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