Marcel Rambo – resident Victoria Wheelers member – is a busy father of 3 who recently concluded that the best way to relive his youth would be to pin a number on his back and ride around in circles as fast as he could. You can follow Marcel on Instagram: @vee9zee. Oak Bay Bikes got him to sit down and write “stuff”.
Let’s face it, most competitive and performance road cyclists have a borderline unhealthy attachment to their bikes. We’re all pretty proud of the featherweight, impossibly stiff, improbably aerodynamic (and increasingly electronic) engineering marvels we spend our hard‐earned on, and if you ask us we’ll tell you all about it. In my case this is the excellent Norco Tactic SLR, a no‐compromise professional level race machine. I take good care of this bike, and it’s there for me when I need it.
However, unless you’re lucky enough to live in Tucson or Girona, you probably won’t want to spend the whole season on your precious race bike. On the west coast of British Columbia, where the seasonal variation often consists of ‘rainy’ and ‘slightly less rainy’, those of us who train seriously year round have long accepted that a dedicated training bike is a territorial requirement. This role has traditionally been filled by a retired race bike onto which we squeezed the largest endurance tires we could fit, duct taped and zip‐tied some hacksaw‐modified fenders, and hung whatever parts we were finally willing to sacrifice to the winter gods. We’d leave for every ride praying that the gigantic toolkit we had hanging from our saddles had enough in it to keep sometimes decades‐old equipment moving forward for yet another day.
Dedicated training bikes
The recent spread of disc brake technology into the upper end of the road bike market, coupled with the rise in popularity of gravel/adventure riding have very much revolutionized this traditional approach. Suddenly, serious road cyclists have access to a generous range of high‐performance bikes that will accept wider endurance tires with ease. They come with fender eyelets and feature a braking system that actually works when basically immersed in dirty water. And they are also based around material and component choices that strike a different balance between durability, performance and price.
While buying a new bike just to train on might seem like a professional level extravagance to some (or more accurately to the partners of some), I would argue that any choice that doesn’t involve replacing your brake pads every 200 kilometers and your wheels every 2000 is quickly going to pay off. Also, a newer bike will be both more durable and safer, and therefore much more likely to be ridden, especially in the already marginal conditions that characterize much of our winter training.
The Norco Threshold
Norco offers several models that would fit the requirements for a dedicated winter trainer quite nicely. The Search is aimed at the gravel/adventure market, the Valence is a more traditional endurance road machine, and the Threshold is a cyclocross racer with great crossover (no pun intended) potential. All are offered in a range of configurations to suit a wide variety of needs and budgets. My choice of the Threshold basically came down to three factors: versatility, durability, and geometry.
The Threshold’s cyclocross‐specific frameset has room for very large tires (I regularly use the 36mm Clement MSO tubeless gravel tire without any issues), making it a versatile performer in a region where ample off‐road riding options and seasonal precipitation accumulations make trail and gravel capabilities pretty attractive. Sometimes, especially in the off‐season, a day without cars is just what you need to keep the training moving forward. And who knows, I might even be crazy enough to try some actual ‘cross racing one day…
The popularity of the #crossruinseverythingaroundme hashtag gives the uninitiated some insight into how demanding cyclocross is on equipment. Unlike road bikes which are usually only damaged in a crash, ‘cross bikes regularly break under ‘normal’ use. As a result, a cyclocross machine is usually designed to favour strength and durability over light weight or aerodynamics, another very attractive aspect of the Threshold as a day‐in, day‐out winter trainer – or even year-round commuter.
My choice to go with the Threshold was probably most influenced by the bike’s racier geometry. As someone with short legs and a long torso and arms, I have long struggled to find framesets that allow me to achieve the more aggressive riding position that modern road racing ultimately demands. While this may not be a specific need on a winter trainer, I have also found that keeping a very similar riding position throughout the year helps me to avoid everything from lower back stiffness to saddle sores. The Threshold’s steeper seat tube angle and short head tube allowed a position much closer to the Tactic than any of the company’s other models could possibly have achieved.
My Threshold C Ultegra
The Threshold C Ultegra is based around a mid‐modulus carbon frame available in sizes ranging from 50.5cm to 60.5cm. It features the excellent and proven Shimano Ultegra groupset and A‐Class CXD‐ 6 tubeless compatible wheels shod with Clement Crusade MXP ‘cross tires, with the remainder of the components being Norco branded items. Braking is via Shimano’s BR‐RS785 hydraulic disc system with 160mm rotors, and the crankset is the FSA Gossamer Cross PF30.
I made some modifications to my Threshold which, with the exception of one luxury (wheels), basically involved me fitting on the bike. Wider bars, a longer stem, and the ultimate masters racer’s prerogative, my choice of saddle, helped me to get comfortable. I also added a Stages power meter, since I now find myself in the somewhat embarrassing position of feeling like a ride without power data is no longer actually a ride. I have so far tried several sets of off‐the‐shelf fenders, all of which were very easy to mount on the bike given its in‐molded eyelets, eventually settling on a pair that are large enough to accommodate gravel tires. Rest assured that no duct tape or zip ties were harmed in this process.
My biggest modification to the bike was the addition of a set of 40mm Fulcrum Racing Quattro Carbon DB wheels, the disc equivalent of what I regularly use on my Tactic SLR. While this may seem like (and probably is) a ridiculous luxury, I reasoned that, since a disc‐braked bike is all about not wearing out your wheels, I might as well have some nice ones. I did keep the stock A‐Class wheels, set up tubeless with Clement MSOs, for those times when a crazier off‐road adventure seems like a good idea.
The Threshold C Ultegra in use
After a full winter on my Threshold, I can confidently say that my choice has more than paid off. The bike is rock‐solid stable at typical road speeds, and given its ‘cross pedigree and wider tires it promotes a real feeling of confidence when negotiating the questionable surfaces and constant shoulder debris that often characterize off‐season road rides in our area. I would say that the bike is a shade less definite than my Tactic when cornering at higher speeds (something a friend probably correctly attributed to its higher bottom bracket), but it’s not something you would ever notice without direct comparison.
Norco’s use of compact frame geometry, which provides a stiff main triangle while relying on the seatpost to provide much of the vertical compliance needed for ride comfort, is a proven philosophy that is common throughout the industry. It really shines in this case. The Threshold is comfortable enough for the long endurance rides (often on mixed surfaces) that characterize a road racer’s early season, yet responsive enough not to feel like a handicap in quicker paced group or interval workouts.
I have long believed that Shimano’s Ultegra groupset offers one of the best blends of performance, features and price in the industry. Shifting is reliable even in the worst conditions, but the hydraulic disc brakes are the real revelation here. Not being a mountain biker, I was unprepared for just how much better than rim brakes they are in wet and dirty conditions. Thanks to the 160mm rotors and beefy thru‐axle design, braking is consistent, powerful and well‐modulated, and my seasonal expenditure has so far amounted to a single set of brake pads. I think this feature alone justifies the bike’s purchase, not only for its cost savings, but for the added safety factor it provides.
It seems a little strange to be doing a review of a dedicated cyclocross race bike that I have literally never used in a ‘cross race. But while the ‘cross pedigree of the Threshold is fine and well established, that just wasn’t what I bought the bike for and it hasn’t been part of my experience to date. I can say that if you’re in the market for a high performance fitness bike, a nicely racy commuter that can handle the odd bunnyhop up a curb, or a mixed‐surface adventurer, the Threshold just might be the bike for you. And if you, like me, have spent countless winter hours training on cobbled‐together ex‐race machines, you owe it to yourself to give the Threshold a spin. You might, as they say, never go back. I won’t.