First Impression: Norco Fluid 9.1 and Diamondback Sortie 29-1

Editor’s note: Here at Dirt Rag we don’t really do “comparison tests” or “shootouts” or declare “winners”. Every bike we review has a story to tell, and they’re all interesting. That said, we rounded up six full-suspension trail bikes in the $2,500-ish range to see what’s really out there in the heart of the mountian bike market. To get the party started, we spent a week riding in and around the beautiful Shenandoah Valley, Virginia. Watch for full reviews of each bike, as well as more about the trails, in an upcoming issue, but for now, a teaser…


What we have here are two contenders for a middle-weight crown. Weighing in at about 4.5 inches of rear travel, the Norco Fluid 9.1 and Diamondback Sortie 1 29ers are exactly the kind of bikes that fills that Goldilocks category—not too big, not too small. These are the perfect kind of tools for people who ride trails for fun, maybe try a local race once or twice a year, and maybe even visit a bike park now and then. You know, “mountain biking”.

On paper the two are remarkably similar: the head tube angle, seat tube angle, top tube length, chainstay length and bottom bracket height are all close enough to call it a draw. The biggest difference is the Diamondback has an extra 10mm of travel up front and 5mm out back. Is it enough to make a difference? We’ll have to see… One note: both bikes pictured here have handlebar/stems that were swapped for fit, and dropper posts added because, well, life is awesomer that way.


Norco Fluid 9.1

  • MSRP: $2,275
  • Travel: 120mm
  • Wheelsize: 29
  • Drivetrain: Shimano Deore, XT 10-speed
  • Brakes: Shimano Deore
  • Fork: Fox Float 32 CTD Evolution
  • Shock: Fox Float CTD Evolution

The Norco utilizes a Horst-link rear suspension, similar to Specialized’s FSR, with a pivot located below the rear axle with excellent small-bump compliance. The parts kit is extremely impressive given the price point, with Shimano XT shifters and rear derailleur and Deore cranks, front derailleur and brakes. The brakes are especially sweet, crushing anything else at their price point, In My Humble Opinion, and can even be upgraded with Shimano’s IceTech rotors and pads. The stock bars come in at a nice 740mm wide too. Ringing up the register at $2,250 seemed so impressive, I actually contacted Norco to make sure the price listed wasn’t a typo. It is the least expensive bike in our group and had some of the nicest components.


Diamondback Sortie 1

  • MSRP: $2,700
  • Travel: 125mm
  • Wheelsize: 29
  • Drivetrain: Shimano Alvio/Deore/SLX 9-speed
  • Brakes: Shimano M-445
  • Fork: Fox Float 32 CTD Evolution
  • Shock: Fox Float CTD Evolution

The Diamondback also used a tried-and-true design, the Knuckle Box, a single pivot system with a linkage driven shock. The low-slung suspension components keep weight down low, and you can sense the mass of the bike being more concentrated near the bottom bracket area. The parts spec on the Diamondback is far less bling, with a mix of Shimano Alivio, Deore and SLX parts, and the only nine-speed drivetrain in our group. It will also set you back a few hundred dollars more than the Norco. You’ll likely want to save some pennies for a new cockpit, since the stock 670mm bars and 100mm stem are not only old-school XC style, they really limit the potential of the bike.

While both bikes have tapered head tubes and 15mm thru-axle Fox Float 32 Evolution forks, only the Diamondback has a thru-axle in the rear. The added stiffness is readily apparent, as the Diamondback has a much more firm stance, both in suspension compression and frame stiffness. The Diamondback seems to sacrifice the plush ride in favor of stability, the Norco is far more forgiving and comfortable, but has a far less burly personality than the Diamondback. If you would allow me to make a cliched analogy here: the Norco is a European sports sedan and the Diamondback is an American muscle car.

After a handful of rides on each I’m still dialing in my fit and suspension setup, as well as trying different tires, to really get to know them a little better. I’m certainly not complaining about having two dates to the dance.

Keep reading

Click here to see an introduction to the great riding in and around the Shenandoah Valley and see all six bikes we brought with us. Be sure to keep an eye out in an upcoming issue for our full-length reviews.