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.