Tested: Norco Shore 1
The full circle of freeride
-180mm travel, front and rear
-High-pivot Horst-link suspension
-27.5-inch wheels only
-Aluminum frame only
-Enough travel that 27.5-inch wheels are ok
-Freeride is back!
-Some noise and drag from idler pulley
-No reasonable way to go mixed-wheel
If you’ve ever felt unsure about which new bike is right for you, don’t feel bad. We’re in an era when slight geometry changes or moderate travel increases can constitute an entirely new category. Then again, sometimes things are not so subtle. Sometimes a bike screams its intended use as if bellowing through a giant full-face-helmet-shaped conch shell. The new Norco Shore is a bike that screams.
The new Shore is descended from its leggy, overbuilt predecessor, once ubiquitous on its namesake North Shore trails. When I first saw it, I was transported back in time. Not because the bike has a throwback aesthetic, but because of its description, intended use and history. During the freeride revolution, I was regularly riding the longish-travel, single-crown bikes of the time, as the burgeoning category was finding its sea legs. Bikes like the Intense Uzzi, Yeti ASX, Kona Stinky, and of course, the original Shore, jumped into memory as I was building up this latest iteration. At the time, brands were playing with the cards they were dealt, and compromises were made to marry DH hopes with endurance intentions.
Although we’ve learned a lot since then, you might say the legacy of walking the line between trail and DH has continued in nearly all of today’s enduro bikes. The new, 180-millimeter-travel, 27.5-inch-wheel Shore is not one of those bikes.
The most notable feature of the Shore’s resurrection is, of course, the suspension design. Norco has long used a Horst-link platform, which employs a pivot near and below the rear axle, and this bike is no different. But unique to the new Shore is the high main pivot and idler pulley. The high pivot allows the rear wheel to move more rearward, in the natural direction of an impact, while the lengthening wheelbase offers more stability as the bike approaches bottom-out. You probably know this, given all the press the high-pivot concept has gotten lately. But still, I can probably count on one hand the number of production high-pivot trail bikes. It’s been far more common over the decades in the downhill racing world. That’s because there are no free lunches in suspension design. When it comes time to pedal, there are downsides to high pivots, whether perceived or actual.
By the numbers, the new Shore is as modern as they come. The size large I’ve been riding has a 63-degree head angle, 480mm reach and 1,286mm wheelbase. That’s 16mm longer than Norco’s current Aurum downhill race bike, and the head angle is only a half-degree steeper. And the new Shore is heavy. There’s no way around it. My test bike is 38 pounds without pedals.
The $6,000 build I tested dons a number of DH-bike worthy components, like SRAM Code RSC brakes, 200mm rotors, e*thirteen LG1 DH rims and 2.5-inch Maxxis Assegai tires in Double Down casing. Clearly, Norco isn’t too worried about those aforementioned high-pivot downsides which, from my experience, include a “dead” feel during acceleration. I believe this is primarily a result of a tendency towards low anti-squat values among high-pivot bikes, and not because they are naturally unsupportive, heavy or otherwise sluggish. I have yet to ride one that I’d call “snappy” under pedaling force, but they’ve come a long way in their practicality.
Regarding the Shore, which I’ve already fat-shamed, I was surprised at how efficiently it did pedal given its heft. After adding some low-speed compression to the coil-sprung Fox Factory DHX2 shock, the Shore pedaled smoothly and with decent traction. Throw in SRAM’s 10-52 GX Eagle cassette and a 77.7-degree effective seat tube angle (which Norco cleverly steepens as frame size increases), and the Shore becomes a surprisingly comfortable climber. The frame’s long reach combined with the 800mm-wide Deity Ridgeline handlebar does a good job of dispersing rider weight across the front end, which helps a bike with so much travel more effectively clip-clop its way up steep terrain without wandering. Another common criticism of high-main-pivot designs is the additional drag from the idler pulley and unwanted noise associated with yet another moving drivetrain part. Neither were overly noticeable when hammering along on the Shore, but in the right conditions, grit and grime can embed itself into the idler pulley area of the drivetrain and result in a noisier ride. Given this bike has 180mm of travel on both ends, I’ve probably waited too long to talk about its downhill performance.
The first word that comes to mind when describing the Shore is stable. The long wheelbase keeps you centered on the bike, while the rear end chews up rocks and roots with ease. One of the best features of high-pivot suspension is traction. This bike really showed its true colors on steep and gravelly trails where grip is always a concern. Plus, the beauty of the Fox DHX2 shock is the ability to tune the high- and low-speed compression independently. Adding a little low-speed compression is helpful to dial in suspension balance and beginning-stroke support, while adding high-speed compression helps absorb and control harsh rear-wheel impacts without blowing through the travel despite proper shock sag. Although, be aware, adding too much low-speed compression can counteract the rear end’s remarkable suppleness and cause the bike to skip around, ride choppy, or push in corners. Again, no free lunches.
One wouldn’t think a heavy bike with a long wheelbase would lend itself to be fun or agile. For as stable as the Shore is on nasty descents, it doesn’t give up much ground on agility when trails get tight and twisty. As 29-inch wheels continue to take over, you kind of forget how good 27.5-inch wheels can be in techy situations. Then, when you pair small-wheel sharpness with that high-pivot suppleness, small wheels are suddenly at far less of a disadvantage. Once the Shore’s up to speed, it has a planted feel on steep and nasty downhills while remaining more ‘flickable’ than one might presume. For a DH-oriented machine, the Shore rides more playfully when hitting big, bike-park style jumps than a full-on downhill race bike. Despite how deep in DH territory its numbers and spec appear to be, the Shore remains firmly planted on the more practical side of that very fine line. For riders who don’t have a chairlift conveniently nearby or don’t mind grinding up steep climbs to access the top of their local shuttle trails, saddling up the Shore could be the answer.
If that’s still not enough to tell you whether the Shore is for you, I’ve devised an easy to follow formula to help get to the bottom of it: Does your riding kit consist of flat-pedal shoes, full-face helmet, googles, jeans and T-shirt? If so, take out your earbuds right now, because you don’t want to miss the call of the conch.
Featured image: David Smith
Studio images: Anthony Smith
There are only two models of the Norco Shore, not counting the dual-crown-equipped Shore Park. The $4,300 Shore 2 almost nails the challenging task of putting every dollar where it belongs. The Shimano Deore 12-speed drivetrain has, in its barely year-long history, proven to have the golden ratio of low cost and high performance. The e*thirteen cranks and rims have a long history of being abuse-friendly, and the spec of a 170mm dropper on the size-medium and 200 on size-large and XL Shore 2 is a feature bikes at twice the price often miss. The Super Deluxe Ultimate rear shock offers a lockout lever, which is a must-have if you’re traversing up logging roads to get to the goods, and the simple compression adjustment is on par with what you’ll find on bikes at this price point. The brakes and fork, though, may have been worth a few extra hundred bucks had Norco been ok breaking the $4,500 mark. There’s no external compression damping adjustment on the Zeb R fork, which would have suited the bike’s rowdy intentions. And the MT520 brakes don’t feature Shimano’s new clamp design, and can be a little flexy at the lever. But both the levers and the fork damper can be upgraded down the road, and the whole time, you’ll have this sick paint job. All in all, this is a great value option.