A.R.T. (“Advanced Ride Technology”) suspension
Norco has extensive documentation regarding the new A.R.T. suspension. It’s hard to speak much to this new suspension without reciting company marketing so I’ll summarize and then relate personal impressions in the body of the review. A.R.T. suspension has four main goals: (i) increased pedalling efficiency (ie less wallowing and bob while pedalling); (ii) improved leverage curve (ie. more progressive feel to the suspension); (iii) increased square edge bump compliance (ie smoother ride when encountering obstacles); (iv) improved braking performance (ie suspension performs even while under braking).
Norco is a licensee of Specialized’s FSR four-bar linkage suspension design. A.R.T. tweaks this design by moving the location of the pivot (tilting the rear link lower and slightly forward from the older position). The major accomplishment of this modification is to allow the rear wheel of the Shinobi (or any other A.R.T. – suspended bike) to move not only upwards under impact but also rearwards (watch this video starting at 0:52 for more).
This graph of the A.R.T’s wheelpath shows the difference between the 2011 A.R.T. bike and the standard four-bar 2010 Fluid LT; more rearward movement under load as compared to the standard 2010 Horst-link bike
Qualitatively testing the A.R.T.’s characteristics in Vancouver’s North Shore
Shinobi XC and uphill performance
I’ve always been a fan of Norco’s implementation of FSR suspension in its downhill application. I’ve not been such a big fan of FSR bikes when pedalling uphill as such bikes would bob and weave like drunken shadow-boxing sailors unless one used a platform rear shock and engaged the platform. This is not true for the Shinobi which pedals steadily without appreciable bob uphill.
The Shinobi is a very effective seated climber; the rear tire has tremendous traction and seems to dig into the ground when grinding or spinning away up uphill. Standing climbing is also a stable affair possibly due to the anti-bob of the A.R.T. system). Having said that, the Shinobi is still a 31 lb 29er wheeled bike. Big wheels need more energy to get going and the Shinobi accordingly suffers somewhat if you need to apply power for small sections. The Shinobi seems to climb best when you get it going and keep it going by applying gradual increments of power. So prepared to be underwhelmed if you have lots of small steep sections of uphills where you need to sprint and recover as the Shinobi will be suboptimal. However, If you have longer more gradual climbs (whether smooth or technical), be prepared to be impressed by what this bike can climb.
Rolling terrain is where 29ers shine and the Shinobi is no exception to this rule. Once you get the bike up to speed if you have the engine to keep the wheels rolling, you’ll find the sweet spot as the greater momentum of the bigger wheels takes you through and over obstacles with aplomb. It’s a truism that you ride a 29er differently than you ride a conventional wheeled bike; simply pick a line and the bigger wheels will carry you through. This is even moreso with the Shinobi where I believe many factors conflate to produce an especially convincingly confident-inspiring ride which allows you attack terrain; namely the exceptional stiffness of the frame, particularly the rear end, the tremendous range and performance of the Rockshox Reba front end; and the impressive performance of the Kenda Nevegal 2.2 tread.