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Norco Valence SL Ultegra Di2 review

26 Oct 2015
Verdict:

Will this Canadian-born Norco Valence SL endurance bike go the distance?

Price: 
£3,000

In his 1862 book entitled Mécanisme de la Physionomie, French anatomist Guillaume Duchenne observed that there were two distinct categories of smiles: those that are genuine, and those that are not. Subjects displaying the genuine article – the Duchenne smile – would raise the corners of their mouth and also their cheeks would raise to form crow’s feet around their eyes. Insincere smilers, however, could only upturn the corners of their mouths in a non-Duchenne smile.

Such observations became crucial in the Facial Action Coding System, or FACS, a set of 3,000 codified facial movements that psychologists use to determine people’s emotions through physical expression. An example of this is ‘valence’ – a measure of how attracted or averse somebody is to a place, person or object. So smiles have an important part to play in appreciating valence. And, as it turns out, smiles were also defining factors in gauging my appreciation of the Valence SL, too.

Norco Valence SL stem

Founded in British Columbia, Norco has been turning out bikes since 1964 – initially as Northern Cycle Industries, then as Norco from 1967. Early sales focused on ‘high-rise coaster’ bikes, essentially Americanised Raleigh Choppers, but by the end of the 1960s Norco was importing Gitane road bikes from France, and by the 1970s it was making its own 10-speed road bikes.

I wasn’t sure what to expect with the Valence SL – whether it was just another carbon bike to cash in on market trends, or a genuinely strong addition to the Norco portfolio. On seeing the bike in the flesh, however, my scepticism soon started to evaporate.

Solid foundations

The bike’s appearance – abstract, pinstripe red graphics over a matt black base – is classy, if a little safe, and the spec sheet is a list of quality components. Ultegra Di2 takes care of the drivetrain, Easton EA90 SLX wheels shod with Continental Grand Sport tyres (nicely chosen at 25c) take care of the rolling stock, and while the in-house finishing kit is functional and frill-less, it’s good to see Norco placing a Fizik Antares saddle atop the 27.2mm carbon seatpost. The £3,000 price is competitive, and often manufacturers are so desperate to offer a full carbon bike with electronic shifting that they cut corners elsewhere by downgrading cassettes, using non-series chainsets or speccing mid-level wheels. Not so here.

Norco Valence SL frame

That said, I was slightly wary that with a groupset with a retail price of £2,000 and a pair of wheels costing nearly £1,000, Norco wouldn’t have had much money left to spend on the frameset. Admittedly both items can be found discounted, and bulk buying from the likes of Shimano and Easton will reduce costs, but still I wondered, would the frameset prove a weak link?

Getting the miles in

As well as multiple rides on home soil I was able to really test the endurance mettle of the Valence SL with some long rides in the French Alps. Weighing 7.26kg (56cm), the Valence SL just about warrants its super-light initials, and the 460g by which it exceeds the UCI minimum weight never felt like it was holding me back on the climbs. At the same time, though, it didn’t feel like it was giving me any unexpected advantage. It delivered me to the top every time, and the style was the right side of utilitarian to keep things enjoyable. Getting back down provided a far more lasting impression, however.

Compact geometry gives the Valence SL a low-slung appearance, and that’s exactly how it felt descending. Hunkered down on long flats it felt like I could keep on accelerating without ever having to worry about uneven surfaces or speed wobble. Likewise the bike coped well through the turns. It felt rigid and direct up front and equally well balanced at the rear, so I could throw the Norco into a corner, start leaning and feel confident that pressure on the pedal would drive the tyres into the floor for those last precious shreds of grip. And all this during one biblically rainy afternoon centred around a 30km descent off the back of the Col du Glandon.

Norco Valence SL dropout

To pin these confident attributes to the frameset alone, however, is to miss a trick. At a claimed 1,400g, the Easton EA90 SLX wheels helped the Valence SL in the climbing arena, but being alloy with a 17.5mm wide rim bed supporting 25c tyres, they also aided descending and life on the flat.

It’s common knowledge that 25c tyres typically roll faster than 23c, and when you add to that wider rim beds (the width between the clincher hook edges – 15-16mm has up until recently been standard), the tyres can be run at lower pressure for the same rolling resistance, making for a more comfortable ride.

Shod with the Grand Sport tyres, the Valence SL felt incredibly confident leaning into corners, the bulbous rubber delivering a large contact patch and excellent grip. It also felt fast – the lower pressure I was able to run dealt with some pretty poor road surfaces, where a higher pressure with a harsher carbon wheel might have had me bouncing around and travelling slower.

As a consumer I would be happy to pay a few more quid for the increased suppleness of a pair of Continental GP4000 IIs tyres over the cheaper Grand Sports, but no matter – overall I had just as few complaints about the wheelset and tyres as I did the frameset.

Norco Valence SL review

It’s hard to find any fault with the Valence SL. I generally prefer the click-clunk feel of mechanical shifting, so the ergonomics of the Ultegra Di2 wasn’t entirely to my taste, but if electronic is your thing, it’s spot on. The shifts are crisp and incredibly accurate, particularly up front, and I have to say that once I handed the Valence SL back I did rather miss the deft-touch of Di2. It was a similar story with the bike as a whole.

Unexpectedly good

I really hadn’t expected much of the Valence SL, but it surprised me on every level. That’s not to say it’s a masterclass in bicycle engineering – it does everything well, but doesn’t excel in any one area. In the best possible sense it’s a jack-of-all-trades bicycle, which for the price is very well specced and which rides like something considerably more expensive. In fact the £3,000 asking price has been dropped to £2,400 by Evans at the time of writing, making it even better value than it was when I began riding it a few months ago. It’s an insanely good package, and one that definitely left a big Duchenne on my face.

Spec

Norco Valence SL Ultegra Di2
Frame Norco Valence SL 
Groupset Shimano Ultegra Di2 6870
Bars Norco Compact light alloy
Stem Norco Compact light alloy
Seatpost Norco Di2 Lite Composite
Wheels Easton EA90 SLX
Saddle Fizik Antares Mg
Contact evanscycles.com

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