The Norco VFR Disc 4 is part of a growing style of multi-purpose flat-bar road bikes, designed for city commuting, fitness rides, bike paths, and tooling around the neighborhood. What makes this style of bike unique is the emphasis on versatility and performance. They are not road racing bikes, but they’re not comfort/hybrid bikes either. They’re a practical alternative to each.
The VFR group bikes from Norco has a spectrum of components and features fitting almost any budget, ranging in price from about $500 to $1400 depending on the model. Sitting nicely in the middle of this group is the VFR Disc 4, a well-appointed and budget-friendly ride.
The 7005 double-butted, hydroformed aluminum frame with understated graphics and glossy black paint is nicely shaped for strength and aesthetics, but also incorporates rider-friendly geometry like a sloping top tube for step-over clearance, shorter 17" chainstays for snappy handling, and a low 11" bottom bracket for stability. The 72° head tube and 73° seat tube angles are closer to cyclocross geometry than to road or mountain. The smooth lines of the glossy black, alloy bladed fork resemble a higher-end carbon fiber fork (an option available with the VFR Disc models 1 and 2). Both frame and fork have fender mounts and the frame has a rear rack mount.
Speaking of fenders, one of the more interesting features of the frame is the chainstay disc mount. With the disc caliper mounted on the chainstay instead of the seatstay as is the case on most mountain bikes, the rear fender and rack can be mounted without the use of a spacer when bolted on to the rear dropout. This makes rack and fender installation a lot easier and cleaner.
From top to bottom, the VFR Disc 4 includes a thoughtful spec package, while leaving room for upgrades in the future. The Shimano Alivio front and rear derailleurs, and the triple FSA Dyna Drive crank (48/38/28t), make for an economical and durable drivetrain. FSA’s Dyna Drive triple gives a wide range of gears for just about any kind of terrain. I have to admit I only used the granny gear once or twice, but it was nice to know it was there if I needed it.
The Avid Juicy 3 hydraulic disc brakes are an especially nice touch for a road bike at this price point. They worked well and required no maintenance for the duration of the test. Not all the VFR’s come with disc brakes, but they’re well worth the upcharge for maintenance-free operation and all-weather stopping power if you can afford the higher-end models.
The 700c WTB Cross Country Speed Disc rims are a good match for this go-anywhere style of bike. The larger 700c wheels are fast on the road, and both frame and wheels can accommodate fatter tires (at least up to 700x40mm) for light off-roading. A WTB Pure V Race Custom saddle and Ritchey Logic Zero headset, OS stem, single bolt seatpost and Rizer OS handlebar round out the solid spec package.
Most of my riding on the VFR Disc 4 was commuting to and from the Bicycle Times/Dirt Rag office. The 13-mile (one-way) commute includes just about every riding surface this bike was built for—city streets, crushed limestone rail-trail path, old rocky double-track railroad bed, and country roads. The VFR handled this wide range of surface conditions well. Obviously tire choice is critical for this type of commute, and the stock 700x32mm Continental TownRIDE touring tires with a reflective stripe on the sidewalls really fit the bill. The bike felt quick in city traffic and stable on the road even at 30+mph. The upright riding position is also good for visibility in the city. On rougher sections of the trail the VFR felt responsive and capable, almost like a mountain bike with a rigid fork.
On family rides around town with the iBert child carrier (reviewed in Bicycle Times #2), the VFR showed its versatility. With the iBert on the front and a rack with panniers on the back, a trip to the grocery store turns into a fun adventure. Aside from one pinch flat that was probably my fault, the VFR handled everything I threw at it.
While I would say that the VFR Disc 4 is a well-spec’d and affordable all-around bike, there are some notable issues I had during the test period. After my first couple of test rides I noticed my hands were tingling and falling asleep. Unfortunately, I usually experience this on flat-bar road bikes that don’t have some kind of ergonomic grip or bar end. I put on a set of Ergon GX2 grips with magnesium bar ends and my hands have been happy ever since. These made the stock mountain bike-style handlebar feel wider than it actually was, but if the bike were mine I would cut off a couple of inches anyway.
It also took me a while to set up the brake levers and shifter pods on the handlebar in a comfortable position. The Alivio shifter pods and the Juicy 3 brake levers both take up sizable handlebar real estate. It took a few tries, but I finally found a brake lever/shifter pod arrangement that worked for me.
All in all, the Norco VFR Disc 4 is a solid, versatile steed. It’s really the kind of bike that most people could use. Whether you’re commuting to school or work, riding for fitness, doing a charity ride, or going to the grocery store, the VFR is up to the task. Norco deserves credit for making a bike that’s affordable, comfortable, versatile and efficient.
Word has it that there are some changes to the VFR group of bikes for 2010. Apparently there won’t be a disc model, but there will be a bike similar to the VFR Disc under the Indy model name. Keep an eye open for it, or snatch up a 2009 model while they’re hot.
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