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I don't think I've ever been more conflicted about a bike than I am about the Norco Valence Tiagra. On the one hand it's carried me comfortably though a period of fitness-rebuilding following a broken leg earlier this year, all the way to the first century I've ridden in years. On the other hand, I had to change some significant components to get it reliable and comfortable.
At the heart of the Norco Valence Tiagra is a light, sportive-orientated carbon fibre frame. It has a claimed weight of around 1,000g; that would have been unimaginable in the frame of a £1,000 bike just a couple of years ago (the bike is currently on discount at £960 with importer Evans).
It also handles really well. Point it into a corner and it sticks easily to the line you want with no fuss or grumbling. It's not quite as sharp as a race bike, but it's a lot better than some sportive bikes I've ridden which had to be fought into corners. The Valence goes where you want it.
It's a versatile frame too. There are hidden mounts for mudguards and the brake mounts are positioned so that there's room for 28mm tyres and mudguards. That means that rather than just being a summer cruiser, like many carbon bikes, this is a machine you can use year-round.
I was amused to find aluminium water bottle bolts. In terms of weight saving, we're talking a trivial number of grams, but with carbon headset spacers as well you have to give Norco props for saving those grams where it's easy to do so.
The Valence's tall head tube, 100mm stem, seatpost with no setback and short-reach compact handlebar combine to give a very upright riding position. If sitting upright's not your thing then you'll need a long stem and a setback seatpost to get a more conventional riding position.
I think the in-line seatpost is a serious speccing error. Not only does it position you unconventionally far forward, but it's extremely stiff. To get my position right I swapped in a 25mm setback 3T carbon post from another bike. As well as putting my bum where I wanted it, it took the sting off the Valence's back end. Win-win.
The handlebar has a very short throw from tops to brake levers. To get my right position on the hoods I fitted a 130mm stem, which looked a bit silly, but worked. I have short legs and a long back so I'm used to having to do silly things to get the fit right, but a 130mm stem is a bit excessive in my opinion. A longer-throw bar would allow the 110mm or 120mm stem I'd expect to use.
The Valence's 56cm top tube in this nominal 55.5cm size means it should fit normal people just fine.
Once I had my position right, I found the Valence an easy and comfortable ride. Over six weeks of riding it carried me gradually increasing distances, past the psychologically all-important 100km mark, and eventually to a 161km audax in the lanes of Essex.
A few stompy bits on that ride, playing silly buggers racing into downhill bends, revealed the Valence to be a solid platform for big efforts. Pound on the pedals and the fat bottom bracket area doesn't budge.
On climbs, it best rewards steady, seated efforts rather than out-of-the-saddle attacks. This is a bike for siege tactics on hills rather than shock and awe blitz.
I'm a big fan of Shimano Tiagra gears. For the group's modest cost, its shifting is solid and reliable. It doesn't have the light 'snick' action of Dura-Ace or Ultegra, but the gears clunk firmly into place. As Shimano's 105 group has crept up the price scale in recent years, Tiagra has taken its place as the dependable, affordable performer in Shimano's line-up.
The Valence has the 2015 10-speed Tiagra 4600 group, which has now been replaced by Tiagra 4700. A major difference between the two is that the new version routes the gear cables under the handlebar tape. The cables on the Valence exit from the inboard sides of the brake/shift levers, which may not be as tidy but makes them a lot less sensitive to cable preparation.
Norco has gone for a very wide range of gears here. The 50/34 chainset is paired with a 12-30 cassette giving a range that should get up you up anything. The downside is that the gear range is gappy. Here's the gear chart:
To get all the way from 12 to 30 teeth necessitates some gaps in the gear range and they're most noticeable when you're riding tempo on the flat; neither the 50x17 or 50x15 were quite right for me. I swapped in an 11-25. That's much more suitable for the rolling terrain of Suffolk and north Essex, and the flats of Cambridgeshire, but if I lived somewhere hillier I'd cheerfully put up with the gaps. Credit to Norco for making hills easier for less fit riders.
The Tektro brakes are spongy and imprecise, and simply fail to slow the bike down with the authority even of Shimano's Tiagra brakes. A switch to Ultegra brake pads with metal pad holders would almost certainly help here.
You don't expect world-beating wheels on a sub-£1,000 bike, but the wheels on the Valence I tested were rubbish. There's nothing wrong with the Alex rims, Norco own-brand hubs and Sapim spokes, but the wheels were under-tensioned to the point where I had a spoke in one wheel go loose while riding. Another snapped at the thread.
There's no excuse for that. The snapped spoke I'll put down to a freak manufacturing error, but tensioning wheels isn't rocket science and there's no better way for wheels to fail quickly than too little tension. Insist the wheels get properly tensioned when you buy.
I do have to give credit to Evans for dealing straightforwardly and honestly with the problem, though. Spokesperson Chris Snook told me: "Unfortunately it sounds like you have been unlucky, but it is something that does happen from time to time. It's not common or one that is exclusive to Norco. On occasions [like this] the wheels would/will be replaced under warranty for an equivalent spec – in this case likely to be a Shimano RS010."
If I were a paying customer and the replacement wheels arrived quickly, I'd be perfectly happy with that.
The wheels are shod with 25mm Continental Ultra Sport tyres, decent knockabout rubber but nothing terribly special. Good to see 25mm tyres as stock and there's room to go bigger – up to 28mm with mudguards and even bigger if you don't mind risking a wet bum. Going fatter makes the Valence's already smooth ride even comfier, and with 28mm tyres I finished that 100-mile ride feeling fresh enough that I almost wished I'd entered the 200km distance.
There's a very good, smooth-riding, easy-handling frame at the heart of the Norco Valence Tiagra, with a bunch of thoughtful touches like the hidden mudguard eyes and aluminium bottle cage bolts. It's an enjoyable frame that would make a great basis for a super-commuter, day tourer or audax bike but for the poor wheels and a daft seatpost.
A setback seatpost isn't going to cost you too much to swap, so that's easily fixed. While you're at it, you should shell out the extra for a buzz-reducing carbon fibre post, or 28mm tyres, or both. I actually saved weight with the tyre swap, so it's all kinds of win.
With those things sorted out, I thoroughly enjoyed riding the Valence and especially having it carry me across longer and longer distances.
Very good long-ride bike marred by poor wheels and seatpost
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Norco Valence Tiagra
Size tested: 55.5cm
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Carbon fibre frame and fork with carbon fibre steerer.
Seat Post: Norco Alloy 27.2mm - Black w/White
Seat Post Clamp: Alloy - Black
Saddle: Norco Sport - Black
Shifter Casing: Shift Housing - Silver
Headset: Cane Creek 10-Series w/9mm Top Cover
Headset Spacer: 2x10mm Matte UD Carbon / 1x5mm Alloy Silver
Top Cap: Alloy w/Norco Logo - Silver
Stem: Norco - Black w/White
Handlebar: Norco Compact - Black w/White
Grips: Norco UltraComfort - Black
Front Brake: Tektro R312 - Black
Rear Brake: Tektro R312 - Black
Chain Tensioner: N/A
Brake Levers: Shimano Tiagra ST-4600 10speed
Brake Cable Casing: Brake cable casing - Silver
Rims: Alex RA20 24mm - Black
Tires: Continental Ultra Sport II - 25c
Front Hub: Norco Sport Road 24h - Black
Rear Hub: Norco Sport Road 28h - Black
Spokes/Nipples: Sapim Leader 1.8mm stainless - Black
Shifter Front: Shimano Tiagra ST-4600 10spd w/Adjuster
Shifter Rear: Shimano Tiagra ST-4600 10spd w/Adjuster
Front Derailleur: Shimano Tiagra FD-4600
Rear Derailleur: Shimano Tiagra RD-4601
Cassette: Shimano Tiagra CS-4600 12-30T 10 speed
Crankset: Shimano Tiagra FC-4650 10spd - Silver
Bottom Bracket: Shimano SM-BB71 Pressfit BB86
Chain: Shimano Tiagra CN-4601 10speed
Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
"The Valence is an endurance road bike designed for riders who like to test their mettle over long distances. Laterally stiff and vertically compliant, the bike explodes forward when you press on the pedals and dampens fatiguing road vibrations without sacrificing efficiency. Combining a stable, lightweight proprietary frame, precision handling and premium components, the Valence proves that comfort and high performance can coexist in a single road-ready system."
Someone needs slapping for the use of that old cliché "laterally stiff and vertically compliant" but when you filter out the hype this isn't a bad description of the Valence: it's a comfortable mile-eater.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Tidily finished with some nice touches.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Norco says it's mid-modulus carbon fibre, which is about what you'd expect.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
Head tube's a bit tall for my personal taste, but not for the sportive/MAMIL rider it's aimed at.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
It's an enjoyable, comfy ride.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Neutral.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
Saddle and especially seatpost were the first things I swapped out.
Respectable, but not super-snappy.
Hills are best tackled steadily - there's a slight lack of snap that discourages silly attacking antics on climbs.
Wheels and tyres
Tell us some more about the wheels and tyres. Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels or tyres? If so, what for?
No ratings in this section as it seems unfair to the perfectly serviceable Continental Ultra Sports to lump them in with the under-tensioned wheels. Wheels this loose won't last long and must be properly tensioned and stress-relieved before sale.
Anything else you want to say about the componentry? Comment on any other components (good or bad)
The in-line seatpost is way too stiff and puts the rider too far forward. It's the biggest flaw in the bike after the wheels.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? No
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? No
Use this box to explain your score
The Norco Valence would get 8/10 (very good) but for the daft seatpost. If I thought the wheel problems were endemic to the model or brand I'd be knocking off another couple of points, but I'm giving Evans credit for a straight response and offer of replacement.
About the tester
Age: 48 Height: 5ft 11in Weight: 85kg
I usually ride: Scapin Style My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, touring, club rides, general fitness riding, mountain biking
John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc founder Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.