The Marzocchi 55 ATA is very plush and quite stiff for the average rider. I felt just a bit more flex than I do on a Fox 36 or older ( ’05, ’06) Marzocchi 66. Under heavy breaking or big square edged hits the fork doesn’t noticeably flex rearward. This made slow front wheel breaking on steep and rocky trails very reliable and solid. Under extremely heavy front wheel braking the front wheel stayed on track, smooth, and fork didn’t stutter or pack up. You will not blow through all the travel on this fork and even when pushed, there was still travel to spare. This I found to be a good thing because under heavy front wheel braking the fork didn’t completely dive and pack down. It stayed fluid and smooth even while braking on bumpy terrain. Also, because the fork didn’t completely dive on heavy braking or steep rollers and even with a lot of weight up front I never felt like I would go over the bars. I found the 55 ATA to be a good solid fork that was smooth and worked very well. Mixing it with the solid frame design of the Fluid LT made riding gnarly trails fun, not scary. There are two complaints I have with the ergonomics and design of the travel adjust and the lock out knobs on the fork. I’m going to quote from Tiffany Allmandinger’s Vixa/Minxy review because those used the same fork and she expressed the same issue I have.
“1st – The travel adjustment knob is the antithesis of ergonomic. It’s sharp edges and unforgiving contours are murder on the fingers – especially if you’re hands are cold. Combine that with a requirement to first lift the knob up, and in both of my cases – off – it’s usually a guarantee for sore fingertips.
2nd – The lockout lever seems to have been designed backwards and it nearly defies the laws of physics with it’s almost complete lack of friction. It also locks out with a clockwise turn of roughly 60º which means two things: The lever can rattle into a locked position if the terrain is rough enough and you’re carrying enough speed. It happened to me once, it did not make me happy. It also means that a stray branch or bit of brush can effortlessly lock your fork out and instantly ruin your day. That happened to me too. Once. Two zip-ties later and I was good to go.”
Accepting these two design issue (of the travel adjust knob and the lockout), the fork worked great. One thing that would be nice would be an on the fly handle bar mount travel adjust for roller coaster like trails. Another thing, I found on some trails, running the fork at 120mm travel made cornering and steering snappier and the more aggressive body position of a lowered front end was perfect.
The Fluid LT 2 comes with a Fox DHx Air 3.0 which was easy to set up, smooth to ride, and could balance compression and rebound well with the Marzocchi 55 ATA fork. I personally prefer a suspension setup where the rebound and compression rates of the front match the rebound and compression rates of the back. It was easy to find that sweet spot with the Marz/Fox combo on the Fluid LT.
The shock performed very well under my own peculiar set up. Since I prefer a bike to handle better going down the trail than up, I tend to prefer a bit of a slacker head angle/geometry. The Fluid LT 2 XL geo has 68 degree head angle. This is fine under most riding conditions. But on some of the steeper trails and rougher terrain something a bit slacker helps. So I set the shock up so that the the sag was at about 40%. There is another way to achieve the same feat, the Fluid LT 2 has adjustable length travel. If you set the travel to the 137mm setting it will also slacken out the head angle. Even with softer air spring setting the DHx was smooth over stutter bumps and generally gave an impression of never ending travel. I don’t think I ever once felt the rear bottom out. But the largest drop I took it off was only about 4ft and had a good transition.
There is a discernable amount of pedal bob with this bike. You can reduce the rebound to lessen the effect, while on extended climbs (just be sure to dial it back up before you descend!) I found most of the time I preferred to set the rebound to a slower setting or the absolute slowest if I was going to be riding up for a while. The rebound control is pretty easy to quickly adjust at the beginning of a ride or during a break.
The Avid Juicy 5 brakes mixed with 7″ rotors worked surprising well. To put it bluntly I’m not an Avid fan. I find Avid brakes in general to be too grabby, quick to lock up, and have poor modulation. Every pair I’ve used has been a ‘slide it not ride it’ brake. Fun at times, but really not ideal. These Juicy 5 brakes on the Fluid LT did not act that way at all. In fact I really liked them. They had pretty good modulation, they didn’t fade under long braking, and they didn’t grab with the initial squeeze of the lever and had good power overall. The lack of easy adjustments for brake pads and lever keeps these brakes in the lower end of the performance scale but they functioned just as well as some bling bling brakes.
As far as rear wheel braking goes, the rear of the Fluid LT would jack a bit. What I mean specifically by this is that the rear suspension would expand when the rear brake is engaged which would force the rear suspension to expand. Wheel gets forced into the ground, the saddle will go up and front end will go down. This was a bit surprising my first time going over a large rock roller and having the saddle give my rear end a bit of a push. But once I figured out the characteristics of the slight brake jack I was able to adjust my riding style to it. There is actually a bit of an advantage to the braking characteristics of this bike. I found the brake jack to be quite helpful on normal trail riding. Specifically when setting up to corner or heavy braking. Grab a bit of rear brake and front end will go down forcing my shoulders and weight up over the front the bike setting my body up for weighting the inside knobs of the tire in a corner or really forcing the center block like knobs of the Nevegal into the ground. This meant that controlling the steering and bike under these situations was easy and intuitive. I didn’t have to think, ‘get up over the front wheel’ cause I was already there. I know it seems weird to say you can use a bit of brake jack to your advantage but comparing it to other bikes that squat and put the body weight over the rear tire, being able to easily use the front for what it is for, steering, was refreshing and fun.
Wheels & Tires
The Fluid LT 2 comes with XT center lock 20mm front, 135×10 rear hub. The XT hubs performed just fine. They appeared to roll quickly and smooth and I didn’t have any issues. One complaint about the XT center lock hub is that it requires a different tool to get the front rotor and rear rotor off. That means two tools for the same job. Granted, it isn’t a job you have deal with often. The Mavic 317 rim and spokes seemed just fine for this bike. They are a good mix of cost savings, strength and weight. While riding I never once felt the wheel flex around high speed turns, flat corners or rough sections. This means the bike stayed on course and kept its line.
The Kenda Nevegal 2.35, downhill casing with Kevlar bead tires are a great combination. Light weight and thick side walls. You can run a lower tire pressure for better traction without so much worry about a snake bite. This allows the tires to be set up in more of a DH style which improves the over all handling of the bike down the trail. The Nevegal tire is in my opinion a fine tire. It tracks well and doesn’t have any slip point like the Blue Groove or some other tires. It also doesn’t drift and it performs well in just about all conditions that I’ve ever ridden them in. The large center knobs helps a lot with hard braking. These 2.35 tires are a hefty size and offer a large gripping surface for a stable, confidence and inspiring ride. The tube inside is a regular XC style light weight tube and I never once popped it.
The WTB SLT Rocket V with chromoly rails is awesome. It is a very comfortable saddle once you get in the right position. I rode this saddle most of the time without a chamois as well. I realize that saddles are a bit like gloves and helmets. What works for one person might not work for another, but this saddle is great. It is on my list for my next pedal bike.
One sad thing about the Fluid LT series this year is that even thought they were spec’d with adjustable seat post they didn’t ship with any. It seems the seat post tubing size was just too small for a reliable adjustable saddle, so a standard post and QR is all there is. For the ’10 bikes this will not be an issue, they all have a larger diameter seat tube.
The Fluid LT 2.0 comes with a Truvativ Stylo GXP, triple 44/32/22T, crankset. In the MTBR product review section, the Stylo GXP has an average rating of about 3 chilis. Not so hot. But the one on this review bike worked perfectly. I didn’t notice any flex from the crank arms and the BB never squeaked or loosened up. One thing I don’t understand is why these beefy all mountain bikes come with a triple. The only time I was ever in the 44T was when I was on a paved road. Which, being a mountain bike, means… never. I would suggest that anyone who purchases this bike also have the LBS switch out the 44T ring for a bash guard. This bike is beefy and fun enough to really have a good time jumping, getting over roots or logs, and smashing through rocks. So get a bash guard. Better clearance and more useful then the 44T ring you’ll most likely never use.
The SRAM X7 shifter combo with X9 rear derailleur and Shimano XT front worked as smooth as they should. The X7 shifters are a smart money saving part choice. The X7 works very well and costs a lot less which means a lower price for you. I have run X0, X9, and X7 shifters on my personal bikes and I have never noticed a difference between the X9 and X7. The long cage X9 rear derailleur shifts smoothly and is a good, strong derailleur that can take a lot of abuse. One thing I noticed though, is that in rough sections the derailleur really likes to come into contact with the chainstay a lot. And that can make a horrible racket. I would suggest a foam chainstay protector on this bike to reduce the clang clang of the two metals meeting, unless you like to sound like a bag of tin cans. I suppose you might not need a bell. I used a clear thick plastic frame guard which works but didn’t dampen the noise.
The SRAM PG-950, 9 speed, 11-34 rear cassette works fine, but it is heavy and it is a cheap part to upgrade and a good way to lose some weight off this bike. I would recommend replacing it when you can with an 11-32T of lighter weight. This is not a weight weenie bike by any means, but I’m a bit of a weight winnie at heart.
Component Summary -
Overall the component spec on the Fluid LT 2 is solid and price and performance conscience. Sure there are some higher end components, but there are also a lot more lower end components. I’d say the components on the Fluid LT 2 are just below the race level and well above the irritating to deal with level of the low end.
One complaint I do have in this department (which Norco has already addressed in the 2010 bikes) is the mounting hardware for the shock. It is made of some pretty soft metal and is easy to strip out the 4mm Allen holes.