2018 Norco Ithaqua 2S | Snowbike Review

2018 Norco Ithaqua 2S

The 2018 Norco Ithaqua 2S came through the Fatbike Republic trail bike review with only a few scratches, both literally and figuratively. It is one fine fat machine for pounding dirt.

What I really liked:
  • Agile and responsive XC inspired carbon chassis 
  • Usable well spaced gearing (30T x 11/46) 
  • Dropper post & grips 
  • SLX shifter 
  • Internal cable routing 
  • Mastodon fork 
Areas for consideration:
  • More robust dropper thumb release 
  • Additional armour for downtube and bottom bracket 
  • 28T chainring for extra low gearing 
  • Studdable tires 
So with the warm weather out of the way and things starting to freeze its time to see how a bike with its roots (and namesake) firmly set in ice and snow actually performs in wintery conditions.

THE FRAME

The Ithaqua 2S sports a cabon fiber chassis encased in bright icy blue paint . . . a very fitting color for winter riding. The frame is actually made from a mid-modulus carbon which is touted for being stiff yet not brittle. Features include:

Power Chassis – Increased stiffness from the head tube to rear axle that ensures the most efficient ride possible through minimizing flex and maximizing power transfer.

GIZMO - internal cable routing that keeps out water and debris, prevents rattling, and allows for easy setup and maintenance.

ArmorLite – Superior quality ArmorLite resin produces an exceptionally strong bond that enhances frame strength and increases impact resistance

SmoothCore – A process that maintains precision control over the inner surface of the frame, which is critical at complicated, high-stress junctures like the head tube and bottom bracket.

Size-scaled Tubing - Increases tube profile dimensions in proportion with frame size. This ensures that a heavier rider on an extra large frame will experience the same ride characteristics as a lighter rider on a small frame.

Gravity Tune – Adjusts the front-centre/rear-centre ratio across all frame sizes, effectively optimizing geometry and rider weight distribution.


Other specifications of the Ithaqua’s frame :
  • 197 mm rear end that provides room for large rubber 
  • 69 degree head tube angle give XC like handling 
  • 72.5 degree seat tube angle that shifts the rider slightly back 
  • 445 mm chainstay that is variable depending on frame size
  • 31.6 mm seat tube 
  • Two sets of water bottle mounts on downtube 
THE FORK

To soak up the post holes and ice heaves the Ithaqua 2S sports a Manitou Mastodon 100 Pro. The 100mm of suspension can be adjusted by the rebound adjustment on the bottom of the right tube and tweaked by hi and lo speed damping adjuster on the top. Air can be added/released from the inlet on the bottom of the left tube.

Manitou Mastodon Fat Bike Fork

With a claimed weight of 2.21 kg (4.87 lbs) the Mastodon has an AC measurement of 511mm, beefy 34mm stanchions and 15 mm x 150 mm axle (Hexlock SL). While it is reported that the Mastodon does well in the cold temperatures, winter 2017/2018 is the first cold season for this new fork.

TIRES & RIMS

Probably the most important piece of equipment for winter riding are the tires. They need to handle all sorts of terrain from light and fluffy, wet and slushy, firm and fast and treacherously slippery.

Kenda Juggernaut Pro Fat Bike Tire

Norco speced the Ithaqua 2S with 4.5 Juggernaut Pros wrapped around Mulefut 80 alloy rims. The Juggernatus weigh in at just under 1400g (3 lbs) apiece and are pretty close to the claimed width measuring in at 4.3". With a 120 TPI the dual tread compound (DTC) has a harder fast rolling rubber compound in the center with a softer grippier rubber in the transitional and shoulder lugs.

DRIVETRAIN & BRAKES

The Ithaqua 2S 11-speed drivetrain includes a 30T chainring mated to a Samox crank with a Sunrace 11/46 cassette in the rear. The gear ratio range is quite usuable (11-13-15-18-21-24-28-32-36-40-46) with a low crawl of 1 x 0.65 (46 cog) and fast running 1 x 2.73 (11 cog).

Shimano Drivetrain for Fat Bike

A Shimano SLX M7000 shifter on the bars moves the durable Shimano SLX M7000 Shadow Plus derailleur through the gears. The design of the shifter allows for less effort needed for shifting, with the ability to downshift three gears in one stroke, while upshifting with a push or pull. The clutch on the derailleur can actually be disengaged to allow for easy tire removal.

Shimano SLX shifter and derailleur

SRAM Level brake levers and twin piston callipers mated to AVID rotors (180mm front and 160mm rear) slow down the Ithaqua 2S in the snow. The brakes are filled with DOT 5.1 fluid which should be less susceptible to extreme cold.

Level Brakes and AVID Rotors

COCKPIT

A pair of Ergon GA30 lock-on grips flank the 780mm TranzX alloy bar and 60mm stem, while black VP nylon pedals attach to the cranks.

Ergon Lock on Grips fat Bike

An air actuated TranzX 125mm dropper post with a cable initiated thumb release is mounted up on the left side of the bar.

TranzX Dropper Post Fat Bike

Connected to the dropper is a colour coordinated Norco stamped SDG Duster RL saddle.

SDG Seat Saddle

ON THE SNOW - SUM OF THE PARTS

The beauty of winter riding is that the snow covers all those nasty bumps and jarring drop-offs with a smooth coating of white. Trails that you take during the summer months generally get much faster and way more fun. And it becomes possible to travel into areas inaccessible during the warm season.

Smooth Winter Terrain White

Living on an island in the Atlantic ocean the weather can seem like Old Man Winter and Mother Nature are constantly bickering. Pristine packed powder one day can be swapped for sketchy glistening ice the next ... a great testing grounds for the Ithaqua 2S. Check out the video to get a better feel for the conditions tackled.



The Ithaqua was exposed to groomed trails, untouched virgin snow, post holed paths and all manners of ice imaginable – chunky, glare, and slick. Temperatures ranged from above freezing to very crisp with the weather pivoting from gloomy with freezing rain to sunny and fluffy flakes.

Riding Picture Scenery Fat Bike

Even with bulkier riding gear the Ithaqua 2S shows many of the same riding characteristics in the winter as in the summer. With the mid-range length chainstay, XC flavored geometry and slackish seat tube angle it remained quick and agile on the tight white singletrack. Bobbing and weaving around branches and whipping around snow berms is fun and expected on this bike.

Riding Picture Scenery Fat Bike

The liveliness of the rear end noticed during the summer months is less evident in the winter, possibly due to the smoother terrain reducing impacts.

Not only does the Ithaqua 2S seem at home on the single and double track, it also proves itself as a respectful long-haul rig when sporting a set of pogies and going for an extended ice grind. My 5’11” frame did not feel cramped on these long distance ice hauls.

Riding frozen Lake

The SRAM Levels still provide great stopping power in the winter, however when the temperatures reached snow making levels the brakes screeched like an angry banshee. Howling brakes is not what you want when riding solo in the quiet forest or on a group ride.

Snow Riding on fat Bike

After pulling the calipers I noticed a higher than average wear on the brake pads. I discovered that the stock pads are organic ... so I swapped them out for a set of semi-metallic pads and the screeching pretty much disappeared. While organic pads seat quicker, they also wear more quickly and don’t seem to agree with cold temperatures. There were no issues with the DOT 5.1 when exposed to winter temperatures.

Organic Brake Pads

The extra winter clothing, brought on by the cold temperatures, does not impede the shifting characteristics of the Ithaqua 2S. The SLX M7000 shifter still downshifts multiple gears in one stroke and upshifts with a push or pull. The 30T chainring with an 11 speed cassette (11/46) still provided plenty of gearing for slogging through the deep wet stuff or blasting down the ice encrusted trail. While a 28T chainring would be a nice to have, it's definitely not needed for winter riding.

Snow Riding Fat Bike

The 4.5 Kenda Juggernaut Pros did surprisingly well in the white stuff. The modified V pattern in the tread design was effective in capturing and “scooping” snow to push the bike forward. They tracked true and did negligible crawling out of snow ruts when the side lugs looked for traction. There is nothing more frustrating than having a tire trying to crawl OUT of a snow groove that you are trying to ride IN.

Juggernaut Pro in Slush

Due to rapidly changing trail conditions with long-lasting ice, the Juggernauts were swapped out for a set of studded 4.8 Vee Snow Avalanche PSC and Terrene Cake Eaters. This significantly reduced the amount of “down time” on the Ithaqua 2S. And for those wondering if a massive Vee Snowshoe 2XL will fit and Ithaqua … sorry the rear triangle is a little to small.

Snowshoe 2XL

The cockpit on the large sized Ithaqua 2S fit my 5’11” frame quite well. The longer 780mm bars did seem a tad wide on some of the really tight trails I ride, but that’s the trade off when you like wider bars. The Ergon GA30s were secure and easy to grip with bulkier mitts and when covered with pogies. The VP pedals did not see the snow as extra grip was needed to thwart icy build-up.

Frozen Lake

During the summer the SDG Duster seat was quite comfortable for both short and longer rides and did not rub or place any undue pressure on the lower extremities. The cold and extra winter layering had no negative impact on the saddle.

Riding Snow Fat Bike

I did not realize how useful a dropper post is during the winter. I used it quite often during the summer when hitting steep descents, but I did not expect to be hitting the thumb release when wearing warmer gloves. Honestly, I think I used it more often. When running fast down twisty tight slippery trails it was great to have the seat out of the way when avoiding trees and trying to pick the cleanest line. The operation of the lever was not hampered by the cold or bulky mitts. The seat post also retracted and extended with the same speed as during the warmer weather.

Very Tight Trail Trees

As mentioned previously the 2017/2018 winter is the first cold season for the Mastodon. I did some additional experimentation with the damping settings, but in the end I kept the same mid-range settings (high-speed 3 low-speed 2) used during the summer. I did use the lock-out function during extended duration ice rides.

mastodon Pro 100

The Mastodon was exposed to a range of temperatures from a balmy + 11 C to quite chilly – 18 C. The Mastadon did not show any signs of sluggishness during the cold and did not appear to be affected by the crazy temperature swings. Weighing in at almost 5 lbs, the Mastodon is a little heaver than the Wren and Bluto, however it did well in soaking up post holes and the errant stump or rock hidden under the snow. While not exposed to long periods of blistering cold weather, the Mastodon remained stable with its 34mm stanchions and did quite well in taking the bumps out of winter.

Ice Climbing fat Bike

If getting to the trails during the winter means popping off the front wheel, well the Mastodon’s Hexlock SL axle will be a bit of a pain. Not only will you have to carry a 6 mm hex key to remove the axle, but the hole for the key tends to fill with snow and ice. Several times I had to use the pointy tip of a pocket knife to chip out the ice so I could insert the key.

Frozen Hexlock

FINAL THOUGHTS

This is what the folks at Norco have to say about the Ithaqua :

The Ithaqua combines fat bike versatility with race bike performance. Whether racing on groomers, making first tracks through fresh powder, or floating across sand dunes, the Ithaqua is the ultimate ride for all-season cyclists. Featuring a lightweight carbon frame with the same Power Chassis as our XC race platform and clearance for up to 5” tires, the Ithaqua delivers the full fat experience without the weight.

I have to say they are pretty much on the mark with that statement. The Ithaqua 2S exhibits the same quick handling characteristics in the winter as shown during the summer. Zipping through tight white single track, accelerating out of snow berms, climbing and descending mounds and leisurely long distance ice grinds are all within the wheelhouse of the 2018 Ithaqua 2S.

The Juggernaut Pros provided better than expected white traction, but they are limited if your winter riding terrain contains ice. You may want to invest in a dedicated set of studded winter rubber and keep the Pros for the dirt. The folks at Manitou could look at the ice freeze in the Hexlock and maybe offer a QR option. And upgrading the brake pads would be an inexpensive and worthwhile modification that should minimize the unearthly howl the stock pads make when it gets cold.

I was actually surprised at how often I used the dropper during the winter. If you don’t have one for your current ride you should really consider one especially if your primary trails in the winter are tight and twisty. The stiffness of the Ithaqua 2S frame made the ramping up to semi-warp speed feel like nano-seconds.  And the Mastodon, while not necessary during pure snow riding, was greatly appreciated when encountering icy post holes and frozen drop-offs.

The 2018 Norco Ithaqua 2S is a bike that is definitely made for winter.

We all hear people talking of “quiver killer” bikes . . . the one bike that does it all. I’m not sure if such a beast exists, but the Ithaqua 2S sure does check off a lot of boxes.

RIDE FAT !


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