundance. You could have a lot of fun hurling down flow tracks, manualling straights, railing corners and sharing a few grins with your mates about it at the pub or café afterwards.
In terms of value there’s a crop of steel hardtail frames out there but only a couple are as affordable as the Norco. Available also as a frame only kit for just under $1000 this comes well under some ‘boutique’ steel hardtail options if you already have some parts lying around, this could make a fun project bike. There’s also another full build option, the HT S2, this sheds around $1000 off the price and drops down to the SX Eagle shifting range, still with 12 gears and the same gear range, 150mm travel Rockshox 35G fork, TRP G-spec brakes and still with the same wheelset and tyres. I think that represents a good value package just like the HT S1 I reviewed.
The 35G fork is a new OEM only fork from Rockshox and has the 35mm stanchions of the Pike and Lyrik for strength and steering precision with the Motion Control damping rather than Charger, which is still a decent performer. TRP G-spec brakes have been on a few World Cup downhillers’ bikes this year and while I’ve not personally used them, the feedback I’ve heard is good, offering plenty of power from their 4-piston design.
Overall, I think Norco has nailed the concept of a back-to-basics hardtail with a modern twist, that will satisfy many riders looking for an alternative, aggressive trail riding mountain bike.
• Great value package.
• Burly and capable on steep and rough trails.
• Rewards riders for pushing the limits.
• Frame-only option available.
• Hardtail won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.
• Cockpit items might not suit everyone.
In the stand: 8 / 10
On the trail: 8.5 / 10
Overall: 8 / 10