Bontrager gave us something to be excited about with the release of their new carbon wheels at very appealing prices. When we’re used to seeing carbon wheels trickle up to and well over the $2000 mark, these for under $1700 were worth a look.
The rims are 30mm wide, they use a robust plastic rim strip to seal the internal rim area and roll on nice hubs, the freehub has 108 engagement points and has a very sophisticated feeling and sound.
How do they compare to the aluminnium wheels?
Swapping from the 35mm width aluminium Wheelworks Flite Wide wheels to the carbon Bontrager wheels had quite a dramatic effect, while they are lighter they are also a lot stiffer. The narrower 30mm Bontrager wheels are very responsive to your actions on the bike, and you can really feel how stiff they are when you push the bike around sideways into a corner or hammer hard on the pedals.
Coming off the 35mm wide Wheelworks they certainly don’t feel any near as smooth, in part due to the softer feeling material and the bigger air volume from a wider wheel, the Norco felt more supple and more planted with the Wheelworks. The change to the Bontragers has given the Norco a more racey and fast feel with more trail feedback transferred up to hands.
It has us wondering what we’d pick as the better wheel out of the two, smooth and grippy, or fast and stiff? Full review coming shortly.
SRAM XX1 Eagle, the best drivetrain going?
It’s hard to argue that SRAM is driving ahead with mountain bike drivetrains causing Shimano to chase, it’s a competitive segment and we really enjoy watching it play out. SRAM Eagle solved any debate over the gear range that’s comparable to a double chainring setup, but for us, it’s more than just the range we like about Eagle. The shifting is ultra-crisp, the chain and chainring are dead quiet and it handles its enormous spread of gears without a hiccup.
Shimano XTR TRail Brakes, fickle but fantastic.
In the braking department, it is the XTR Trail brake that really seals the deal for the best trail bike brakes going. While they too are not without their inconsistencies, when you get a good set working well they are hard to match. It’s the power and heat management that edges out the SRAM Guide Ultimates in our opinion, most evident on long descents where you’re constantly on the brakes.
A water bottle cage that fits.
The Specialized cage fits the tight space for a water bottle just right, and the side-access was the only way.
Merida seem to be making a real effort to diversify their image from the cross-country racing heritage that has long been part of the brand’s identity (no doubt in part due to the wrap up on the Merida Multivan team). The new One-Forty will play a key role in this repositioning. Available in three models, all with alloy frames, the One-Forty looks to be tough-nut, workhorse of a trail bike. It now employs the same Float Link suspension as the One-Sixty we reviewed last year, which we were full of praise for.
The One-Forty models are all 27.5″ wheeled, 1x drivetrain specific, with short 435mm stays, trunnion mounted shocks and clearance for 2.6″ tyres.
The top-of-the-line model shown here comes in at less than four grand, which is a steal. It gets the new Revelation (with 35mm legs) up front, FOX out back, the superb GX Eagle drivetrain and massive 2.6″ Maxxis rubber. This one is at the top of our review list for Merida.
Merida One-Sixty 800
Last year, we called the Merida One-Sixty (review here) one of the most surprising bikes of the year. And now Merida are bringing the same fundamentals that made that bike so awesome to an even lower price point. At less than $4000, the new One-Sixty 800 is a lot of Enduro beast for not too much cash.
The frame has been lengthened since we reviewed this platform last year, answering one of our only concerns about the bike. It now gets 170mm up front with a RockShox Yari, and 160mm out back with a trunnion mounted Super Deluxe RCT shock. Big SRAM Code brakes bring it to a stop, and a GX Eagle drivetrain has all the climbing gears you’ll ever need. This one will be getting a review soon too.
Whether you’re a fan of e-bikes or not, you’ve got to admire Merida’s insanely good pricing on their e-mountain bike offerings; most of their e-bikes come in at a price point that matches (or betters) an equivalently specced non-e-bike Norco!
Merida have embraced the Shimano E8000 motor/battery system, which is a super compact offering that allows the use of much shorter chain stays than most other motor systems. We appreciate this, as it means the bike has handling that’s far closer to a regular mountain bike.
Merida see huge potential to cement themselves as a leading brand in the e-bike segment, and so their aggressive pricing is all about getting early market share. It’s clearly working; in 2017, Merida had forecasts to sell just 25 of the EOne-Sixty 900E model here in Australia… They ultimately sold over 250.
At $5299, the new EOne-Twenty 500 is another very impressive package. A stout Yari fork with Maxxis 2.8″ Plus sized tyres are key items to give this bike a confident poise.
Norco Range A1
Norco have brought the geometry and suspension changes which were debuted on the carbon Range and Sight last year across to their alloy models too, for 2018. This means longer and more aggressive geometry, with more active suspension too. Both the Sight and Range will continue to be available in 27.5 and 29er platforms, with sales apparently fairly evenly split between the two wheel options.
The Range A1 is the top model in the alloy Range series, at $5399, a price that includes a great FOX suspension package of a 36 and the new DPX2 shock. You’ve got to appreciate the extra effort put in the two-tone paint and sticker job too!
If gravel riding or maybe a bit of CX is your thing, like it is ours, then you’ll appreciate the sharply presented 2018 Threshold C Rival 1. The muted grey / fluro yellow combo is dialled, and speccing a chain guide and boot to keep crap out of the seat tube shows the Norco have been paying attention to what riders are after in this segment.
Nothing has changed in the Revolver series for 2018 except for paint and spec, but we couldn’t go past this green and gold fade on the $6499 FS1.
While the geometry of the Range series is unchanged, the top two carbon models in both wheel sizes now get a carbon seat stay, shedding a little weight and gaining stiffnesses. The C2 model, at $7299, grabbed our attention with its interesting spec of E13 tyres and rims in a lineup dominated by Maxxis and Easton.
The latest range of Norco suspension bikes have been so good. First, it was the short travel Optic, then the long travel Range and the Sight in the middle. Using a new frame, great spec and a very well received approach to geometry, they’ve been popular!
We sat down with one of Norco’s bike designers, Owen Pemberton, chatting about frame geometry, wheel size and suspension, it’s an excellent read. “I spent months working on a study, staring at excel spreadsheets trying to work out geometry and how we could make it work – on paper, could we get a 29er to handle as well as our 650b bikes?”
While the wheels from custom wheel builders Wheelworks use the similar rims to the stock spec Raceface ARC 30, these have 35mm internal width rims and have been handbuilt with bladed spokes, they also use high-end hubs with a very positive freehub engagement. There was quite a discernable difference in the ride quality with the wheel change, especially on loose surfaces where we could drop the tyres down a little further to give us more traction.
Going to wider rims are an absolute no-brainer for anyone looking to add composure and confidence to their bike, we’ve been super happy with these.
This was an interesting one for us, our first ride of the BOX One drivetrain, a brand previously known mainly for BMX components. The drivetrain is 11-speed with an 11-46 tooth cassette, a black KMC chain and it uses a few unique approaches to the classic task of shifting; the most obvious one is how you shift with your thumb. Instead of two paddles that shift up, and the other shifts down, the BOX One uses one paddle that can be downshifted like normal, but to upshift you ‘poke’ the L-shaped thumb lever inwards towards the shifter. It took a few hours to get used to, but the shifting is actually very smooth and precise, the chain glides up and down the cassette quietly and with a fairly consistent jump in teeth size (unlike the Shimano 11-46 cassette it replaced) we liked its light and slick shifting feel.
It only took a few hours of riding to get used to, the shifting is actually very smooth and precise, the chain glides up and down the cassette quietly and with a fairly consistent jump in teeth size (unlike the Shimano 11-46 cassette it replaced) we liked its light and slick shifting feel.
The rear derailleur not only looks vastly different from Shimano or SRAM, but it also uses a different approach to chain retention, too. While BOX does suggest using a chain guide with the system, we didn’t drop a chain despite the derailleur’s tension feeling significantly lighter than the Shimano it replaced.
Our biggest gripe with the shifter is how it meshed with the Shimano XT brake lever, the architecture of the mount didn’t allow us to roll the shifter upwards to our preference. Though we doubt that would pose an issue for everyone. Overall we were happily impressed with the drivetrain, though it may not stand forth as a stronger option to the other big guns, it’s nice to try something different.
Geeking out with the ShockWiz.
This is one very interesting little device, we’ve had this fitted to the fork and shock for quite some time now and are really beginning to understand how it works. Interestingly though, one thing we take away from deciphering the ShockWiz feedback is to back off the rear shock’s compression even when it’s in open mode and decrease its progresivity by removing volume spacers. This proves the point that the Sight’s suspension is quite supportive and firm, we’re going to delve into this a little deeper in our next long term test update.
Dropper post – FOX Transfer.
The best dropper post we have ridden, the Transfer is so reliable, consistent and the lever fits so well on the left-hand side of the bar. We’re open to suggestions as to what could trump the Transfer as the best dropper out there if the cost was no factor.
Cockpit – ENVE stem, PRO Tharsis bar, Ergon GE1 grips.
To drop some weight from the front end, we went full carbon with the ENVE stem and PRO Tharsis bar, some of the lightest available. The Ergon grips are huge favourites of ours.
Saddle – Ergon SMA3-Comp.
Saddles are a personal thing, while the SDG saddle that came on the Norco was a good fit for our backsides, we wanted to lose some weight from the bike and try something new. The SMA3 Comp saddle comes in two widths – medium and small – we’ve got the medium on there now, and the saddle feels firm but not too hard, and the material and shape allow us to move around it as we ride in and out of the saddle.
While we’re never going to set records for the lightest trail bike out there, the Sight makes it up in other areas. We’re going to try some 2018 FOX suspension, Bontrager carbon wheels, XTR brakes, TRP Quadiem brakes, Schwalbe Addix tyres, a SRAM Eagle drivetrain and try to find a water bottle cage and bottle that fits in the tight space.
No, this isn’t silly, it’s amazing! And especially available from the big manufacturers, it simply says that riders are pushing the boundaries of mountain biking and the technologies involved have made them a reality.
Watch the video here.
Take 160mm of travel and jam in a bike with 29″ wheels, and you’ll end up with a monster of a bike that will allow you to cut sick on the descents, but on the other hand, it poses serious challenges to the manufacturer to pull off. There is a lot of stuff and moving parts to fit into a space that can be still pedalled, let alone lightweight or even to fit a water bottle in the frame; it’s not as simple as it may seem from the shop floor.
We chose two bikes that in our mind epitomise this booming segment, the Norco Range C 9.2 and Trek Slash 9.8 to review head to head, back to back, fork to fork, in a review where we took them both out on the trails. With identical setup, we aimed to determine where they would shine, how different they would be, but most importantly which one we would choose if we were to keep it.
Why put the Slash and Range head to head?
Aside from looking quite similar from a distance, both black paint jobs, SRAM builds kits, RockShox suspension all round, same travel amounts and only $300 apart, we chose these two because we both know their suspension platforms well. The Norco Range is the bigger brother of the Sight that we reviewed recently, and the Slash is the big brother of the Remedy which we have ridden countless times over the last five or so years.
The Trek is the second-tier option available in Australia with the flashy red Slash 9.9 model above in a higher spec, but in the Australia Norco catalogue, this is the top spec Range.
Who are they for?
These bikes are mighty serious, not for the faint hearted and not for a comfortable ride. Aggressive riders only need apply, or if enduro racing on the most ragged and wild tracks is your thing too, they might be your bag. But we’d strongly recommend looking at the Norco Sight or Trek Remedy if the majority of riding might not warrant such a huge bike.
How do they differ on paper?
The Trek is nearly 1kg lighter, has a lot going on in the frame with the Knock Block system, geometry adjustment, and a full carbon construction. It’s a whopper of a bike, with a down tube that gives the bike a real ‘get outta my way’ attitude, and it’s murdered out black paint job is even more menacing.
The Norco is a heavier bike and appears much more swoopier in the tubing, especially up the front to allow clearance of the fork crowns to rotate fully under the down tube. The four-bar linkage drives a trunnion mount shock, and there’s just enough space for a water bottle. Interestingly (also took us a few days to notice) that the graphics are green on one side, and black on the other, tricky!
Frame geometry differences.
Comparing the two bikes in terms of geometry is a little tricky, as the Trek is available in four sizes from 15.5″ to 21.5″ while the Norco sticks to the more common school of thought with one of the three M, L, XL options, the Range is also available in 27.5″ wheels in a wider range of sizes too. We reviewed the 19.5″ Trek and M Norco.
Taking a look at the geometry charts the bikes are very close, though the Trek does have the MinoLink adjustment to allow 0.5-degree adjustability in the head angle which also alters the bottom bracket height by 10mm.
Norco vs Trek regarding spec.
Yes, we can hear the keyboards furiously smashing away, criticising us for comparing two bikes with $300 difference between them, but in our opinion, that is about as close as it gets.
For an extra $300 you get a lot for the cash with the Norco, the SRAM Eagle drivetrain is superb, the gear range is huge and had us cleaning the steep climbs easier with a few gears up our sleeve, and the shifting and operation is so crisp, quiet and smooth. The SRAM Guide RS brakes (S stands for Swing Link) have a much snappier lever feel, and the power delivery is excellent.
Rim widths are similar between the two, but the tyres feel vastly different when you hit the dirt – the Bontragers almost feel a little under-gunned in comparison to the meaty Maxxis Minions on the Norco. We’d love to try the Bontrager G5 tyres on the Slash to let it rumble.
How different were they on the trail?
By choosing two bikes that on paper were so close, you’d think that would reflect on the trail, right? Well, yes, they were very similar when it came to turning the pedals.
In summary, we found the Trek a more efficient bike to ride, with its low weight, fast rolling tyres, and Dual Position fork for the climbs it was an easier bike to get along with after a few hours on singletrack.
But whenever we got back onto the Norco our attitude changed, the skies darkened and we released our inner maniac. We rode more aggressively into the corners, braked later, jumped further and let it hang out more.
The tough task of picking one.
It was tough, they both are amazing bikes, nothing went wrong with either of them, and there was never a moment that a frame design, spec choice or compatibility let us down. If you were to lean towards longer rides on lesser aggressive trails the Slash would be ideal, and even on the race tracks we have here in Australia it might be a more logical choice due to its great efficiency and speed.
Though we couldn’t go past the fact that if you’re in the market for a bike this size with this much suspension travel you’re going to want it to descend hard and fast, and that’s what the Norco does very well. You could easily find some faster rolling tyres to bring it closer to the Trek Slash, and vice versa with the Bontragers on the Slash, but we could go on forever about spec modifications, as it stands we’d pick the Norco.
The Sight sits in between the Range and Optic in Norco’s catalogue, a mid-travel trail bike available in both wheel size options. The Sight could be dubbed the middle child of the Norcos, with parts, and a shape that strikes a sweet spot between the lean cross country scene and the burly enduro crowds. In fact, we’d say that this is the type of bike we would hope more mountain bikers consider instead of being attracted to a race bike, or what the pros ride.
We have 140mm of travel up front, and 130mm out the back (the 27.5″ version has 150/140mm), it’s a good amount, not too much, not too little, just right for riding hard on rough trails up and down, right?
The frame is quite compact, low and drew many comments from onlookers it doesn’t look like a typical 29er at first glance. The proportions are nice, the finish is very classy, and the internal cabling managed by the rubber clamps at the frame ports hold the cables from making noise inside the frame and can be easily accessed too, it’s an excellent cable management system in an area that a lot of other brands still battle with.
The frame is quite compact, low and drew many comments from onlookers it doesn’t look like a typical 29er at first glance
The Sight C 9.2 a full carbon frame save for the aluminium chainstays and two-piece rocker linkage, and with no quick release axles at either ends the profile of the bike is quite narrow – great for sneaking past rocks – but make sure you have an allen key handy for wheel removal.
One thing that irks us is the super-tight space provided for a water bottle cage; we’re still experimenting on what size water bottle and cage combination doesn’t come into contact with the rear shock lockout lever and rub the underside of the top tube. Suggestions anyone?
We’ve got more details on the specifics of the new bike on our feature on the Sight release here – Meet the new Sight Carbon – read further on the unique frame geometry that changes with the frame sizing and more.
27.5″ or 29″?
While we admit rolling our eyes and letting out a sigh of disdain when we have to talk about wheel sizes, who wants what size, what’s the best size for what type of trail, blah blah, options are a good thing? The Sight (along with the shorter travel Optic) are available in both wheel sizes, big for momentum, small for agility. We chose the 29er because to review, in our opinion, this category of bike is well-suited to 29″ wheels. That said if you’re after a more nimble bike to ride on the trails and a more precise and sturdier wheel on your bike, the 27.5″ version is available. We rode the Optic in both wheel sizes recently, have a look at our thoughts on the two bikes here. Riding two wheel sizes of the same bike, the Norco Optic.
How’s the spec stack up?
Norco is always pretty good at choosing the right parts for the intended use, and this is no exception. We packed this bike and took it for a week of riding – not racing – in Derby to cover the Enduro World Series, and we didn’t change a thing, and it is still completely 100% stock.
Shimano takes care of most of the bits, with the robust and reliable Shimano XT, even down the hubs too. Unfortunately, the XT drivetrain fell victim to the notorious grinding and noise in the wet and dry, even with care taken in cleaning and lubing the chain still would grind and groan over the cassette when we got out of the saddle and put massive torque on the pedals. And we did drop the chain a couple of times too, a bummer for our confidence.
The bike is fitted with a One-Up S3 chain guide mounted neatly via the ISCG mounts, but as we assembled the bike, we found the screw holding the plastic guide to the backing plate overtightened and spinning in its thread. It’s an excellent little guide, but a plastic thread holding it together didn’t work out too well, so we had to ditch the guide and risk a dropped chain on rough trails.
The tyres are amazing too, we’ve not ridden the super-aggro Schwalbe Magic Mary on a bike with less that 160mm of travel
There’s plenty to be positive about the spec though, we loved the powerful Shimano XT brakes, the shifting was always precise, and the new 11-46T cassette may be heavy but offers up a great range of gears.
The tyres are fantastic too, we’ve not ridden the super-aggro Schwalbe Magic Mary on a bike with less that 160mm of travel, but in 2.35″ size on 30mm wide rims, it’s quite fast rolling yet still very grippy on the technical climbs and through the turns. Both the tyres are excellent; we found the Sight to have gobs of traction on the trails.
RockShox takes care of the bounce, at both ends with the new Deluxe RT3 shock with the trunnion (frame linkage mounts on the side of the shock, rather than on top) mount. We used the ShockWiz suspension setup tool on both the fork and shock to guide our setupconfiguration and with two Bottomless Tokens fitted inside the fork as standard we didn’t have to do too much to get it dialled, just fine tuning of the shock pressures was all we needed.
How’d it ride then?
This is the type of 29er that will actually win the wheel-size cynics over; it’s a very agile, quick handling and confident bike to ride. The suspension amount isn’t huge, so coming off a lot of other longer travel bikes we’re currently testing like the Canyon Strive, Norco Range, Trek Slash etc, this bike feels so light to ride and engages with the trail.
This bike feels so light to ride and engages with the trail.
The Sight felt at home manualling sections of trail, hopping up steps and nosing into tight landings, we quickly felt at home on it, and natural like we were on a 27.5″ bike but relished in the momentum and traction that the 29″ wheels have. The supple-yet-supportive suspension, frame geometry and grippy tyres let the Sight keep up with bigger travel 160mm bikes but drop them on flatter trails and climbs in no time.
The supple-yet-supportive suspension, frame geometry and grippy tyres make the Sight come alive through the singletrack when you need to think quick and maintain speed. On the amazing trails of Derby in Tasmania, we hooked hard through the perfect berms and tackled the raw and gnarly race tracks of the EWS without a worry at all.
If you watched any of the coverage of the EWS in Derby, Tasmania you’d understand the type of trails we took this bike through. While it may not have been our choice to race on – we’d opt for the bigger travel Range to let the speeds at race pace be more manageable – the Sight held its own so very well. Standing up on the pedals with one finger on the brakes the bike is confident at rolling down steep chutes, squeezing through tight gaps in massive boulders and pounding straight rock gardens at hectic speed.
What we’d change?
We’d fix the chain guide straight away, and look for a few areas to drop some weight out of the bike like the aluminium cockpit, saddle, etc. Other than that, the Sight is ready for it.
Who’d suit the Sight?
Because it strikes such a nice balance between a heavy-hitting enduro rig or a short travel trail bike, the Sight will suit quite a wide range of riders. The 29″ wheels give the bike high confidence and traction, the frame geometry is quick-handling, and the suspension supple and balanced.
Joining the likes of Specialized, Trek and Evil at the long travel 29” party, the new Range offers the same fit principles they debuted with the Optic. The ideas are, regardless of what wheel size you choose, the fit and handling will be as close to identical as possible. You can read more about the concept in our interview with the bike’s designer, Owen Pemberton, here.
The 29” variant comes with a little less travel (160mm front and 150mm rear) to accommodate for the larger wheels, and the 27.5” wheeled machine, which packs 170mm of travel in the front and 160mm in the rear, adopts a slacker head angle and longer stem to accommodate for the difference in reach.
We’ll save you the speech about how this bike has been made longer, lower and slacker than its predecessor to enhance descending confidence – we reckon you know the drill by now. What is more interesting is the employment of Norco’s Gravity Tune geometry, where the rear centre measurement gets longer as you move up the sizes, growing from 430mm to 440mm.
In Australia, only the second-from-top in the lineup Norco C9.2 and C7.2 will be available, both retailing for $7299. This pricing puts the C9.2 in the same price range as bikes like Trek’s Slash 9.8, and Specialized’s Enduro Elite Carbon 29”. We’ll be putting together some comparative content over the coming months related to this segment, so watch this space! This is a pretty awesome segment, in our opinion, the next frontier of long-travel bikes.
We’ve been lucky enough to receive a fresh Range C9.2 that’s ready to hit the trails, so let’s take a bit of a closer look at some of the finer details.
That’s our first impressions of the new Range C9.2, read on for the official word from Norco on the new range of Ranges, and keep an eye out for a full review of the C9.2 once we log some miles aboard this exciting beast.
Below you’ll find an interesting round-table chat with some of Norco’s big-wigs, all about the Range.
Introduced today, the 2017 Norco Range Carbon features a new frame redesigned around both 650b and 29” wheels, with updated modern Enduro geometry and improved suspension kinematics.
Building on the best qualities of the previous generation Range, our engineers applied their evolved geometry philosophy to redesign the frame from the ground up and introduce a 29er with the same fit and nearly identical handling characteristics as the Killer B.
The result is a geometry that is longer, lower, and slacker, with a new A.R.T. Suspension system with improved performance that is slightly more progressive. The new design is stronger than ever, borrowing elements such as the head tube design and rear derailleur hanger from the Norco Aurum.
“We looked at the way Enduro bikes are being used – yes, they’re pedaled to the top, but essentially in an Enduro event they go through four or five downhill races over a weekend. This is a bike that’s going to be ridden hard, so we took everything we learned from the Aurum, which is the strongest bike we’d ever made, and employed it on the new Range.” – Owen Pemberton, Senior Design Engineer
To achieve the renowned fit and handling of the Range Killer B in a 29er platform, the 29er is designed around the same rear centre lengths, with a longer front centre, steeper head tube angle, shorter stem, and 10mm less travel front and rear to offset the characteristics of the larger wheels.
When stem length is incorporated into stack and reach (a measurement Norco engineers call Reach Plus and Stack Plus), the fit between the two platforms is identical.
The Range Carbon 29er is available in the widest possible size range without compromising its geometry, fit, and handling. Whether you prefer the quick acceleration and playfulness of 650b wheels or the improved rollover and momentum of a 29er – the Range Carbon offers riders choice without compromise.
Finally! There’s been news on the grapevine for some time about Norco having some big release news early in 2017, and here it is!
The new Norco Sight follows in the footsteps of the Optic trail bike by offering both 27.5″ and 29″ wheelsizes, with an all new carbon frame. Norco’s engineering team have a pretty interesting take on giving consumers 27.5″ and 29″ wheel options for their models without compromising the overall ride qualities of the bike, which we discussed with Norco engineer Owen Pemberton last year. We’ve also reviewed how Norco’s approach to bike fit at length in our Norco Optic review.
We’ve reviewed many versions of the Norco Sight previously. Take a read to see how the bike has evolved.
Norco’s decision to offer riders two different wheel sizes in the new Sight is an interesting one, especially given the undeniable swing back towards popularity currently being enjoyed by longer travel 29ers (bikes such as the Yeti SB5.5 and YT Jeffsy that we’re reviewing at the moment). We’ll be interested to see which option proves most popular as the bikes arrive.
As with the Optic, the 29er version of the Sight has slightly less travel – 130mm rear, 140mm front – versus the 27.5″ version, which runs 140/150mm.
With the launch of the new Sight, Norco have also released a round table discussion between Senior Design Engineer Owen Pemberton, Norco Product Manager Jim Jamieson, and Engineering Manager P.J. Hunton outlining why they’ve made the changes that they have to the geometry and suspension, and also some interesting discussion around how the bikes are specced.
We think it’s worth a watch, as Owen Pemberton really simplifies Norco’s philosophy with regards to the Sight’s handling, suspension and fit, and Jim Jamieson does an excellent job explaining why certain components were decided upon with regards to spec.
We’re hoping to have a Sight C9.2 in our hands next week, when we’ll bring you more thoughts once we’ve had time to scratch and sniff it. Now let’s jump back into the official word from Norco.
Building on the best qualities of the previous generation Sight, our engineers applied their evolved geometry philosophy to redesign the frame from the ground up, and to introduce a 29er with the same fit and nearly identical handling characteristics as the Killer B. The result is a versatile trail killer with longer, lower, and slacker geometry to suit modern All-Mountain riding styles, and a new A.R.T. Suspension system for improved suspension performance.
To achieve the renowned fit and handling of the Killer B in a 29er platform, the 29er is designed around the same rear center lengths, with a longer front centre, steeper head tube angle, shorter stem, and 10mm less travel front and rear to offset the characteristics of the larger wheels. Although the stack and reach measurements of a Sight 650b and 29er will differ, when stem length is incorporated (a measurement Norco engineers call Reach Plus and Stack Plus), the fit between the two platforms is identical.
The Sight Carbon 29er is available in the widest possible size range without compromising the geometry, fit, and handling. Whether you prefer the quick acceleration and playfulness of 650b wheels or the improved rollover and momentum of a 29er – the Sight Carbon offers riders choice without compromise.
Balanced climbing and descending capability combined with grin-inducing playfulness and nimble handling make the Sight the ideal accomplice on any aggressive All-Mountain ride. The dialed spec includes metric rear shocks, 1x drivetrains, integrated frame protection, wide tubeless-ready rims, stealth dropper posts, and other thoughtful details that make the Sight Carbon feel like a custom build, straight out of the box.
We’re very excited to be taking delivery of a Sight C9.2 model in the very near future, as we think the new Sight suits the type of riding we do alot of here at Flow. Keep your eyes peeled for a First Bite soon!
Advance Traders will be bringing all three models in the Sight range into Australia in both 27.5″ and 29″ sizes, and prices range between $4999 and $8199.
The pair were on hand in Brisbane at the Advance Traders 2017 show recently, so we cornered them to ask them five quick questions about the industry.
What is the difference between innovation and marketing?
PS-S: I think you can market anything, even though it may not have innovation. Whereas innovation will standout if it’s marketed or not. I believe we can do a really good job at innovating, we just don’t have the clout other brands might have it to market it, whereas other brands might do a huge job of marketing but don’t have innovation to back it up. Those are two separate things but they are kind of linked.
JF: It’s quite a good question! I would say marketing is a tool to underline the innovation. Innovations are not always self explaining. We are not a marketing driven company, we look more for technical innovation and try to convince that the product works as we intended it. We are not the guys making the biggest story around it.
What is the most influential product or development for mountain biking in the past five years, and in the last 12 months?
PS-S: I’d like to say wheel size. It was almost like a light switch in many ways when we started developing super cool trail-worthy 650 bikes, and we’re starting to see the first generation of super cool trail-worthy 29ers now too.
In the last 12 months, it’s hard to put it down to one thing, because there’s such innovation with materials, designs and everything else. If I had to, I’d say something like a carbon 29er trail bike. Trail, I’m going to put the emphasis on trail there, like the Optic.
JF: For the last five years, actually the biggest changes and the biggest effect on riding is the change in wheel sizes. Having different wheel sizes for different applications is the most important development, far more important than say drivetrain things.
More recently, 1×12 by SRAM is really interesting, it’s the first time in my personal conviction that a 1x system gets rid of the limitations of a too narrow bandwidth. It’s just a question if they will be able to bring this technology down to a commercial price point which is reasonable for normal consumers.
Your most profound mountain biking moment?
PS-S: Ah, fun! Going back many many years, I’m going to say the thing that changed my mountain biking overnight and sent me down a path that’s probably a little steeper and deeper was learning how to wheelie drop. I remember distinctly the day I wheelie dropped off the end of the log and got it dialled. And then I went back and did three feet, then four feet and five and six, and once you start doing that, you know what it’s like – off you go!
JF: For me it is an experience linked to a place. It was in 2011 I spent three days riding in Moab, together with the SRAM guys, Greg Herbold, we had a great time – it’s a fantastic place to ride, in a completely different way to what is possible in Europe. I think it was the absolute highlight in my mountain bike life.
Who has been the most influential person in mountain biking for you personally, and also the most influential person for the broader industry as a whole?
PS-S: Those are good questions. Personally, for me, a cool cat, a guy like Jay Hoots, who has taught me a lot about riding, and to follow down tracks all over the worlds and has opened my eyes to what is possible on a bike as a whole and therefore wanting to try it.
For the industry, I’d say Keith Bontrager. Keith was a bit of a behind the scenes guy who did a lot to make mountain biking safe. I remember him saying, “weight, price, strength: choose two.” And that’s still really, even today, relevant to everything we do.
JF: It’s not really people that are influencing me that much. It’s more or less always the best product of the leading brands, setting the level high and encouraging me to develop products that compete with them at an eye-to-eye level.
And for the industry, visionaries like Mike Sinyard are definitely the motors behind certain developments. But again I don’t see individual people as game changers.
What is one thing you would like to change about the mountain bike industry, and what is one thing you would you never change?
PS-S: What wouldn’t I change? I wouldn’t change the fact that there’s such exciting changes still happening now. I’ve been in mountain bikes since like 1980, and yet every year I’m still excited about new stuff coming down the pipe, and every year there are still real technology changes which is making my riding better, and making riding better for everyone. And you know what, I see what’s coming down the pipe for 2017 and beyond and there’s even more cool stuff coming.
And what would I change? I think that’s there’s a lot of me-too’ers and copycats, and stuff that is marketed as the latest and best which isn’t really the latest and best. So a little less ‘murketing’ and a little more delivery.
JF: I would never change trying everything that’s possible, even if it turns out later to not make any sense. All this kind of being a bit crazy and trying new things is something I’d definitely never like to see change.
And I would like to change the over segmentation and over specialisation of the industry. There are too many specialised products for every possible, specific application. I still think it’s quite cool to have a bike with a broader range of use, that’s possible to have lots of fun in different conditions, that’s not necessary to have five different bikes for five different types of riding.
What’s been cooking in the Norco kitchen for 2017? Our favourite Canucks only recently treated us to one of 2016’s tastiest offerings, the Optic (read our review here), but what else is on the way for the new year?
The value-busting Fluid line gets a new Plus-sized offering. Good call, we say! Bringing the ‘mid-fat’ format into the dual suspension realm at this price makes a lot of sense, as less experienced riders really stand to benefit from the gobs of traction that 2.8″ tyres bring. With so much grip, conquering trails that can be off putting for a new rider is much less of an issue.
At $2799 the FluidFS 7.1 Plus seems like a particularly dialled offering. A SRAM NX drivetrain removes the clutter and makes for logical, zero-fuss shifting, and there’s a Trans X dropper too. WTB seem to be carving out a good niche in the Plus tyre market, and they provide the 2.8″ Ranger rubber. It was only recently that we tested the Torrent Plus hardtail (check out the review here) and really liked it, so we think this bike will be making its way onto our home trails for a review too.
One of our favourite all-mountain bikes is the Range (read our long term review here), and while this line doesn’t have any significant changes for 2017, some of the models have been refreshed with some great looking spec. The Range A7.2 in particular turned our head. It’s a striking looking bike, we really like the new all-black FOX Performance suspension against the loud frame graphics!
This particular model is a bit of a winner, we think. At $4599, the Deore level brakes do seem a bit below par, but the rest of the bike is on the money: FOX 36 with 170mm travel, a Float X rear shock, Raceface’s well regard Turbine dropper post, SRAM NX/GX drivetrain and some excellent Maxxis rubber to round it all out. As you’ll find, if you read our long-term Range test, this bike is a lot more capable as an all-round trail bike than its generous travel might suggest.
Ok, it’s not a mountain bike, but we like it a lot. Norco’s Threshold CX bike also carries over from 2016, with a few minor changes, including a much cleaner axle system. The previous version used Maxles front and rear, and they were pretty bulky. The full carbon frame and fork has clearance for up to a 40c tyre, so taking this thing off the cyclocross track and onto some rough fire roads won’t be an issue.
The Revolver is another bike that’s still relatively new to the Norco lineup, so there’s no great changes going on there. Once again though, Norco impressed us with just how sharp their graphics and frame finishes are. This Revolver FS9.2 is one of the best looking bikes of 2017 that we’ve seen so far. If it were joining our fleet, we’d ditch the fork lockout and add a dropper post, but otherwise it’s all set to do some damage to your mate’s Strava times!
Our final fave from the Norco 2017 line up is this little shredder! Fully adjustable air-sprung suspension, a 1×10 drivetrain with a chain guide, proper Shimano disc brakes and even Schwalbe tyres make us want to be five years old again.
Brisbane, you little heartbreaker! It’s always hard leaving the sunshine state mid-winter – the days up there at this time of year are just glorious. Flow just spent a couple of days up north taking a look at the 2017 range from Merida – here are the highlights!
We were lucky enough to spend a bit of time on the trails of Gap Creek while in Brisbane, putting in a few short laps on some of the 2017 bikes from Merida, Norco and Lapierre. Local yokel Mike Blewitt tips it in on board the Merida One Twenty, clearly he’s no stranger to the loose and dusty winter trails of Brissy.
We tend to underestimate Merida in Australia – maybe because it’s not a brand that necessarily resonates with ‘core’ mountain bikers. But that sure doesn’t mean we should tune out, because Merida sure as hell know their stuff. This is a brand with more manufacturing experience than any other on the face of the planet – at one stage or another, Merida have built bikes for over 70% of the ‘serious’ North American brands. They currently produce a staggering four million bikes a year across their four factories. Holy hell!
Merida have rolled out a couple of key new models for 2017, including a totally re-vamped One Sixty platform and an overdue refresh of their Big Nine and Big Seven hardtail too.
We think the new OneSixty is going to change a lot of people’s perception of Merida. Thoroughly modern Enduro geometry is combined some very sleek construction to make a bike that just looks right, before you even sling a leg over it.
The suspension system used by the OneSixty is now a variant of the Float Link arrangement that’s also found on the OneTwenty. Previously this bike used Merida’s VPK system, which had a lot of chain interference.
Other nice touches like a Trunnion mounted shock and Boost hub spacing let you know Merida are paying attention to the details with this one too. The pricing is going to seal the deal for a lot of folk too, at $4499. This is a bike we’re definitely going to be testing soon.
The cross country crew aren’t forgotten; the new Big Nine and Big Seven carbon frame is lighter than ever, at 900g, and gets geometry improvements galore with a slacker head angle, longer reach / shorter stem, shorter chain stays and Boost hub spacing.
The frame gets a BB92 pressfit bottom bracket as well, which allows for a much larger and stiffer junction at the down tube and bottom bracket. At the same time, Merida have given the frame compliant seat stays which are just 12mm deep, which is as thin as the UCI allows for racing apparently (something we didn’t know about at all).
Unlike many of the new crop of cross country race hardtails, the Big Nine / Big Seven has a 30.9mm seat post, not a skinny 27.2mm. Merida wanted their customers to be able to use a dropper post, and there are very few 27.2mm droppers on the market. They’ve preserved compliance in the post by flattening its fore/aft profile, creating kind of a funky cobra head shape. Merida’s head of design, Jurgen Falke, says it results in just as much compliance as a narrower post, but with less flex too.
Not only do we like the Bruce Wayne inspired stealth paint job on this bike, but it’s also the first bike we’d encountered to come stock with XT Di2 set up entirely for Synchro Shift mode. There’s two chain rings, but only one shifter, taking advantage of the very cool functionality that’s possible with Di2. (Learn more about Synchro Shift in our video here).
We aren’t joking, this hardtail is a serious trail bike. Why? Huge amounts of grip, slack and incredibly comfortable geometry and a spot-on stock build. This is a bike every mountain biker will enjoy and appreciate.
Originally a staple in the Hardtail Category of your local DH races, the early versions of the Norco Torrent were a do-it-all bike, built to survive everything you could throw at it. For 2016, Norco have reinvigorated this legacy in the best way possible, utilising the new 27.5+ format running whopping 3.0″ tyres to create a hardtail that’ll baulk at nothing.
With a hydroformed aluminium frame, Norco have been able to create funky lines and shapes that are not winning awards for aesthetics, but are guaranteed to survive forever. With an internally-mounted rear brake, quick-release 12x142mm rear axle, external cabling and routing for stealth dropper posts, the Torrent truly is the best combination of functionality and durability.
From a geometry standpoint, this frame is exceptional. Built around 130mm of travel, the 67-degree head angle is a great medium between a full-blown enduro rig, and a light trail bike. The reach for each size is also nice and comparable to a well-sized full suspension bike, giving a comfortable and relatable fit for any rider. One of the standout elements are the super short chain stays. Even with the huge tyres, Norco have been able to keep the rear end to just 422.5mm on a size medium (5mm longer on a size x-large). No wonder this thing is playful!
Check out our recent reviews of some other 27.5+ hardtails
The Torrent is kitted out with an almost bulletproof list of reliable components while still maintaining a pretty great value for money. With the rise of semi-fat wheels, more and more brands are embracing the new format which has made them both reliable and affordable.
It’s hard to not talk about the wheels first, shod with their big rubber. The wide tyres give far greater confidence and control to the rider, through a more stable feeling over rough, off camber or rocky terrain. We highly recommend having a test ride and seeing the magic for yourself; the Plus format will have you cornering harder than you ever thought you could.
While nowhere near as light as your current 29er race wheels with 2.0 tyres, the WTB Scraper 27.5+ wheelset paired with the new Schwalbe Nobby Nic TrailStar 27.5 x 3.0″ tyres are strong and reliable setup. The Scraper rims’ 45mm width give a great tire profile and keeps them stiff. The Nobby Nics are a great performer in all situations where grip is needed and don’t roll around too badly under cornering.
However, don’t plan on changing your tires too often – they are a more challenging set of tyres to get on and off. We recommend taking the time to set them up tubeless too with better rim tape than what is provided, as this will keep the weight down and almost completely eliminate the chance of flats.
Our wheels copped a beating throwing the bike down some rough rock drops – the kind that usually bottom out full suspension bikes – and they stayed straight and true. However, we did manage to dint them in testing but never lost any pressure in the tubeless setup.
The Torrent is fitted with a mix of SRAM GX and RaceFace components, both of which are a solid choice for this kind of do-it all budget trail bike.
We noticed little to no loss in performance compared to X01 or even XX1 with this entry-level 1×11 drivetrain, with SRAM’s tried-and-true capable feel. The shifting is quick and precise, with absolutely no play in the shift lever, it’s quality kit.
Norco has also continued their insightful component spec with a RaceFace bottom bracket and Aeffect crankset with the Cinch System chainring setup. An extremely good looking and functional system, the Cinch System works similar to Shimano Centrelock Discs, which allows for a fully flexible mounting system to allow for any sized chainring, as well as adaptability for any chainring standards you may want to use. We never dropped a chain or had any annoying creaks, even under large stresses.
Some bikes take a little while to get used to, and some just need a whole new stem and bar just to get going. Not the Torrent. Despite being a Norco-branded stem and handlebar, you will feel right at home straight away. With a great width and rise, these bars will surely be a favourite for most average sized people. At 780mm wide, there’s plenty of room to cut down to a size of personal preference, or just run as is.
They aren’t flexy either, utilizing the newer 35mm standard bar diameter to give increased stiffness. We loved this cockpit, as the numbers almost exactly matched our usual go-to bar-and-stem combos.
Norco have definitely gotten their choice of fork right. The new RockShox Yari is an awesome mid travel fork using the chassis of the Lyrik with a Motion Control damper (not the Charger damper in the Lyrik), perfect for the bike’s style of riding. These are the new Boost standard width to accommodate the extra rubber, expanding the hub spacing an extra 10mm. This doesn’t seem to take away any lateral or torsional stiffness, instead just looking and feeling like a beefy pair of Pikes. The Yari runs a simple Solo Air spring, making it super easy to set up. It’s everything you need to thoroughly enjoy the bike without ever feeling like there is too much flex, or ever bottoming out.
From the get go, we had the Torrent doing wheelies down the street, despite a bit of extra drag from the oversized tyres. On the trails, this thing punched far above what ‘old’ hardtails could do.
The fit and sizing of the Torrent is quite similar to any other Norco mountain bike, with a good length in the front and just enough seat tube to get you up in a comfortable riding position for climbing. Our test bike was a medium, which is a good fit for anyone up to about 185cm tall. Hardtail suspension setup is simple and super straight forward – put in your desired PSI, set your usual rebound click, and you are away. We had ours set to 60 PSI and a very central rebound.
The climbing ability of this new wheel standard is unrivalled, with a great mix of agility, grip and stability. The Torrent will always have your back – up slippery gravel, wet rock, awkward turns and bumpy chutes. The 28 tooth chainring gives a really great range for all terrain, giving you a really nice low range for steep stuff while never spinning out on normal descents. With the addition of nice wide bars, the control you have at your disposal on the ups is just fantastic.
The extra fat width and tyre volume keeps a huge contact patch on the ground, giving you around double the surface area than a high pressure cross country tire. This also helps keeps you really rolling over tough and challenging sections of trail; they are far less prone to being shaken about by roots and rocks, keeping you upright and giving you the confidence to go even faster.
Forget what you previously thought hardtails could descend, because the Torrent can handle much more. It tears through any kind of corner far harder than you will be prepared to at first riding it, letting you reduce the braking and barrel into everything. We found the fat tyres to be incredibly reliable in off-camber corners and sections, where you can just lean in and grip without feeling like skating out. The extra weight in the wheels is really not even noticed once you are having a ball of a time, throwing the cushiony rubber into anything you want.
Running low, grippy pressures is obviously a great time, but if you go too low you’ll find they tyres really swab out through banked, tight corners and they’re far more prone to rim dents. This is what got us; just a touch too much confidence in sending the Torrent into a few awkward rocks left the rear wheel with a few dings – however no flats in sight!
The RockShox Yari performed superbly, like an out-and-out enduro fork. They are up to absolutely anything you can throw their way – paired with the Torrent frame you have an unstoppable and unbreakable tool of trail destruction.
What we would change:
Despite an almost-bulletproof components list, we wouldn’t hesitate to swap the grips for something more substantial. We found the single-sided lock-on grips too flimsy and they squrimed on the bar. We would recommend trading them out for grips of your preference.
Who wouldn’t want it?
There is no denying the fact that these tyres are BIG. Hence an inherent hindrance to rolling speed, which is more noticeable on hard pack trail or tarmac. The tyres also do feel as they roll and squirm through hardpack berms at low pressures more so than your standard tyre, which may put off those that regularly push hard through smooth, machined trails. It’s not going to be the best tool for flatter cross country applications either, but will make them a lot more fun.
The wide bars, large forks and 1×11 drivetrain will also not be everyone’s favourite, as they are far more suited to having a great time on the descents instead of climbing or high speeds.
Where would we all be without our first hardtail? The one you rode till it broke, fixed it, then snapped in two? The Torrent is a higher-end reincarnation of that trusty old do-it-all hardtail, just with better geometry, more reliable componentry and modern standards that can take your riding the next step further. The Torrent is a great application of the new 27.5+ wheel size; this a new standard is breathing fresh life into longer travel hardtails. If you still haven’t tried it out, we definitely recommend having some fun on some.
If you like challenging yourself with technical features, want to get the most out of a trail and enjoy the simplicity of the lack of rear suspension, the Torrent may just fill that little hole in your heart that wants to send skinny wood features and rock roll downs. This is by no measure an ‘entry level hardtail’ but is a far cheaper option than its full-suspension cousins with comparable componentry, and you’ll be surprised how close it comes to the performance of a duallie in the rough too.
The Optic series is an important project from Norco – a new trail bike, filling a vital hole in their range, and available in two wheel sizes. This in itself is not remarkable, there are many brands that offer popular trail bike models in both 27.5 and 29er formats (for example, the Trek Fuel EX or Specialized Camber). But what makes the Optic unique is Norco’s commitment to making the handling of both wheel size options as close to identical as possible. You can read all the details about how Norco achieved this in our in-depth piece here, or our interview with the bike’s designer, Owen Pemberton. The notion of having the benefits of a 29″ wheel and still retaining the playful handling of a 27.5″ bike had us intrigued, so when presented with the choice of review bikes, we opted for the 29er.
There’s nothing immediately apparent about the Optic C9.2 that gives you insight into the bike’s complex development. It looks, for all intents and purposes, like a Norco Sight with a smaller shock – carbon up front, alloy out back, unremarkable really. But the devil is in the detail here, and it’s the clever mix of geometry numbers that make this bike sing.
For many people, 29″ wheels means cross-country, wheels on the ground, fast but dull. The Optic 29 is out to overturn this notion. In general, long chain stays make a bike harder to hop, manual, jump or carve round a tight turn, so the Optic’s short 430mm stays are a big step in the right direction. Like most Norco dual suspension bikes, the frame employs Gravity Tune, so the length of the rear centre changes with the frame size. An Optic 29 in a size small has stays of 425mm, which is tiny. These kinds of short lengths are possible thanks to the use of Boost rear hub spacing, which affords an extra 3mm of chain line, allowing Norco to squeeze the rear wheel in close but still maintain gobs of space for big rubber and a front derailleur. All these machinations make the Optic super easy to get onto its rear wheel. It sure doesn’t manual like your average 29er cross country bike!
Up front, the bike gets a generous reach, putting plenty of room between you and the front axle. Norco have avoided the usual 29er trend of running a steep hand angle – at 68.5 degrees its only half a degree steeper than the 27.5″ bike – and the bike is equipped with a 50mm stem. All those numbers tell you this bike is built for ripping. They’re fun figures, and thankfully they translate perfectly from the spreadsheet to the trails.
Popping geometry to one side, the Optic displays all of those things that Norco have been doing so well in recent years, with clean cable routing, solid suspension hardware and good access for a water bottle. If we’re nitpicking, we do think the rear brake hose clamps are a bit cheap looking, and the cross bolted linkage seems out of step with the smooth finish of the carbon front end. Given the bike’s price tag, those two elements seem a bit half baked.
A removable front derailleur mount is bolted to the ISCG tabs, which means that if you opt to run a single-ring drivetrain, you can get rid of all traces of the front derailleur entirely. It’s a neat solution that preserves the clean lines of the frame.
The Optic presents an interesting conundrum: the geometry makes you want to push the bike hard, but the suspension travel is only limited, with 110mm out back. To balance out these competing forces Norco have given the Optic a a very progressive suspension rate, so you’ve got to give it a real hiding to get to the bottom of the travel. We’re sure some people will wish it were a little more linear, but we like it – you can really open up it up on the descents without bottoming out. Up front, you’ve got a little more travel, 120mm. The FOX 34 Float is one of the new Boost equipped models too, with 110mm dropout spacing, and the extra wide stance of the fork legs looks so burly.
When it comes to the way the suspension operates, there’s a lot of emphasis placed on making the travel work for you, in all situations. While many short travel bikes are all about super-efficient power delivery, the Optic is all about traction. There’s very little anti-squat in the suspension configuration, so it doesn’t exactly rocket forward in the same way as say the Pivot Mach 429 or Specialized Camber. On the flipside, the suspension isn’t impeded by chain tension, which is most noticeable when you’re climbing in a low gear – you’ve got excellent grip and you don’t feel any tugging of the chain through your pedals.
The fork’s tune is well matched with the rear end. Most 120mm forks from FOX come with a firmer tune, but Norco had FOX give the Optic’s fork a lighter, more supple compression tune to match the rear end.
With the exception of the wheels and tyres, which we found sub-par, the Optic is robustly fitted out with an eclectic mix of components from Shimano, FOX, RockShox, Raceface and SRAM. We wouldn’t call it stellar value, but none of the components are the kind of items you’d turn you nose up at.
Shimano XT 2×11 or 1×11 drivetrain: The Optic C9.2 and C7.2 are the only models in the Optic range which come with a double-ring drivetrain. While our early release bike didn’t come with one, production bikes will also ship with a Raceface narrow-wide chainring in the box too, so you can simply whip the derailleur, shifter and rings off, and pop the single ring on without spending another cent. It’s cool that Norco are covering both bases, and keeping the single and double ring fans happy. As usual, the XT shifting is superb.
35mm cockpit: If big is good, bigger is better. That’s the thinking behind the immensely stiff Raceface 35mm-diameter bar/stem, and it does look very tough. The 50mm stem and 760mm wide bar feel Of course if you’re hoping to swap bars or stems, then your options are limited, as the 35mm-diameter standard is far from common.
Tubeless woes: The Optic C9.2’s wheelset is a bit disappointing. Firstly, the Easton rims aren’t pre-taped for tubeless, which seems silly on a bike of this caliber as everyone is going to want to go tubeless. Even once we’d taped the rims, we found the seal between the tyre and rim was fairly poor and we experienced air loss over the course of a ride from both seepage and burping until we swapped the tyres.
Fast, but skatey tyres: Schwalbe’s Racing Ralph / Nobby Nic combo is a fast set of tyres, but we didn’t like the firm Pace Star compound and we didn’t find them terribly supportive. Given this bike’s desire to shred corners, we’d have much preferred a tyre with a softer compound and stiffer sidewalls. In the end, we decided to swap out the tyres for something more solid and grippier (WTB Trail Boss in a 2.25″) to let us really ride the bike how it’s intended to be ridden. We don’t often swap tyres for testing, but we just didn’t feel we could really get the most out of the bike with the stock tyres.
If you just haven’t clicked with 29ers in the past, you really need to throw a leg over the Optic. The notion that 29ers are awkward, ground-bound mile-eaters is blown away by this bike.
Cornering: Once we’d fitted some sturdier rubber, we really got to discover what the Optic is all about, and the twisty stuff is one area in which this bike really comes alive. It dives into corners with plenty of commitment, the stiff fork will hold a line like crazy, and with the 760mm bar you never feel like the front wheel is going to be yanked out from under you. Thanks to the tight rear end, you can really pull out of a corner off your rear wheel, which is not how many 29ers like to be ridden. Once we’d gone tubeless and lowered the pressures a bit, there was a stacks of grip available in flat turns, with the supple suspension working overtime. It’s hard to beat a 29″ wheel for grip, that’s for sure.
Climbing: If you’re coming at the Optic from a purely cross-country background, you might feel a bit underwhelmed by the Optic’s steady, patient climbing style. As we’ve noted above, the suspension is more about grip than sheer acceleration, and the riding position is very ‘trail-ey’, so it’s not an aggressive climber. On the flipside, you’ve got excellent traction and you can continue pedalling smoothly up some pretty loose and ugly climbs without the rear wheel spinning. The short stays make it easy to pop the front wheel up over ledges or keep the front wheel up when laying the power down over roots or stepped climbs too, so it’s an awesome ascender when there are these kind of obstacles to deal with. For the most part, we left the shock in its open setting too, preferring to make the most of the grip available.
Descending: While the Optic’s 110/120mm of travel isn’t a lot, it’s all about quality, not quantity. The balanced front and rear suspension never seems to clatter through its travel, keeping up in the mid-stroke nicely so there’s always a bit in reserve for when you wallop it into an unexpected hole. Bigger wheels carry speed over the small and mid-sized bumps better than a 27.5″ will too, which gives the illusion of having more travel than you’ve actually got on hand, which in turn feeds back into encouraging you to tackle things faster and harder. It’s a vicious loop of awesomeness.
Get some grippy rubber onto this bike ASAP and discover how much fun a 29er can be when it’s done well. The Optic lives up to its promise of delivering a ride that’s just as fun and lively as a 27.5″ bike, but also giving you the grip and roll-over benefits of a 29″ wheel. While we’re sure plenty of people will still opt for the 27.5″ version of this bike with its slightly longer travel, we’re struggling to find many reasons why we’d consider going the smaller wheel instead.
We think this bike can cover a lot of the riding spectrum too. Sure, it’s never going to be a cross-country or Enduro race bike, but for everything in between it’s got the situation well in hand. Trail riding should be about having fun, and if you can’t have fun on this bike, then get to a doctor because you’re probably dead.
When Norco first let slip a few details about the Optic, we didn’t actually even know that they’d be offering the bike in both a 29er and 650b format, so when a 650b test bike arrived we were happy to get into it. However, once we learnt a bit more about the 29er version of this bike, we decided quickly that it was the more intriguing model and we made moves to get a 29er out from Canada quick smart! The bike that Norco sent our way is the Optic C9.2, and we’ve been getting a few early miles in on board this subtly clever (if not subtly coloured) machine.
When you first clap eyes on the Optic C9.2 it’s easy spot the muscular stance of the FOX 34 fork with Boost spacing, or the 50mm stem and 760mm handlebar, and make the assumption that it’s an all-mountain machine. But you’d be wrong – the Optic’s place in the market is true trail bike, or even an aggressively positioned cross-country bike. Travel is a short 110mm out back and 120mm up front. That said, by virtue of its geometry, suspension rate, dropper post and aggressive cockpit, it is still capable of being thrown into situations that would make most bikes (particularly most 29ers) of this travel crap a shade of green to match the Optic’s paint job.
The C9.2 is carbon up front, with styling that is consistent with Norco’s approach in the Sight and Range models too. The rear end is alloy, and with Boost rear hub spacing Norco have managed to keep the rear-centre measurement to 430mm on our size medium. In a size small, the 29er’s stays are just 425mm, which is remarkably short. Keeping the rear end lengths identical to what you’ll find on the 650b version of the Optic is one of the key elements in making the 29er handle just as well as the smaller wheeled bike.
Norco are keen to point out that even though the stays are so short, they’ve managed to retain front derailleur compatibility. Our test bike is running a double-ring drivetrain, but the Optic C9.2 will apparently ship with a RaceFace narrow/wide chain ring in the box too, in case you’d prefer to run a single ring. Full praise to Norco for giving riders both options from stock!
Setting up the Optic for our first ride presented some tubeless dramas. The rim tape on the Alex rims looks like it’s ok for tubeless use but we soon found otherwise as sealant sprayed over our whole workshop and onto the jeans we’d promised our wife we wouldn’t wear while working on bikes. It’s annoying that a bike at this price doesn’t come out of the box ready to go tubeless, because no one likes tubes expect people who sell patch kits.
We’ll save all the ride details for later, but we’re happy to tell you the Optic just feels perfect as soon as you swing a leg over it. Looking down over that tiny 50mm stem and chunky 35mm-diameter bar, you instantly know that it’s going to be incredibly playful and precise. The suspension is similarly reassuring, a few bounces instantly conveys a feeling of both suppleness and support/progression for when it gets a little crazy out there.
We think we’re going to really get along with this bike very well. There’s something about the blending of short travel, confidence inspiring frame numbers and quality suspension which just makes us smile, and this bike seems to have that mix pretty much nailed. Hold tight for a full review in the coming weeks.
The decision to offer two wheel sizes is interesting, can you tell us a bit more about it?
What you’ll find with the Optic is that both wheel sizes have very similar ride characteristics, and so it’s quite a subtle difference between them. It’s not like some other brands were their 29er and 650b versions of the same bike are very different. Choosing between them will really come down to your own personal preference. What you’ll find is that the 29″ Optic just doesn’t have the downsides that 29ers traditionally had, because we’ve been able to get the geometry so close to the 650b, to the point that it’s basically identical between the two wheel sizes.
650b was an instant home run, anyone who tried it after riding a 26″ bike for years, it just felt like riding a bike, but it rolled over things a little better and had a few other advantages. That was the beauty of 650b.
Why did you decide to go for two wheel sizes then?
Honestly, I think if we were making that decision now, we might not have gone for two different sizes. But you need to remember we were making that call like two years ago. And at the time, there was very little appetite amongst consumers for 29ers outside of hardtails and pure XC bikes. I mean, there were some aggressive style 29ers, like the Specialized Enduro 29 and BMC had a couple of all-mountain style 29ers, but it was really only ‘in the know’ kind of riders who were picking up on them. There was definitely not the same appetite for 29er then as there was for 650b. 650b was an instant home run, anyone who tried it after riding a 26″ bike for years, it just felt like riding a bike, but it rolled over things a little better and had a few other advantages. That was the beauty of 650b.
Whereas, the older version of 29ers didn’t feel familiar – they felt like a very different kind of bike. They go fast, they’d plough over things, but they felt different, and while in some situations they cornered better than a 26″, in others they didn’t. For bigger riders, and with a select few bikes, they were a viable option, but for most people they still weren’t.
But as I said, there were a few 29ers that were pushing things, like the Specialized Enduro. And when I looked at the rear-centre length of that bike, it was the same as what we had on our large 650b bikes, so it made sense to me that anyone who rode a large Norco 650b would probably get along well with a 29er that had that same rear-centre length.
I spent months working on a study, staring at excel spreadsheets trying to work out geometry and how we could make it work – on paper, could we get a 29er to handle as well as our 650b bikes?
At the same time I was having conversations with a number of people about 29ers and I was consistently hearing feedback that people would ride up one size on their 29ers and slap a shorter stem on there, and that helped with the handling, overcoming the weight of the bigger wheel and tyre.
So that thinking gave us some starting points about how we could create a 29er that handled as well as our 650b bikes, because people were loving the way they rode.
So circling back round to your question about why we did two wheel sizes, I spent months working on a study, staring at excel spreadsheets trying to work out geometry and how we could make it work – on paper, could we get a 29er to handle as well as our 650b bikes? And we figured we could, but the question was whether consumers would accept it, so we decided to do both. And now, in the last six months, we’ve seen a flood of aggressive 29er bikes. It seems like quite a few manufacturers were on the same page as us, but we didn’t know that two years ago!
I think what we’re doing with this bike is a little different to what some of our competitors are doing though. Some of our competitors are looking at a shorter travel 29er as a really aggressive bike – kind of like a short-travel Enduro bike, like the big wheels are a substitute for travel. But we’re saying it’s not, this a trail bike; yes, it will go a little faster and carry more speed with the bigger wheels, but if you land a decent sized drop, your ankles are going to tell you that you definitely don’t have 160mm of travel there.
Tell us a bit about the prototyping process for the Optic?
We spent a lot of time and money developing a full suite of test bikes in all sizes and both wheel sizes for the Optic. Basically, everyone at Norco who rides mountain bikes as well as a lot of local riders who we use, were brought in on the process. We stipulated that riders should ride both sizes back to back, and it was interesting to see how people’s views changed. What it really showed is that there is room for both wheel sizes, especially on the smaller size bikes – I mean, I ride a small, and it was the first time I’ve been able to really ride a 29er how I like to ride, thanks to having a 425mm rear centre.
One thing I think a lot of consumers don’t understand, is that the whole tyre/chain-ring/chain-stay envelope is the most frustrating area of bike design. Everything is so tight in there.
425mm?! That must be the shortest out there!
I think there are a couple of manufacturers in that ballpark, but we’ve been able to get that length and also be front derailleur compatible, which we’re very proud of. Whether or not you feel that front derailleurs are still relevant, there are plenty of places in the world that still want them, so it’s good to be able to offer that option. In every size were we offer both a 29er and 650b, the rear centre length is exactly the same on both wheel sizes.
Is that something that was made possible by Boost rear ends?
Boost was definitely a huge part of that. One thing I think a lot of consumers don’t understand, is that the whole tyre/chain-ring/chain-stay envelope is the most frustrating area of bike design. Everything is so tight in there. When there were first rumblings about Boost a few years ago, it was like ‘really, is this necessary?’ Because a lot of the talk then was about wheel strength and stiffness, and we just didn’t see people pushing the wheels so hard that they needed an extra few percent stiffness. But the real benefit of Boost was that it got an extra 3mm of chain line in that area, and 3mm to us was like “done! Sold!” It just allows us to get better geometry. And for us as a company, geometry is what drive our designs – we’re always looking to get the optimal geometry for any bike, and Boost has a allowed us to do that on all sizes.
Steepening the head angle may have given you a similar steering feel, but the handling is very different, you’re not going to ride the bike the same.
One of the interesting things with the Optic is the use of a consistent stem length across all sizes. Can you elaborate on why?
One of the things I was hearing from people who were quite heavily invested in 29ers three or four years ago, was that running a shorter stem means the handling matches more closely to what you’re used to with a smaller wheel. So we did some research to see exactly how this worked in the real world. And what we found was that in the past quite a lot of 29ers had dramatically steeper head angles, and this was in order to reduce the trail (ed. Now were moving into territory that might not be familiar for many people – for a good explanation on what trail is, have a look here) and give it a quicker handling feel in spite of the bigger, heavier wheel. The only problem with changing the head angle like that is, well, you’ve got a dramatically different head angle! And that has an impact on how the fork is pointing at objects when you’re descending down steep stuff and so that really changes how you will ride the bike. So steepening the head angle may have given you a similar steering feel, but the handling is very different, you’re not going to ride the bike the same.
But what we discovered, is that the sweet spot in terms of delivering the same handling across 650 and 29er, is that the 29er can be half a degree steeper and with a 10mm shorter stem. The steeper head angle reduces the trail slightly, and the shorter stem gives you more leverage over that wheel, so you can get the same steering feel without having to dramatically steepen the head angle.
Of course, there are some slight differences due to tyre contact patch and the like, but the end result is that when you start to get playful on the bike and really engage with the terrain, the Opitc 29 doesn’t feel like your old 29er, it feels like one of our 650b bikes.
Another element that has a big impact on handling is wheelbase, and what we’ve been able to do with the bikes is not only get the exact same rear-centre measurements across both wheel sizes in any given frame size, but we’ve been able to get the front-centre within a millimetre or two as well. And that means your weight balance between the two contact patches of the tyres is the same too.
Now bringing it back to the stem lengths, which was your original question, it’s the final piece of the sizing puzzle. When you look at the bikes on paper, the reach measurement (ed. horizontal distance from bottom bracket to the centre of the top of the head tube) of 650 and 29er is slightly different, but when you incorporate the stem length we’ve proscribed into the equation (60mm on the 650b bike, 50mm on the 29er) then the reach between the two wheel sizes is identical. From your feet to your bars, and your saddle to your bars is the same.
When I first came to this job, one of the conversations I had was that I felt that in any given model, every frame size should have the same stem length and that should be whatever handled best.
So essentially, the 650b and a 29er fit exactly the same, and they handle as damn near as we feel is possible the same too.
A little while ago I read an interview with you where you talked about the idea of 120mm-travel trail bike with a 65-degree head angle, and I must admit I thought that’s what the Optic might have ended up being.
Well it is an interesting concept, and I do think that’s a viable geometry. But we also still need to sell bikes, and what I’ve learned is that the mountain bike consumer is generally a pretty conservative kind of buyer.
When I first came to this job, one of the conversations I had was that I felt that in any given model, every frame size should have the same stem length and that should be whatever handled best. I come from a downhill background, and I’ve always put whatever stem length on my bike gave the best handling. Whereas it seems that there’s a very pervasive road bike style of thought around this issue in much of the industry, where it’s all about using the stem length as an instrument of fit, as opposed to handling.
But that just doesn’t make sense – you don’t steer a road bike, you lean it, whereas a mountain bike involves a lot more input at the bars. They’re a completely different bike, and so you need to have a completely different understanding of how the stem length is looked at. And it’s crazy to think that mountain bikes are still evolving away from this!
I mean, a lot of mountain bikers still look at top tube lengths, not reach, which is really only relevant to when you’re sitting down as opposed to standing up, which is where most of your riding is done on a mountain bike. What I’m trying to work towards is a completely different understanding of bike design than that you’d find on the road.
You don’t steer a road bike, you lean it, whereas a mountain bike involves a lot more input at the bars. They’re a completely different bike, and so you need to have a completely different understanding of how the stem length is looked at. And it’s crazy to think that mountain bikes are still evolving away from this!
Anyhow, we are moving away from that traditional approach. And what I was getting at in that interview, is the notion that perhaps one day we could end up with, say, an Optic and Sight and a Range, all of which have the same geometry and fit exactly the same, but with different amounts of travel. For a rider like me, that be perfect, I like to ride down the steep stuff and go fast, but I don’t need all the travel as I don’t hit the big drops or big jumps.
Now that is a really interesting concept! The same geometry, the same fit, different travel. Tell us about the suspension on the Optic. We notice both bikes have slightly more travel up front.
Yes, that really comes from looking at what we do – if we’re building up a bike, we tend to go slightly more travel up front. On trail, it just feels better, it balances out when you’ve got a lot of weight on the front wheel.
We did some cool custom work with FOX on the 29er fork too. Normally FOX would spec a 120mm 29er fork with a firmer, cross-country tune, but we’ve had our forks on the Optic 29er given more of a Trail tune, so a softer compression tune, which helps ensure that both the 29er and 650b bike have very similar suspension feels too.
What about the rear suspension rate?
In terms of the rear end, it’s designed to be very progressive. We’ve equipped it with a smaller volume air can, and that’s to ensure it’s nice and progressive – it’s only quite short travel, but it’s capable of being ridden very hard, so we wanted to ensure the rear end wasn’t going to be bottoming out constantly. Trust me, if you ride it like it can be ridden, you’ll get full travel. Probably one of the most consistent comments I hear is “it feels like it has more travel than it actually does, but I’m still not bottoming it out”, which is exactly what we wanted.
On the shorter travel bikes, they’re already less inclined to have suspension bob, but you’re also pedalling a lot of the time, and over all kinds of surfaces, so having less anti-squat allows the suspension to work its best with minimal impact of chain tension on the suspension.
Compared to a Sight for instance, the suspension is more progressive, and it also has less anti-squat. That’s something that some people haven’t quite understood our thinking around, why we have less anti-squat. But let’s look at the extremes, for example the 160mm-travel Range and a 100mm-travel Revolver.
With the Range, we have a lot of anti-squat built into the suspension, and that’s because that bike is primarily climbed up fireroads, then rallied down really rough, steeper descents where you’re not pedalling much. So you can have a lot of anti-squat to keep that large amount of travel stable, while you pedal on a smooth surface where there’s not so much pedal kick back.
Whereas on the shorter travel bikes, they’re already less inclined to have suspension bob, but you’re also pedalling a lot of the time, and over all kinds of surfaces, so having less anti-squat allows the suspension to work its best with minimal impact of chain tension on the suspension.
What we found works better, is actually the opposite of what most people think – most people assume a cross-country bike should have more anti-squat than an Enduro bike, but in practice it works better the other way around.
Today, the Norco Optic can finally emerge from the misty forest of North Vancouver and come out in the world! Norco have been working on this bike for a long time, and once you start to learn some of the detail behind this bike’s development, you’ll begin to understand why it has been such a process.
While on the surface the Norco Optic might look like it’s simply an extension of existing Norco designs (it’s easy to just see it as the little brother of the Sight), in actual fact the Optic represents a pretty serious progression in trail bike geometry and it pushes the envelope in terms of how wheel size should impact on a bike’s handling.
But before we delve into all the tech, it’s also important to note that this bike really fills an important gap in the Norco lineup. We’ve been crying out for a bike to slot into the space between the cross-country racer Revolver (reviewed here) and the all-mountain Sight series (reviewed here), and we’re happy to see that Norco have delivered and then some.
So what is it? The Optic is an aggressive short travel trail bike, available in two wheel sizes (29 and 27.5), and with both carbon and alloy framed models – the carbon frame saving around 350g over the alloy. Pricing in Australia starts at $3499 and the five-model line up tops out at $8999, so there’s a full gamut of spec and build variants on display.
In terms of performance, we can assure you it’s the real deal too. Shortly we’ll be publishing our First Bite review of the Optic C9.2, which we were fortunate to secure for testing ahead of the bike’s official launch. In the brief time we’ve had onboard the bike so far, we’re completely stoked – it’s the hard riding, grin making, effortlessly cornering trail bike we’d been yearning for Norco to build. We plan on hanging onto this bike for some time yet, and we’ll have a full review soon.
As we noted above, the Optic comes in both 29er and 27.5″ wheel sizes, and that’s the case across the entire range. At every price point you have the option of choosing the wheel size you prefer. With the difference in wheel size you’ll also see a slight difference in travel – the 29er is 120mm front / 110mm rear, the 27.5″ get 10mm more at both ends. The 29er is available in four sizes (S/M/L/XL) while the 27.5 gets an XS in addition too.
So, we hear you say, what’s so progressive about that? It’s true – lots of brands offer a choice in wheel sizes across a particular line of trail bikes. Take for instance Trek, who offer a 29er and 27.5″ version of the Fuel EX. Or the Specialized Camber which too comes in both wheel sizes and also has a 10mm travel difference between them. Or the Scott Spark as well.
But where these other bikes differ from the Optic, is that with them the difference in wheel size also sees a marked change in the geometry and the bike’s handling and ride character too. On all of the bikes we’ve listed above, you’re not just choosing a wheel size preference, you’re also having to decide between very different feeling bikes that have truly divergent behaviour on the trail.
This is where the Optic is very unique; no matter what wheel size or frame size you opt for, the Optic has been designed to have exactly the same measurements, handling and ride feel as its counterpart in the other wheel size. If you take size medium 29er and a size medium 27.5 Optic, all the measurements that really dictate how a bike ‘fits’ you and the trail are the same: the rear-centre, the reach from the BB to bar, the stack heigh and the wheelbase are virtually identical (the wheelbases differ by one or two millimetres). The head angles are slightly different as well (half a degree steeper on the 29er), but that too has been a very calculated call to help ensure the bikes have the same steering feel and responsiveness.
It’s an impressive achievement, to isolate the wheel size so it becomes the determining factor when you’re making the call between 29er and 27.5″. The idea is that choosing your preferred wheel size shouldn’t mean compromising on handling or attitude. Your choice with the Optic is not a call between hugely different geometries or suspension feels or attitudes (both bikes are total trail shredders) – instead you’re simply making the call between the subtle difference of acceleration and roll-over abilities between a 29″ and 27.5″ wheel. It’s not all marketing fluff either – we’ve been riding both bikes on our home trails and there’s a lot more that unites these bikes and divides them.
In the next day or two we’ll be publishing an in-depth interview with the Optic’s designer, Owen Pemberton, where he really gets into the nitty gritty of geometry, wheel size and suspension development. If you’re a techo, you’ll love it, the man knows his stuff!
When it comes to the bike’s features, the Optic has a mix of familiar and new construction for Norco. Both the 27.5 and 29er Optic make good use of the new Boost rear hub spacing, which not only allows for a stiffer rear end but also enabled Norco to get the Optic’s rear-centre measurement so short (it’s just 425mm in a size small, and yes that’s with a 29″ wheel).
The suspension system is the proven ART design that has been so highly praised across the industry, and on the Optic the suspension rate ramps up quite noticeably, a clear indicator that the bike is designed to be ridden hard. Up front, all Optics get a FOX 34 fork too, with the Optic 29 getting a Boost version as well. We’re very happy Norco didn’t faff about with a lightweight 32 fork on this bike.
Norco have a new cable management system on the Optic as well, which allows you to run up to five cables internally and has roomy access ports to make the job of threading cables much easier. While most Optics come with a single-ring drivetrain, the frame has a unique removable front derailleur mount that attaches via the ISCG tabs. It’s an ingenious solution, meaning the frame looks super clean with the front mech removed, rather than having the usual front derailleur tab sticking out like a sore thumb.
We’ve got lots more to come on the Optic over the next few days and weeks. We’re very excited about its release and its promise on the trails so far is immense. Nice one, Norco! You guys are alright! For more on the Optic, take a look at Norco’s microsite here.
On the other hand, if you’ve been conscious and paying attention for the past little while, you’d have been witness to an amazing transformation from Norco that has led to them producing one of the most cohesive and polished ranges on the market today, including this stunning cross-country machine you see here.
What is it, and who is it for?
The Norco Revolver FS, first spotted a year ago at Sea Otter, is a dedicated cross-country flier. It’s everything you need to dominate a marathon race or XCO, and nothing you don’t.
It’s available in both 29er and 27.5″ formats, and we’ve got the bigger-wheeled version on test. A lightweight full-carbon frame houses 100mm of race-tuned travel with firm lockouts at both ends, and the geometry is all about motoring up the climbs and flicking you through speedy singletrack. The absence of a dropper post, coupled with the lightweight RockShox SID fork and narrow, quick-rolling tyres is a polite reminder of this bike’s boundaries. If you’re after a play bike, this ain’t it, unless you make some modifications.
The price point, at a bit over five grand, places it within reach of many keen racers. It’s not an elite-level race bike (there’s a $9999 XX1 and RockShox RS-1 equipped version for that) but if you’ve got visions of finishing towards the pointy end, then the Revolver can take you there.
When we first pointed a camera at the Revolver, we got some unholy kinds of feelings. It’s a freaking stunner, with a silky paint job and great lines that are well-preserved by the internal cable routing, carbon from tip to toe, including the linkage, and claimed frame weights are around the two-kilo mark (the complete bike is 11kg). The suspension configuration is kind of inverted from the standard Norco setup, which leaves loads of room in the front triangle for a water bottle, and there’s a second bottle mount under the down tube too, which will keep the marathon crew happy and watered. The other benefit of this configuration is that you can get at the shock’s lockout lever easily too.
Norco’s Gizmo internal cable system is really neat, and there are spare ports to allow you to run a dropper post too. You won’t be adding a front derailleur to this bike however, as it’s single ring only, but that’s the way we like it.
For such a race bike, the rear end has a burliness that is appreciated, if unexpected. The swing-link is a robust hunk of carbon, the pivots are sturdy with big axles, and overall the rear end is very stiff. It all makes for great power transfer, though the fork is left feeling pretty limp in comparison to the rigidity out back.
As with other Norco’s bigger frame sizes don’t just get longer up front, but the rear-centre measurement increases too. In a size medium like our test bike, the rear end is 439mm, whereas in an XL is 444mm.
Norco employ their ART suspension system throughout their whole range. It’s a tried and tested four-bar linkage, which Norco tweak extensively across the range. Comparing the Revolver with, say, the Sight C7.2 we recently reviewed, it’s easy to see the big differences in the suspension layout. On the Revolver, the axle path has less of a rearward path, leading to less pedal feedback when putting down the power, which is what you spend a lot of time doing on an XC race bike. Overall the 100mm of suspension travel is quite firm, especially as you move towards the end of the travel where it ramps up in a pretty pronounced way.
Lightweight fork: Its weight figures would make Kate Moss pout, but the RockShox SID RL has some limitations. As we noted above, the stiffness of the rest of the bike makes the fork feel a bit undergunned in rougher trails. It’s well matched to the rear end in terms of the suspension action however, and the Solo Air spring is easy to set up. We can’t help but feel the SID platform is due for a refresh.
New-school cockpit: For what is essentially a race bike, Norco have gone with a pretty progressive cockpit setup, running a 740mm bar. The 70mm stem is a welcome change from the 90mm fishing rods that would’ve been specced on this kind of bike in the past.
Bullet-proof XT: Shimano’s butt-whipping XT drivetrain and brakes are the kind of components you’ll never have to think about. On our test bike, the 1×11 drivetrain was matched to a set of Raceface cranks but production bikes have XT cranks too. The braking and shifting is perfect.
Rims and tyres are future upgrades: The rims of DT’s X1900 wheelset are a narrow 21mm, out of place amongst the trend towards wider hoops. Something wider to offer a bit more support to the tyres would be ideal. As it stands, the Schwalbe Racing Ralph treads are pretty nervous – they’re the basic Performance version, and the side knobs are a firm compound that don’t inspire much confidence in fast corners. A tread with a stiffer sidewall and a stickier compound might add a couple of hundred grams to the bike, but it’s a tradeoff we’d be happy to live with.
The Revolver is an easy bike to get the most out of. First up, we went tubeless – the rims are taped and ready to roll. The tyres aren’t the best for tubeless use to be honest (the sidewalls leak a bit we found – another reason to swap them out when they’re worn) and we ran the tyre pressures a little higher than usual, to compensate for the narrow rims and lightweight construction.
Suspension-wise, the 90psi recommended by the pressure chart on the SID was perfect for our 63kg test rider, and the sag markings on the rear shock made it easy to dial in just over 25% sag (around 135psi).
After a bit of twiddling we set the suspension rebound one click faster at both front and rear than we’d generally opt for, which helped keep the suspension lively. With the suspension slowed down, the overall firm feel means the Revolver can easily start to feel a bit dull on the trail, and no one wants to ride a wet blanket.
The Revolver is a stealthy achiever. On a number of our test rides we were pleasantly surprised to see that our climbing times were right up there with our fastest ever efforts, but without feeling like we’d been really going for it. This is of course what you want in a cross-country race bike – it should make the climbs feel easier and shorter. Power delivery is superb, with the unobtrusive suspension letting you keep on the gas when it’s rough, and the stiff frame ensuring all your effort is fed directly into dropping your mates.
It’s a stealthy ride in other regards too, with barely a whisper coming from the bike on the trails. The cables don’t rattle in the frame, and the suspension operates in almost total silence. Again, useful for launching surprise overtaking manoeuvres on your mates right before the singletrack starts.
Descending, like on many cross country bikes, is smoothest when you keep it all rolling. Keep those 29″ wheels up to speed and it’ll silently gobble up the kind of terrain that you’ll find on most cr0ss-country race tracks, with the wide cockpit giving everything good stability. On technical slow speed descents, or when hard on the brakes, the twist in the fork is more apparent and the Revolver doesn’t feel as confident.
We’re big advocates of dropper posts, even on cross-country bikes, and we think a dropper would be a worthy consideration for the Revolver so you don’t feel quite so perched up there when pointed steeply downwards. Obviously it’s your choice as to whether or not your terrain and the weight penalty justify adding a dropper to the bike. The cable routing is there should you decide to do so.
The Revolver doesn’t have any remote lockout levers, but we didn’t miss them for moment. Without remotes, the whole bike looks and feels much cleaner, and we found it easy to lock it all out on the fly anyhow. The lockout force front and rear is well matched too, so hard sprints on the fireroads or tarmac don’t feel mushy or unbalanced.
We think the speed of this bike in the singletrack would be amplified with some new rubber. The handling is awesome and precise through the corners, but so often the tyres become the limiting factor, getting skatey before you’re properly tipped into a corner. Luckily, that’s an easy an inexpensive upgrade.
The Revolver FS 9.2 reminded us again that there’s definitely a difference between a trail bike and a proper cross-country machine. You might be almost as fast on the climbs on your trail bike, but almost doesn’t cut it at the races, so if that’s a focus for you then you need the right tool for the job.
All up, the Revolver FS proves once again that Norco are really charging hard across all categories of the mountain bike world. They’re really on a roll, taking the knowledge they might learn in one market segment and then applying it appropriately across their range. Considering it’s a new addition to the Norco lineup, it’s truly impressive how polished this bike is – it’s ready for the race track, right out of the box.
The Sight C7.2, and the rest of the Norco Sight range, are available from 99 Bikes at some pretty sharp, reduced prices. Take a look!
[divider]What is it, and who is it for?[/divider]
The Norco Sight is a rowdy little bike, available in a big range of price points, in both alloy and carbon versions. It feels like a go-kart on the trails (albeit with monster-truck tyres), and it loves to pick apart your favourite sections of trail and encourage you to ride them in new ways. It really hits the sweet spot for hard riding; 140mm/150mm travel, with geometry that’s 100% built for playfulness on the trail. Our test bike is just one rung from the top in the Sight range with a pretty hefty $7249 price tag, but the same geometry and attitude flows all the way down to the alloy Sight A 7.2 for $3499.
This bike looks great, and the beauty of the carbon frame runs more than paint deep (and we really do like the colour).
Four-bar efficiency: The Sight’s four-bar linkage suspension delivers 140mm of efficient travel, using the Cane Creek Double Barrel In-Line shock. Norco incorporate a fair bit of anti-squat into their suspension design, with an axle path that’s noticeably rearward moving in the early part of the travel. This makes them pedal exceptionally well for a pretty plush overall ride, at the expense of a bit of pedal feedback when putting down the power in rougher situations.
Size-specific geometry: Norco’s Gravity Tune geometry is seen throughout much of their range. In a nutshell, as the frame size increases, so to does the rear-centre measurement of the bike, whereas in traditional sizing only the front end of the bike gets longer in bigger sizes. It’s all about keeping the rider’s body weight in the right position relative to both wheels, and on our medium sized test bike the chain stay measures up at a short 427mm. The head angle is 66.9 degrees, which is fairly standard in this realm, and a reach measurement of 415mm is paired to a 65mm stem.
Cables and water bottle both get a tick: Having room for a full-sized water bottle is a big plus for those humid summer days when you start oozing sweat at the mere thought of wearing a pack. Norco have handled the internal cabling well, with rubber grommets keeping the cables tamed and ensuring clean, rub-free routing around the head tube. The ports into the frame are actually quite roomy too, which reduces head aches should you need to stuff around with the internal cables later.
Why the front derailleur provisions? No one who buys this bike will be popping a front derailleur on it. It would’ve been classier if Norco had used an ISCG mounted chain guide, ditched the ugly mount and cable routing ports for a front mech on this version of the Sight.
In 2015, the Sight had 140mm front and rear. But if lots is good, more must be better, and so in 2016 the Pike RC fork is bumped up to 150mm. The rear end doesn’t change, it still gets 140mm delivered via the potentially confounding Cane Creek DB Inline rear shock. We’ve got a funny relationship with this shock… there’s a lot of performance there, but getting the best out of it takes patience. Given that we normally only have a bike for a few weeks during testing, we often feel we like we’re always working on getting things ‘just right’.
With independent control over high and low-speed compression and high and low-speed rebound (plus a Climb Switch) there’s huge potential to get the rear end feeling great with the CCDB, but it’s a long process, and we can imagine there are a lot of riders out there who either a) never use any of the adjustments or b) use the adjustments without the knowledge to do so and end up with a shock that’s set up poorly. Arguably the performance benefits are there, but are they comparatively enough versus say a FOX or RockShox which usually only takes a ride or two to get dialled? We’re not sure… That said, Norco do provide recommended baseline settings for the shock, so as long as you don’t vary too far from these, you’re likely to be pretty good.
In comparison, the fork is a joy to work with. The recommended pressure guide is usually quite accurate, the rebound rate is easy to adjust, and the bike is supplied with RockShox’s Bottomless Tokens which can be fitted in just a couple of minutes to get the suspension rate how you like it. We love the Pike.
Initially we adjusted the rear shock to the recommended settings (17mm sag), but we did find this left the bike riding a little low in its travel for our liking much of the time, so the pressure was bumped up a little to give us around 14mm sag. Based on our previous experience with the Pike, we fitted one Bottomless Token and ran the recommended air pressure for our weight.
The super-aggressive Schwalbe Magic Mary front tyre is a lot of rubber to push around most trails, but its grip levels will save your arse in so many situations it’s impossible not to love it. DT’s E512 rims needed tubeless rim strips and valves to set up as tubeless, neither of which were included with the bike, a shame. The rims are reasonably wide at 25mm internally, and we felt comfortable running the tyres in the low-mid twenties.
Some short cuts, given the price: With the drop in the Australian dollar, we’ve seen prices go up a fair bit across the industry, and Norco hasn’t been immune unfortunately. Even still, we’re surprised that the Sight doesn’t get the more expensive RCT3 version of the Pike, and we’d have expected a carbon bar for this price too.
Fantastic rubber: Schwalbe’s gummy tyres occasionally come under fire for being less than durable, but so far so good for the Nobby Nic / Magic Mary on the Sight. These tyres are a great combo – the Nic’s tread pattern is like a scaled back version of the absurdly aggressive Mary up front, and together they dig into just about anything. We did notice they felt a little slow on fireroad climbs, but that’s not why you buy this bike. We really like that Norco has specced the tougher Snake Skin version of these treads too.
Great drivetrain with extra security: Adding a chain guide to SRAM X1 drivetrain mightn’t be necessary, but we still think it’s a good idea as it only takes one inopportune dropped chain to make your groin and stem awfully familiar. The shifting quality is perfect, every time. Blindfold us and we’d battle to tell the difference between X1 and the far more expensive XX1.
Top notch brakes with neat clamp integration: Using SRAM Match Maker clamps for the brakes/shifter/dropper means the cockpit is more orderly than North Korean military parade, and the stopping power and lever feel of the Guide RS brakes is hard to top.
If you like to view the trail as a playground, rather than a route from A to B, then the Sight will appeal. This is a bike that makes you want to flick the rear wheel about like a cut snake, and generally go over, not through, whatever is in front of your wheels.
Dropping low down into a turn with the rear end sliding is how the Sight likes to approach every corner, and thanks to the crazy amounts of grip up front you’re pretty much guaranteed you won’t lose the front end. Short stays and an overall compact feel make it an easy one to pop into the air, or get on its back wheel with a stab on the pedals to tackle tricky climbs or ledges. While the bike itself is efficient in terms of pedalling, the way we found ourselves riding the Sight was anything but! It’s quite a light bike, and it doesn’t bog down under power so you’re always up out of the saddle sprinting at things, trying to drift, looking for the fun lines, not the fast ones – most of our rides on the Sight topped out at about an hour and a half, not through any fault of the bike’s, but because we spent so much energy just doing fun, stupid things.
The Sight proved to be really comfortable and quiet when taking some big impacts too. We found ourselves remarking time and again just how solid and unflappable everything felt when touching down from some pretty decent six-foot plus drops. There’s a really reassuring, progressive feel to the suspension; the shock uses all its travel but doesn’t crash into the end of its stroke, and the Pike fork feels like it’ll munch up the big hits all day.
At slower speeds, we initially didn’t feel as overwhelmed by the Sight’s suspension, but we feel that the recommended shock setup was to blame. Using the recommended baseline settings provided by Cane Creek, we felt like the rear end was getting a bit ‘stuck’ when trying to keep momentum on slower, lumpy sections of trail. Speeding up the low-speed rebound to keep the bike a little bit more lively and riding higher in its stroke helped.
The Sight is a reliable, steady climber, especially if you use the shock’s Climb Switch, which both stiffens the suspension and increases the damping on the low-speed rebound circuit too. It’s a super effective climbing setting, and with the big contact patch of the Schwalbe Nobby Nic climbing traction is excellent. It’s not a roomy bike to climb on, so we did push the seat back a little to lengthen the climbing position, as well as lowering the bars to put more weight over the axle and tame the tame the front wheel wandering.
While the Norco Sight C7.2 isn’t the value-for-money front runner it was in years past, its performance certainly hasn’t dropped off one iota. This bike will bring a big grin to your face anytime the trail turns twisty or there’s potential to get into the air. If your budget won’t stretch to this model, there are three Sights at lower price points to choose from too, all of which keep the same playful geometry and vibe.
Created for the sole purpose of racing, the new Norco Revolver FS is the lightest dual suspension frame the Canadian mob has ever produced. After three years or development and testing the outcome is a no holds barred all-out cross country racer with sharp geometry, 29″ wheels and a beautifully crafted full carbon frame.
It certainly appears good on paper, and after a quick spin on the trails we do rate it’s performance, but holy s*#t this has to be the BEST looking Norco we’ve ever seen, fact.
We’ll see two versions of the Revolver FS for 2016, the 9.2 FS (purple one pictured here) for $5499 with a Shimano XT build and the 9.1 FS for $6999 (below in orange) with a SRAM X01 build kit. The 9.1 FS weighs 9.5kg.
Built in two wheel sizes (29″ and 27.5″) the Revolver FS will only come to Australia in the 29er version, playing to the strengths of the faster and bigger diameter wheels that really suits this bike.
With 100mm of suspension up front and out back, the Revolver FS is a lean as they come. You won’t find a dropper post as standard spec (although the provisions are there for mounting one if you wish) and all the parts are specced for maximum efficiency and lowest weight possible. There’s narrow 2.25″ Schwalbe Racing Ralph tyres, a slim SDG saddle, a long and low cockpit and lockout front and rear suspension.
Four sizes will be available, S, M, L and XL.
You won’t find a front derailleur either, it’s a single ring only affair. The absence of any provisions for a front derailleur won’t bother the racer with good legs, or just about any keen rider especially now with Shimano finally joining SRAM in offering excellent single ring versions of the Shimano XT and XTR drivetrains.
Plus we are seriously spoilt for choices when it comes to aftermarket options (like RaceFace that we see here) with huge gear range solutions, and swapping chainrings to suit the terrain is a snack. So nowadays a single ring only frame is not at all a limiting feature.
The Revolver 9.2 FS uses a Shimano XT 11-speed drivetrain with a RaceFace crank and chainring.
The frame gets a lot of its slick and smooth appearance by housing all the cables internally with their new tight fitting Gizmo cable system, with rubber ports that seal the frame from water and mud whilst keeping the cables secure and rattle free. Four ports are found on either side of the head tube area, fill all four with a rear shock remote cable, dropper post, rear brake and rear derailleur, or cover the holes with the neat little plugs.
Having four entry ports for cables is handy for us down under, where we typically have our brakes run the opposing way around to the USA/Canadian guys, you’ll be able to swap it around so the rear brake can neatly be routed from the left hand side and around the head tube to enter on the opposite side, that way the cable won’t touch the frame of fork crowns at all. Clever, and neat indeed.
Using Norco’s A.R.T. four-bar rear suspension design, with a pivot below and forward from the rear axle on the chain stay.
The Revolver’s rear shock is mounted underneath the underside of the top tube, with a swing link driving the shock in a horizontal plane, this is said to be the lightest shock configuration that Norco could come up with, and rear shock remote cables will plug in the front of the rear shock body easily.
Note the chainstay measurement in the chart below, it grows in length as the frame size increases. Like all Norco duallies, their Gravity Tune system is also found on the Revolver FS. The theory goes in saying that the whole bike grows with the bigger size, not only just the length and hight of the front end.
Norco Revolver 29 FS geometry chart:
Top tube horiz.
[divider]Riding the Revolver[/divider]
With a quick lap of the Gap Creek trails in Brisbane on the Revolver 9.2 FS, Flow’s resident tester Pat the Porpoise was able to get a pretty good feel for what the Revolver is all about.
For a 100mm travel race bike that makes no mistake about wanting to be raced it felt quite confident and stable when ridden casually, giving the rider more room to move about and play around on than we had expected. With a nod to what makes the bigger travel Norco Sight and Range so popular amongst aggressive riders, the angles might be sharp but still manageable for serious riders just out of the circle of top elite racers.
The DT Swiss X1900 wheels felt very light underneath us, but perhaps could be a good area for upgrading to give the bike a stiffness boost, as they did feel a little soft under the hard sideways loads of pedalling and cornering.
We appreciated the generous width 740mm bars, and paired with a short 70mm stem, the cockpit felt relaxed and lively for a cross country race oriented bike.
Under hard accelerating efforts, the 100mm of rear travel remained stable, resisting bobbing nicely. The bike really pedalled well, and having a lockout lever on the rear shock will give riders that extra bit of control depending on how smooth or bumpy the trail surface is.
Upgrades to the aluminium bar, stem and post to something carbon would surely help further drop weight from the bike, at least we would have liked to see a carbon bar at this price point.
The top-tier Norco Revolver 9.1 FS shares the same frame but upgrades its parts to SRAM X01 for $6999.
We’ll be getting our hands on one soon for a longer test, so keep your channels locked for more. The Revolver will be a fantastic option for the marathon racer or endurance racer that will still like to take it trail riding without feeling too nervous. Oh, and did we mention that we like the new look? It’s a real stunner.
Born in BC, Canada and still there, Norco have a core vibe about them, they feel like a small brand but are rich in mountain bike heritage. And while they have produced some fairly unsightly bikes in the past, we can only sing praises of their strong rise in recent years to become one amongst the best riding bikes available.
For 2016 there may not be too much new, (but do stay tuned for more) although what we did see when meandering through the room were bikes that were polished in all areas and ones that we could picture owning ourselves.
The big news for the Norco Sight for 2016 is the bigger forks. Now a 150mm fork (previously 140mm) the front end is slackened off to a sweet 67 degrees, and with a change of carbon vendors Norco have modified the carbon layup to accommodate for the taller and stiffer forks.
With 140mm out back, and 150mm up front the Sight is a pretty dialled all-mountain bike with geometry that puts it between a hard charging enduro bike and a trail dually. In its first year the Sight Carbon wasn’t without its teething issues as we found out when testing the 2014 model. But each and every issue we had back then has been sorted, and the new 2016 Sight looks bloody amazing.
The Sight Carbon 7.2 was on display and available for demo on the sweet trails of Gap Creek, Brisbane. The two-tone matte red paint and excellent parts spec really turns heads.
The Sight adopts Norco’s Gravity Tune sizing system. Where typically a bike size is determined by the length of the front end and the rear remains the same length, in Norco’s case the front and rear end of the bike will grow in length as the sizes increase. Gravity Tune sizing was developed on the Aurum doanhill bike, and is now found on all new Norco dual suspension bikes going forward.
Five versions of the 2016 Sight will make their way down under:
Sight A 7.2 – $3499
Sight A 7.1 – $4499 (green version pictured above)
Sight C 7.3 – $5499
Sight C 7.2 – $7249 (red version pictured above)
Sight C 7.1 – $8499
A bike that we are very familiar with here at Flow, the Norco Range is a real winner in the big travel enduro segment. Now with longer travel forks like the Sight, you’ll find 170mm travel up front for 2016.
The head angle is slackened off a touch to 65.5 degrees, and a modified carbon layup is used to accommodate for the extra stress placed on the frame with a stiffer and taller fork, just like the Sight.
The bike we have pictured here will actually specced with an all-black RockShox Lyrik fork.
Four levels of the Norco Range will be coming here:
Range A 7.1 – $4699
Range A 7.2 – $3699
Range C 7.3 – $5499
Range C 7.2 – $7999 (pictured above)
For 2016 we’ll see Norco Australia bringing in the entire Aurum range, that is a huge three carbon and two aluminium versions of this burly downhill rig.
The frame is littered with features, the carbon Aurum 7.2 we saw used a clever integrated fender underneath the downtube. This multi purpose feature doubles up as a bump stop for the fork crowns and a shuttle guard to protect the frame when transporting over the back of a ute tray.
All the cable routing is also very neat, and well thought out, it must be a very silent bike to ride.
With a frame weight of 3300g for the carbon and 3750 for the aluminium, the Aurum pictured here is claimed to weight under 15.5kg, crazy light for a DH bike with coil sprung suspension front and back.
With a 142mm wide rear hub spacing, the Aurum is narrower than many of the current downhill bikes out there. It’s said to increase heel clearance, rear derailleur clearance and is made possible with the use of the SRAM XO1 DH 7-speed drivetrain.
Using Norco’s Gravity Tune concept, the rear-centre measurement of the bike is shorter for the smaller sized frames and longer in the larger frames. As opposed to traditional bike sizing (which simply lengthens the front-centre or top tube measurement in bigger sizes), the Gravity Tune concept is designed to keep the rider position consistent across the size range.
Five Norco Aurum’s are on their way soon:
Norco Aurum A 7.2 – $4199
Norco Aurum A 7.1 – $3099
Norco Aurum C 7.3 – $6399
Norco Aurum C 7.2 – $7499
Norco Aurum C 7.1 – $8999
Norco’s 29er carbon hardtail remains unchanged for 2016, but a dual suspension version may, or may not be coming soon…
Enduro, all-mountain, aggressive trail… call it what you will (our new personal favourite is ‘down-country’). Bikes with long legs for soaking up gnarly terrain, and then striding back up the climbs again.
Over the last 12 months we’ve been fortunate enough to sling a knee-padded leg over a lot of these kinda bikes. Looking back, four of these bikes share a lot of similarities in terms of pricing and component spec, so we’ve decided to compile a comparative overview of them here.
There’s the Giant Reign 1, YT Capra CF Comp 1, Norco Range C7.2 and Trek Slash 9.8. All four have an Australian retail price between $5599 and $6299, all have largely equivalent component spec, and all four have very similar amounts of travel.
All four of the bikes here are close enough in price that, assuming they’re not on sale at a reduced amount, the price is not likely to be the sole determining factor in choosing which bike is for you. The Trek is the most expensive, at $6299 (previously $5999 before the dollar tanked). The Norco sneaks in at $5999. The Giant comes in a bit cheaper at $5699 – given it uses an alloy frame, rather than carbon, we had thought it might be a little less expensive. The YT, with its direct to consumer sales model, has the lowest price tag of $5599, BUT you do need to add $200 in shipping to this price if you’re in Australia, so its real price tag is $5799 . Not such a huge price advantage then at all.
Of the four bikes, three are predominantly carbon, while the Giant is alloy throughout (there is a carbon version of the Reign available, but it’s a big price jump up to $7699). The Norco, YT and Trek all run an entirely carbon front end, with an aluminium chain stay assembly. Internal cabling is standard on all the bikes, though the Slash has an external rear brake line, which can be an advantage from a maintenance standpoint, even if it’s not so nice to look at. All bikes use an internally routed RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper post too.
Trek: A flawless paint job, down tube protection and neatly integrated chain slap protection are all nice touches on the Trek. The removable front derailleur mount lets you keep the look super clean too. It’s also the only bike to incorporate geometry adjustability. Water bottle friendly as well.
Norco: The Norco has great standover height, while still keeping room for a water bottle. The use of a Syntace rear axle makes for a super clean drop out area, and the inclusion of a spare derailleur hanger bolt is a neat addition. The Norco is the only bike that has no provision for a front derailleur and we admire its commitment to the single-ring setup.
Giant: We particularly like the Giant’s use of a bearing at the shock mount, to provide a more supple bump response and reduced wear and tear on the shock bushing. As is usual with Giant, the pivot hardware is rock solid, and the frame stiffness is sensational.
YT: The frame shapes of the YT are super trick – it has a very different vibe to the swoopy lines of the other bikes here. We like the neat, narrow assembly of its linkage too, which keeps the bike’s front-on profile very slim.
Trek: The Trek’s ABP rear axle is super ugly and clunky – it protrudes a long way from the bike, snagging and scrapping on things a lot.
Norco: Tyre clearance isn’t as good as the competition. We think the dropout pivot is a little undercooked too – it could definitely be beefed up a little.
Giant: We experienced some cable rattling from the Reverb Stealth post cable inside the frame.
YT: The lack of a water bottle mount is a downer. If you’re pedalling any real distance, you’ll need to run a pack.
While all four of these bikes have similar geometry on paper, there a plenty of subtle differences that have a pronounced effect on the trail. All measurements are a for a size medium. Click to view the full geometry table.
Trek: The Trek is the only bike here with adjustable geometry. Its slacker setting has more in common with the other bikes here. The head angle is pretty laid back, but its balanced out by reasonably long stays. The top tube is on the shorter side, but a 60mm stem keeps things roomy enough.
Head angle: 65 degrees Effective top tube: 587mm Wheelbase: 1179mm Chain stay: 435mm
Norco: The Norco runs the sharpest geometry on test, which translates into its more lively ride on flatter trails. Short chain stays add to this whippy feel.
Head angle: 66 degrees Effective top tube: 598mm Wheelbase: 1153mm Chain stay: 426mm
Giant: Slack, long and low. The Reign’s geometry numbers are very downhill oriented. It has the longest top tube by a good 20mm, and the longest wheelbase too for excellent stability.
Head angle: 65 degrees Effective top tube: 620mm Wheelbase: 1191mm Chain stay: 434mm
YT: The Capra’s geometry is on the short side in the top tube, but with a slack head angle to balance it out. With a short stem, it definitely feels quite small in terms of reach, and we can envisage some riders will want to size up.
Head angle: 65.2 degrees Effective top tube: 582mm Wheelbase: 1169mm Chain stay: 430mm
All four of these bikes use RockShox front and rear – all have a Monarch Plus rear shock, paired with some variant of the Pike up front. At first glance the Norco, Giant and Trek are visually similar, but each bike has its own take on how to deliver 160mm of travel. The Capra uses a different arrangement, and has 5mm more travel, at 165mm rear.
Trek: Trek’s ABP (Active Braking Pivot) and Full Floater suspension system is a big favourite of ours. It delivers a very neutral, calm suspension feel. It’s unusual to see a Trek without the brand’s proprietary DRCV shock, and with a conventional shock like the Monarch. The system does best when you use the shock’s compression lever on climbs as it doesn’t have a lot of inherent anti-squat.
The Trek’s Pike fork is travel adjustable, from 160-130mm, which is a feature we used a lot. It’s not the bells-and-whistles version, but the more basic RC.
Norco: The Norco runs a four-bar / Horst link setup. The system has great anti-squat properties and pedals very well, but there is noticeable pedal feedback when stomping over rough terrain. It performs well under braking, maintaining responsiveness when you’re on the anchors.
The fork is the simple Pike RC. We recommend experimenting with the Bottomless Token system to tune the spring rate – we’ve had great success adding tokens and lowering the air pressure.
Giant: The Giant’s Maestro II rear suspension system is a dual-link arrangement and delivers a very smooth 160mm travel. It’s a very plush system, a real ground-hugger, and it ramps up nicely on big hits. It’s sheer smoothness means you’ll be using the compression lever on climbs.
Like the Trek, the Giant scores a travel adjustable fork, which we used to great effect on climbs and flatter trails. It also runs the more sophisticated RCT3 damper, with independent high and low speed compression adjustment.
YT: The Capra’s VL4 suspension system is another four-bar system, but the shock is driven by the seat stay, rather than the link. Given the bike’s travel, it’s a fantastically efficient climber – the Norco offers similar efficiency, but the Capra has less pedal feedback. The shock has markedly progressive in the latter portions of the bike’s travel, for excellent resistance to bottoming out.
The fork gets the premium RCT3 damper, but is not travel adjustable, which saves a little weight.
There’s barely a fart between the weights of the Norco, YT and Giant (which is impressive from the Reign, considering its alloy frame), but the Slash is a significantly lighter bike overall, by more than 700g. A light frame and carbon bar help keep its weight low. Note – all weights are without pedals and converted to tubeless.
Beyond the similarities in suspension items noted above, these four bikes share nearly identical drivetrains and a smattering of other components too. The dominance on SRAMs X1 drivetrain in this segment is well deserved, though we may see that challenged now that Shimano have released XT 1×11 with a 42-tooth cassette.
Trek: The wide-bodied Maverick wheelset on the Slash is a very big plus. We’re seeing more and more riders upgrading to wider hoops, so to get them stock is a real bonus. Bontrager’s XR4 tyres are sensational too. We’re also firm fans of the Shimano XT brakes, and the Bontrager Rhythm carbon bar.
Norco: A 30-tooth chain ring may sound small, but it’s an intelligent choice on this bike – the Norco has the gear range to climb just about anything. The massively stiff Raceface Atlas bar/stem combo is a winner too. We also like the addition of the bash guard to protect the chain ring.
Giant: Giant have specced the Reign with both an upper chain guide and a bash guard, for great security. The Pike RCT3 dual-position fork is a highlight too, a true performer both climbing and descending.
YT: A 150mm-travel dropper post lets you get the saddle right the hell out of the way on the Capra. The E13 wheels are both a highlight and a potential low light – they’re light and stiff, but quite narrow. A small item maybe, but we really like the Sensus grips, and the E13 upper chain guide.
Trek: While we like the XT brakes, they mesh poorly with the SRAM shifter and Reverb dropper lever.
Norco: The Norco’s wheels are its weakest area – especially the cheap front hub. There’s lots of weight to be saved here, without sacrificing durability.
Giant: You’ll want to lop a bit off the Giant’s 800mm bar!
YT: The E13 wheels are narrow by today’s and the hub is super, super loud.
First up, all of these bikes are superb to ride. They all fulfil the Enduro mandate of grinding out the climbs with minimal fuss then hammering the descents. That said, their abilities aren’t equally weighted, and some bikes really standout in some areas.
Trek: The Trek is the probably the best all-rounder in this company. With its low weight and travel adjustable fork, it manages to do a good job in a huge range of situations. We often rode this bike with the fork dropped down and the rear compression in its firmest setting and it performed pretty damn well on flatter, smoother trails. On the descents it was a bomber too – a 65 degree head angle keeps it all very stable and the tyres/wheels make the most of the grip on offer with the supple suspension.
Norco: A lively, fun and inspiring ride. The Norco requires no suspension fiddling to rule the singletrack, it accelerates nicely and can ascend without a lot of lever flipping. It’s very responsive for a bike with this much travel and it lends itself to a rider who likes to pick lines and play with the trail.
Giant: A supremely planted, stable and confident ride, the Reign will give a lot of downhill bikes a serious run for their money in many situations. The long wheelbase and buttery rear suspension keep the tyres on the ground. It straight up charges.
YT: A good blend of the downhill smasher and efficient climber. The YT has the angles and travel that encourage you to wallop it into some rough situations, especially as it’s so hard to upset the rear suspension. On the pedal back up, it’s very resistant and bobbing, even if the climbing position is a bit cramped.
Trek: The Trek’s rear suspension isn’t an inherently efficient design, so it’ll always be a tradeoff between suppleness and pedalling performance as you need to use the shock’s compression lever a lot.
Norco: With its short stays the Norco requires a bit more rider input at high speed to keep the wheels down. We also threw the chain on the Norco a handful of times, which wasn’t an issue on any other bike.
Giant: The Giant typifies the tradeoff between climbing and descending performance. With the fork dropped and the shock in its firmest compression setting, it’s a decent trail bike, but it still feels big in tighter situations.
YT: The YT’s short top tube demands a very upright climbing position. This bike really needs you to get right over the front wheel too, to keep it biting in flatter trails, especially when compared to the Norco or the Trek with its fork dropped down.
Two shots - both landscape
Three shots - Big on top
Four Shots - Big on Left
Two shots - landscape and square
Three shots - Big landscape, two small squares
Four Shots - All Same Size
Two shots - vertically stacked, both landscape
For a more in-depth look at each of these bikes, make sure check out the full reviews here on Flow.
The notion of picking a 160mm bike as a suitable long-term test sled for riding on our home trails would’ve seemed fanciful up until the last couple of years. Travel in these meaty portions traditionally has brought with it too many compromises – floppy singletrack handling, ploddy climbing, sogginess like a tomato sandwich.
But lighter frames, 27.5” wheels, more balanced geometries and better suspension have all come together to deliver a delicious cocktail of all-round abilities that have made 160mm+ bikes a viable do-it-all machine. And the latest incarnations of the Norco Range exemplifies this.
The Black Beauty caught our eye almost 12 months ago at the Australian Norco launch. Like a schoolboy too shy to ask for a dance, we didn’t give the Range c7.2 a whirl immediately, but admired it from afar. And so arrangements were made for an extended test ride. We’ve now had a little over eights months of fun on this beast. – here’s what we’ve learnt.
Norco have sky-rocketed in our esteem these past few years; they now produce some of the best looking, best featured carbon bikes on the market. Take a squiz at the Range; full carbon (excluding the chain stay), internally cabled, new-school single-ring-only construction, size-specific geometry, gorgeous gloss-on-matte graphics.
Finer details just emphasise the refinement; the flush Syntace rear axle won’t snag on rocks and roots, the internal cables don’t rub or rattle, and they’ve even managed to make room for both a piggy-back shock and a full-size water bottle.
On the point of the cables, we are a little circumspect about the need for an internal rear brake line. We damaged the line on the SRAM Guide RS rear brake early in the piece and the internal-only routing definitely makes this kind of repair work a little more arduous. But, it does look great. One improvement could be the addition of internal guide tubes too, to make threading the brake line and rear housing a simpler task.
The neglect test is a good way of establishing how well a bike has been assembled, and so we didn’t check the suspension pivots for the use of Loctite or even check the bolt tensions when assembling the Range. They came loose eventually, but it took a lot of riding. The main rocker pivot was the first to wiggle loose, followed by the dropout pivot. Since tightening them both back up, there haven’t been any repeat issues, so that’s a big tick in our books.
Norco have a unique take on bike sizing; the different sizes aren’t just longer in the seat tube / top tube, but the rear end correspondingly is longer or shorter too. In a size medium, the chain stays are just 428mm long. Ditching the front derailleur certainly helps free up some space, and there’s plenty of tyre clearance. During our testing we’ve run up to 2.4” rubber and clearance has never been a concern.
One point of note is that while the Range does come with a bash guard, your choice of chain guides is a little bit limited unless you fit a larger chain ring. The Range comes stock with a 30-tooth ring, which we really like, but you can’t run a D-mount style chain guide (no front derailleur tab) and there aren’t many ISCG-mounted guides that’ll accommodate a small ring like this. This is especially relevant to racers, and given that we’ve dropped the chain a handful of times, it something worth considering.
The Range’s build kit is sensible, robust and very, very black. This is not the kind of bike you want to leave outside your tent at night – it’s invisible. During our testing, we did change a few components on the Range, including the wheels and fork. Both of these changes were in the name of product testing, though the wheels are one item we would consider upgrading on this bike.
SRAM’s super popular Pike and X1 drivetrain need no introduction, but the Guide RS brakes with 180mm rotors weren’t a known quantity when began riding this bike. It didn’t take us long to appreciate that they’re a much better brake than the Elixirs and a huge leap forward for SRAM on this front, which a snappy, positive lever feel and shit tonnes of power. We’ve had zero issues with these stoppers, other than some wet weather howling.
The fork and shock have likewise been great, though it must be said the Pike has been sharing the workload with a FOX 36, which we also tested on the Range. We didn’t feel the need to add any volume reducers to the Pike to get the spring rate right for our lightweight test rider (63kg) though some heavier riders might opt to run a spacer or two. As we’ve noted before, it’s an easy fork to get along with, with buttery performance from the get go.
We experimented a little with the rear shock pressures, before settling on more sag, rather than less. With 30% sag, we were able to get full travel on the trails where we’d like to, and then we judiciously used the shock’s compression lever to tackle the climbs. Norco have got it right with the Range’s rear suspension feel too – it’s nicely and lively, and it always seems to be shooting you forward.
We didn’t run the Norco’s stock wheelset for very long. After busting a spoke on an early ride, we took the opportunity to pop on some other wheels we were reviewing. While the Range’s stock Sun/DT wheelset is solid, it does have a fair bit of heft to it, especially compared to some of the wider, carbon-rimmed wheels that are becoming more popular and cheaper by the minute. During our testing we’ve run SRAM Roam 60 wheels (too narrow by current standards, and which have since cracked) and more recently Mavic’s Crossmax SX wheels, which are fantastic. Dropping weight out of the wheels brought even more liveliness to the bike, and really improved the climbing performance too. We know wheels aren’t a cheap upgrade, but it’s really the only obvious avenue to extract any more meaningful performance out of this bike.
The reliability of the RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper post has been pleasing too. We’ve had some issues over the years with the Reverb’s reliability, but this particular one was put together right and hasn’t missed a beat. We also really like the way Norco have used Match Maker clamps on the brakes/shifter/dropper – it makes for a super clean handlebar.
In the current #soenduro market, there has been a real push towards some pretty downhill geometries – bikes have been getting pretty darn slack and low in this 160mm segment. The Norco doesn’t dive into the trend quite as eagerly as some, and that’s real part of the appeal for us. It’s a long-travel bike that doesn’t feel like a pig if you’re riding it on less than long-travel trails.
The Norco’s head angle is 66 degrees. Compare this to some of its direct competitors; YT Capra – 65.2; Specialized Enduro – 65.5; Trek Slash; 65.0; Giant Reign – 65.0 degrees. The difference isn’t huge on paper, but it is enough to be noticeable on the trail, keeping the front end on track when the trails are flatter or pointing up. The relatively slim and fast-rolling tyres that come on the Range (Maxxis High Rollers in a 2.35”) help too.
Norco have their own take on the four-bar FSR suspension configuration, using a longer Horst link than some other brands that run the same system (for instance, Specialized). This gives the Range a notably rearward axle path early in the travel, resulting in more chain growth, which is designed to make for more efficient pedalling. And it is efficient, especially if you’re spinning that little 30-tooth chain ring up a climb. The responsiveness of the Range to quick stabs at the pedals is a highlight too; with the short chain stays and sensible use of chain tension, you can easily pop up the front wheel. You do notice a bit of chain tug back through the pedals when sprinting, especially over rougher terrain, but the power definitely gets to the ground in a nice and direct fashion.
On the other side of the equation, those times when you’re pointing straight down the hill and pedalling is far from your mind, the Range is a balanced, precise and fast machine. Getting the front and rear suspension working in harmony is simple with the matched RockShox fork/shock, and we actually found the Norco’s overall balance was better when we had the Pike up front, rather than the FOX 36. We do think the FOX is better fork on the whole, but it didn’t mesh quite so nicely with the Monarch Plus shock.
For a bike with 160mm travel, the Range possesses a serious ability to change lines or take to the air. It doesn’t hug the ground quite like some other bikes in this segment, but rewards riders who like to find ways over, rather than through, the nastiest bits of trail. That said, when you do need to muscle the Range, it’s not lacking; there’s a ton of steering precision and confidence with the massive 35mm diameter Raceface bar and stem.
[divider] Other options[/divider]
With the rise in popularity of Enduro racing, plus the huge improvements in weight and efficiency we discussed earlier, the Australian market is now full of great 160mm-travel bike options that weren’t available in previous years. In the last few months alone, we’ve tested a whole swathe of them.
There’s the unique Breezer Repack Team, which is really more of a long-travel trail bike than a radical all-mountain bike. Trek’s Slash 9.8 is a superb offering, and offers very similar value to the Norco Range. We especially like the wheels on the Slash, plus the fact that Trek opted not to use their DRCV shock. Giant’s Reign 1 will appeal to those who like an alloy bike, rather than carbon. This mango coloured beast is pretty much a mini downhill bike in terms of the way it rides. The Specialized Enduro is a superb platform, and even though we were underwhelmed by the rear shock on the S-Works model we reviewed, we rate the Enduro from the big S very highly. Finally, we’re in the midst of reviewing the YT Capra, which seems to be extremely good value and a potential firestarter in the market.
The Range has been a brilliant addition to the Flow stables over the past eight months. Swapping out the wheels for lighter, more responsive hoops is a nice way to compliment the Range’s abilities as an all-rounder, and would be the only upgrade that we could recommend.
We do have plenty of rough riding on our local loops, but we were nonetheless a bit concerned that the Range was going to be overkill for most situations, and we worried that perhaps the shorter travel Sight would have been a better choice. This wasn’t the case, and we’ve found ourselves reaching for this bike far more often than anticipated. The Range may be big on travel, but its efficient riding position and suspension, and sensible geometry mean it refuses to be pigeon holed.
The Aurum Carbon Killer B was designed in conjunction with Norco’s World Cup DH teams past and present and proven on the 2014 World Cup stage. This 650B-wheeled race bike represents the cutting edge of Norco’s engineering and design capability and brings together all of our most advanced carbon and mountain technologies. The Aurum — Latin for “gold” — earned its name by turning the most challenging terrain features into advantages over other riders.
Everything that made the original Aurum great lives on in the Aurum Carbon. Additionally, cutting edge carbon frame design enables us to deliver optimal fit and body positioning, confidence-boosting traction and control and a race-winning potential to reach and hold incredible speeds over the steepest, most technical terrain imaginable.
With traditional frame designs, engineers adjust front-centre lengths for each frame size but use a single, fixed rear-centre length. This traditional design approach leaves riders of certain body types in a poor position when standing, and this uneven weight distribution negatively affects traction, control and overall performance and ride characteristics. Gravity Tune adjusts the rear center proportionally with the front center, which means that the rider’s weight is always optimally distributed – regardless of their height and the frame size they choose.
ADVANCED RIDE TECHNOLOGY (A.R.T.)
Advanced Ride Technology is the direct link between engineering and experience. More than a single suspension platform, A.R.T. is a system that we optimize for each intended use. Norco’s engineering team strategically manipulates pivot locations to precision-tune suspension kinematics, ensuring that every full suspension bike will excel in the environment it was designed for. A.R.T. delivers four major benefits to riders: increased square-edge bump compliance, progressive suspension characteristics, improved braking performance and enhanced pedaling efficiency.
RACE DEVELOPED 650B GEOMETRY
Years in the making, the Aurum’s geometry is a product of collaboration with our World Cup race teams, past and present. Designed from the dirt up around the 650B wheel and our Gravity Tune philosophy, the frame was tested and proven on the 2014 World Cup circuit. A 63-degree head angle and long wheelbase deliver stability at speed through rough terrain, while the low BB and unrivalled Gravity Tune weight distribution ensure maximum grip through corners. Thanks to input from team riders via our Norco Race Development Program, the new geo will enable riders to excel on the racecourse or in the park.
PROGRESSIVE CARBON DESIGN
We adhered to a strict design philosophy to realize our goal of producing a highly efficient carbon structure. Simplified tube cross sections meet and blend seamlessly with one another at all junctions. SmoothCore mandrels enable us to maintain precise control over the inner surfaces of the frame, particularly critical at complicated, high stress areas like the head tube and bottom bracket junctions. Our superior ArmorLite resin further enhances frame strength and impact resistance. As a result, the new frame is the toughest, most resilient DH frame we’ve ever made, inside and out.
DH bikes are some of the most routinely abused in the bike world. However, we believe they should be built to take the punishment, shrug it off and ask for more. Whether it’s a rock striking the down tube at Mach 10, a dirt and grit covered machine being thrown into the bed of the pickup for one more lap, or the relentless biting of chain on chain stay, our integrated frame protectors offer the Aurum the protection it deserves. These custom frame guards are designed to offer maximum protection while integrating seamlessly into the frame’s aesthetic.
142X12 OPTIMIZED FOR 7SPD
The first groupsets truly optimized for DH racing, 7-speed drivetrains deliver the full gear range needed by racers and offer more useful jumps between gears. We are such strong believers in the 7-speed DH system that we designed the full Aurum lineup around it, using 142 x 12 mm rear spacing. Though it is narrower than usual for a DH bike, we chose to employ a 142 x 12 throughout the line because it offers a number of significant advantages to the rider, including an optimized chainline for the 7-speed system, improved heel and trail hazard clearance and a lighter rear wheel.
Australian Retail Pricing:
Aurum C 7.1 Black/Yellow/Grey RRP $8,699
Aurum C 7.2 Black/Red RRP $7,199
Aurum C 7.3 Black/White RRP $5,599
We’ll expect these bikes to land in Australia this April.
While Sydney has been doing its finest Scottish Highlands impression this past month, with more rain than The Weather Girls, we couldn’t ignore the urge to get to know our Norco Range 7.2 a little better. As you can see, we’ve even found time to make a couple of tweaks to this glorious machine. Read on for the first instalment of our long term test.
As we commented in our First Bite initial impressions piece, it’s uncommon to find a bike this battle-ready off the shelf. Normally we find at least a couple of items to fiddle with before hitting the trails (for example, stem length, tyres or chain ring size), but this was not the case with the Range. Converting the wheels for tubeless is the only must-do before rolling out the door. The Alex rims do say they’re tubeless ready, but this is pretty misleading, as all the label really means is that they can be run tubeless if you fit an appropriate kit. While the bike regrettably isn’t supplied with a tubeless kit, we were able to successfully seal it all up with Stan’s No Tubes tape/valves/sealant. The Maxxis High Roller II tyres are tubeless ready, so it all snapped into place and held air perfectly.
Getting the suspension dialled was step number two, which is made easy thanks to a pressure guide on the Pike RC fork and sag indicators on the Monarch Plus shock.
We’ve been running 65psi in the fork, which is right on the recommended pressure. We’ve had great experience in the past with the Pike’s Bottomless Token system, which alters the progressiveness of the fork, so we’ll be trying out lower pressures and adding a Token or two to see how this changes the ride. In the meantime, we’ve also just received the new FOX 36 to test, so we’ve duly fitted it up and we’ll be taking it out for it its maiden voyage next week. The 36 is 170g heavier than the Pike, but it looks sweeter than an Iced Vovo and we’re dying to ride it. You can read all about our first impressions here.
At present we’re running around 167psi in the Monarch Plus rear shock, for just over 25% sag. We’ll experiment with slightly lower pressures too, as we’re yet to hit full travel with the current settings. We had initially thought that the Monarch could be a weak point in the bike’s performance, but that idea soon went out the window. The 2015 Monarch Plus is far and away the smoothest, most responsive rear air shock we’ve experienced from Rockshox – finally they have an trail/all-mountain shock that can match the performance on the Pike. We just hope it stays this good in the long-term.
Unfortunately our first outing resulted in not one, but two mechanicals, the blame for which lies squarely at our feet. First, we collected a stick that had the audacity to be tougher than it looked, and we snapped out a spoke in the rear wheel. On the same outing, we also damaged the rear brake line. In our build process, we didn’t leave enough slack in the rear brake line to account for large degree of rotation at the bike’s dropout pivot. As such, on a large impact, the line has been pulled too tight and developed a small rupture right at the point where the line enters the caliper banjo fitting. Arguably, the line shouldn’t have suffered this damage, but it was yet another reminder for us to always check a bike’s brake/cable lines through the full range of suspension movement. Lucky for us, we’ve just recently received a set of SRAM Guide RSC brakes to review, so we’ve fitted them for the interim until we get a chance to put a new line on the original brake. Because the Range uses an internally routed rear brake line, fitting a new brake was a little more involved, but at least the ports for routing the line are of a decent size so threading the line isn’t as hard as some.
While the original rear wheel is out of action, we’ve fitted the bike with a set of beautiful carbon SRAM Roam 60 wheels which we have previously reviewed. They’re far lighter than the original wheels (by some 400g!) and they’re stiff as a frozen fish finger. With the weight saved on the wheels, and the weight added with the FOX fork, the Range now weighs in at 13.4kg including a set of Time ATAC MX4 pedals.
We’ll report back next month with a bit more information about how the Range rides, once we’ve had a chance to get it onto a wider variety of trails.
It’s no fluke that the sudden acceleration in Norco’s development coincided with the arrival of this man, PJ Hunton, Norco’s engineering manager. Having just taken delivery of the new Range Carbon 7.2 (read our first impressions here) we thought we’d catch up with man who’s largely responsible for that bike’s existence and ask him a few questions. [divider]Introducing: PJ Hunton[/divider] Norco has undergone a real transformation over the past half dozen years, both in terms of performance and brand appeal (at least in my opinion!). Can you tell us what was the catalyst for this rapid development, and what have been the key objectives?
The catalyst was an increase in our engineering horsepower. The objective was simple: to build better bikes that we want to ride. Whether this was the need for a faster, stiffer, yet more compliant road bike and the inception of technologies like Power Chassis and ARC or the need for a more efficient suspension system for mountain bikes, hence the creation of ART suspension, it was all based around improving the ride. What moment, or bike, do you feel has been the most important in Norco’s history (either long-term history, or recent)? Having only been here for six years, I am biased towards the recent history so I would have to say the development of the original Range, which was the first bike with ART suspension. This spawned into a full line of new full suspension bikes which made a lot of people take a second look at our brand. Looking at our 50 year history of designing bikes, however, there are several iconic Norco bikes that should be mentioned. The Rampage – the first bike with front suspension corrected geometry – and the VPS series of freeride bikes are both a huge part of Norco’s history.
Norco’s carbon bikes are just awesome (we love the Sight and Range), and the brand’s development in carbon bikes seems to have been in fast-forward. Can you tell us a bit about the learning curve here? Norco has been designing and producing carbon road and hardtail frames for many years now, so carbon frame design is certainly not new. Carbon full suspension bikes are new to us, and from the design & engineering perspective, using carbon as the frame material presents incredible opportunities. Most visibly is the aesthetics of a carbon frame. There were some great advancements and creativity made in the industrial design of these frames and the resulting 3D CAD modeling strategies which were required to achieve these designs. Engineering the shape to accommodate pivots points and component contact points was also a learning process but a great one due to the potential for optimization of the frame structure. Combining the ID and engineering requirements into the final frame design takes a lot of iterations and even more machine testing before the true testing on the trail can begin.
Are we going to see one wheel size only? Absolutely not. Both wheel sizes will always have a place in mountain biking.
Speaking of carbon, the demand for carbon by the cycling industry is huge now, so much so that we’re already hearing about production delays because of supply issues. Can you envisage another material that we will see emerge in bike construction in the near future? In the near future, carbon is the material. Manufacturing processes will improve which will result in slightly lighter & stronger frames, but not significantly. I can envision composites and plastic material development to continue to the point where we could eventually mold a plastic bike with a strong tough skin and a light, structural honeycomb foam inside. In your opinion, are we going to see mountain biking return to one wheel size? Absolutely not. Both wheel sizes will always have a place in mountain biking. It will be up to the rider to choose which size works best for them based on their riding style and objectives. There are obviously some frame and component engineering challenges associated with making 29” wheels work properly in longer travel applications but those are being solved as I type. We’re seeing all-mountain bikes now with some very slack geometry up front, not far off downhill bikes from a few years ago – what do you think is the limit in terms of how far head angles can be pushed? Norco’s vision of an all-mountain bike is exactly that, one which can be ridden all over the mountain, both up and down so making the head angle slacker doesn’t make the bike better overall, just on the downhills. If you are talking Enduro bikes however, then the head angles could certainly approach DH angles because those bikes are very focussed on going downhill and it almost doesn’t matter if the bike is a real handful to pedal up hills. Electronics: do you want them? Why / why not? In regards to electronic components such as shifting sytems, suspension control, seatposts, brakes, etc… if they can improve the ride experience and still be reliable, why not make them available for those willing to pay. We’ve just taken delivery of the Range Carbon 7.2 as a long term test bike. What is your favourite thing about this bike and why? My favorite thing about the Range Carbon is how fun it is to shred down aggressive singletrack. The way it gobbles up bumps and is perfectly balanced to two wheel drift ‘round corners just makes me smile all the way down the trail. Not to mention the fact that with the push of a couple of buttons, I can comfortably and efficiently climb back up for more. Huge stoke for my Range Carbon right now!
Only a couple of weeks ago, we got our first in-the-flesh look at the new Norco line up. You can read the detail here, but let’s just say that the Norco of today does not bear much of a resemblance to the Norco of six or seven years ago. It’s like watching a movie and it suddenly dawning that the hottie you’re looking at used to be the 12 year-old kid in Full House. Startling, slightly creepy, but a welcome surprise.
Merely sitting on the bike and admiring its finish through the camera lens was enough to make us say “yes, we want.”
One of the stars of the 2015 line up is the Range Carbon 7.2. We didn’t see a lot of these bikes in Australia last year, which was a real bummer. But with the growth of the Gravity Enduro scene, the local distro is bringing in more Range models and in greater numbers for 2015. Most excellent. In truth, we didn’t get a chance to even take the Range 7.2 for a spin during the product launch at Old Hidden Vale. But we didn’t need to. Merely sitting on the bike and admiring its finish through the camera lens was enough to make us say “yes, we want.” The bike just felt perfect when we slung a leg over it, and the weight, spec and finish were brilliant.
Fast forward two weeks of persistent nagging and a big brown box full of carbon, rubber and f#ck-yeah turned up at Flow HQ. The Range 7.2 is a real stunner of a bike. Carbon throughout (chain stays aside), a build kit that challenges you to find something to upgrade, excellent suspension, trail-friendly weight and great angles.
While 160mm is generally a little more travel than we’d opt for on our local trails, there are enough rocky, wild descents for us to give the Norco the kind of walloping that it yearns for. And it’ll be an interesting exercise to see how this long-travel machine handles the flatter trails too; we’d normally take a bike like this to the roughest trails in order to assess its abilities, so it’ll be good to have the time on our side to try the whole gamut of trail types and really get its measure as an all-rounder.
First up on the cards for us is to set the bike up tubeless (the Maxxis High Roller IIs are good to go for tubeless use) and maybe lop the bars down a smidgen – at 800mm, they’re maybe 20 or 30mm wider than we’re accustomed to.
Last week, Flow was fortunate enough to spend the day up in the rolling hills of Old Hidden Vale, a serene oasis of singletrack to the west of Brisbane. We were there to take a closer look at the 2015 line up from Advance Traders, the Aussie distributors of Norco, Merida and Lapierre. Old Hidden Vale is a key location in the Brissy mountain bike scene, home to a suite of races, and the kind of place you could easily lose yourself for a weekend of riding – put it on the list!
Here we bring you our pick of the 2015 Norco bunch, the bikes that got us most excited and which we hope you’ll take a shining to too. We took advantage of Old Hidden Vale’s fast, swooping trails to get familiar with the Sight C 7.2 as well, and we’ve included our first ride impressions below.
Of all the bikes on display, it was the Sight, Range and Revolver series that really grabbed us. Norco’s year-on-year refinement over the past four or five years has been pretty incredible to watch, and the brand has certainly lifted in our esteem. Here are our favourite models.
The Range series, now in its second season as a 650B-wheeled bike, is globally one of the brand’s biggest sellers. It’s the embodiment of an all-mountain machine; 160mm-travel at both ends, with geometry that blends balls-out descending with respectable climbing. There are both carbon and alloy models, and for 2015 they share the same geometry. In 2014, the alloy versions had more of a ‘trail’ focus with slightly steeper angles, but Norco have realised that riders on a budget (or just fans of aluminium) want to shred the descents too, so they’ve now given the alloy bikes the same ‘enduro’ geometry too.
The $5999 Range C 7.2, above, had riders clamouring all over it, and while we weren’t able to bag a test ride on it (mainly because we couldn’t stop ourselves from riding the Sight!), we we grabbed it for a closer look.
Combing a carbon mainframe and seat stay, with an alloy chain stay / linkage, the Range C 7.2 comes in at around 12kg. The construction and all black presentation is instantly appealing, and it’s specced to the eyeballs with some of the finest ‘enduro’ finery going. Geometry wise, the bike runs a 66-degree head angle, which is balanced enough to rail descents and still negotiate flatter trails or an uphill switchback without feeling like a barge.
As with most bikes in the Norco line up, the Range series employs Norco’s Gravity Tune concept, which essentially means the rear-centre measurement of the bike is shorter for the smaller sized frames and longer in the larger frames. As opposed to traditional bike sizing (which simply lengthens the front-centre or top tube measurement in bigger sizes), the Gravity Tune concept is designed to keep the rider position consistent across the size range.
While the C 7.2 was the show stopper, the Range series continues in fine form all the way down to a very attainable $2699 price point, maintaing the same geometry and travel throughout, with smart spec too. We think it’s the $3699 Range A 7.1 that’s going to fit the bill for a lot of riders. For this money, we’re yet to see a more refined all-mountain bike than this one.
The geometry and suspension design is proven, but it’s the clever spec that makes this bike a winner; putting a Pike on a bike at this price is just about unheard of, the FOX CTD shock is reliable and smooth, the tyres are excellent, the cockpit suited to task… there just aren’t any real holes in the bike at all. We’re certain that a lot of riders will ditch the front derailleur and go single ring, which will just make this bike lighter and lower fuss once again.
The $2699 Range A 7.2 hits a very tasty price point. Lower cost suspension (X-Fusion and Marzocchi) and the absence of a dropper post help keep the price down, but the frame is identical to the Range A 7.1 and all the key elements are there: stiff fork, excellent tyres, clutch derailleur, wide handlebar…. it’s all sorted.
One step down in terms of travel, you’ll find the Sight series. This 140mm-travel platform has had accolades heaped upon it by the cycling media, and we tested one last year in Rotorua. For 2015, Norco have continued to refine the Sight, and the carbon Sight C 7.2 is one of the nicest trail bikes we’ve seen for the new season. We spent more time on this bike than any other out at Old Hidden Vale and the improvements offered (particularly in terms of the suspension) represent a big leap in performance.
There is an awful lot that we liked about this bike, but nothing more so than the way it encouraged us to sprint flat out at every corner, just to see how fast we could get around it! It grips like a go-kart, accelerates like a much shorter travel bike, and has geometry that made us look for things to launch off everywhere – it’s just fun. We’ll definitely be looking to secure a full review on this bike in the coming months.
With 650B wheels, we feel that 140mm of travel is a real sweet spot for technical trail riding, as is the Sight’s geometry with a 67.5 degree head angle. The geometry is actually unchanged from last year, but the bike now comes with a shorter stem and a wider bar, and the better part of a kilo has been shed with a far more suitable tyre choice. On top of all this, the Sight C 7.2 gets a ridiculously good suspension package, with Cane Creek’s new DB InLine shock and a Pike RC fork.
Just as with the Range series, the Sight series trickles down to some pretty competitive price points with alloy-framed variants that share the same geometry. In the Sight series, it’s the $3599 Sight A 7.1 that we feel is going to be a favourite. The Shimano blend for the drivetrain and brakes is perfect, and the tasty Rockshox Revelation and KS dropper post just sweeten the deal.
One bike that had a perpetual cloud of admirers was the Formula 1-esque Revolver 9 SL, and it’s not hard to see why – it has the vibe of some kind of ‘concept bike’, but this is a full-blown production model. Sleek construction, complemented by the new inverted Rockshox RS1, lets you know this bike lives for the racetrack. The $5999 price tag seems a lot, till you consider the fork alone will set you back almost two and a half grand at retail.
As Norco’s cross country race series, there are both 650B and 29er Revolvers available – they haven’t committed to a single wheel size for this genre of riding just yet. We recently reviewed the 2014 Revolver 7.1, so we’re eager to review the 2015 29er equivalent.
Hold tight for all the highlights from the 2015 Merida range too, in the coming days, including their all-new 120mm platform.
Stable in the air, rails the corners, switches directions faster than a PUP senator and loves the rough stuff – no this isn’t an another all-mountain bike, it’s Norco’s 650b cross-country race rig.
Clean and smooth are the two words of choice when describing the build of this bike. The frame lines, the colour and the decals all combine to maintain the understated but eye-catching theme.
The matte finish to the Norco is alluring, the subtly of the black and gray decals draws your eye to look closer at this bike. You notice straight away the lack of cabling on the frame, the brake hoses and gear cable (just one, this bike runs XO1) disappear at the head tube and reappear on the chainstays. The internal routing of the brake line left a few questions around serviceability hovering in the air, however when we spoke with Norco Australia they confirmed that the routing is guided within the frame making replacement straight forward.
The large head tube section of the frame is in distinct contrast with the thin seat stays; the head tube provides directional stiffness, while the seat stays are designed to flex, absorbing and smoothing out the small trail chatter.
Our first reaction was “Sweet XO1! Finally, a 1×11 setup on a bike that doesn’t cost $6,000!” We’re big fans of the 1×11 set-up and the XO1 setup on the Revolver only reinforced this. The XO1 comes with a 32-tooth chain ring (which we have previously swapped out to 34-tooth on other cross-country rigs), and we found the gearing range worked really well – we would only be considering swapping the size if the local trails required it. The Revolver came with the OEM-only aluminum XO1 cranks, super stiff, especially when combined with the PF30 bottom bracket.
Matching the race theme, the Revolver gets a Prologo Zero saddle and silicon grips, both of these are big favourites of ours here at Flow HQ. The silicon grips provide the rider with a direct connection with the bike and are super comfy even for our gloveless mitts. While a zero (i.e. flat) saddle may not be the first choice for most, it is one of the comfiest saddles we have come across yet.
The SRAM vibe continues with the anchors on the Revolver being Elixir 7 Trail brakes. While not the pick of the range the 7s did the job, though at times they did lack sheer stopping power. The Elixir 7 Trail brakes had the job of pulling up Schwalbe Racing Ralph treads on Stan’s ZTR Rapid rims laced to Kore Hubs. The wheels held up fine on the rocky test trails and race tracks we rode the Revolver on – we’d be interested to see how the wheels stand up to a full season.
The alloy bar, stem and seat post are to be expected on a bike in this price range, and they provide an opportunity to drop more weight. We were not overjoyed to see fairly basic RockShox Recon Gold fork on such a race-worthy rig. The absence of a remote lockout on a bike aimed for the XC racer was also noted.
This bike is extremely fun to ride, confident in the air and more than willing to follow you through a corner. While our experience with 650B hardtails has often been a nervous one, the Revolver was anything but, and felt right at home bombing through rock garden of death cookies. We found converting the bike to tubesless certainly helped with eliminating the trail chatter and this was made easy by the Stan’s ZTR Rapid rims.
Acceleration is the name of the game when it comes to winning cross country races, and the power transfer on board the Revolver is excellent. The chunky chain stays and big bottom bracket shell don’t give up an ounce of power, and the light weight wheels get moving on command.
Only the Recon fork holds the bike back. It feels like you either need to set the fork up for small bump performance or big hits – there’s no real middle ground. If you want good control over the little impacts, you need to accept the fact you’ll be bottoming out often. We preferred to run the fork a little harder, sacrificing sensitivity for support when we really pushed the bike.
The Revolver’s frame and groupset make a clear statement about this bike’s intention to inflict some pain (the good kind) on the race track. But it’s also a fun bike to ride, an element that’s often missing with cross-country race machines. We’d love to see a better fork (perhaps a SID) on the Revolver to match the rest of the bike’s abilities.
We’re still undecided overall about whether we prefer a 650B or a 29er for our serious cross-country racing too. We still love the way a 29er eats up the bumps, but we’re certainly stoked with the flickability, fun and acceleration of this wheel size. Maybe this rig could win over some of the 29er diehards, including us.
The new Norco Revolver series caught our eye at the 2014 Norco launch and since then we’ve been regularly dropping an email to Norco Australia to find out when they would have a model in Australia. So we were frothing when got word that a Revolver 7.1 had arrived, even more froth was produced when we were offered a chance to review it.
Norco are embracing the matte carbon finish on their bikes for 2014 and we are big fans, the Revolver with its dark grey frame, black decals and black componentry just looks bad ass, the sort of bike that would give other bikes the nerves at the starting grid.
The Revolver hasn’t missed a beat with the inclusion of a 142×12 rear axle, forward mounted rear brake calliper and Press Fit BB30 cranks.
We are big fans of the 1×11 technology from SRAM and it’s great to see the XO1 variant on a race bike, providing riders access to this hot technology at a decent price point.
Just from a quick glance at the tech data for this bike and seeing it in the flesh you can tell that the geometry has one purpose in mind, cross country racing or riding cross country trails like you are racing. Thin is an efficient race rig, but a few spec choices and geometry numbers are telling use that it is also won’t be too scared of letting its hair down on the trails and having a good time.
With a 70 degree head angle we were certain that this bike would provide a format to play on the trails with, and so far we haven’t been proven wrong. There is something magical about cross country race bikes born in Canada that makes them ride like no other race bike.
Our first impressions are rosy and sweet so far, now let’s get it dirty and deliver a proper review soon. Stay tuned.
Norco’s bikes haven’t just come on a little bit in the past four or five years. No, they’ve improved astronomically and the Sight range is really indicative of all that progress. A couple of years ago, Norco launched the Sight in a 26” wheeled variant, but for 2014 it undergoes the shift to 27.5” wheels whilst retaining that trail-friendly 140mm of bounce.
We picked up a Sight Carbon 7.1 and took it to singletrack Nirvana, Rotorua, for five days of guess what?
The Sight’s the best looking Norco we’ve ever seen; clean shapes, the contrasting matte and flourescent colours and the smart little finishing touches had us drooling over the Sight at first sight.
With the move to a carbon front end, 25% of the grams are gone. Like a number of manufacturers, Norco have opted for a carbon front end and aluminium chain stays out back. We like this method of construction, as the rear end is the part of the frame most susceptible to crash damage, while the front end is largely protected by the bars and cranks.
Norco have taken a step in the right direction with internal cable routing, including some neat rubber grommets do prevent dirt or water accessing the frame. But during our testing the rubber cable grommets occasionally pulled loose, making making a bit of a mess, and requiring us to stop and wedge them back in periodically.
A ‘true’ four-bar suspension design makes it all happen out the back, with Norco’s A.R.T. take on the well-proven system. The placement of the suspension pivot on the chain stay allows for a little rearward rear wheel movement at the start of the suspension travel. This rearward axle path wheel also adds tension to the chain, so if you’re cranking down hard the rear suspension will display a certain amount of anti-squat and the bike jumps forward nicely.
We had some dramas with the pivot hardware coming loose during testing, and because the two main pivots use a spanner and not just Allen keys, it wasn’t something we could fix out on the trail. A spot of Loctite resolved it.
Norco don’t settle for the standard one-size-fits-all approach in regard to the frame’s rear end. As the frame sizes go up, it’s both the front end and chain stays that grow in length to keep the rider’s position centred.
Meaty rubber, four-piston brakes and an adjustable post tells us the Sight is ready for some action, and definitely sways it’s attitude towards the more aggressive side of the scale. The big tyres did feel a bit slow on the flatter trails, but of course the big shoulder knobs held on tight. Still we’d probably opt for some slightly faster-rolling rubber for general trail riding.
We battled with the Rockshox Revelation during our testing, the fork’s action just felt uncharacteristically choppy and harsh, not like the usual Revelations we’ve tried. It all came to head when the main seal on the air-spring side came free from the lowers with a loud POP. We think that air had seeped from the negative air chamber into the lower, resulting in a build up of pressure that ultimately popped seal out. We pulled the lowers off, reset the seal back in place and changed the lubricating oil and the result was immediate improvement. Still, the fork was never quite all we’d hoped for.
SRAM’s X01 gear is simply spot on, but the brakes are a bit weak on bite, especially in the wet. We’d recommend swapping out the original resin brake pads for some metal sintered ones.
The Sight left us with mixed feelings. The efficiency of the bike is great. It pedals brilliantly, even with the heavy rubber fitted, and in spite of its slack angles it’s easy to keep it on track up a steep climb.
Low weight and a very stiff frame give the Sight a precise feel; it never seems to doubt the direction you take. The lowly slung top tube and wide bars really allow you to tip the bike right over beneath you too, adding to the agility of the ride.
We were less impressed by the suspension feel overall. Perhaps our impression was influenced overly by the fork’s problems, but the ride never felt ‘alive’. The Norco prioritises stability on the big hits over suppleness. Some riders will revel in this firm feel, but when compared to some of the other bikes we were reviewing alongside the Norco, the suspension just felt a bit lacking.
This was admittedly a very big surprise, as most new-generation Norcos we’ve ridden have been incredible – it does make us wonder if there wasn’t some issue (like the wrong shock tune) with our bike that could have been resolved with a longer testing window.
Our short time aboard the Norco may have brought a couple of teething issues, but sorting them out would not have been to much of an issue and we’re certainly positive about the overall potential of this bike. The frame, geometry and component selection are all excellent and with a lighter set of tyres set up tubeless the Sight could hit an impressively low weight. Although we didn’t entirely mesh with the bike’s suspension, the geometry, looks and ability to hold a line on the roughest trails all make for a great platform to build a dreamy trail bike.
Could you name your favourite trail in Rotorua’s Whakarewarewa Forest? With hundreds of kilometres of the world’s best singletrack to chose from, picking one trail as top dog is a big ask.
Gaz Sullivan – the force behind Nzo clothing – has spent more time in the forest than most of the trees have. He nominated Te Tihi O Tawa as his pick of the bunch.
A lesser ridden trail, Te Tihi O Tawa was carved from the native bush by Richard Caudwell and a small band of trail pixies in 2011. It’s up high in the forest, way up top of Tawa, and in the wet it transforms into a supremely slippery, fun, flowing challenge. It’s one of the greenest, most outrageously alive trails we’ve ever ridden. The ferns, moss, creepers and vines seem to fill the air.
In the dry it’s a grade 3, like you see it in the video, wet, it’s a grade 4. Te Tihi O Tawa feeds directly into Billy T, undoubtedly another mainstay of the forest.
A big thanks must be extended to the Tuhourangi Tribal Authority and the Department of Conservation – particularly Simon Alefosio-Tuck – for the creation of Te Tihi O Tawa.
PORT COQUITLAM, B.C., Aug. 29, 2014 – Norco Bicycles is thrilled to announce the release of the iconic Range Killer B Platform in carbon fiber for 2014. Developed specifically for Enduro racing and All Mountain use, the 650B-wheeled Range Carbon features the same philosophy and sophistication as the aluminum version but with the added strength, stiffness and weight savings of carbon fiber.
Big brother to the 140mm Sight Killer B, the Range is a 160mm travel mountain bike with a slack and low geometry that make it extremely capable on descents. The Range Carbon is as much an Enduro race rig as it is the ideal back country accomplice – perfect for exploring shale-covered slopes and remote mountain ranges. The all-mountain-tuned A.R.T. suspension system helps the bike climb to objectives with impressive efficiency, but it is when the trail turns downhill that this Killer B truly comes alive – delivering unrivaled high-speed power, control and confidence to the rider.
The 2014 Norco Range Killer B can be seen for the first time at Germany’s Eurobike, Montreal’s Expocycle and Las Vegas’ Interbike trade shows in the coming weeks. You can expect the Range to be available in February, 2014.
The whole Range Killer B Carbon lineup is below – click the images to make them more biggerer.
The 2014 Revolver is the stiffest, lightest XC race bike Norco has ever made. Featuring full carbon construction, Norco’s Gravity Tune geometry and available in both 27.5″/650B and 29″ wheels. Match the wheel size with your style and the Revolver is a recipe for the podium!
MSRP – $2000- $5700 Weight – From 18lbs Available – Spring 2014
The hugely successful Norco Sight Killer B is going carbon for 2014. Featuring the same dialed geometry as its aluminum predecessor, but with the added strength, stiffness and weight savings of carbon. Internal cable routing, optional 1×11 gearing, and Reverb Stealth routing complete the cleanest, lightest, and fastest trail bike on the market.
MSRP – $3600-$7000 Weight – From 25lbs Available – Spring 2014
Norco is introducing a Fatbike for 2014. A versatile yet affordable option for snow, sand or wherever you plan to go, the Bigfoot brings the joy of fatbiking to the masses.
The cycling community fell in love with 27.5″/650B wheels but there remains a lack of choice at the lower price points that the majority of mountain bikers are looking for. The Fluid 7 series answers this need, taking what we love about the 29″ Fluid 9 series and applying it to 650B. Suspension kinematics and geometry are specific to the wheel size, delivering the ultimate trail mountain biking experience in a very affordable package.
Sitting on top of the Norco Killer B-2 we felt like we were riding into the future. The 650B wheels matched to 140mm of travel position it in an area of the market that many riders are keen to experiment with. There are not many bikes available yet built specifically around this wheel size making this one quite topical.
As far as current, and future, competition is concerned, we were rapt to discover that Norco have set the standard high. In addition to redesigning their popular Sight frame around this middle-size wheel, the balanced geometry for riders of all sizes, high-performing part selection and thoughtful finishing touches make this bike an impressive first foray into 27.5” for Norco. [private]
Early on during our first outing, the initial thing that stood out was how balanced the Killer B felt, particularly in the small sized alloy frame that we tested. Key to this is what Norco call ‘Gravity Tune’, where each size frame is designed around a fixed ratio between the bottom bracket and front and rear axels to better accommodate riders of different heights.
This is a refreshing change from having a fixed chain stay length across all sized frames. Our small sized Killer B has a chain stay length of 423mm compared to the 432mm of the 650B Intense Carbine 275 we tested earlier for example. A longer chain stay length puts smaller riders in a less stable position in relation to the bottom bracket – something which is particularly noticeable when standing – and Gravity Tune addresses this.
The Gravity Tune approach to frame design means the main pivot point position, in relation to the bottom bracket, changes the effective chain stay length. This alters the effective seat tube angle as well, further enhancing rider position in relation to the bottom bracket.
The result: a welcome increase in traction and control. This design innovation also allows the wheelbase in each frame size to remain within 1mm of the wheelbase for the same size bikes in the 26” Sight range, indicating the nimble handling of this larger breed.
In short, Norco have effectively thrown a one-size-fits-all approach to rear end functionality out the window, which is something we hope to see on other frame designs in the future as well.
As far as the rest of the build was concerned, given the price point of the mid-range B-2 (the highest spec’d model Aussie distributor, Advance Traders, is bringing in for 2013), we were pleased to see the brand hadn’t made cheap short cuts at the expense of exceptional riding experiences. The B-2 felt as though it had been built by a trusted friend; one who knows what you need to get the job done and who had added some thoughtful extras that keep your focus on having the most fun possible while out on the trails.
A 70mm stem kept the cockpit in balance with the small frame size and Ergon lock-on grips are comfortable and reliable in all conditions. The Schwalbe Nobby Nic tyres are suitably aggressive and the wide rear end of the WTB Volt Race saddle makes it a good unisex design. With this kit taken care of, no extra expenses are necessary before you wheel the bike out of the shop door.
Approaching 14kgs with pedals, the Killer B-2 is clearly not a born climber. But once we settled in to riding up hills at a more relaxed pace things became instantly more pleasurable. The 650B wheel smoothed out any rough rocky ‘ups’ and the balanced geometry continued to feel stable and comfortable – the front wheel never lifted off the ground when the gradient got high.
Climbs were where we could imagine a real killer bee hovering along in the air slowly scoping it next target. When we got to the top and the target was in sight, the Killer B zeros in and excels.
Each time we pointed the Killer B down a technical descent, everything that makes this package a winner came to the fore. It handled like a nimble 26er through tight twists and turns keeping our speed high and our eyes fixed on the fast approaching trail ahead. Unlike a 29er, you don’t need to adjust your line choices and technique through corners. Or, in the case of smaller riders, compromise riding position and bike set up to rail the trails confidently, at speed.
While the 650B wheels and plush, efficient suspension design dulled the feel of moderately technical trails, the more we rode through the guts of anything particularly rocky or rooty, the more the Killer B lit up. This is where we could feel the smooth, balanced action of the suspension really come into play – a feeling that was only enhanced by the very stable ride feel of the bike as a whole. It felt a bit like a moody teenager at times; eager to show you what it could do, and noticeably grumpy if you pulled on the anchors to slow it down or signify your distrust.
The only drawback to an excellent package was the weighty Sun Inferno rims laced to Formula hubs. The extra effort to keep these wheels rolling was noticeable when pedalling and was more draining than we would have liked on climbs. The obvious upgrades here are lighter, stiffer hoops and lighter cassette as there is plenty of weight to be dropped there too. Running a tubeless set up and softer compound tyres wouldn’t go astray either. This would quickly drop a kilo off the B-2 adding to its versatility and manoeuvrability, and allow riders to further enjoy the rolling and handling benefits of the 650B wheel size.
At $3799, the B-2 is an attractive bike for XC riders wanting to enjoy gnarlier trails, downhill riders keen for a rig they can ride back up to the top of the hill, or anyone at all who wants to make their mate’s 29er look like something from 2012. The dialled geometry makes it instinctive to ride and the overall build has been carefully assembled with fun, rewarding trail riding in mind. Given the absence of similar bikes available in the short term, we expect to see a lot of riders customising this bike to drop the weight and up its handling even further.
When Norco released the Aurum DH, the downhill world released a collective ‘heck yeah’. Finally, here was an all new downhill bike from Norco, a bike that truly broke the mould, and it looked bloody good too.
A few months ago we chose the Aurum as our test vehicle for Shimano’s new Saint groupset – we had the bare frame and fork shipped over to Canada, where it was dressed up in brand new Saint finery. We could have selected just about any frame on the market, so why did we choose the Aurum?
Firstly, the Canadian connection. If you’re going to be riding in Canada, why not ride a bike that’s built for the conditions? Secondly, this bike read like a dream on paper – great geometry numbers and a host of frame innovations that signal a new era for Norco.
So did the Aurum live up to our expectations on the high speed roots, jumps and berms of Whistler? Yes it did. We’ve continued to ride the Aurum back here in Oz too (though not nearly as much as we’d like to!) and while it’s a probably more bike than our local downhill tracks require, it’s always delivered.
Here are the performance highlights and lowlights. NB. This is a review of the Aurum frame only.
Great shape: Norco have nailed the Aurum’s geometry in our opinion. It all starts well up front, with a 63.5 degree head angle. This isn’t as slack as some of the new breed (many of which run a 63 degree head angle), but it’s a sensible figure – any slacker and your average rider is going to battle to keep the front wheel gripping in flatter turns. The bottom bracket height of 355mm is bang on, placing you in the bike, rather than on it.
Low up front: While for shorter riders like our tester, the Aurum’s front end height was perfect, we’ve heard some taller riders wish the bike had a longer head tube. At 110mm, the head tube height is low, and the head tube is the same across all frame sizes. For taller riders, this results in feeling like they’re too far over the front of the bike when it gets steep. To compensate, taller riders will need either high-rise bars or a stack of spacers under the upper fork crown. Norco should consider a 130mm head tube length on larger sizes.
Gravity Tune: This is where it starts to get really interesting. Norco recognised a problem with the way downhill bikes are sized and potential issues around weight distribution that stem from this. With most bikes, the top tube length increases in larger sizes, but the chain stay length remains the same. This decentralises the rider’s weight. Norco’s solution is to use different bottom bracket / main pivot forgings for the different sizes, the effect of which is to lengthen or shorten the chain stay measurement.
Obviously we can’t comment on how this effects the ride in practical terms as we only tested the bike in a medium size. Still, it’s an interesting concept!
Attention to detail is fantastic: Norco’s attention to detail really shines, with excellent fine detail finishing, and slick implementation of many cool frame features. The simple integrated fork bump stops are one highlight, as is the integrated seat post clamp.
Stainless steel pivot hardware caps it all off. We’re especially appreciative of the quality here, as previous Norcos have been renowned for using ugly, agricultural pivot hardware.
We’re big fans of the Syntace X-12 rear axle system. It doesn’t protrude beyond the dropouts at all, so there are no dramas with clearance, and it all does up with just the one 5mm Allen key. You do need to make sure it’s done up tight though, ours rattled loose under heavy braking on two instances until we gave it a good runch nice and firmly. In the same area you’ll also find one of the neatest derailleur hangers in the business. It’s secured with a lightweight alloy bolt, designed to snap rather than bend the derailleur hanger or derailleur. Best thing is, there’s a spare derailleur hanger bolt actually screwed into the down tube.
Great suspension kinematics: The Aurum’s rear suspension is superb, and would be even better with a Fox shock. Norco concentrated on giving the bike a more rearward axle path than in years past, helping it become less hung up on square-edge hits that try to rob you of momentum. 200mm of travel is plenty, especially when the suspension rate is nice and progressive.
Pedalling performance is good too, even thought we opted to run very little compression damping on the Rockshox Vivid R2C rear shock in order to maintain responsiveness over Whistler’s infamous braking bumps. The shocks offers both beginning and end stroke rebound control too, and we kept fairly
Our 300lbs spring was perhaps a shade too stiff for our weight. A 250-275lbs would have been ideal, but we’d rather run things a little firm and have something in reserve for hard compressions than wallow in the mid-stroke.
We did find the Rockshox Vivid seeping a little more oil than expected. A bit of seepage is fine from a new shock, but this was prolonged over a period of days. It hasn’t made a noticeable difference to damping performance as of yet.
Cable routing needs work: We experienced more cable rub than we’d like on the Aurum, especially around the linkage plates and seat tube. The solution, we found, was to cross the rear brake line and gear cable over. This means that rather than rubbing on the frame, as the suspension compresses, the lines bow out away from the seat tube. It’s an easy fix. For 2013 Norco have apparently revised the cable routing, so hopefully it’s a non-issue.
All up, the Aurum deserves to be considered in the top tier of downhill bikes, alongside the likes of Trek, Giant and Specialized. Getting the Aurum frame only as we have here isn’t generally an option, but there are four different price points to select from in the 2013 range. In our opinion the Aurum 2 is the pick of the bunch; at a shade under $4000 it runs a full Shimano Zee groupset, BoXXer RC fork and a Fox rear shock. With the same genetics as our test bike, it’ll be a winner. [/private]
Flow escaped a grey and wet Sydney to attend the Norco 2013 Dealer Launch in ridiculously sunny QLD and on hand were many new models of the bigger wheeled variety. But what made this trip most exciting was the attendance of PJ Hunton, Norco’s Engineering Manager. Plus, we were treated to an opportunity to ride Norco’s brand new 650B trail bike, the Sight Killer B.
This was going to be a very interesting trip, combining our very first ride on a 2013 650B suspension bike and the chance to pick the brains of one of the brightest engineering minds of the mountain bike world.
We were able to test all the bikes on offer around the varied and fun trails of Old Hidden Vale. These are our first impressions on the selected range and Flow plan to test the Revolver and Sight Killer B some time soon.
The first thing that stood out was the glaring absence of a 26” wheel in the testing fleet. Norco seems to be throwing their weight behind the big wheels, and with good reason, as we were to find out soon.
Norco is adding a few new models to their catalogue for next season and has updated some old favourites:
Team. A new carbon 29er hardtail.
Fluid. An entry level 29er dual suspension bike.
Revolver. Their new flagship aluminium 100mm 29er.
Sight. The 140mm Sight undergoes a complete makeover turning it into a 650B trail shredder.
Shinobi. The all-mountain 29er Shinobi undergoes a few geometry tweaks, but remains primarily the same.
All the dual suspension bikes from Norco use their A.R.T. (Advanced Ride Technology) design. This is Norco’s own interpretation of the Specialized patented FSR design and was first designed by Horst Leitner, a motorcycle engineer, in 1992. Norco are firm believers in the FSR design for stiffness, suspension activity and efficiency. A major difference between a Specialized FSR and a Norco A.R.T. frame is the rear axle path. Norco have opted for a more rearward axle path (where the rear wheel travels away from the centre of the bike) to benefit from the braking and pedalling efficiency it offers. Chain tension (pedal power) helps to combat the suspension from squatting under pedalling action and allows the rear wheel to move rearwards slighty so the bike can maintain as much forward momentum as possible.
There is no doubt the all-new Revolver is going to be a sure bet for the speed hungry marathon riders. The completely new platform uses 100mm travel front and back, stylishly hydroformed tubing, fast handling geometry and a particularly sorted component spec. We predict seeing many of these lairy numbers on the trails soon, especially when you take into account the pricing at $3999.
We didn’t get much chance to ride the Revolver this time around, but throwing a leg over this bright orange 29er showed us that its supple and balanced suspension will be a winner. And for the price, it’s definitely worth a look in.
Aiming to bring 29er dual suspension performance at a lower price point, the Fluid uses the same suspension design of the Revolver, executed in a more economic package.
Riding the Fluid made it obvious that with the right suspension and geometry, a bike of lower value and spec can often just feel a little heavier than its higher priced brothers. In terms of braking, shifting and ergonomics the Fluid has it dialed for the dough. It was a load of fun to ride
A new offering from Norco is a premium carbon hardtail simply named ‘Team’. Utilising many of the slick and modern features that we expect from this style of bike. Neat is the word, and wherever you look it’s smooth refined. Check out the internal gear cables, press fit bottom bracket bearings, and the use of decals in place of paint to save even more weight.
On the trail the Team was a pleasant surprise to ride. We were expecting to be beaten around like riding a typical hardtail, but the compliance from the carbon frame was just right and the ride wasn’t as expected. Although the decision to run a standard seat post (rather than a narrow diameter 27.2mm for a little give when seated) to allow for an adjustable post was a trade off of seated comfort. Generous width handlebars set quite low allowed us to really shred the single track and we think this bike could happily blur the lines of racing and trail riding.
Now this is a true all-mountain bike. Revised for 2013, with a shorter front end and slightly higher bottom bracket, the Shinobi will roll over anything, literally. If there is one bike that we have ridden in the last couple years that beholds that ‘plough through’ attitude, it is one. It’s not light, and needs to be taken to high speeds to make use of it’s confidence and momentum, but gee whiz it isn’t afraid of much.
Sight Killer B
This was our highlight of the bikes on display. Not just because it uses the new ‘in between wheel size’ but we had recently tested and fallen in love with the 26” wheeled Norco Sight earlier this year. Its supple and balanced suspension, ripping agility and tidy frame construction impressed us greatly.
When we heard that Norco had set its sights on re-vamping the frame to accommodate the larger diameter 650B wheel we naturally felt quite excited to ride one. It simply made a lot of sense to us. 140mm travel is that sweet spot for a 650B wheel. Not too much travel to make it feel cumbersome, and enough travel to make it less suited to a 29er. Chain stay length of a 29er is a big challenge for frame designers. It becomes tricky to keep the rear end of the bike from becoming too long, having adverse effects on handling, weight, lateral rigidity and tyre clearance. PJ from Norco put it out there and claimed that you really don’t have those challenges with combining a 650B with the desired geometry.
The Sight also scores Norco’s Gravity Tune system, found also on the Aurum downhill bike, where the rear end changes in length as well as the front end as the size changes. So, a larger size has a longer rear end for a better fit. This is achieved not by different length chain stays, but the bottom bracket moves around the main pivot creating a longer rear centre.
So, how did it feel? Well, the first few pedal strokes and turns out of the gate felt very normal, with no major glaring traits jumping out at us. It was when the trails turned fast and rough that we got the feeling that this new breed of trail bike is going to change a lot of people’s perspectives. We tipped and leant into tight turns with rapid pace, straight-lined with speed through embedded rocks easily and controlled, and the tyres simply never seemed to be close to letting go. We began to feel that the tyres felt low on pressure, and the shock felt really soft, but the bike had been set up carefully and we surmised it was the performance of the bike which was making everything smoother? What we were experiencing was just the slightly bigger wheel doing what it is meant to do; roll better that a 26” wheel, but fit in a frame without making too many compensations in the geometry. We were sold.
Jump onto www.norco.com for all the retail pricing and more information.
Ryan Leech has ridden mountain bikes professionally for over sixteen years.
Over that time he has been responsible for creating a whole new style of trials mountain biking, performing live in front of tens of thousands of fans and pushing the boundaries of what was considered possible on a bike.
The second in the “Why?” series exploring questions within the bike industry, this short documentary was created as a companion piece to Ryan’s article, “The Cons Of Being Pro”, in which he discusses the pressures involved in performing at such a high level, how they can affect an athlete’s perception of themselves and how they could change.
Well done Norco. This bike sums up what trail riding is all about, fun. So far the Sight has attracted a lot of attention in the mountain bike media, we were eager to find out why.
What’s this Sight all about then? Well, don’t look here if you are after a big-hitting all mountain bike, or a super-efficient endurance bike, the Sight fits nicely in the middle. It’s 140mm travel amount and fairly sharp angles gave us the feeling that the Sight is long-legged trail bike, for rapid riding through steep, tight and demanding terrain.