2023 BUDGET BIKE ROUNDUP
NORCO FLUID FS A3 REVIEW
Photos by Max Rhulen & Dusten Ryen
Video by Brian Niles / Treeline Cinematic
THE SUB-$3K ROUNDUP MADE POSSIBLE THANKS TO:
LEATT & VERSUS TIRES
Norco’s Fluid FS has been their budget-minded trail mountain bike for a number of years at this point, however they recently launched the award-winning FS Aluminum family of Fluids and we’re as thrilled as the rest of you. With 130mm of rear travel paired with a 140mm fork, and geometry and suspension kinematics tweaked for each frame size using Norco’s Ride Aligned Design System, the Fluid FS reviewed earlier, really impressed us in its A1 spec . Let’s see how the more affordable Norco Fluid FS A3 stacks up in the sub-$3k market.
• 130mm Horst Link Suspension
• HTA 65
• STA 76.7 (effective – Large)
• REACH 480 (Large)
Price: From $1,999 (FS A4) – $3,999 (FS A1)
In case you missed our in-depth review of the new Norco Fluid FS Aluminum line in our Dissected Feature and review of the FS A1, you can check those out for more information on the design and technology coming from Norco Bicycles.
The Fluid FS is a 29”-wheeled budget trail bike, with 130mm of Horst Link suspension in the rear and a 140mm fork up front. Norco uses their Ride Aligned Design System to tailor the frame geometry and kinematics, aiming to deliver the best performance for the average rider proportions and weight that each size of frame is designed for. This includes size-specific chainstays and seat tube angles for the wide S-XXL size range.
The geometry numbers shared across the board are a 65-degree head angle and 30mm bottom bracket drop. The size large tested, which Norco recommends for riders from 5’8” – 6’0” (173cm to 183cm), has a 480mm reach; 635mm stack height; 76.7-degree effective seat tube angle; 435mm chainstay length; and short 410mm seat tube length to allow for most riders to fit a long travel dropper seatpost. The total wheelbase adds up to 1,245mm, the longest in this budget bike roundup.
Norco’s Fluid FS A3 reviewed in this group test is the second-from-cheapest in the Fluid FS lineup, and the cheapest bike in the shootout at $2,499. For this money, you get the 6061 Alloy frame with a purposeful mix of components. Suspension duties are handled by a 140mm RockShox 35 Silver TK Air fork, and X-Fusion O2 Pro R AV with a custom tune. While we were impressed with how well the X-Fusion shock performed, the RockShox 35 Silver was definitely a lowlight of the build, specifically when it came to the weight of the unit and how it affected the bike’s overall feel.
The drivetrain is a full SRAM SX Eagle 12spd affair, including their SX Eagle DUB alloy crankset, with an 11-50T cassette. The brakes are Tektro’s 4-piston HD-745s, which stop on 180mm rotors on both ends. The wheelset is a Stans Flow D rim laced to Bear Pawls sealed bearing hubs, which are wrapped in a Vittoria Mazza and Martello Trail G2.0 tire pairing as standard. However, for this test all of the bikes were equipped with Versus tires to give consistent performance across the board. Rounding out the spec is a 35mm diameter e*thirteen alloy bar with 20mm rise paired to a 40mm length alloy stem; and 34.9mm diameter SDG Tellis dropper post with size-specific length (170mm on the large). We loved the fact that Norco put a 170mm dropper on this bike, one of the only bikes that had one in this test. However, we did not love the bar and especially the grip combo and would likely suggest this as a quick upgrade, which thankfully you’ll be able to afford thanks to the awesome price tag of this bike. The Fluid A3 weighs in at 36.4 lbs.
When it came time to evaluate all of these bikes from the setup to the ride, Norco have undoubtedly stacked the cards in their favor when it comes features found on much higher-end mountain bikes. From size-specific geometry, bike setup assistance and custom-tuned rear shocks for each model in their lineup, Norco have really set the bar for what can be delivered to riders in a budget-friendly mountain bike.
Thanks to Norco’s website and Ride Aligned program, the bike was setup rather quickly and got us in the ballpark for most of our riding. Again, the RockShox 35 Silver fork was a bit of a struggle here and needed help not blowing through the travel on bigger hits or steeper trails, but we realize that many riders looking at this bike may not be pushing as hard or would take time to improve the progression of their own fork. Beyond that, the bike rode well from the start and maintained its performance over the months of testing in some cold, mucky conditions.
Compared to other bikes in the roundup the Fluid FS A3 is a worthy contender. It’s the heaviest and longest bike in the mix, which keep it planted on the ground and feeling confident on steeper and gnarly terrain. The suspension platform on both the A1 and A3 we have, are on the stiffer end of the spectrum, meaning they do deliver riders a bit more feedback and energy when hitting square-edge bumps. It’s not harsh but was enough for us to notice it. The upside to that is, the bike rides high in the travel, remains sporty and active on the trail too. It really likes being pushed into berms, hard corners and ridden aggressively. It’s also happy to cruise along and be pedaled for long miles of exploratory riding and fun. However, the longer wheelbase and weight could be an issue for certain regions and types of riding.
The Wolf’s Last Word
Overall Norco’s Fluid FS A3 and the entire Fluid Alloy lineup are incredibly capable, well-priced and awesome bikes! We would likely pick, and recommend, the Fluid A2 as our model to buy, however it’s just outside our $3,000 price point for this test. We all agree though that it blends some really nice upgrades to the A3 with a very competitive price. Regardless of which model Fluid Alloy you pick though, you’ll have a solid dealer network, brand backing and help from bike setup to ride experience, and that’s something we really like compared to a lot of other bikes in the roundup. Knowing you’ll have a shop and North American brand with local inventory nearby is always a plus when you know that you’ll be pushing yourself and your equipment into dangerous scenarios all in the name of fun. Props to Norco for taking the time to create a bike line packed full of high-end features that is affordable to a majority of riders.
Frame: 6061 Aluminum; 130mm
Fork: RockShox 35 Silver TK Air | 140mm
Shock: X-Fusion 02 Pro R AV | Custom Tune | 210x50mm
Brakes: Tektro HD-745 | 180mm rotors
Bar: e*thirteen alloy | width: 800mm | rise: 20mm | clamp: 35mm
Stem: 6061 alloy | length: 40mm
Seatpost: SDG Tellis 34.9mm | S:150mm | M/L: 170mm | XL/XXL: 200mm
Saddle: Norco Trail
Wheelset: Stans Flow D rims | Bear Pawls sealed bearing hubs
Cassette: SRAM PG1210 | 11-50T | 12spd
Cranks: SRAM SX Eagle | S:170mm; M-XXL: 175mm
Shifter: SRAM SX Eagle | 12spd
Derailleur: SRAM SX Eagle | 12spd
Size specific geometry and Ride Aligned suspension
Looks like a higher-end bike
Dealer support network
Confident and stable ride
RockShox 35 Silver fork
Long wheelbase not for everyone
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