NORCO FLUID 1 20 REVIEW
KIDS DUAL SUSPENSION MOUNTAIN BIKE
Words and Photos by Rob Dunnet
Over the past five years or so Youth mountain bikes have been getting better and better. With more companies entering the kids mountain bike category they will continue to improve in quality and performance. For the most part, Youth bikes can be broken down into three categories: 20”, 24” and 26”. Twenty-inch and 24” have seen the most growth in the past decade with 26” having been the standard in mountain bikes for a long time. It could even be argued that the largest leaps have been made in the 20” market. Companies like Spawn, Norco and Commencal all have their own 20” kids mountain bikes and even YT has recently come out with 24” and 26” Youth bikes. One of the best looking bikes in the niche however, is the Norco Fluid 1 120 and we couldn’t wait to get it dirty.
We know the price tag may have many parents hesitate, but in this review we hope to address some of the bigger questions that parents have about getting their kids a “real” mountain bike. A concept that took a seeing is believing moment for my wife. One of the questions heard a lot from parents is “What makes this $2,500 bike better than the $400 bike that I can get from my local bike shop?” After several wet months of British Columbia riding, the simple answer is, everything.
We are planning on reviewing a couple of different Youth bike brands to show the difference between those models, but ultimately we want to show the differences between a quality “mountain bike” and the $400 model that can be found in a department store or at a local bike shop.
The Norco Fluid comes in both popular Youth wheel sizes and comes in two build options. The Fluid FS 2 20 and the Fluid FS 2 24 retail for $1,599 and $1,699 respectively. The Fluid FS 1 20 and the Fluid FS 1 24 retail for $2,199 and $2,299 respectively.
The bike that we received is the Norco Fluid 1 20, I am not sure who was more excited about it, me or my kids?
The build spec is pretty impressive for a Youth bike, the frame is aluminum and has 100mm of travel courtesy of a Fox Float rear shock. The fork is a Manitou Machete JUnit with 120mm of travel and stopping power is supplied by Shimano disc brakes. Shimano’s 10-speed drive train helped the little legs spin while still offering a durable and easy to tune system. The Fluid FS 1 rolls on Sun Ringle Duroc wheels wrapped in Schwalbe Smart Sam tires. A standout feature is the kids-specific handlebar, grips, saddle and pedals made by SDG Components. To top it all off this build option comes with a dropper post to make the climbs and descents more comfortable; I think my kids were most excited about the dropper post.
It is great to see that a large percentage of the parts on these bikes are 20” specific. Norco has done a great job of sourcing products from brands that are doing Youth specific parts. Hats off to Manitou, SDG, Sun Ringle and Norco for coming together to product a great looking 20” bike.
But why should parents spend the money to buy a “real” mountain bike?
I am not sure I would have described my son as a mountain biker before we started this test. I had taken him on the occasional trail ride and we spent a fair amount of time at the pump track and skate park but we had not spent a lot of time riding single track. He had never really ridden a trail with roots and rocks on it before he started riding the Norco Fluid.
The gearing on the bike made it really easy for him to pedal the bike up a fire road but a sustained climbing effort is not something I can see him doing for a couple more years. Keeping kids motivated on a fire road is nearly impossible and I have only so much patience when waiting for him as he pedals as slowly as humanly possible. Our solution for this was to make a tow rope out of an inner tube and tie down. A mixture of him pedalling and me pulling him made it so that we could climb longer and faster. He felt like he was doing all of the work and I felt like I was doing all of the work. The Fluid made pedaling to the trail head a real possibility, something that isn’t possible on his sub $400 bike and something that would be torture on his pump track bike.
Our first descent together was his first time riding down a hill with front brakes. I had spent a long time explaining to him proper braking technique, but I was still nervous that he would grab a fist full of front brake and we would be walking the rest of the way down the trail. Fortunately, he didn’t have any issues with braking and was able to make it back to the car in one piece. For his first time riding a mountain bike trail he did really well. He stood up when he was riding downhill and he only had to get off and walk a couple of times. Having a dropper post really made it easy to start teaching him proper body position from the first ride.
Like many kids my son’s energy is endless and with school closed because of Covid he was constantly wanting to go on mountain bike rides. To keep him entertained in the yard we started constructing sketchy mountain bike jumps and stunts with left over pieces of wood that were stashed around the house. It was a great way for him to learn basic mountain bike skills and to keep him occupied when we couldn’t go on rides
The big difference between this bike and the sub $400 bike that we first bought for our son is quality components. The drivetrain, brakes and suspension are all mountain bike specific parts that are easily replaceable. Twenty-inch wheels means that the rear derailleur is more susceptible to rock strikes but the short cage Shimano Zee derailleur is an inexpensive part to replace and is more durable than a lot of the other options out there. It will survive a number of impacts before it will need replacing. Suspension for kids mountain bikes has come a long way over the past couple of years. A lot of kids didn’t weigh enough to make suspension on youth bikes work. Both the Fox rear shock and the Manitou front fork have exceeded my expectations and I would recommend the Manitou J-Unit fork as an upgrade for parents who are struggling to find a good fork for their little ones. The Shimano brakes are good entry level brakes and they have not let us down over the course of this test. People with smaller hands often have a hard time adjusting brakes to work with their hands. We didn’t have any trouble adjusting these brakes to work, but it would be nice to see a brake with more adjustment on it for small hands. It would be the first and maybe only upgrade that I would make on this bike.
But enough about Dad’s opinion…I asked David what he though of the Norco Fluid test bike and this is what he said, “It has really good shocks, it’s easy to ride uphill because there is a seat post that goes up and down. I think it’s good for me because the handlebars are just the right length for me. And there are good grips and I really like the brakes!” There you have it. If only all our reviews could be that simple.
The Wolf’s Last Word
Should mountain biking parents go out and buy their kids a “real” mountain bike? My answer would have to be yes. We went the sub $400 bike route first and that bike is now in such bad shape that no one ever rides it. The bottom bracket is coming loose, the crank bearings are gritty and the pedals broke long ago. Over it’s short lifespan we replaced the bars, stem, grips, pedals and the complete V-brake assembly. That bike was never ridden nearly as hard as the Norco Fluid 1 20.
This bike opened my son’s eyes to how fun mountain biking really is. It made it easier for him to ride uphill and helped him earn his downhills. It ignited the passion to try something over and over again until he got it right. He has spent countless hours trying to do pop-a-wheelies in the driveway and riding sketchy stunts in the yard. This is something that I am sure he would have eventually tried but I think having a bike similar to mine gave him the idea a lot quicker. It was a monkey see monkey do situation. A real “If dad can do this on his bike, maybe I can do it on mine” situation.
The main difference between this bike and the broken blue bike that is leaned up against our house is that after months of riding this bike shows no signs of wear. It is a bike that could easily be passed on to a younger sibling, given to a cousin or sold to help pay for the 24” version.
Buying a quality mountain bike is more of an investment in a mountain biking future and an opportunity for parents to spend time with their kids doing something that they both love. I would much rather pull my kids up a fire road for hours that sit through another ballet recital and while I understand dropping this much on your own bike, let alone a growing kids bike is a complete luxury, the performance gains, good times and quality are readily apparent.
Frame: 6061 Alloy Frame, 100mm
Fork: Manitou J-Unit 20″, Expert Air, 120mm
Shock: Fox Performance FLOAT 3 Position, SV/EVOL, custom light tune
Brakes: Shimano BR-MT500
Handlebar: SDG Kids Alloy, 640mm
Stem: 35mm reach MTB
Shifter: Shimano Deore 10-speed
Seatpost: JD TransX Light Action Dropper
Saddle: SDG Fly JR
Wheels: Sun Ringle Duroc 30
Tires: Schwalbe Smart Sam 20×2.25″, Skinwall
Cassette: Shimano Deore CS-HG50 11-36T
Cranks: Samox Two Piece, 140mm
Derailleur: Shimano Zee RD-M640
Kid Specific Components
Suspension that Works for Kids
Brakes Lack Adjustment for Small Hands
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