Out on the Trail: Climbing
[INSERT CLICHE ABOUT SCALDED CAT HERE] Seriously, it weighs under 24lbs. With pedals on. For a full suspension. Size large.
The Revolver will rocket up the climbs as fast as you’d like. One of the best things about this bike was how quickly it responded to rider input. Stomp on the pedals and this thing will keep gaining speed until your legs and/or lungs give out.
So, of course it flies up smooth climbs and gravel roads, but what about technical ascents? No problem there, either. Flip the shock into “Open” and the rear end will find as much traction as your tires allow. The Revolver’s light weight no doubt helped here as well, not only because there was less bike to propel, but also because it was easy to change lines. Picked a shitty line? Just muscle it on over to a good one.
The only possible negative I could say is there was an imbalance of plushness front to rear. With only 100mm of travel front and rear, it’s never going to be pillowy, but the shock was certainly cushier than the fork. A little more plushness up front would have allowed the front wheel to track better.
For a 24lb bike with only 100mm of travel, the Revolver is a surprisingly confident descender. Now, don’t get it twisted, you’re never going to be fooled into thinking the Revolver has more travel than it does. It feels like it has exactly 100mm of travel, but that travel is well-controlled.
Each setting on the Fox shock gives the bike a distinctly different feel. In the open setting, the rear end of the bike tracks well through moderately-chunky terrain. Line choice is still very important, though, as the Revolver is not a point-and-shoot trail bike. But, if there was anything holding me back on the descents, it was the stock wheels that could easily be knocked off line. The burlier wheels I used during the Trans-Sylvania Epic remedied that issue, though.
In the middle setting, the bike feels sportier and rides noticeably higher in its travel. It was the ideal setting for smoother descents or for instances where you’re mashing, but still need a little forgiveness. The shock offered plenty of support and had more ramp up in the middle setting compared to fully open. I spent the majority of my time in the middle setting, although I frequently utilized all three.
While the SiD never left me wanting for torsional stiffness, its lack of plushness was evident on the downs. I played around with the air pressure extensively in an effort to find a balance between support and comfort, but never quite found a happy place. Running the fork soft enough to track smoothly over small bumps meant it quickly blew through its travel on larger hits.
However, this is an XC race bike after all, a category where comfort often takes a backseat to speed. For shorter races this is fine, but for marathon events a little more cushion would be appreciated.
I don’t take it easy on any bike–it’s just not in my nature. With my size and aggressive style, I’m actually pretty good at breaking shit. And I thrashed this Norco. Some highlights include multiple hammer fests during Chain Buster’s 3-hour races, 50 miles of the Snake Creek Gap, and, of course, the five-day Trans-Sylvania Epic.
For over 500 miles, I’ve punished this bike. The only hiccups I’ve had were a broken derailleur hanger (still not sure how that one happened), and the chainstay pivots loosened one time.
That is literally it.
The Revolver has been incredibly reliable. No missed shifts or dropped chains–not even during back-to-back days in the pissing rain in Pennsylvania. Sure the drivetrain was making horrible noises with all the grit, but it never let me down. The wheels are still true, the fork still forks, and the shock still shocks. No grinding noises from the pressfit bottom bracket or any of the pivots.
The only maintenance I performed–apart from replacing the hanger–was to lube the chain and occasionally check the pivot torque.
Some Thoughts on Wheel Size
The Revolver is aimed squarely at XC racers, and it blows that target away. While I didn’t test the 27.5″ and 29″ versions of the Revolver back-to-back, I do have extensive experience riding the larger-wheeled bikes that gives me license to comment on the differences.
- Weight–the smaller wheels and tires are lighter.
- Acceleration–those lighter wheels get the bike up to speed faster.
- Handling–the Revolver is razor-sharp no matter how twisty the trail.
- Agility–it’s easy to change lines and hop around the trail.
- Momentum–this is the big one. The wheels may get up to speed quicker, but don’t hold that speed as well as a 29er.
- Roll over–the smaller wheels are more prone to getting caught in holes, and deflected or slowed by large obstacles.
- Comfort–29″ wheels provide a little extra give.
I was skeptical that a 27.5 would make a good XC race bike–I own a 27.5 trail bike, for the record–but after a few months on the Revolver, I’ve been won over. You can indeed make an excellent 27.5 XC race bike. That’s not to say that one is better than the other–they aren’t–but each size has its merits. In any case, it’s bad ass that Norco gives you both options.
A good measure of how a bike test went is how sad you are to send it back. And I am really bummed to see the Revolver go. It has been a pleasure to ride such a well-thought-out, light, and reliable bike. I would be thrilled to have this bike in my personal stable. If it were my personal bike, there are a couple things I would add. One being a dropper post–because, dropper–and a 120mm fork. The slightly-longer fork would add a bit of comfort and even more confidence on the descents, creating the ultimate marathon racer.
But as it is, right out of the box, the Norco Revolver 7.1 FS is an incredible bike for all but the most elite of racers.
I’m honestly quite impressed with the pricepoint–full carbon frame, great parts, solid performance, and really low weight at less than $5k. Recently I’ve been saying that if I was paying my own cash for a bike, that I wouldn’t spend much over $4,000 right now, and this bike reinforces that belief. Obviously $4k isn’t cheap, but it’s nice to see that you can get a truly excellent mountain bike for a third of what the top-tier bikes cost.
True dat! And the jump up to the tippy-top-level Revolver 7XX is substantial at $2,800. I bet it shaves a pound or two, but you could take that $$$ and buy an entire bike, like an alloy Sight or Optic from Norco. Or cover your race entry fees for a few seasons.