Saturday, March 23, 2013

Norco Threshold A3

After working from home for about 5 years, I changed lobs last year to a company that has an office where you go to do work in the same place everyday. I took my standing desk in with me, and I've also been cycling pretty much everyday, which I am absolutely loving! It's only a 10Km round trip, but it's great to have a reason to get out of the house and start the day with some really good exercise.

Demise of my Kmart clunker

When we first moved back to Aus from Japan, I bought a bike from Kmart to cycle to a job I did a brief stint at. It was only about $150, but it served me well. After being left unused all these years while working from home, by my estimates it did about 1,500 Km since starting my new job.

Last year sometime, I hit a small brick curb at a medium speed, and bent both rims. The front had a slight wobble, and the back wobbled like it was trying to escape, but I kept riding it anyway, thinking that the cost of replacing the wheels wold probably be as much as the entire bike cost.

Until this happened:

Smashed rims!

I took pretty good care of it, oiling the chain and pumping up the tires every other week, but last time I noticed that the back rim has finally given out. Must have been metal fatigue after the bump it took last year, but the rim is completely cracked and broken, so I just had to buy a new bike!

The search for a replacement

For some reason, at first I was taken with the idea of a belt-driven internal hub commuter, like a Gates Carbon Drive and a Shimano Alfine 8 or 11 speed, but I found them to be quite expensive, in the $1,500+ range.

I had my eye on the Specialized Source, and the Trek Soho Deluxe urban commuters, and noticed that one of our local bike shops had a Specialized Source Eight in the shop, so I went in to take a look, but then I saw the Specialized Tricross and quickly abandoned the idea of internal gears, for a cyclocross style bike with drop bars.

Unfortunately the Tricross was a bit outside my (cough, my wife's) price range, starting at $1,500, so I kept searching until I found the Norco Threshold series.


Norco Threhold A3

The Norco Threshold series is marketed as a cyclocross bike, with an alloy frame, drop bars, and rugged tires. Unlike the Specialized Tricross which start at $1,500, the top-end Threshold is around $1,500, while the A3 retails for around $1,100. I picked up mine for about $900.

The hardware is pretty good, with Shimano Sora shifters, Shimano Tiagra derailleurs, and Shimano 9-speed cassette, Hayes CX5 disc brakes, and FSA 46/36 crankset.

The alloy frame is stiff, and light, weighing in at 11Kg for the 54cm. Coming from my last bike which had front forks, and a suspension seat-post, I love that you can feel both every bump & crack in the road, just the same as you can feel every joule of energy from your legs being transferred into forward momentum.

What's awesome

  • I love the drop bars! It's my first bike with drop bars, and they're awesome.

  • The shifters – from the website, it looks like they're the older thumb-click models, but the 2013 model comes with the dual–lever shifters, which are great.

  • Quick–release wheels – no way I wold have fit it in the back of the car to get it home without being able to quickly drop the wheels off.

  • Disk brakes! They actually stop the bike, instead of just making noise whilst slowing it down slightly…

  • Saddle – it's quite hard, but it looks like it's designed to be slung over the shoulder for actual cyclocross racing, or for carrying it up stairs in my case

What's not quite awesome

  • Rattly cables – I like that it has internal cable routing in this price range, but unfortunately it makes a noticeable and distracting rattle when riding at speed as the stiff cables bang on the inside of the frame.

  • Short rear centre – all Threshold models besides the smallest measure only 425mm from the crank to the rear axle, and I notice myself hitting the heel of my foot on the frame. It may be more that the frame is wider to accommodate the disc brakes and rear cassette, but I'm thinking that toe clips might help keep my heel out of the way

Awesome bike!

The first time I rode it, I had the urge to laugh maniacally; it's a full 6Kg lighter than my last bike, and the gear ratios are much better, so it launches forward instantly, effortlessly climbs uphill, and I haven't ridden a long enough downhill slope to fully let rip in its top gear. I thought I might want 50 on the front, but that would probably be terrifying.

While I'll really only be using it for commuting, a cyclocross bike makes for a much better machine for surviving Sydney's atrocious cycling conditions at speed and in style than my trusty old Kmart hybrid. For $900, to get drop bars with Sora shifters, disk brakes, and an alloy frame is great value. The bike is light, yet stiff and solid, and I'm sure it will give me years of happy cycling.


Warren Kurtz said...

A great review! The cable rattle that you mention may have killed my desire for this bike though. Did you ever get this sorted or are you just living with it?

Mark said...

We fitted some rubber grommets to the cable entry points which promptly vanished inside the frame, but it's done over 2,000 Kms now and the cable rattle isn't noticeable any more.

Still gets a bit of seat post creak every now & then, but I just pop it out and apply some thick grease. Have had to do that 2-3 times so far but it's not a big deal.

The new models look really good, different colors, and they may have upgraded the drivetrain specs a little.


TheSilverHunter said...

awesome review! I just found the Threshold and would really like to buy the A2, but have to save up first. I may just go for the A3, but the carbon fork and 10 speed range is more my fancy.

Mark said...

Thanks! Have to admit, I had wondered if replacement carbon forks for an A2/A1 couldn't be retrofitted to an A3. Haven't looked into it though.

I've found the 2x9 speed range to be great for commuting, but for longer weekend rides larger front rings would be good - the 36/46 is tiny! Rarely need the small ring, only on longer rides with some good climbs.

The back wheel developed a loose spoke & wobble, so I had it tightened & trued. Lasted for over 2,300Km before needing any wheel set servicing. Don't know if that's good/bad though. Depends how you ride I suppose.

Marilu Paterson said...

Your review has been really helpful. I am looking at this bike (for general fitness riding).
BTW how durable have the tyres been - this is always my worry (although I won't be doing much curb hopping or offroading)

Mark said...

Thanks! I don't do any curb-hopping or actual cyclocross off-road riding, but the Continental tires have are excellent and have taken over 2,600 Km in their stride.