In the current state of mountain bikes where 6″ travel enduro rigs are what many believe are their path to optimal fun, the Norco Ithaqua takes a different approach. In the right circumstances even on dirt, you may be surprised at the Ithaqua’s performance. Brent shares his thoughts below on the bike he has been very impressed with.
The bike was ridden from September through April, and 1,250 miles were put on the Ithaqua. Test conditions varied from a high altitude summer endurance races in the mountains of northern Utah to short lunch rides and commuting duty on groomed singletrack in Northern Michigan. These varied conditions highlighted the strengths of the Ithaqua, and its strengths may not lay where you would expect.
The stock build was altered substantially, so this review will mostly focus on the attributes of the frameset. For details on the stock build, see our First Look article.
Tire Clearance: I was planning to race a 100 mile fat bike race and wanted to be able to pedal as much as possible if the conditions became challenging, rather than hike. As a result, I was looking for a bike that could fit up to 4.8” tires. The Ithaqua is designed to fit such tires. Norco also claims it will fit 27.5 x 4.0” tires, but I have not tried this setup.
Weight: I was looking for a light and responsive bike that could be raced competitively, as well as feel efficient for trail riding. The carbon construction of the Ithaqua delivers on that metric. My complete build, with dropper seatpost and alloy wheels, weighs in at under 26 lbs.
Geometry & Dropper Post compatibility: Fat biking often finds you in loose, off-camber, and challenging conditions. The Ithaqua has a head angle of 69 degrees and is designed for use with a 60mm stem, so it is more “trail bike” oriented than most fat bikes on the market. The Inclusion of a 31.6 mm seat tube and provisions for internal dropper post routing leave the options for dropper post selection wide open. Further, the top tube is low slung, adding to standover height for stepping off the bike and getting started again in deep snow conditions. The chainstay and seatstay design allow for the use of a narrower q-factor single chainring crankset than what is typically found on a bike that accommodates 4.8” tires.
Appearance: I think it’s a looker, especially in the metallic gray and teal color of the 6.2 model. The cable routing is tidy and adds to the appearance. Routing the cables is not as simple as external cables or in frames that utilize routing tubes. But once installed, they are protected will from the elements.
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Riding Impressions: Since the Ithaqua was my only bike for a couple of months, I ended up riding it on dry singletrack quite a bit, with no snow in sight. I will admit, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and learned a lot about the bike in the process.
There is a sweet spot of tire selection and pressure where this thing is an incredible trail bike! 4.8” tires allow for tire pressures that absorb pretty rough terrain without bottoming out the rims…something I cannot say for the 4.0” tires of the same make I’d ridden before. I ended up at 6 PSI up front and 8 PSI in Schwalbe Jumbo Jims. I found that the Ithaqua made quick work of my normal trails, I was shocked to find my segment times on par with the trail bike I had been riding! With the right tire setup, this bike is equal parts fun and fast on dry trails. So does this differentiate it from other fat bikes? Yes. Two things allowed for its excellent dry trail capability…it’s clearance for 4.8” tires AND it’s geometry that leans more trail than XC.
OK, so it works on the trail, how about in the snow?
The wide tires gave the Ithaqua flexibility to ride in varied conditions, and its carbon construction made the bike light and sprightly enough to race. But these really aren’t unique attributes in the fat bike world. Its trail-oriented geometry is though, and the stability it offered was nice in difficult conditions, but it wasn’t a huge advantage over other fat bikes on groomed trails.
When pushed the fork wasn’t as stiff as something like the Salsa carbon fork, and as a result it doesn’t have quite the same direct feel with the contact patch of the front tire. It didn’t affect the ride in a big way, but I preferred the more direct feel of a stiffer fork. I imagine there is an associated improvement in bump absorption and compliance, but with 4.8 tires, it is a bit of a moot point.
One thing to note is that in the stock configuration, there was ample clearance between crank arms and the chainstays. Plenty of room to go one step down in bottom bracket width while flipping the chainring around to maintain the chainline. In the stock setup, the q-factor is pretty wide, but with the narrower bottom bracket it was in line with other bikes on the market.
- Geometry lends itself well to spirited summer trail riding and stability in variable winter conditions.
- Clearance for wide tires = excellent float and trail smoothing performance, dry and snowy.
- Tidy cable routing and provisions for stealth routed dropper post.
- Frame offers light weight combined with a solid yet comfortable ride.
Could be improved:
- The fork isn’t as stiff as other forks I’ve used before. This could be a benefit depending on your preferences.
- The stock crank set-up is wider than necessary.
The Ithaqua is a well-executed fat bike that is on par with the snow riding performance of other carbon fat bikes on the market. Where it truly stands above the crowd of other fat bikes is on dry trails. Many will call B.S. on this, but surprisingly, it deserves legitimate consideration as a bike intended for primarily summer use. If forced to choose one bike to ride year round, I can say with 100% certainty that the Ithaqua would be my choice, and it would very rarely leave me wanting for a different bike.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]