So I admit, my first impressions were wrong. The Valence A1 is a capable sportive machine and there's the distinct possibility it could do a bit more. While it loses out to the Synapse in a few areas of feel and ride quality, it makes amends with a very comprehensive spec sheet.
Shimano 105 groupset
Looks may not be to everyone's taste
I like relaxed-handling bikes; the Valence is a tad more lively than I would choose, but it's far from being an energy-sapping nuisance. Yes, there is a high front-end - although, contrary to appearances, it's no more lofty than the Synapse's - but the Valence is actually good fun, and you can whip it around corners with confidence.
Stability is a shade less assured than on the Synapse but, as fair compensation, the Tektro dual-caliper brakes do a decent job, and trump the Cannondale's stoppers.
Even if the calipers themselves aren't the greatest brakes in the world, the 105 levers are confidence-inspiring and feel great; as we've come to expect, the same goes for the rest of the 105 kit fitted.
What's on your cassette?
Interestingly enough, it was the Valence A1's one piece of Tiagra equipment - the rear cassette - that was the most significant improvement over the Synapse. While Cannondale specced a 28t biggest ring at the back, Norco has opted for a 30t. You should get up most climbs with a compact crankset and a 28t rear cog, but the 30 just makes things a little easier, especially when you're grovelling on the final lung-buster on a long day.
Based in the Canadian town of Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, Norco is a big-hitter in the world of mountain bikes. However, I wasn't aware it dabbled in drop-bar fun until I spotted the Valence A1 and its siblings on UK-exclusive dealer Evans Cycles' website.
In truth, I was rather taken aback by the almost freakishly high front end that, in online photos, the bikes seemed to exhibit.
Too quick to judge
So, being a shameless aesthete, was I being a little tough on the Norco? In a word, yes. On the road, it rides very, very nicely. It's not quite up to the incredible plushness of the Synapse, but it's far better than one would predict from an aluminium-framed bike.
The harshest bumps occasionally get through despite the Valence's best efforts to inhibit them, but on smooth stuff, it simply sails along. Knobbly, bobbly roads are probably the Norco's weakest point, with a degree of reverberation reaching the rider, but even here its behaviour exceeds expectations.
There are a few other little details that are worth pointing out. The Valence's frame will accept a rear rack and, like the Synapse, it'll take mudguards, so it doesn't have to be a sportive-only option. In fact, it could cover a range of duties, including being a quick commuter. Oh, and not that I'm bitter, but while the R500 wheels aren't light or exotic, they dealt with my mass without complaint.
But as internet daters know only too well, you should never believe online photos; in the flesh, the A1 appears very familiar. In fact, I couldn't help thinking of those Chinese copycat versions of established car models - things with names like the Nossen Qashncarry or Honga Jizz.
In this case, the Valence could possibly be called the Spectalised Sucteur. To be fair, there's actually a little bit of everything in its design. Despite the Valence's eye-catching, big, curving crossbar, when put side to side with the Synapse, many frame details are surprisingly similar, such as tube thicknesses, profiles and shapes - especially on the down tube, seat tube and curved seatstays.
What isn't so similar is the overall impression of the Valence. Compared with the Synapse, it doesn't seem quite as refined: those glossy white finishes are getting a bit passé these days. But then there's no messing with the spec sheet, and a 105 gearset can do a lot to help make up for a less than spectacular appearance.
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