There are two things you need to know about the Norco Revolver 9.3 FS. One, the full carbon frame and Horst-link suspension is the sort of thing that most other brands are selling as frame-only deals at this price. It's a total bargain. Two, while loudly praising this bargain, it has to be noted that some of the parts attached to this bargain are not going to make you a happy camper. Glad we got that out of the way.
This is a very good frame. It is light and stiff, and the geometry lends itself to carving and having a whole lot of fun, even while hunkered down along the generous toptube and sprinting your face off in search of finish lines. This bike would make not only an exceptional race platform, but also would be a fine trail bike for riders willing to sacrifice some plush in favor of commendable pedaling snap. Norco got a lot right with its least-expensive Revolver. It's very nicely balanced, handles beautifully and is available in a very tasteful black-on-black finish that appeals to the inner ninja in everyone. More bikes should look this good. More bikes should handle this well.
Impeccable hammering behavior was aided further by the lockout on the RockShox Monarch RL shock. However, bump absorption in general had a couple flies in the ointment. The rear suspension, even when running ample sag (as high as 35 percent), was a little harsh when it came to smoothing out small chatter bumps. And the RockShox Recon fork would be one of the first items in the crosshairs of the upgrade gun when the time came, since both performance and a blown seal during testing marred an otherwise exceptional riding package.
The brakes would be next in front of the firing squad, and we suspect that the Revolver would definitively kick a whole mountain of ass with some high-dollar wheels, but we are losing track of something very important: This bike is a screaming deal! Yeah, the fork and brakes could be better. Yeah, the rear suspension isn't totally plush up top. But at this price, what are you shopping for? If you are smart, you are shopping for a good frame and are willing to upgrade down the line. This is an awesome frame, on a bike that is very competent and fun to ride, right out of the box.
Q&A with Sarah Moore
Before this year's test bikes rolled into our barn, we had questions about them–some of the same questions that you might be asking yourself when you start poking around at a new bike. That's especially true when the bike in question is a new model. The Revolver FS 9.3 is just such a bike. Here's what Norco Marketing and Communications Supervisor, Sarah Moore, had to say.
–Vernon Felton, Bible of Bike Tests Moderator
Vernon Felton: This is a new bike for you. When you guys were designing this bike, who was the ideal rider you had in mind for it? Is this meant to be a pure XC race machine?
Sarah Moore: The Revolver FS is a cross-country race weapon, and we designed it for the Norco Factory Race Team riders to race on the Canada Cup and World Cup circuits with. At the same time, we didn't want a bike that compromised ride quality. We wanted a bike that was fast, but still fun to ride.
VF: What sets the Revolver apart from other XC race bikes that roll in at this price point?
SM: It has the same high-modulus carbon frame as the more expensive models, so while it's a price-point bike, racers can upgrade the specs on the awesome super light carbon frame later. In addition, it has tubeless ready wheels, a 1x GX-1 SRAM drivetrain, thru axles, cable routing for a dropper post and a remote rear shock, and dual water bottles (one inside the main triangle and one outside) on all models.
VF: Is there any difference in the carbon frame spec'd on the 9.3 and the frames on the more expensive models in your 2016 Revolver FS line?
SM: It has exactly the same high-modulus carbon frame as the more expensive models!
VF: You offer a 27.5 version of this same bike–what kind of riders/riding conditions are better suited to the 29er version?
SM: The 29er is better suited to rougher terrain, the wheels roll better through it. Also for going faster, the bigger wheels have less rolling resistance and more traction in high-speed corners. The 650b is more maneuverable and has slightly quicker handling. The 650b also features XS, S, M, L and XL sizing, while the 29er does not have an XS model.
VF: Are there conditions in which you feel this bike really excels and, if so, what specific design attributes of the bike make that so?
SM: The Revolver really excels in pure cross-country race conditions. The steep head angle makes tight trails more manageable and the bike turns into corners quickly. It also excels climbing, due to the stiffness of the frame and the suspension kinematics–the Gravity Tune is well balanced for climbing. In addition, on descents, people often say that the Revolver FS feels like it has more than 100 millimeters of travel, even though it still climbs like a hardtail. This is due to the position of the pivots and the ART (Advanced Ride Technology) suspension.
VF: What about the frame? Are there any aspects of the frame design that you guys are particularly proud of?
SM: The super-light weight of the frame is something we are extremely proud of. A medium frame weighs in at only 1800 grams (ed. that's 3.9 pounds in `Mericanese). We're also proud of the aesthetics of the bike, and how the pivot hardware was integrated into the frame. In addition, there is stealth dropper post and rear shock lockout routing on all models, and even the smallest sized frame (the XS 650b) can hold a water bottle in the main triangle and one on the outside of the downtube.
VF: What were you trying to achieve with the bike's parts pick?
SM: This model is about making the Revolver FS experience accessible to more people. Not everyone who races can afford our flagship Revolver FS XX model, but that doesn't mean that they can't have a full-suspension cross-country bike.
While this is a price-point bike, we went with the same philosophy across the line. We created a balanced bike with RockShox suspension front and rear, and a modern XC spec. You'll see wider handlebars and a shorter stem than on most XC race bikes, for improved handling, as well as tubeless-ready wider rims (21-millimeter inner width) and wider tires (2.25-inch) for added traction and control.
The 1x drivetrain was pretty key to us, since it's so lightweight and simple, so we're really stoked that we could put the 1x on all models. We also wanted to have an air fork, so we're pleased that we were able to do that with the RockShox TK Solo Air Fork. Also, great to have thru axles front and rear for added stiffness. We spec'ed 160-millimeter rear and 180-millimeter front rotors for more aggressive braking. This is more of a recreational XC build, but it is easily upgradeable.
VF: Are there any details/features on this bike that are critical, but easily overlooked?
SM: Absolutely: Gravity Tune and Size-Scaled Tubing. All of the Revolver FS models benefit from our Gravity Tune technology, which changes the chainstay length in correspondence to each size bike. The Gravity Tune technology enables the length of the rear to be altered to various frame sizes, ensuring that the rider is always centrally positioned on the bike. The idea of this is to create consistent handling and rider weight distribution as frame sizes change. For example, a Medium 29er features 439-millimeter chainstays, while a Large features 442-millimeter chainstays and an extra-large features 444-millimeter chain stays. With Size-Scaled Tubing, riders across all sizes will achieve the same ride characteristics.