Horseshoe Resort Weighs in on the Norco Tactic
September 26, 2014
2014 Tactic SL Long Term Review
Words & Images by Andrew Doble
Before I dive into this review, I have a confession to make. Apparently I have been a bike snob all these years for not considering Norco as a road bike company. Now before you judge me too harshly, in the highly competitive skinny tire world where a bike can live or die by the last pro tour win or latest wind tunnel test, Norco has never focused on playing that marketing game. I have always respected Norco for producing the best valued bikes in the market, but producing drool-worthy race bikes? Enter the Tactic.
Out of the box
At first glance, the Tactic checks off all the boxes in high performance carbon frame design. Tapered head tube and fork for improved strength and predictable steering, check. Large diameter down tube flowing through an equally large PF30 bottom bracket shell continuing on into massive chain stays for impressive power transfer, present and accounted for. Wafer-thin seat stays for vertical compliance and all-day ride comfort, yup.
You would be right in thinking hey, wait a minute, what sets the Tactic apart if it shares the same features of the rest of the industry? Norco believes it’s what you can’t see that puts the Tactic frame on another level. To join the carbon layers together, Norco uses a proprietary resin called ArmorLite which improves both impact resistance and carbon protection while requiring less resin compared to the rest of the industry. No I did not take a hammer to the frame to test this but adding protection while reducing weight is a great selling point for the Tactic.
Norco was not content to stop there with the Tactic. Carbon fiber derives strength from being in tension which means any folding or ripples in the layup can become a point of weakness. Norco uses Smooth Core, a technique to ensure that the carbon layup is smooth and wrinkle-free from the inside out. While the old saying goes “strong, stiff and light, pick two”, Norco has designed a frame that strikes a nice balance between those three characteristics. Even better, Norco uses the same 46T High-Mod carbon from the Tactic 1 and up, Tactic 2 and 3 use 24T, meaning a racer gets the same ride characteristics no matter what version of the Tactic they use.
As for the components, Norco kits out the Tactic SL with Shimano Ultegra 6800 Di2, FSA SLK crankset, Easton EC70 bar and seat post, Fulrcum Racing 5 wheels, Fizik Arione saddle and Clement LGG 700x25C tires. Now, a little mix up at the factory meant the 60.5cm destined for me arrived with the wrong sized parts kit as well as a frame that had a miss-aligned water bottle braze-on. Live To Play Sports, distributor of all things Norco, quickly swapped out the frame for a Tactic LE frameset and substituted the build kit with the right sized Shimano Ultegra crank and Ritchey WCS bar and stem.
Fit and finish on the frameset are top drawer and routing the Di2 wires was a breeze with the well thought out cable/wire ports. One small caveat here was the external battery specification and the exclusion of a charger. With the availability of an internal battery the external battery is simply a cosmetic complaint but by not including a charger it was one extra step to source a charger to be able to ride. The good news here is that for 2015 the internal battery and charger are included on the Di2 models.
On the road
On paper Norco has done impressive work to design a frameset that meets a racer’s needs but does that work translate to actual riding on road? Quite simply, yes. The Tactic is the most balanced race bike I have ridden to date. While many companies have split their performance line-ups into seemingly endless possibilities of which it becomes difficult to choose what to ride, Norco has designed the Tactic around pure and balanced performance and it delivers in every way.
Stomp on the pedals and the Tactic leaps forward without hesitation. Out of the saddle sprints and even hard climbs managed to put a grin on my face every time. All that frame stiffness did not translate into a harsh ride or a jumpy bike though. Between the ARC seat stays and 27.2mm seatpost there is just enough flex to absorb vibration from the road. Even over what passes for cobblestone in North America, the Tactic felt smooth and handled predictably when the wheels were bouncing from stone to stone. That balanced handling continued into impress through the corners and changes of speed; diving hard into a typical crit corner and exiting at speed felt unbelievably smooth and predictable.
The componentry continued to build on that balanced performance. There is not really anymore that can be written about Shimano Ultegra Di2 that has not be written before; flawless shifting and braking, and performs identically to Dura Ace without the hefty price tag. The Fulcrum Racing 5 wheels are solid performers and the Clement Strada LGG tires roll nicely and grip well in the dry and the wet. Most racers would use the Fulcrum/Strada combo for wet-weather training or spare wheels so again, Norco has thoroughly thought out the component package by not using a higher end wheel that would drive up the price. Across the whole Tactic range each model has been well thought out so racers throwing a leg over any one will be getting a fantastic ride.
The Final Word
Looking through the entire range of Norco bikes it is now easy to spot how much attention to detail has been given to each frame feature and design. Norco has always managed to offer bikes that had the best bang for the buck in the industry but now they can add top drawer frames to that list. Still think that Norco is just a Mountain Bike company? Forget the wind tunnel tests and the pro tour, the Norco Tactic is your best strategy to win.
Head Coach, Horseshoe Resort