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Review: Norco’s Do-It-All Cyclocross Machine Eats Dirt and Gravel for Breakfast

Quite possibly the best-looking bike on the market.

When it comes to bike porn, it doesn’t get much better than Norco’s Threshold SL Force CX1. That two-tone matte paint job, the deep dish wheels, the Rotor Q-Ring chain ring and the Clement Crusade knobby tires — these are a cyclocross rider’s dream. But when it comes down to it, there are a lot of good-looking bikes out there that don’t carry the performance backing to their suave appearance. The Threshold SL is one of the rare exceptions. Not only does the bike look devilishly good, but it also goes like hell. If you like going fast on dirt, the Threshold SL makes a compelling case that there is no better bike to do it on.

Putting a bike like the Threshold SL to the test requires a mixture of terrain. Gravel, dirt, snow, mud, stream crossings and pavement are all in its wheelhouse. To find a combination of these surfaces, we headed to Goshen, Vermont and the Green Mountain National Forest to put the Threshold through its paces. At this time of year, Vermont is in full-on mud season; frost-heaved dirt roads and gravel paths that will swallow your tires whole are routine. Serious gradients are, too, any time of year.

As Tested

Frame: Threshold SL High-Mod Carbon
Fork: Threshold SL High-Mod Full Carbon
Groupset: Sram Force CX1
Wheelset: 3T Discus Team C60 Carbon Clincher
Tires: Clement Crusade PDX 120tpi Folding 33c
Saddle: Fizik Tundra M5
MSRP: $5,125
Test Location: Goshen, Vermont and Palisades Interstate Park
Rider Wearing: Ornot, Velocio, Brancale, Smith, Julbo

The Threshold SL is built specifically for cyclocross racing — its parts spec reflects that — but if you are the type of cyclist who enjoys riding on dirt about as fast as you do on road, the Threshold is a strong contender to win your heart. On flats and rolling hills, the geometry feels racy and even on longer climbs consisting of soft gravel, pavement and frost-crusted dirt, it performs admirably. There is no doubt that the stock gear ratio on the bike is suited towards cyclocross racing, but with some effort and a decent amount of leg strength, it makes for an extremely capable gravel grinder as well. If you were so inclined, you could probably slap on a pair of road tires and have a serviceable road bike to blow away your morning commute. The geometry differs from both a road bike and a commuter bike, putting you in an athletic but comfortable position. In comparison to Norco’s Tactic SL Disc (its flagship road race bike), the Threshold features a shorter top tube, a higher bottom bracket and a shorter reach. The result is a bike that feels race oriented, but not to the point where you are contorted into a pretzel.

I also found that the Q-Ring chainring — an oval-shaped chainring that cyclists like Chris Froome swear by for the minuscule performance advantage that they may provide for a pro — took out many of the dead spots in my otherwise inefficient pedal stroke. This led to me saving more of my energy for the hills where I needed it most. The Q-Ring is a unique feature to come standard on a bike — most come with traditional circular rings, as they are more universally accepted in the cycling world.

When getting out of the saddle, which the soft gravel around Vermont requires far more often than other surfaces, the Threshold felt stiff and fast, yet still pliant enough to be comfortable when blasting down the other side of the hill. Part of that stiffness is a direct result of the 15mm thru axles in the front and rear as opposed to traditional quick release dropouts that typically measure between 5mm and 10mm. It tracked well in the descents, despite the gravel trying to put it off, and its compact geometry made bike handling and quick avoidance maneuvers easy. The rather beefy fork adds more stiffness up front and translates to responsive steering, further aiding in dodging rocks, deep puddles and frost heaves.

When it came to shouldering the bike and carrying it, which is inevitable at this time of year in Vermont, its featherweight carbon frame came in handy. The bike tips the scales at less than 20 pounds, which isn’t quite as light as a road bike, but isn’t bad for a bike that can handle essentially the same duties as a rigid mountain bike — except a whole lot faster. Sure, this is an awesome bike for ‘cross racers who like a little extra panache. But for cyclists who enjoy riding fast on dirt and want a bike they can also take for long ride on paved roads, the Threshold SL makes the case for ditching both your road rig and your rigid mountain bike and making the switch to an incredibly good-looking bike that that eats dirt and gravel for breakfast.

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