Road Test: Norco Ceres

Norco Ceres
Zoom

Background

Prior to being contacted by Norco about reviewing the Ceres, I’d only occasionally heard about the company and I’d never seen one of their bikes in person. It turns out Norco is the largest bike company in Canada, they’ve been in business for over 40 years, and they offer 140+ bike models, with 52 in their “urban” line-up alone. The Ceres is their top-of-the-line commuter.

Construction

The Ceres is built with Reynolds 525 tubing. 525 is the modern equivalent of Reynold’s classic 531 chromoly, updated to be TIG-weldable. It’s considered an upgrade from the more common Taiwanese-made Reynolds 520 used in many mid-level transpo bike frames.

Norco Ceres

The TIG-welds on the Ceres look good and the general construction is clean. I had no issues with the assembly (this is not the case with a surprising number of bikes we review). The frame has a full complement of braze-ons and the star reinforcers are a nice touch.

Norco Ceres Sliding Dropout
Zoom

One of the key features that sets the Ceres apart from its competitors is Norco’s sliding vertical dropout design. This type of dropout makes setting up and servicing the belt drive much easier than on bikes with slotted, horizontal dropouts. With a sliding vertical dropout, belt tension and wheel alignment are adjusted independently of axle nut tension. Once the proper dropout position is locked in place using the micro-adjust set screws and locking allen bolts, the wheel can be removed and replaced without altering the belt tension or alignment, a real advantage for roadside flat repairs or any service that requires removing the rear wheel.

Norco Ceres

The frame has clearance for up to approximately 40mm tires, though the area around the bottom bracket is fairly crowded and there’s no kickstand plate. If, like me, you insist upon a kickstand on your commuting bikes, you’ll want to check carefully to make sure your kickstand of choice will work on the Ceres.

Components

Like most mainstream 2011 Alfine-equipped production bikes, the Ceres is spec’d with the 8-speed internal gear hub. The new 11-speed oil-bath Alfine is now available, but a majority of manufacturers are holding off until 2012 to spec the new, wide range hub.

Norco Ceres
Zoom

Even though the 11-speed is generating a lot of buzz, the 8-speed Alfine hub is still a gem. It’s also a great deal at nearly $300 less than the 11-speed. I’ve ridden this hub on 5 bikes now (including my current commuter), and I’ve yet to have an issue. It’s smooth, quiet, and trouble-free. I’m looking forward to the 11-speed, but this hub is no slouch and comes highly recommended.

Norco Ceres
Zoom

From the standpoint of pure performance, hydraulic disc brakes are hard to beat. The Deore hydraulic discs supplied on the Ceres are light in the hand and powerful. The rear brake is particularly nice due to the elimination of the long cable run. The down side is that hydraulic discs are more difficult to set-up and service than cable actuated discs.

Norco Ceres
Zoom

By now it’s probably apparent that I’m a fan of the Gates Carbon Drive System. The Ceres comes outfitted with a 24T rear pulley, 50T front pulley, and 118T carbon belt. This is the same set-up I’m running on my personal bike (Civia Bryant). I find the gear range perfect for city riding and up to moderate hills with medium loads. For full-blown cargo hauling or hilly terrain, a conventional triple drivetrain provides a more appropriate range of gears.

The smooth, quiet, and clean ride provided by the Gates drive needs to be experienced first hand to be fully appreciated. Once the belt alignment is dialed in, the drivetrain is almost disconcertingly smooth and quiet. I’ve become so spoiled that switching back to my chain driven bikes is now a bit of a shock. The belt drive’s lack of grease and zero maintenance is a real plus for year-round commuters. I don’t see belt drives replacing chains outright, but I do believe they’ll be spec’d on a growing number of mid- to upper-level commuting bikes in the future.

My experience has been that drivetrain guards are not really necessary with belt drives. I’ve spent a number of weeks on bikes equipped with Gates Carbon Drives sans guards and I’ve never had a pant leg get caught in the belt. That said, it would have been nice if Norco supplied a small guard along the upper belt run.

Norco Ceres

My test bike came outfitted with 32 hole Alex rims and Panaracer Mach SS tires (essentially cyclocross tires). The factory spec calls for 36 hole rims and 37mm Continental TownRide tires. Though I had no issues with the 32 hole rims or Panaracer tires, I’d prefer the 36 hole wheels and Continental tires for city riding. Check with your dealer on this.

Ride Quality

The Ceres is stiff and responsive. The over-sized tubing and straight blade fork contribute to a general feeling of rigidity and sure-footedness. The steering is light in the hand and feels even better with a medium commute load on the rear rack. The responsive steering and stiff frame make the Ceres well-suited to aggressive riding in urban environments.

Norco Ceres

The frame displays zero flex when carrying a commute-level load on the back (the rack is the limiting factor – more on that below). I didn’t have a front cargo rack available, but the stout fork and stiff frame will undoubtedly handle a heavier, balanced load with no issue.

The Panaracer tires do a good job of mitigating for the stiff fork by absorbing a fair amount of road shock – I wouldn’t recommend high pressure, low flotation tires on this bike.

Accessories

The Axiom rack and fenders pictured in the review are not included on the production version of the Ceres. Axiom is a subsidiary of Norco so they included the rack and fenders for the review.

Norco Ceres

The rear rack is the Axiom Journey Disc. It’s an interesting design with a conventional strut on the right-hand side and an adjustable strut on the left-hand side for clearing a disc brake caliper mounted outboard of the seat stay. It’s a clever design, though I did detect some flex in the rack. Axiom lists very high maximum weight limits on their racks (for example, this rack is rated for 110 lbs. max), but I didn’t find it as stiff as some of the racks I use that are rated for only 55 lbs. (these ratings may have more to do with liability than actual capacity). In any case, I found the Journey Disc sufficient for commute loads, but I could feel it flex under a full grocery load.

Norco Ceres

The Ceres came outfitted with Axiom’s Rainrunner Trekk Reflex + Disc fenders (that’s a mouthful). Their main selling point is the highly reflective 3M Reflex stripe running down the center of both fenders. They also include a clever adapter for reaching around a disc brake caliper (see photo). I’m hoping Axiom eventually sells this as a separate part for those who want to adapt their favorite fenders to a disc fork. Like many of the fender sets on the market, the front fender is a little short, otherwise these are a nice set of fenders with a couple of unique features.

Conclusion

The Norco Ceres is a solid contender in the belt drive commuter market. The frame is cleanly built using better than average materials for this price point. The crowded area behind the bottom bracket limits the kickstand options, and the outboard rear disc caliper limits rear rack options, but depending upon your priorities and how you’ll use the bike, these may or may not be major issues. The mostly Shimano Alfine/Deore component mix is well proven and the individual parts work well together as a package. With its sliding vertical dropouts, the belt drive implementation on the Ceres is excellent; this in itself sets this bike apart from many of its competitors.

Norco Ceres
Zoom

Specs

  • Frame: Reynolds 525 Chromoly
  • Fork: Chromoly Straight Blade
  • Drive: Gates Carbon Drive Belt – 118T
  • Crank: Single Speeder with 50T Gates Pulley
  • Rear Hub: Shimano Alfine with Gates 24T Pulley
  • Front Hub: Shimano Deore 36h
  • Rims: Alex XD-Lite 36h
  • Tires: Continental TownRide 37c
  • Stem: Norco Lite – Black
  • Handlebar: Norco Lite Riser
  • Grips: Norco Wrap Lock-On
  • Shifter: Shimano Alfine RapidFire
  • Front Brake: Shimano Deore BL-M575 disc w/160mm
  • Rear Brake: Shimano Deore BL-M575 disc w/160mm
  • Brake Levers: Shimano Deore BL-M575
  • Saddle: Norco Urban Stealth
  • Seat Post: Norco Lite
  • Headset: FSA TH-848 Semi-Cartridge
  • Bottom Bracket: FSA BB-7420AL Square Taper Cartridge
  • Sizes: 16”, 18”, 20”, 22”
  • Weight: 27 lbs. (without accessories)
  • Price: $1375

Norco

Disclosure: Norco provided the loaner bike used for this review.

23 Responses to “Road Test: Norco Ceres”

  • Garth says:

    Thanks for the review! I’m seriously considering one of these.

    How was the stock seat? Do you have any suggestions for a sturdier rack that would fit over the disc brakes?

    Also, what frame size did they send you? Any idiosyncrasies in the geometry/sizing? The low range of sizes worries me, as I need a taller frame, and the listed stand-over height on the 22″ frame is only 830. And it being a Canadian brand with limited penetration into the US market, test riding one is not an option.

    Any big pros and cons compared to your new Civia Bryant, besides the dropout?

    Garth-

  • dominic furfaro says:

    Alan, How does the Norco lite riser handlebar compare with the drops on your Bryant? Replacing the cockpit after the sale would really be a shame and costly. With 52 urban models does Norco have something closer to a multi-use bike? The static handgrip limits its use in my estimation.

  • Alan says:

    @Dominic

    I agree – replacing an entire cockpit can be very expensive. It’s best to either work with a dealer who will swap parts at the time of purchase, or choose a bike that has your preferred cockpit from the start.

    As far as comparing these straight bars to the drops on my Bryant, it’s the usual pros and cons. I’m not a big fan of straight bars with only one hand position (though I rode them for quite a while on my LHT), but they’re popular enough that I know plenty of people like them for city riding. They do provide a ton of leverage for aggressive riding (which explains their use on mountain bikes and fixies), but whether that’s a fair trade for a lack of multiple hand positions is a subjective call based upon how a person will use the bike.

    Alan

  • doug in seattle says:

    I think when you wrote “Axiom is a subsidiary of Ceres…” you meant, “Axiom is a subsidiary of Norco,” right?

    Anyways, interesting review. I think that rack looks like a disaster waiting to happen. And 110lbs is a joke — Tubus racks are rated to just 88lbs and are fully triangulated and made out of steel rather than aluminum (though I don’t doubt they could easily carry over 100 lbs). I think this is interesting, as liability concerns usually lead to hilariously low max weight, like Electra’s one pound limit “Ticino” racks.

    Do you know anything more about Reynolds 520? I have tried, and failed to find anything specific. I have read that is is a branded example of run-of-the-mill 4130 Double Butted, like what Surly uses. I can read about the technical stuff — carbon content, etc. — but what I really want to know is the thickness and butting of my camper bike!

  • Alan says:

    @Doug

    Good catch – thanks! (It’s fixed now, and I need an editor.)

    Reynolds says 520 is manufactured in Taiwan to the same specs as 525, which is essentially 531 updated for TIG-welding. Beyond that, I don’t have the specifics regarding tubing diameters, tapers, etc.

  • Alan says:

    @Garth

    The stock saddle was fine. It’s hard to comment on a specific saddle because fit is so much more important than design.

    Joe at Joe Bike in Portland recommended the Axiom Streamline as being stiffer. I assume it’s a good fit since he sells these bikes and frames.

    They sent me the big frame. I’d suggest calling Joe in Portland to discuss sizing: http://www.joe-bike.com/

    The Ceres is a different animal than the Civia. The Ceres feels more like a mountain bike to me, whereas the Civia is clearly coming from a touring lineage (the geometry is pretty much identical to the Surly Long Haul Trucker, which essentially took its numbers from the Rivendell Atlantis). Which is better is a matter of preference and riding style. I’m not an aggressive rider, so the touring oriented Bryant suits me well.

    Alan

  • Don says:

    I’d like to add a plug for those MKS pedals, which I use and love. I think Grant Peterson helped design those.

  • Alan says:

    @Don

    Those are sweet pedals. They’re what Riv are calling ‘Grip Kings”. Just to be sure it’s clear, those didn’t come with the bike – it’s the rare manufacturer that supplies decent pedals with a production bike. The assumption is that the rider will throw on their favorite pedal as soon as the bike comes home. It’s the same with saddles in many cases.

  • Cecily Walker says:

    I’ve often wondered why bikes with these specs don’t seem to come in stepthrough or women’s specific designs. Harrumph and grumble.

  • John Ferguson says:

    Hey Alan – it’s not clear from the pictures how the rear triangle is split to allow the belt to be installed. Where do they put the frame split?

  • voyage says:

    From the BMX world, Wellgo MG-1 Magnesium Pedals are now standard on our commute/get around bikes. They come in black.

  • EcoVelo’s road test of the Norco Ceres belt drive says:

    […] just posted the most thorough review thus far of the new Norco Ceres with Gates Carbon Drive, along with the sort of spectacular photos […]

  • Michael says:

    I always enjoy the reviews here, and this one was great. Just for the record, two of my favorite things about EcoVelo reviews are the description of frame stiffness and handling, and how loads affect handling on the front or back. Those aren’t in every review, so I hope you consider that as a standard criteria in all future reviews. They certainly aren’t found in most bike reviews, at least with any depth.

    I’m really disappointed by most commercial publication reviews that talk solely about how nice the components are – which really does nothing to get at the adequacy of the frame design; the one design aspect a company has direct control over. I’ve wanted a Bryant since the “First Impression” review here, but a subsequent Bryant review in a publication I like and subscribe to was terrible in its generic descriptions. I know that internal hubs, steel frame, and braze ons are great for commuting – now tell me how it rides/handles when actually commuting.

    Sorry for the ramble. Bottom line is, thanks for the great assessment!

  • Alan says:

    @John

    Sorry about that. The split is on the drive-side where the seat stay meets the rear drop out.

  • Alan says:

    Thanks, Michael!

  • Mike T. says:

    Thanks for the great review for all the good reasons above.

  • patrick says:

    This bike has a few lovely details and you are really starting to sell me on the belt drive thing.
    But you did neglect to mention where the bike was manufactured.
    Their website doesn’t mention it either.
    They seem to intentionally lead the consumer to think their bikes are made in canada.
    Thanks

  • Jon says:

    Alan,

    Can you comment on the bike’s hill climbing ability, with only 8 gears? I live is SW Portland and am considering joining the ranks of bike commuters. I believe I’ll need a good bike to help me get home at night with me riding the bike, instead of sticking it on the front of a bus!

    Thanks!

  • Troy says:

    Hi Jon,
    I live in NE pdx and recently puchased the ceres from joe bike on Hawthorne ~ 39th.
    You should go there and test ride the bike up to Mt. Tabor.
    I think the lowest gear will suffice for almost any hill as long as you’re relatively fit.
    Good luck

  • Alan says:

    Hi Jon,

    What Troy said… :-)

    A test ride is definitely in order as gearing is so subjective based upon the terrain and a person’s physical conditioning.

    For my commute, an 8-speed IGH provides a nice range of gears. As a matter of fact, on my old commuter with derailleurs, I stripped off the triple crank and went down to a 1×9 chain/cassette set-up. That happens to work for my particular circumstance, but it might not be sufficient in an area with more challenging terrain.

    Alan

  • Mike C. says:

    Thanks for the review! I own a 2010 Ceres and it’s a great bike. The only differences between it and the 2011 model are the brakes, paint, and tires (Shimano mechanicals, pewter, and 32 mm Contis). My only real gripes about the bike are the rear cog and the sliding dropouts. I managed to shear off the three tangs on the aluminum rear cog that interface with the Alfine hub. My LBS gave me a replacement (off of the owner’s personal Ceres). Why Gates made this part out of aluminum is beyond me. Apparently they’ve addressed the issue and are now making a steel cog. As for the dropouts, I find them a pain to dial in the belt tension. Also, once slid into place, the bracket for the rear brake caliper sits right behind one of the eyelets on the dropout . I had to mill some material off of the bracket to get a rack to fit on my bike. BTW I use a Topeak disc-specific rack and it’s very solid. I wish Norco had gone with an eccentric bottom bracket instead of the finicky (to me) sliding dropouts. Also, mounting the rear brake caliper on the chainstay would seem to make more sense.

    I’m definitely a belt-drive convert. Once dialed in it’s eerily silent and buttery smooth. I swapped out the flat bars for some trekking bars to give me more hand positions, and this bike has become my go-to ride. I rode it through our record-setting winter here this past year and it handled snow & ice duties beautifully. The only maintenance it required was swapping out the OE tires for some studded Schwalbes. It was nice not to have to clean a chain, thaw out a derailleur, or chip ice out of a cassette. This bike is a true 4-season performer.

  • Axiom Journey Disc and Rainrunner Fenders Review by EcoVelo. « Axiom Performance Gear | News says:

    […] on each fender). Well, it’s probably best if you check out the review for yourselves.  Click here to read […]

  • EcoVelo » Blog Archive » Living with a Belt Drive: Two Months Out says:

    […] Civia Bryant is the 6th belt drive bike I’ve ridden. The others were a Norco Ceres, Dahon Mu XL Sport, Raleigh Alley Way, Trek Soho (test ride only), and a prototype Bryant back in […]

 
© 2011 EcoVelo™