2022 Norco Fluid VLT A1 eBike Review

NORCO FLUID VLT A1 EBIKE REVIEW

Review by Jason Ekman
Photos by Dusten Ryen

We’ve had several months to review the new Norco Fluid VLT A1 eBike. Since our first outings during our mega-Dissected Feature with all three of Norco’s eMTBs, it has been passed around and ridden hard. Most recently we sent it over to the rainy side of Oregon with test rider Jason Ekman, who had not spent much time on eBikes but is a total bike nerd, was long time shop employee and mile-crunching enduro racer.

It started as an off-hand question “Say… do you guys have an ebike I could test?” I actually expected to hear that all the eBikes were in use, but I got excited when I heard there was one I could test! The next weekend I took a short drive down to Bend and took possession of the Norco Fluid VLT A1.

Now I’m not going to lie and say that I was super stoked on the idea of the Fluid – my ride style and terrain tend to be a bit steeper and rockier than that of the Bend area in general. I’m also used to having a big travel bike to let me make questionable line choices and get away with it, so I was concerned the 130mm of travel and that the Norco Fluid VLT was not going to be ideal for anything more than XC type rides. I was wrong and right, but not in the ways I expected.

QUICK HITS

• 130mm 4-Bar Horst Link Suspension
• HTA 65°
• STA 76.2° (effective)
• REACH 470mm (Large)
• Battery Sold Separately

Base Price: $4,599 – A2 | $5,199 – A1
Battery Price: $899 – 540Wh | $1,099 – 720Wh | $1,299 – 900Wh
Website: Norco.com

THE LAB
The Norco Fluid VLT A1 is the more expensive of the two Fluid spec levels. This bike is designed to be a more affordable, everyday rider option than the more aggressive Sight VLT and Range VLT bikes. We would love to see a frame option or a higher end build option for riders who don’t need as much travel but want to rip a super fun eMTB on their local trails. The Norco Fluid VLT has 130mm of rear wheel travel and 140mm up front. The Shimano STEPS EP8 motor and alloy framed eBike will run you $5,200 US, but here is where Norco does things a bit differently. The battery is a separate purchase from the bike, with three options to choose from. A 540Wh battery will run you $900, a 720Wh battery for $1,100 and a whopping 900Wh battery for $1,300. This unique purchase option will give the buyer more freedom to choose battery size based on planned ride distance, handling preference or the size of their wallet. The test unit I had was equipped with the 900Wh battery, that combined with the alloy frame and parts spec brought the bikes weight on my scale to a hefty 61lbs for the size Large. As you’d expect from a Shimano EP8 driven bike, the Fluid VLT uses their EM800 1.6” color display, and connects to the E-Tube Project app to allow for user customization, fault diagnosis and firmware updates without plugging anything in.

Norco Fluid VLT A1 Profile Shot

Norco’s new Fluid VLT sports decidedly modern geometry, but not in an extreme manner. Reach numbers begin at 410mm on the small size, and increase 30mm per size up to 500mm for the XL, giving our large test rig a 470mm reach that’s accompanied by a 618mm stack. There’s a 65-degree head angle; 76.2-degree (effective) seat angle that steepens by 0.3 degrees every size increase to better centralize taller riders; a stretched out 462mm rear end across the size range and 25mm bottom bracket drop. The 440mm seat tube on our large size has a reasonable 275mm seat post insertion that should allow most riders to fit a long travel dropper. The Fluid’s Alloy frame is designed with Norco’s “Ride Aligned” system that, with the help of an app-based assistant, aligns the rider’s center of gravity to a more comfortable and confident riding position. The suspension kinematics deliver more support on the climbs, while providing more control on the way back down the mountain. The size large fitted me perfectly at 5’11, even though I have short legs and a long torso.

Depending on rider skill-level and demands, the parts spec on the bike drifts from totally functional to upgrade ASAP. It’s no fault of Norco, just a facet when trying to build more affordable models, there’s a balance of give and take with parts specs that will suit varying riders differently. The Fluid VLT uses a house brand handlebar and stem mated to a 1.8” tapered steerer Rock Shox 35 Silver fork out front with 140mm travel. At the rear is a Rock Shox Deluxe Select shock, custom tuned by Norco for the Fluid VLT.  WTB ST i30 rims are connected to Shimano hubs shod with Maxxis Dissector 2.4 EXO+ tires. Braking duties are provided by Shimano’s MT420, four piston brakes with metallic pads that clamp onto 203mm rotors front and rear.  The drivetrain consists of Shimano Deore 12-speed components, using their Hyperglide+ shifting tech. The dropper post is a TranzX unit with 170mm drop on a size large.

2022 Norco Fluid VLT A1 eBike Review

THE DIRT
This is the longest time I had spent with an eBike, and I bounced my feedback off the rest of the crew as we finalized this review.  Before this bike I had ridden a few demo eBikes enough to know I wanted one, so I was the perfect tester for a bike that may have been designed for a new rider or an experienced “analog mountain biker” looking to give eBikes a try without wanting to drop ten grand. My first few rides on the Norco were XC style rides where the bike was perfectly at home. After getting comfortable with the Fluid VLT, I started making some changes. The first was swapping the Maxxis Dissector tires to a set of Maxxis DHR/DHFs. The Dissector is a decent tire for this area but more so on the rear. For me, the smaller side knobs just don’t offer enough support when cornering, and the braking of the rear tire is just not as solid as the DHR. I also took this time to set the tires up tubeless which I was very pleased to find the rims pre-taped with what looks, like Stan’s tape.

 After these changes I decided to take the bike to a trail that I had ridden other 130mm bikes on and had always come away wishing I had brought a bigger bike. This trail system starts with a brutal, two-mile fire road climb that in some sections is a 14% grade. Let me tell you how happy I was to be on an eMTB. I was even able to ride some trails I had not ridden before because they looked too brutal to go up. This was a major selling point right off the bat as I’m now riding trails in networks I’ve never wanted to climb before, which means, more and new downhills that I was missing out on too.

Norco Fluid VLT A1 Rear Triangle

Dropping into the rocky, high-speed descent it was clear where the cost savings of the component spec was – the fork. The RockShox 35 Silver is the most basic 35mm stanchioned fork in their lineup. A simple coil spring system with no adjustments and a very basic Turnkey damper had me stopping mid descent to shake the cramps in my hands out on a trail that I would normally never stop on. Combine the harsh fork with the Shimano MT420’s old school moto brake lever ergonomics and you end up with T-Rex hands syndrome real fast.

Moving beyond the brake levers and fork issue, the bike is not what I would call playful and that is pretty much due to its weight and long rear end. The 900Wh battery makes the bike a short travel plow, you need to pick the correct line because quick changes definitely require some body movements. The long wheelbase and weight made hitting open berms at speed a treat though. The lower slung weight would simply plant the bike down to make corners a point and shoot affair. The weight and wheelbase also made getting the bike up tech climbs or trying to lift over obstacles a bit more challenging, but thanks to the 85Nm of torque from the Shimano motor I had plenty of grunt to help move past those issues.

The Shimano Deore 12-speed drivetrain is one of the best bang for your buck drivetrains on the market today. I’m a SRAM drivetrain Shimano brakes guy, but I simply can’t find fault with the Deore components. Even when I was still figuring out the cadence to spin with the motor, resulting in some terrible shift timing, the performance was spot on. The WTB ST i30 wheels, while not the lightest offering, held up very well, especially considering my line choices tended to get real questionable the more comfortable I got on the bike (more on that in a bit). I was honestly expecting to have issues with the TranzX dropper, my last encounter with one on another bike saw the dropper not staying down after a few rides in dry weather but thankfully this one performed flawlessly throughout.

Norco Fluid VLT A1 Motor

The Shimano STEPS EP8 motor did give me some errors and shut down on one ride a few times. After doing an update via the handy app there were no more problems. I did notice that the other eBike riders I rode with had Bosch and Specialized motors that seemed more powerful. To solve that issue I was able to use the app again and customize one of the profiles. In the app I was able to change the motor settings to bring the power output more in-line with the other motors.  I also made changes to the second profile and lowered the settings for the rides with my fit analog MTB friends so we could climb together without it looking like I’m out for a leisurely bike path pedal. The E-Tube app is one of the best things about the Shimano EP8 in my opinion. One thing I would say is I wished the bike had come with the 720Wh battery. The extra weight of the 900Wh (1.5lbs) made the bike feel sluggish – a factor to consider when choosing battery size. The upside to that big ol’ battery was that I ran out of power before the bike did. One ride was a mix of Trail and Boost modes that netted me 25 miles with 5,300 feet of climbing in 3 hours and I still had two bars of power on the Shimano display.

I saved this part for last as it was the biggest surprise for me: The Fluid VLT’s rear suspension. I know it’s almost cliché to say, it rides like a bigger bike, but it honestly does that, and the fact that it does that with a Deluxe Select rear shock (very basic) and I’m a heavier guy (over 200lbs) speaks volumes on the suspension design and shock tune. The rear end ate up all I could throw at it, never wallowed or felt like it was struggling on repeated hits. I shared this bike with a few others in my ride group, these were experienced riders with high end rigs and they came away just as surprised as I was by the rear suspension’s performance. The comments mostly consisted of “Wow that rear suspension is amazing, but that fork really takes away from the ride.”

While we appreciate Norco’s efforts in producing a bike with an affordable price tag that can still tackle some relatively technical trails, there’s no doubt that the compromises in certain spec elements limits the ultimate capabilities of the Fluid VLT for more aggressive riders. We’d love to see a higher spec option offered, or a frame-only option, to allow for a more capable package for riders looking for a quality bike for trails that don’t ask for the longer travel of the Sight VLT.

2022 Norco Fluid VLT A1 eBike Review

The Wolf’s Last Word

Overall, this bike really impressed us and is a lot of fun to ride. It was the biggest surprise out of all three bikes in Norco’s new VLT eMTB line. While it rides way better than expected, it does have some weak links for very aggressive riders or those on super rough terrain. At $6,300 (with a 720Wh battery) the bike is a bit higher on the price scale than some options on the market, but it also rides better than some. The suspension performance and the motor on this eMTB make it a sensible purchase if you are looking long-term at upgrading the bike. You’re getting an amazing frame, a great motor and a solid drivetrain. If you were to upgrade the fork to a Rock Shox Lyrik or a Fox 36 and replace the Shimano MT420 brake levers with say, some Deore levers, you would have yourself an extremely capable eMTB that punches above its travel category for sure. Going further to replace the rear shock and you would have a bike capable of shredding a fair level of gnarly trails.

Price: $5,199 + $1,299 900Wh Battery
Weight: 61 lbs (Size Large / 900Wh)
Website: Norco.com

VISIT NORCO TO GET YOURS!

SPECIFICATIONS

CHASSIS
Frame: Aluminum | 130mm
Fork: RockShox 35 Silver, 44mm Offset, 1.8″ Tapered | 140mm
Shock: RockShox Select R, Custom Tune

ELECTRONICS
Motor:
Shimano STEPS EP8
Battery:
Removable. 900Wh, 720Wh and 540Wh Options.

COCKPIT
Brakes: Shimano MT420 | 203mm
Shifter: Shimano Deore SL-M6100-R
Handlebar: Butted 6061 Alloy, 800mm, 25mm Rise
Stem: Alloy | 50mm
Saddle: WTB Volt 250 Sport
Seatpost: TranzX YS105 Adjustable Dropper

WHEELS
Hubs: Shimano HB-MT410 (f), Shimano HB-MT510 (r)
Rims:
WTB ST i30 TCS 2.0, 32H, 29″
Tires: Maxxis Dissector 2.4″ 3C MaxxTerra EXO+ TR

DRIVETRAIN
Cassette: Shimano Deore, 10-51T, 12 Speed
Cranks: Shimano, 34t | 165mm
Derailleur: Shimano Deore RD-M6100

Norco Fluid VLT A1 Review

We Dig

Rides way better than anticipated for spec
Very capable rear suspension
Quality frame with modern geo
Great Motor
Battery choice options
Bulletproof drivetrain

We Don’t

Dissector not a good front tire
Fork holds the bike back
Low-end old-school moto style brake levers

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