Bike Check: Norco Revolver Hardtail team builds

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With two new Norco Revolver hardtails added to the service course, it is worth asking what role does a hardtail play in the mountain bike world? The humble hardtail is often seen as the bike for beginners, for family riders, and for ‘cross-country’. A hardtail can also be seen as a race-only bike, a marathon bike, a dirt jump bike, bikepacking bike, hill climb bike and recently even a gravel bike!

Hardtails are all of those things. But it’s the nuances of geometry, frame materials and parts choice that can make one hardtail very different to another. Five years ago we explained why the hardtail isn’t dead. And while there are newer models much of the reasons remain the same.

Replacing our Norco Revolver team hardtails

In late 2016 Imogen Smith and I revamped our bike collection, adding a new Revolver FS and Revolver hardtail each. They had Fox 32 SC forks, carbon wheels with Maxxis tyres, XTR M9000 and Mt Zoom parts. They were painfully matchy-matchy!

Norco Revolver team bike MarathonMTB
There’s no denying it’s a sweet collection of bikes.

My relationship with that particular hardtail was one of love and hate. I loved the simplicity of the hardtail. I did end up putting Di2 2×11 on it, and then made it 1×11, and even specced a 100mm dropper post for a short time. I could run two bottles and the geometry was close to that of my full-suspension Revolver.

But, there wasn’t much tyre clearance. 2.25″ was really the largest that could go in and you had to hope for no mud. And while the hardtail and full-suspension shared a model name and colour, the bottom bracket standard, derailleur hanger and seatpost diameter were all different. And unfortunately – the frames just weren’t that light. Mine came in at over 1.6kg in a large, without a through axle or any hardware.

The new Revolver FS bikes proved themselves at the Swiss Epic.

After buying and building the new 2020 Norco Revolver FS frames last year, the differences between our hardtails and full-suspension bikes was huge. There was over two degrees difference in the seat and head angles, centimetres difference in reach, and of course one bike was boost and one was not, and one bike used 12-speed Shimano XTR while the other used 11-speed. This all makes keeping some spares on hand a bit of a nightmare, and pushed our hardtails into more of a gravel bike than a mountain bike. The new full-suspension bikes really had a far more advanced ride on the trails.

However for Imogen and I, having a good hardtail for the long forest road rides, and as a general riding and training bike is really important. We ride straight from our door, and we have a lot of multi-use trails and offroad climbs nearby, as opposed to technical singletrack. So the hardtail is king. And one that shares the geometry of our full-suspension bikes is even better!

“When I was training for the Cape Epic I rode my hardtail for 80% of the rides. It adds a great technical element to all your off-road riding, while being efficient on the climbs,” says Imogen.

“It will be really fun to get on the new hardtails with the more aggressive geometry and dropper post. I may well use this one for a marathon race soon. I hope more people see the R&D that goes into geometry, dropper posts and bike fit makes hardtails more exciting to ride and race.”

Building the new Revolver hardtails

These were a bit of a secret launch by Norco. I had seen their Factory Team racing them, and waited patiently for some news. Until one day I realised they were already out in stores! Here in Australia we only get one model, the Norco HT 1 120. The frame is the same as all the other carbon models, but this came stock with a 120mm fork and trail wheels, and a long dropper post. We were really only after a frame, but our option was to buy these and strip the parts off.

The frames have a lot more clearance, which is a huge bonus as rim and tyre standards get a bit wider. They can take up to a 2.35″ tyre, the same as our full-suspension bikes. I have been using Maxxis Ikon 2.35″ and Maxxis Rekon Race 2.35″ in the rear of my FS recently, with both 25.5mm and 29mm internal rims. And it’s awesome, so I’m glad this is something we can do on the hardtails as well.

Like the full-suspension Revolver, the routing is internal, using the belly button plug beneath the downtube, and the wide ports at the head tube.

The housing and hose runs through the zip tie here, preventing a lot of the rattle the older frames had.
No cable rub here!
The rear hose routing goes right to the caliper. No silly loops!

The rear axle is recessed into the frame, and the post brake mount sits inside the triangle. Which as anyone knows, makes adjusting a little tricky!

The axle threads into the derailleur hanger and this makes a pretty stiff platform for shifting. Although I did need to swap out the stock one for the supplied spare, as the threads bottomed out before the axle was tight.

Weight wise, the large frame is 1.38kg with the axle, bidon bolts and seat clamp. The medium is 1.34kg. A rought surprise on the medium is that it can only take one bottle, with no second set of bosses on the seat tube. Given the low standover height, there just mustn’t be enough real estate.

Drivetrain spec

With Shimano XTR M9100 adorning our full-suspension bikes, 12-speed was the answer for our hardtails, as we already had some spare wheels and a couple of other spares. We opted for a mostly Shimano Deore XT M8100 as it’s a little cheaper and barely noticeable for performance differences. We do have XTR M9100 rear derailleurs (as hey, that’s what people look at) and crank sets. These cranks will move to our full-suspension bikes once we sort out some new power meters for this crank interface.

The drivetrain is a mix od Shimano XTR M9100 and Deore XT M8100.

I swapped to Shimano in 2012 due to global parts availability being better. So when building some team bikes at the time, it was just easier to build them around XT/XTR (in 2×10!) as I knew we could easily get compatible chains, brake pads, cassettes and more at some of the target events we were doing in Europe that year. So while both SRAM and Shimano have leading 12-speed group sets, it really suits sticking to one for the team.

Team bikes circa 2012.

Additionally, the new Hyperglide Plus shifting is the fastest I have used, with how the chain and cassette interact to shift so securely under load. They actually shift better the harder you’re pushing, and you can shift to a higher gear a few at a time. This is such a great feature for racing.

In terms of weight, the cranks and cassette are the biggest differences – and the easiest for us to change if we wanted to race these hardtails. Sliding race wheels in with an XTR cassette and having the XTR cranks on would net a good saving for a race where overall weight was a great concern.

We both have 10-51 cassettes fitted. I have a 36t chain ring and Imogen has a 34t.

How about that tall chainstay! The cable outer by passes this part externally given how narrow it is.

Suspension fork choices

We’re big fans of Fox forks, and have used them for the team since 2012. They’re plush, stiff and have reliable performance and seals. That’s just about everything we’re after for a fork.

In 2019 Imogen and I bought Fox 34 SC 120mm forks to complement our full-suspension bikes, along with a longer stroke rear shock. The Norco Revolver FS design could adapt for 100 or 120mm travel, so we wanted to invest to take advantage of that.

Running 120mm on our Revolvers for a holiday in Tasmania was a lot of fun.

While we have some new Fox 32 SC forks on order (push to unlock and reduced offset, like on our full-suspension Revolver) they’re not here yet. So, Imogen has her 34 SC fitted, meaning she has her short 60mm Syntace Liteforce stem slammed on the bearing cover.

I have my 32 SC, which is showing some battle scars. I’ve got a different fork on my FS currently for a test.

While we can swap between forks, I think once we have the new Fox 32 SC arrive they probably won’t be removed except for servicing.

And the colour? Sure, a black fork would look good as well. But the orange is hot. “Matches nothing, goes with everything” as a local suspension specialist says.

We are using the under the bar remotes the same as on our full-suspension bikes. And of course, dropper levers.

Dropper posts

Why use a dropper? Well, we use them on our full-suspension bikes. So seeing as the internal routing option is there and easy, and the geometry of the bike is the same – why take away this major element?

I have the stock X-Fusion Manic 150mm post.

Having a dropper post can help keep your weight more balanced on your bike. Yes, that can mean getting off the back of the seat, but mostly it’s about keeping your weight balanced between the contact points on the ground. That’s the basis of Norco’s Ride Aligned fit system, aiming to keep a rider’s balance point equal when riding and managing the centre of gravity. And a dropper post helps with that.

Imogen uses her KS Lev Ci 125mm drop post. Funnily enough bought for her last hardtail, so it has a 30.9-31.6mm shim.

Tyre choices

We have 6 pairs of wheels for four Norco Revolvers, so mostly we have some different setups to swap in and out. Although seeing I use a 180mm front rotor and Imogen doesn’t, there isn’t too much direct swapping going on.

We usually have a deeper tread front tyre and lower tread rear. Such as Rekon front, Ikon rear. or Rekon front, Rekon Race rear. Aspens are a favourite but their low tread height makes them best suited to racing otherwise they wear down a bit quick.

And the total weights? Both come in below 10kg, but we’ll update that once the forks are settled. If you have any more questions, put them in a comment below.

Thanks to Shimano Australia, KWT Imports (Maxxis), Sola Sport (Fox), Mount Zoom Racing, Norco Bikes Australia and EightOne Spices for the help in getting these new Norco Revolver hardtails together.

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