Norco Torrent S1 HT : Tested

By Mark Watson 3 November 2022
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The Torrent S1 HT is a rowdy steel hardtail that ups the fun factor immensely on the trails. We get rad with this big rig.

Mountain biking has come a long way since some Californian hippies retrofitted beach cruisers with moto bars and fat balloon tyres to bomb down fire-trails on ‘klunkers’ back in the 1970s. Nowadays we have carbon dual-suspension bikes with wireless dropper posts and electronic suspension, not to mention the exploding world of the eMTB. However, if you want to get back to basics and reignite your passion for the simplicity of a steel hardtail then look no further than the Norco Torrent S1 HT


The unboxing of a Norco Torrent S1 HT is a sight to behold… not because of all the latest fandangle tech or lightweight carbon pieces you might expect from one of Canada’s top MTB manufacturers, but rather because of the pure delight and simplicity of a dual-triangle double-butted chromoly steel frame, coupled with premium components and oversized 29” wheels. In fact, one could be mistaken for thinking such a clean frame with external cable routing belongs in a time capsule, until closer examination reveals reinforcing at weld joints, or the hard hitting 150mm RockShox Lyrik Ultimate RC2 fork. This is all packaged in the geometry ‘sweet spot’ for an aggressive all-mountain oriented mountain bike.

Norco’s Torrent S1 is designed for those who prefer not to spend Sundays servicing a multi-chamber rear shock, but would rather revisit the ol’ days of bombing down a hill on a burly steel framed, gravity-oriented hardtail beast. The Torrent delivers a quality spec’d, steel framed trail weapon that goes up with ease and down with gusto. Adorned with 800mm riser bars, a hefty 150mm RockShox Lyrik Ultimate RC2 fork and four-piston Shimano MT520 stoppers, the Torrent is very much targeted at all-mountain fun and downhill antics. 

An oversized cockpit delivers plenty of room to play, whilst short chainstays let the bigger 29” wheels excel in tighter stuff where a bike its size shouldn’t. Throw in a mix of Shimano SLX and XT components along with a 170mm dropper post and you’ve got a solid hardtail rig that should be able to handle just about anything you can dish up. To see if the ‘old’ can really mix with the ‘new’, we took the Norco Torrent HT S1 out to our local trails to see how it would handle square-edged sandstone, loose off-camber corners, rock slabs and even a few berms, drops and jumps. Is this really the all-rounder we’ve been waiting for and is it worth the hefty price tag it comes with?

In the field

Immediately out of the gates the Torrent was a pleasure to ride. A spacious cockpit is a blessing in a world of steep seat angles and slack head angles and allowed my 188cm frame to stretch out on the firetrail climb to our singletrack. Don’t get me wrong, Norco is no stranger to the craze of ‘steeper rear and slacker front’ and the Torrent is no exception. A 76-degree seat tube angle coupled with a slack 64-degree head angle of our large frame proved the Torrent S1 is not built on old-school geometry, however the Torrent’s long 641mm top tube and lengthy 50mm stem alleviate ‘the hunch’ and when combined with a tall 646mm stack height, 430mm seatpost and 170mm X-Fusion Manic Dropper, the cockpit felt super roomy. So much so, in fact, our large frame’s 480mm reach may deliver too much stretch for those shorter in stature, who might benefit from selecting a size down from their usual frame size. 

On the way to the trailhead, my return to a steel hardtail frame was a joyful revisiting of a time when each turn of a crank could be felt instantly in the tyres on the ground. As soon as we hit the trail, it was evident that the lack of ‘power-sapping’ rear suspension, coupled with a steep seat angle and lengthy 175mm cranks meant pedal power translating directly to forward momentum. The bottom bracket offered plenty of obstacle clearance but the longer cranks did mean the occasional pedal strike. When the trails turned narrow and rocky on the climb, that effective delivery of power, coupled with a Maxxis Dissector 2.4” EXO rear tyre and Maxxis Assegai 2.5” EXO front allowed for plenty of traction. The hefty 29” tyres stretch out to a 1243mm wheelbase and so took some getting used to, especially in tighter stuff, but once again the short chainstays allowed the rear to follow the nose better than expected. Once ‘up top’ and moving from loose firetrail to sandstone slab and rocky outcrops, the steel frame bounced and jittered a little, showcasing an obvious disadvantage over my regular dual suspension rig, but there was a degree of compliance the steel delivered, much more than to be expected from an aluminium counterpart.

It is on pointing the Torrent downhill that the fun begins. There’s no getting around it, the Torrent is a big bike, and I certainly wouldn’t call it nimble, but funnily enough it is a joy to descend and doesn’t feel like a bulldozer either… it seems more a ‘carver’ than a ‘flicker’ but, being a hardtail, it kicked predictably off any rock or jump. The key to the Torrent’s performance is in part due to the short 42mm fork offset that directs the nose where it is supposed to go, and, once again, in the short chainstays that allows the rear wheel to hug a line. Stans Flow S1 29” rims laced to XT hubs offered a smooth roll, and a willingness to hold onto low-pressure tubeless rubber when the going got tough, while the Maxxis rubber found a sweet spot for ‘rollability’ but delivered excess grip on the loose stuff. The bike was grounded through the berms and in the dry we found it excelled more than expected on loose descents and technical rock-slabs where a dually would previously have been the bike of choice. 

The big-hitting reliability of the 150mm Lyric fork meant the Torrent was forgiving over those ever-present waist-high ‘huck-to-flat’ rocks of our Sydney test trail, and the rear-end made it easy to shift weight to pop the front when needed. Shimano’s four-piston BR-MT520-hydraulic disc brakes paired with a large 203mm front rotor and 180mm rear worked adequately for slowing the bike out of the flowy stuff and delivering the rider at slow speed into tech segments where the 170mm dropper delivered rapid response and plenty of travel to get out of the way. What the Torrent lacked in nimbleness and finesse it made up for in flow and confidence. The only foreseeable issue arising from the Torrent sitting in my stable is the return of more confidence than competence that invariably sees me ending up in the trees… but maybe it’s worth it.

The final word on the Norco Torrent HT S1

The Norco Torrent HT S1 doesn’t try to be something it is not – it is unapologetically a ‘bruiser’. What Norco has done, however, is bring the latest in tech and geometry to the party for a grounded and playful all-rounder that can be thrown at just about anything. Whilst the cable routing could be cleaner, and a consideration of how to shave a few grams from the build would be great, all in all the Norco Torrent S1 HT is a solid all-round hardtail with my only gripe being price.

The simple and strong lines of a steel hardtail are magnified thanks to the Torrent S1’s brilliant paint job.

At $4.5k I’d like to see better components, both to shave grams and deliver better value for money, but in the world of post pandemic back-orders I suspect a price drop won’t be on the cards anytime soon.

RRP: $4499 See Norco for more info.