Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Norco Threshold Review (Part1)

The early pre-production frameset pics from Sea Otter 2011. Where my dreaming and scheming began.

When Norco came out with some early photos of the new Threshold SL cyclocross bike frame down at Sea Otter last spring I must admit that I must have clicked through those pictures a dozen times. Anyone who has been following the life cycle of this new offering from one of Canada’s most prolific brands will be familiar with the four or five photos which showed off the curvy lines, euro flair cosmetics, and functional yet savy features.

Sure...sure. As one delves into the world of the high end carbon cyclocross racing line up, there are now options from brands world wide. One of the draws to Norco for me is the obvious Canadian connection and the build kits that they are capable of offering at specified price points which often surpass other bike  brands due to their distribution network and buying power. Before we get too far along here I must confess that I have been riding predominantly Norco bikes for the last twenty five years. From Cross country to DH rigs and all mountain machines Norco has been there with me on some of my favourite cycling experiences. From winning XC races as a youth to hurtling down Mt. 7 in Golden BC (my home for the last 14 yrs). For the last eight years however I have been passionate about cyclocross. For me, Norco offers value, sound technology and perhaps above all, exceptional customer service. In my opinion however they have never really been at the cutting edge of technology. The Threshold changes that perception.

The Norco Threshold SL is light at 16.8 lbs, and offers an exceptional build kit with SRAM Force and Red where it counts, Easton EA90 Tubeless hoops, Avid Ultimate Canti brakes, Kenda Small Block Kevlar 700x32 tires (which are an extraordinarily versatile tire),  Fi'zi:k Tundra saddle and an Easton EC90 cockpit of carbon bars and post with an EA90 stem. Here is a link to the detailed specs:

Out of the Box:

When I arrived at my LBS, Derailed Sports, Jon (the owner) came out with a huge grin on his face with the quote, “this thing is seeeeexy!”. This caught me a bit off guard. Not that bike wouldn't be sexy, but that a hardcore DH and All Mountain MTB guy said a skinny tire bike was SEXY. With that I pushed past him to see this almost mythical bike that I have been drooling over for the past 10 months. I was initially hoping to purchase mine last fall in time for the 2011 race season but due to unforeseen repeated production delays the bike was not available until Feb 2012. 

Having been a bike shop manager for many years he pretty much left me with a stand for an hour to build it up. As I went over the bike I couldn't help but notice the key features that stand out from the rest. The removable dropouts are BEEFY with a second set of single speed dropouts should I wish to run it as a winter commuter or race a couple SS events in the fall (TBD). One issue that came up right off the bat was that the dropouts are held on by chain ring bolts. I had to tighten mine on the first ride which produced a very noticeable wobble in the back end. I recommend using blue Loctite to secure these bolts. 

Production dropouts and bolts are black. Be wary of loosening bolts. Blue Loctite cures the issue.

I have put an additional 600km on the bike since then and have had no performance issues. In fact, the back end is very rigid and responsive when climbing and sprinting. While this bike is of a racing pedigree, fender mounts are very quietly and conveniently tucked away making them almost unnoticeable to the racy lines and high gloss red/black paint job. While I will most likely be tucking the Threshold SL out of the weather for the winter and using my old 1960’s Peugeot road bike as my commuter, the possibility to take it out for comfortable all season commuting is a huge bonus. The top tube cable routing is both elegant and effect, eliminating puncture wounds from cable stops and contributes to keeping dirt out of the drive train. Another bonus for me is the continuous cable for the rear derailleur. While cosmetically it is pretty “in your face” the clear benefits outweigh the cosmetic blemish. On my first couple rides I did notice that as a single length of housing, it tended to creep to the back end of the frame, creating a loop of housing between the two cable tie points on the seat stay. I simply added a small wrap of black electrical tape between the two ties and eliminated that issue instantly. Coming from a 2007 Norco CCX1,  I found the geometry to be quite similar but the Threshold SL offered a slightly more progressive stance and steeper head angle.

 My new ride for 2012. Thank god they got rid of the red hoods!

I am 5’11” and the Large fits me perfectly. I invested in this bike because I do a lot of road riding in the summer months along with year round CX riding. I considered that I could just invest in one high end carbon cross bike and shoot two birds with one stone. It seems to be working out in my favour. The very compliant geometry along with the seat and chain stay design offers a very smooth ride with incredible dampening capabilities on our not so smooth mountain pavement. A 200km ride this past weekend was all I needed to justify the new purchase. Justifying the cost to my wife may take a bit more time.

Golden pavement, the 200km comfort test. Golden/Radium return.

The Avid Ultimate brakes were a bit of a chore to dial in perfectly and I soon moved both brakes to the “American”, or closed setting. I found that I did not get any real braking performance benefits and thought it would also help deflect some road air during the summer. Really…they just look super dorky with road slicks on. The stopping performance of these brakes are better than I was expecting with numerous forum posts mentioning that they were under performers. For me, once dialed in, they run flawlessly and without any chatter in part due to the much beefier head tube design.  

Braking is exceptional with the new extra stout head tube and Avid Ultimate Canti's. I roll with brakes in the "American" setup. 

This is my first real experience with Sram Road products and after a couple days of riding them I was convinced that Double Tap shifting is the bomb. The Force/Red combination works very fluidly together, while shifting accuracy and overall quietness of the system was impressive even in muddy and wet conditions.  The shifter paddles/brake levers are ergonomically well thought out and remain comfortable throughout the day. I have had a couple instances of the paddle sticking to the bar when braking. As the paddle and the brake lever move independently, there is a possibility that the shifter sticks to the bar and does not release when you let off the brakes. That one caught me a bit by surprise. This was resolved by a quick adjustment of the stretched brake cables via the very adjustable Avid's. Also the bike came spec’d with a 1050 Cassette. For a bike in this price range I would have expected at least a 1070. Not too stoked on that one.

Thanks to Jon Simpson, my shop sponsor at Derailed Sports for helping make this bike and race season happen.

Early Impressions:

Now that I have about a month on this bike (far from a true test) I am feeling more confident in putting this to words. THIS BIKE IS INCREDIBLE!! I spend 90% of my year on my cross bike. I trail ride it, race it and tour with it. With the aluminum model prior I felt confident and comfortable but the new Threshold SL is like driving a Ferrari through dirt. As the trails melt out and my first local race is just around the corner I will let you know how it goes at race pace. The new Threshold SL is astounding, with a fit that rivals any custom model or bike of twice the cost. It’s spec’d with the best components available in that price range and hits a weight that is admirable for a company that has not always been focused on svelte. For potential buyers I say “GET ONE”. There are three price points to choose from in this frameset meeting each price point for a typical carbon frame bike. For me it was a logical dual purpose bike that sprints and climbs with the light weight road bikes but pulls away from the vast majority of cyclocross offerings presently available. We will have to wait and see the overall durability of the frame. What I can say is that it offers a torsionally stiff frame with a compliant back end and a stance that is both comfortable yet aggressive. 

Troy Hudson is a father, husband, passionate cyclist and cross country ski racing coach based in Golden, BC. He hopes to get better action shots on his new Norco Threshold SL.

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