Norco Torrent: Steel is real… real good.
I need to start this one off with a caveat. I’m not a hardtail connoisseur (Two sentences in and I’ve already used the thesaurus twice) but I like mountain bikes and have a pretty decent grasp on the nuances between them. So, I still feel somewhat qualified to talk about a bike without rear suspension. If you have an issue with that, take it up with HR.
Boring disclaimers out of the way. The 2020 Norco Torrent is far from a run-of-the-mill mountain bike. First, it’s an
aggressive very aggressive hardtail. Second, it is made out of steel. Finally, it’s bright freaking purple. This one caught me off guard a little bit. I didn’t know I could ever feel so confortable on a bike without rear suspension. Read on to find out why.
Norco Torrent Sizing, geometry and money stuff
I’m still a tall lanky guy with a generous helping of legs. I’m 6’2” and normally ride XL bikes. The Torrent is a really big bike. A size XL has a whopping 510mm reach and a 1277mm wheelbase. Those number are very XL. I rarely find a bike that feels too big. The XL Torrent is about the upper end if what I can ride comfortably. I’ve ridden other bikes with reach numbers in the 510-515 range, but the Torrent being a hardtail feels bigger. If you think about it, as you sit on a full suspension bike, you sag into the rear travel effectively bringing the head tube closer and making the front of the bike a bit shorter. Without rear suspension, there’s no sag on the Torrent. You get every last bit of the 510mm reach. Not saying this is a bad thing, just something to keep in mind.
A lot of hardtails get dumbed down when it comes to geometry — not so with the Torrent. Think of it as a 0mm rear travel all-mountain bike. Don’t let the lack of rear suspension fool you, it will ride all the hard trails you want it to. It has a 64° head tube angle with a stock 150mm fork — that number means business. The Torrent feels at home in steep and chunky trails. The seat tube is short so you can run a looong travel dropper. The chainstays are nice and tucked in at 425mm on an XL.
The really standout feature here is the steep seat tube angle. If you’ve ever read any of my reviews you’ll know I’m a big fan. The Torrent’s seat tube angle is 76 degrees. Hardtails can generally get away with a little slacker seat tube for the same reason the reach feels longer. There’s no rear suspension to sag into. Normally when you sit on a full suspension bike, your seat tube angle effectively gets slacker. If you need an example to wrap your head around this, go push down on the saddle of your full suspension bike. Pay attention to where the saddle is in relation to the bottom bracket. What happens? The saddle moves backwards. Full suspension bikes will employ a steeper seat tube angle to counteract this effect — hardtails don’t need to. Norco said, “Screw it, we’re going steep.” Or at least that’s how I imagine the meeting went. The picture I’m trying to paint here, is this isn’t your normal hardtail.
A Torrent frame will set you back $800 and the top-shelf complete build runs $3150. Most full squish frame-only options will cost you that much. The build I rode for this review was a custom, frame-up option with a whole bunch of carbon bits from ENVE.
Not being a hardtail die-hard, I just assumed every hardtail climbed like a mountain goat. While some part of that is true, the Torrent isn’t exactly a rocket ship uphill. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not slow, it’s just maybe not as quick as I thought it would be. I’ve ridden full-squish bikes with generous amounts of travel that climb with more zip than the Torrent. After thinking about it for a minute, I realized it’s because the Torrent isn’t made to be fast uphill. Duh, it has a 64° head tube and is made from steel (heavy.) It obviously pedals efficiently with zero rear suspension and the seat tube angle puts you in a good position to get power through the pedals — two features I really enjoy.
On the smooth and fast parts of the climb, the Torrent rode very well. When the terrain got steeper and bumpier, I noticed I didn’t have the traction or control that I’d have on a full squish bike. Without rear travel, the back end tends to bounce off rocks instead of absorbing the impact. It can reduce the amount of traction you have and make technical climbing a little harder. I really had to pay attention to my positioning to keep traction on both wheels.
We’re about to get nerdy about bike geometry again. With a long reach (front center), short chainstays and a slack head tube angle, your weight tends to be a little more rearward on the bike. That can make the front end feel a little light and wandery when the climbing gets steep. The steep seat tube helps counteract this a bit, but I did notice the front wheel lifting on the steeper pitches. Adjusting your positioning on the bike helps keep that front wheel down.
I guess what I’m getting at here is, if you want a hardtail because it climbs incredibly well, this isn’t the one you want. If you want a hardtail to go ride tough downhills and get after it, this is the one you want. More on that below.
I’m going to start this part off with a bold statement. I’ve never felt more comfortable on a hardtail than when I was on the Torrent. There, I said it. It’s the most stable, confident and fun hardtail I’ve ridden. I never felt outgunned or like I could use the bike as an excuse to back down from a feature. Over the course of my test ride, I hit a 6 foot drop multiple times without any drama. I’ve been nervous to hit that drop on certain full squish bikes in the past — that’s saying a lot. The Torrent feels stout and tough. Nothing about it makes you feel like you can’t get after it.
The geometry really comes into its own on the descents. All the things that hold the bike back on the climbs are what make it shine on the DH. The slack head tube angle puts that front wheel way out in front of you, giving you metric tons of confidence. The long wheelbase keeps things stable at speed and the short chainstays make it easy to get the bike around a corner. The 150mm fork doesn’t feel too long. I was originally concerned that 150mm of fork travel paired with 0mm of rear travel would feel very unbalanced. My concerns were settled after my first lap aboard the Torrent. Sure, it’s not quite as balanced as a full suspension bike, but I wouldn’t want a shorter fork for aggressive trail riding.
Aside from the long wheelbase and reach, the steel frame helps keep the ride quiet too. Steel tends to “ride softer” than aluminum or carbon. It flexes in all the right ways to make the ride smooth and controlled. Over bumpy sections on the trail the bike skipped around way less than I thought it would. It almost feels like you’re riding with your tires a few PSI lower or the suspension is performing better. I attribute quite a bit of that quiet, stable ride to the steel frame.
Jumping on the Torrent is probably my favorite part. Without rear suspension, all of your energy on the lip of a jump is converted into airtime — nothing is lost. It’s a lot easier to clear jumps, even if it’s a little more intimidating. A hardtail will let you know when you’ve messed up — they’re way less forgiving of you casing jumps. Go fast and pull hard.
On the downhills, the Torrent is very lively. It’s quick to bunny hop, change lines and get around a corner. It makes for a very engaging ride. Unlike a full suspension bike, there’s no vague feeling on the trail. You know exactly where your tires are at all times. It’s a different sensation, but something I rather enjoy. A bike that feels more like a waterbed can make easier trails kind of slow and boring. The Torrent makes all trails fun and exciting.
Full squish vs Norco Torrent
I imagine that most of you reading this are similar to me in that most of your biking time is on a full suspension bike. Before riding the Torrent I never thought a hardtail could ride as well as my everyday bike. I always thought hardtails were for goofy folks who didn’t like having any fun. I’ve since learned that’s not the case. The Torrent very well could replace a full suspension all-mountain bike. It would be a different type of riding, but you could still ride all your favorite trails. I don’t think you’d ever feel too outgunned or in over your head with the Torrent. You can still hit all the jumps, drops and bumpy bits as you normally would. Now, I wouldn’t suggest you go blast into a steep rock garden at full speed, but you could make it down just fine — you’d just need to be more careful with your line choice.
I think my favorite part of the hardtail experience is how engaging the ride was. With a full suspension bike you can sort of turn your mind off and let the bike do most of the work. You can’t get away with that on a bike with zero rear suspension. It makes you work for it, stay awake and pick good lines. It’s a fun challenge.
The all arounds
Alright, I suppose it’s about time to wrap this up. Who is the Norco Torrent for? It’s for the rider that likes to be an active bike pilot. It’s for someone who likes rough and rowdy terrain. It rewards an engaged rider with a few bike handling skills. It’s not for someone who wants to set all the KOMs on their local climbs or race XC. The Torrent would be a great bike for someone on a bit of a budget as it doesn’t cost an arm and leg to get a bike that will ride just about every trail out there. It’s a very versatile bike for a wide variety of terrain at a good price.
Here’s my bike versatility standard. Would I ride it in Corner Canyon? Would I ride it on Captain Ahab? The Torrent says “Yes” to both.
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